In Journalism, Grammar Is Everything

Paul Brians is right; if people are turned off by nonstandard usage, that is not akin to racism.

But I have a turn-off of my own: a widespread inattention to the vocabulary of usage terms. Look at this from The Wall Street Journal article Paul links to:
The date flopped for a couple of reasons, but bad grammar bothers Mr. Cohen. Learning a potential mate doesn’t know the difference between “there,” “they’re” and “their” is like discovering she loves cats, he says. Mr. Cohen is allergic to cats. “It’s like learning I’m going to sneeze every time I see her,” he says.
Does it jump out at you, too? It says that "bad grammar" bothers the gentleman, but then lists the confusion of the homonyms "there," they're," and "their" as the example that is off-putting to Mr. Cohen.

I don't know if this is the fault of the author of the piece (Georgia Wells), Mr. Cohen, or an inattentive copy editor, but this is not an example of bad grammar; it is an example of bad spelling. This is how grammar gets a bad name; it is used as a catch-all expression for any usage error. I call upon Stan Carey, contributor to Visual Thesaurus to make my point:
It would be useful to keep the other categories separate, but lists of "common grammar mistakes" rarely stray beyond gripes in just these areas. They recast grammar as style, usage and even spelling. They collapse and confuse the principles governing language use, leading insecure readers to feel bound by linguistic rules that often don't apply to them or to anyone.
I've written about this before, but somehow that has not stopped The Wall Street Journal or anyone else from writing about all usage errors as if they were "grammar mistakes." They are not. For good measure, let's have a look at what a dictionary has to say about it:
a :  the study of the classes of words, their inflections, and their functions and relations in the sentence
b :  a study of what is to be preferred and what avoided in inflection and syntax

a :  the characteristic system of inflections and syntax of a language
b :  a system of rules that defines the grammatical structure of a language

a :  a grammar textbook
b :  speech or writing evaluated according to its conformity to grammatical rules

:  the principles or rules of an art, science, or technique
See? It's about structure, not spelling, capitalization, or the rest of the hodgepodge The Wall Street Journal discusses in this article.

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