DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: My husband and I are very close to my sister and her boyfriend, “Jay.” They have been together as long as we have, and he has become a good friend.
Jay is a really smart guy, but he doesn’t have as strong a vocabulary as he thinks. He frequently misuses words and expressions without knowing it, and I sometimes worry he comes off as not nearly as intelligent as he naturally is. I am also perhaps more sensitive to his gaffes because I teach English as a second language, and see how frequently and easily English is misused.
When it is just the four of us and Jay misspeaks, I’ll say something about believing he meant to say such-and-such. He is good-humored, and never seems to take offense at my corrections. However, I feel he could be embarrassed if I do the same when we are out in public or in a larger group.
He is such a kind and bright man. I hate to think other people will believe he is ignorant and laugh at him for his errors. Should I attempt to discreetly correct him when he missteps in public, tell him after the fact when we are alone, or just let it go? --- TO CORRECT OR NOT
DEAR TO CORRECT OR NOT: Your concern for your friend is admirable. I see your dilemma about how to deal with his public unintentional gaffes, and what I think might work best is to decide what to do on a situation-by-situation basis.
If no one in the group appears to catch the error, it may be best to just let it go at the time. If, on the other hand, the reaction is derisive, then the polite second-guessing about what he meant to say you use in private could afford him the opportunity to make the correction and laugh along at his error.