Q. Because I am a high-school teacher, one of the first things people say to me is something like, "I'd better watch my grammar." I usually reply that I correct only my students.
I work with another English teacher, however, who does correct people's grammar, manners, lifestyle -- you name it. Although she has some qualities I admire, I am growing weary of her judgmental attitude. She does not respond well to criticism directed at her.
I finally told her, in the most tactful way possible, that my attitude toward language differs from hers, in that I see language operating on various levels. In a casual, personal conversation, one can use slang, idioms and catch phrases. In the classroom, one uses standard English. In formal writing and speeches, one uses formal English.
She replied that she doesn't make any grammatical mistakes and doesn't think that any educated person should.
Since then, I have indeed heard her make a number of grammatical and syntactical errors. I wrote these down on my calendar in case she should reintroduce the subject. I will not correct her as she does me and others, because I feel that this would reduce my standards to hers.
What can I do, short of an all-out war of words?
A. It is people like your colleague who give not only you but Miss Manners a bad name by assuming that people who know what is correct will go about making nuisances of themselves by monitoring and embarrassing others.
Let's get her. Politely, of course.
Next time she makes a grammatical mistake, stop her by saying: "That's interesting -- it's not the usage I would have thought of as correct. Has it changed? Or is this a colloquial form for these circumstances that you wouldn't, for example, use in class?"
After a few rounds of this, Miss Manners dares say she will be less anxious to open such inquiries.
Q. I have once again seen an ad on TV in which an adult is drinking juice from a family-sized container taken from the refrigerator. Would one dare to accept a drink of juice in anyone's home, after watching this happen over and over again?
A. Miss Manners has always hoped that people have more sense than to get their manners lessons from television commercials, in which case you wouldn't have to worry about this problem in real life.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.