Their, There, They’re


[“Guitar Shop Sign,” Somerville, MA]

As a writer—and clumsy typist—I generally double-check that my electronic communications are grammatically correct and not misspelled before clicking “Send ” or “Post.” Especially when being judged—like querying a potential literary agent.  But lately on Facebook I’m noticing a trend among some of my FB friends (lovely and intelligent people, of course) who natter on and on about who’s and whose as if getting these words mixed up were A Very Big Deal!

Sure: if you’re submitting your resume and cover letter or writing for publication/public scrutiny, you don’t want to look inept or careless or, God forbid, stupid. Sure, in those situations, spelling and grammar count.  They matter. But when you’re on the T, on deadline, texting, exhausted, trying to get an email off while making dinner, the kids yelling in the next room? Not so much. Moderately.

Sometimes when I read another FB poster waxing wroth re their and there and they’re I get uncomfortable. Because, in this age of texting, in this time when messin’ with spellin’ especially around names (Mo’ Nique, B2K, Curren$y), is so much a part of who we are, now, sometimes I think what I’m actually witnessing is White Entrenchment.

Or, as Tema Okum would put it: “White Supremacy Culture: Specifically: “Worship of the Written Word.”

Here’s a relevant excerpt from her handout (obviously developed for organizations and agencies to think about ):

  • if it’s not in a memo, it doesn’t exist
  • the organization does not take into account or value other ways in which information gets shared
  • those with strong documentation and writing skills are more highly valued, even in organizations where ability to relate to others is key to the mission.

She goes on to suggest these antidotes:

  • Take the time to analyze how people inside and outside the organization get and share information; figure out which things need to be written down and come up with alternative ways to document what is happening; work to recognize the contributions and skills that every person brings to the organization (for example, the ability to build relationships with those who are important to the organization’s mission); make sure anything written can be clearly understood (avoid academic language, ‘buzz’ words, etc.)

Let me VERY clear: My (lefty, Quaker, most of them, ethical, righteous) friends would be horrified to think of themselves as “white supremacists.” Of course!

I’m not saying they are. Here’s what I’m saying: if we really believe in diversity, in equality, in multiculturalism; if we truly believe we can and ought to do a better job of sharing resources and opportunities than those currently in power; if the year 2042 doesn’t make us break out into a cold sweat, then we need to stop sweating the small stuff.

Yeah, there is enormous ignorance out there right now. But instead of judging those who don’t differentiate between its and it’s, let’s remember King’s “content of their character.”

Beginning with our own.


Join the Conversation


  1. Dear Patricia,

    Hi, there, Patricia, my so, so very For Always dearly special and dearly precious friend and sister who you are For Always so, so very much!!!!!! Wow, wow, wow and wow and wow and a zillion wows, Patricia! I so, so very much love and like this absolutely amazing, beautiful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking blog post article, my friend! Thank-you for this so very great picture and for the powerful links which you very graciously and generously provided, sister! You are so right that some people need not sweat the small stuff in expecting total grammatical perfection, Patricia. It can be a form of elitism, classism, and racism in how some people harshly and unkindly judge others who have less than perfect grammar, pronunciation, and sentence structure. Placing too much importance on flawless grammar can defeat the very purpose of people uniting for our common good and in producing distrust and divisiveness between people, sister. Sometimes when my chronic fatigue acts up even more or when I somehow otherwise am not feeling as well my brain short circuits and I make mistakes in my writing and grammar. Some of the rules of grammar I don’t remember as well from my education when I was a little girl, young girl, and teenager, sisterfriend. Sometimes I wonder if I have undiagnosed numerical math dyslexia and even other forms of mild dyslexia, sister(SMILE!!!!!!!). It is so interesting because I am a very avid reader and a book addict(I so love books!!!!!!!!), and I love to write, yet I can tell that sometimes my writing may be a bit off of the mark and I can’t seem to pinpoint what to do about it exactly, sister. Sometimes throughout my life I’ve observed some patterns in my reading and writing which I’ve never been able to understand or explain, my so, so very dearest friend Patricia. I think that I am as well witnessing White Entrenchment in what Tema Okum so wisely calls, “Worship of the Written Word,” in White Supremacy Culture, sister. This way of thinking that absolutely perfect grammar is for always necessary is not only a way of thinking, doing, and enacting racism, but also a way of performing elitism and classism against people who are deemed to not quite measure up due to their so called grammatical imperfections. I love so this powerful link to this very relevant article by our Tema Okum. The spectacular link to the You Tube video is so right on, on point, and so very pertinent here, sister. Wow, my so, so very dearest and darling white friend and sister Patricia, thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for your so very dear words on remembering our Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, ” content of their character.” Sister, you with such acute and astute sagacity say such so very true words for sure, sisterfriend Patricia!!!!!! Yay sister yay sisterfriend yay my friend Patricia yay!!!!!! You truly inspire me so, my sisterfriend Christian white woman, Patricia, and you are just absolutely awesome, my sister and friend!!!!!!!

    Please have a totally terrific and such a so very thrilling Tuesday, a wondrously wonderful rest of your week and weekend, and may all of your days be so, so very especially blessed!!!!! I feel just such joys and blessings, even more cheerful, inspired, uplifted, energized, and enlightened by this fantastic blog article of yours, Patricia!!!!!! Sister, you are just the very, very epitome of such overall awesomeness, my so, so very dearest friend and sisterfriend Patricia!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!

    Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my so, so very dearly precious white sister who you are For Always so, so very much, Patricia, with Peace and Love To You For Always, my so very dear friend, and with such Blessings and Even More Blessings To You For Always, my so dear sisterfriend,

    Your sisterfriend Christian lesbian black woman For Always in the very spirit and solidarity, Sherry Gordon

  2. Yeah. It’s not only a matter of worshipping the written word, but certain grammar issues are a way of asserting my membership in a particular group — if I care passionately about some (any) common “mistake”, then I’m asserting that I am well educated (or should that be “well-educated”?), conservative in the sense of caring to preserve all that is good and precious in Western (White) Culture. I can laugh at some people’s particular grammar issues (to carelessly split an infinitive? Come on, already!) but I’ve got my own: like the difference between lead (the metal) and led (the past tense)– there’s so much worship of the written word in that one, that you can’t even detect the ‘mistake” unless it’s written down!

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