“Grammar is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.”
We’ve seen this little gem of a quote popping up over our social mediaz lately, and just couldn’t let it slip by without unpacking it just a little.
This adage rubs me the wrong way, not just because it has a strong whiff of prescriptive grammatical pedantry, but because it doesn’t define what “grammar is”. It just points out a funny result that occurs when “you’re” is accidentally put in place of “your”. Sure, on many occasions in written language there’s a useful distinction between “your” and “you’re” and this is a funny example of that. But it exemplifies those attitudes that posit that knowing the difference between “you’re” and “your” is the key to clarity of language expression.
It’s a bit like the old chestnut that also does the rounds of the interwebs: “Punctuation is the difference between helping your uncle, Jack, off his horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.”
Both of these ignore the fact that those phrases being compared are used in speech without any grammatical marker to differentiate them. However, we have our old friend “context”. We draw on context all the time as we navigate spoken conversations and as we read text.
Even with context, we are free to snigger at the accidental joke that’s made when we realise that “knowing your shit” and “knowing you’re shit” sound the same. But it probably isn’t the best example of what “grammar” is. Just sayin.
Now with the important commentary that I wanted to share more than just that silly quip.