On being a bit of a Grammar Nazi: loose vs. lose

So I’ve always been a massive sucker for good spelling and grammar. One of the things that I’ve always prided myself on is good spelling and grammar. I mean, despite the fact that I’m studying it at degree level, I do still make lots of mistakes, misuse words, make up some of my own, and probably have some pretty haphazard punctuation going on a lot of the time… Let’s be fair, English can be pretty tough. And it’s the realisation that English can be pretty tough that made me lay off my grammar nazism quite a while ago.

However, I am going on this rant as a reaction to someone misusing ‘loose’ on a Facebook status. She wrote, and I quote, ‘loosing a memory stick…’ And this is a university student. I don’t really care if you use the wrong your, to or there. I can see the potential for difficulty there. But the constant misusage of lose and loose really does need to be addressed, and addressed pretty sharpish before I go completely insane. I just… I really just don’t get this one.

When I was in secondary school I always used to call my friends out on their misusage of your, to or there, and correct their spellings. I was annoying. Every time I did it I’d get a death stare as if to say ‘yeah whatever, piss off, I’m not stupid’. Yet they’d still get it wrong every time – and they’re still getting it wrong to this very day. So I sort of just gave up and allowed them to sound like idiots in my head every time I’d read one of their messages or statuses.

To me, if you write a sentence like this: ‘I prefer blonde woman’, I WILL read it as woman and you WILL sound like a complete halfwit or caveman inside my head. I can’t help that. And I can’t help that I die a little inside every time I see an ‘I love you to’ or a ‘your stupid’… That’s just the way my brain works.

I’ve never corrected someone to show off and be like ‘ooh look how stupid you are’ – I’ve always tried to help them. I’ve always had a love for English, and I realise that not everyone cares about it in the same way that I do, that some people are pretty lazy when it comes to actually thinking about what they’re writing, and that others just can’t get it no matter how hard they try. I understand that. The most difficult thing is, though, that most people will get really touchy when they reach a certain age and you’re still correcting them on their grammar, which is perhaps fair enough (nobody likes a smart arse), but if we don’t then how are they going to learn?

I think it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs to see that, in this country, there is a distinct lack of good spelling and grammar. There are so many people out there, to whom English is a second language, that read and write it much more fluently than many natives. I’m not sure why that is. Could it be down to bad teaching? Possibly. I do know that a lot of the things I’ve learnt about grammar through the years are developed from my own reading, not from being particularly well-taught in school.

In many ways, I have become somewhat desensitised to grammar mistakes now. They’re so common that there’s usually no point in arguing with someone who’s not going to listen to you, and will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. I do still get the urge to correct things occasionally, but I very rarely do.

However, despite my desensitisation, the loose vs. lose debacle really does rub me up the wrong way and make my hair stand on end out of pure frustration. It’s a mistake that literally (by which I mean figuratively) everyone seems to make and I don’t understand why. I see so many of my friends getting it wrong, teachers, journalists, university students…

Now, fair enough: to, too, and two are homophones so they sound exactly the same. To me, when I look at them, they all mean completely different things and I would have to be either very sleepy or very drunk to use the wrong one – but I can understand completely why people might, and do, on a daily basis. But LOSE and LOOSE?! are not only completely different words, they sound completely different too. LOSE means to lose something: a purse, your phone, some keys, you name it. And LOOSE does not work as a verb as far as I’m aware; it’s an adjective/adverb. The button on my coat is LOOSE. I’ve lost so much weight that my jeans are LOOSE. If you wanted to use it as a verb, that verb would be LOOSEN – which obviously has a completely different meaning to LOSE.

The amount of times I have to read things like ‘why am I always loosing things?’ or ‘I always loose my phone’ just really isn’t fair… I see ‘loose’ stand in for ‘lose’ so much now that I’m even beginning to question my own understanding of the two words. Maybe I’m the one getting it wrong after all..?

2 thoughts on “On being a bit of a Grammar Nazi: loose vs. lose

  1. I think spelling and grammatical issues are such a commonality that many people are used to it happening, and when people are not corrected, the chance of these errors occurring again are exponential. I work part-time on occasion as an editor, and when I see an issue, whether it be a sentence that is absent of a required comma; a full-stop that should be transformed into a semi-colon, or even, as you noted, the word ‘to’ when it should in fact be ‘too’, I go ballistic. Even at post-graduate level, where I am now, I continuously see these issues, and when one is correcting the work of a twenty or a thirty something year old who has completed their graduate degree, it is expected that their vernacular and intelligence should be damn near exemplary. I don’t think you’re weird Ma’am, and I don’t think you need to second guess yourself. People, including myself, naturally become infuriated when their errors are revealed to them by a third party, however, never should the person who corrected them be at fault, for they are the one’s attempting to improve their writing style, and should be commended in some instances for knowing the difference. Although I live in a country where English is the first language, I think the argument is potentially just as sound here, for there is no excuse not to use fluent grammar, et al, when the population are immediately educated on its usage. I know a man who teaches 7 year old children, and he claims that half the class cannot read, and the other half cannot speak English. I remember when I was at that age, I was reading at a 12 year old standard, and it upsets me that people are so ignorant and unwilling to be assisted in learning how to communicate literally and orally. I think that spelling and grammar is directly linked to reading, and unfortunately, I believe that reading in itself is one of those few art forms potentially teetering on the edge of extinction.
    You write a very sound argument Ma’am.

    • Thanks for the reply! I went to a school where nobody read, and if you did you were a complete loser. I was a complete loser. I was spelling better than some of my primary school teachers by the age of about 8 – not because I’m necessarily that clever but just because I read a LOT and was constantly absorbing what I was reading.
      I think you’re right, the main issue is probably that reading is just not popular enough anymore – and we need to do a lot more to encourage it. I do also think that teaching in the UK (primarily English, but also other languages) leaves a lot to be desired… I don’t see why some basic grammar lessons can’t be taught more widely in secondary schools. Some mistakes are so ingrained into people it’s a tough turnaround now to get them to see what they’re doing wrong. And actually care about it.

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