DEAR MISS MANNERS: Sometimes at work, colleagues will ask me to review an important document they have written. They are seeking my input on the content, not the grammar.
However, I often find grammatical errors. I’m no expert, but I do have a background in journalism and have been trained to find grammatical mistakes. If the error is glaring, such as accidentally omitting a word, I will point it out. But if the error is small, or one that few people would even recognize as an mistake, I don’t mention it. After all, I don’t want to be that obnoxious, nitpicking co-worker.
Nonetheless, I wonder if it would be better to make the corrections to help my colleagues, even though I may come off as intolerable.
GENTLE READER: “Nitpicking” has gotten a bad name. Like the word “literal,” people have grown so accustomed to using it figuratively that they have forgotten the literal meaning, which is to remove the nits -- lice eggs -- from someone’s hair.
A child with lice should be grateful for a nitpicking parent (and if they are not, their teachers and the other parents surely are).
Similarly, a colleague who requests the services of a copy editor should be grateful when that person identifies potentially embarrassing mistakes, large or small.
Miss Manners recognizes, without accepting, that an ability to write clearly and grammatically is considered either elitist or beneath contempt. (Could we at least decide which?) She therefore makes no objection if you return the edited document with a disclaimer that you’re sorry about the grammar changes and hope they will be useful -- you just couldn’t help yourself.