Column: Picking your friend’s nose


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Believe it or not, correcting other people’s grammar isn’t going to win you any friends. And you might also have trouble keeping the friends you do have if you follow them around with your figurative red pen poised in conversations.

I’ll admit, I fell prey to the low-hanging fruit of correcting a friend’s grammar the other night. My red ink came out almost as a grammatical reflex. For the record, I was right. Also, for the record, I’m sorry I did it. Unless someone gives you explicit permission to correct their grammar during conversations, just don’t do it. You’ll look like a jerk. It’s almost as bad as picking your friend’s nose–and you wouldn’t do that, would you?

I chose to lay down the grammar hammer over the words obtain and attain, two word cousins people often get confused. Let’s learn about these two words and how to use them correctly. Attain is a verb that means to achieve or accomplish reaching a goal. Obtain is a verb that means to acquire or get something. Based on these two definitions, the words seem strikingly similar.

When it comes to attain, think about achieving or accomplishing something. This is usually something that isn’t physical, like enlightenment or wisdom. You can attain a rank in the Army, which isn’t necessarily something you can physically hold. When you obtain something, it’s usually a physical object, like car keys or a pet octopus.

The fine line between attain and obtain is found with things such as degrees and diplomas. You attain a degree (something you achieve or accomplish). You obtain a diploma (the physical piece of paper). When you attain something, it’s achieved with a high degree of work and effort. When you obtain something, you take ownership of a physical object. In “National Treasure,” Nicolas Cage’s character obtains the Declaration of Independence. By doing so, he attained criminal status. See the difference?

If you choose to correct people’s grammar publicly, you risk attaining a reputation for being someone nobody wants to be around. You might even obtain a black eye. So, put the red pens away; people aren’t friends with you because they like it when someone points out their grammar discrepancies.