In 2006, Sharon Eliza Nichols, then a College of Charleston student, became the inadvertent pied piper for defenders of the English language. After seeing a sign in a King Street establishment that read "Applications Expected," she took to Facebook and created a group called "I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar."
"When I first started the Facebook group, I wrote this whole description about it — and this is when I was still treating it like something just a few of my friends would join, because that's all I thought would happen — voiced in George Bush's language on the war on terror. Like, we should ... capture the infidels in their crimes against grammar."
As it turned out, the group grew to nearly a half-million members and, after being featured in The New York Times, Nichols decided to turn the content into a book. By then, she was in her first year of law school and was churning out commentary and collecting permission for user-submitted photos while adjusting to school, blogging, and completing her assignments.
"That was crazy. Really difficult," she says. In addition to those who appreciate "ironic or sarcastic observations," I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar has been snapped up by English teachers who use it to show students why they should stay awake during grammar lessons. Let's be honest: Punctuation isn't exactly riveting to most kids, and in an autocorrect world, learning ye olde rules of "I before E, except after C" might seem irrelevant.
"I was surprised at the number of people who were interested in this, but I think I hit it at a good time in that people were concerned about the internet and how it was changing the way we communicate and write," Nichols says.
While web-to-print books are often zeitgeisty (Stuff Hipsters Hate) or one-off (if, say, Gretchen Rubin were to do a sequel to The Happiness Project, one might assume the first title was a #fail), the members of Nichols' Facebook group are still actively griping years after its inception. On the page, they contemplate unfriending those who use the wrong your/you're in e-mails, slam magazine editors for errata, and post exclamatory comments about being word snobs. Though Nichols still reads every update and has pictures of error-riddled signs on her phone, she stays relatively silent on the page.
"I realized after the response I got to the first book that there are people who almost devote their lives to this," she remarks. "I wouldn't really call myself a grammarian, but I do love the English language."
Halfway through her second year of law school at the University of Alabama, Nichols decided she didn't want to practice law. "I hated the idea of quitting, so I wanted to finish it out," she says. After graduation, she moved back to Charleston, where she landed a job in product development at Gildan, the textile manufacturer. She says she "loves the law in an academic and theoretical sense" and volunteers as a guardian ad litem, where she supplements the efforts of social workers by looking out for the legal interests of kids in the area.
Her second book, More Badder Grammar!, was released earlier this fall. With intentional errors on the cover, it's the type of small, picture- and quip-filled volume you'd expect to see on a table at Urban Outfitters.
"We had more to choose from, so it's kind of better content," she explains. "I feel like the commentary is better as well — a little bit more insightful. I had much more time and energy to devote to it."
As Nichols was e-mailing members of the Facebook group for permission to use their photos and writing the accompanying captions, she was dealing with a personal loss. Last spring, her brother died unexpectedly, an experience she describes as " a little bit disorienting." She acknowledges her brother in her latest book, and the last post on her personal blog, "Thank You, Ma'am," is the eulogy she wrote for him.
"I've had a bit of trouble writing since then, but I hope to get back to the blogging and find my voice again."