Thursday, March 12, 2015

Grammar Ninja: Don't give up!

A friend of mine recently shared her frustration with an e-conversation she was having with someone who firmly believed that spelling, grammar, and punctuation were not worth fussing about. This educated woman (former linguist) genuinely had no problem with such spellings as awsome, discusting, and rubarb.

This person also felt that loose and lose would soon be interchangeable as valid alternative spellings.

Excuse me while I grab my smelling salts and drape myself carefully across this divan.

Now, I do realize (because I'm a fiend for etymology) that language does change, accepted spellings change. English is marvelous in the way it accepts words from other languages and then makes them her own. And when we find ourselves writing entire blog posts about the difference between to lay and to lie, and our very intelligent loved ones still get it wrong, well . . . at what point do we give up?

I also realize that some of the finer points of language, such as use of the subjunctive, are of no interest to most people and of little interest even to those who write for a living. So be it.

But I do believe that we ought to be teaching and enforcing standard English usage, spelling, punctuation, and grammar in written materials. I also think we are fools if we think these things do not matter when one is applying for a job or submitting an important document for review.

Having said that, I will agree with one point the commenter made:
My main view is that correcting someone's soelling [sic] is [a] more annoying traut [sic] that [sic] spelling incorrectly.
At least, I think I agree with her. If "soelling" means "spelling," "traut" means "trait," and "that" means "than." In that case, what she means is that wielding the "grammar hammer" indiscriminately is more offensive than a typographical error. (Is that what she's saying? We'll probably never know, but that's what I'm going with.)

As it happens, my own loved ones have taken me to task for correcting grammatical errors in speech (usually of the me vs. I variety) when they were trying to tell me something important or were sharing something that made them vulnerable. Or, you know, telling a joke. Basically, when they were talking to me.

Interrupting someone to tell them they're making an error is essentially saying, "I'm not listening to what you're saying, but to how you're saying it." It's rude.

It's also valid, sometimes. But if you do it all the time, you can't really complain if people stop inviting you to the table.

Social media falls under the same category, most of the time. I have two rules of thumb for alerting someone to a typographical or grammatical error online:
  1. If the writer presents himself as an expert or represents a professional body, or otherwise should know better, I expect high standards and will comment accordingly. 
  2. If it is someone I love or care about and the conversation is casual, I figuratively bite my tongue. 
Other written communication (e.g., articles, advertising, signage, resumes) is a different matter. Standards and rules do matter. They serve to make communication clearer and can be used to make it more readable and interesting as well.

Now, if all of that does not convince you to support the fight for correct English spelling and grammar, let this make my point.

Partial translation: When you accept that you're dead when you're born, you can accept anything.
(I say "partial" because correcting the syntax of this sentence would take more patience than I have right now.)
P.S. I'm trying to train our dog to go into the down position only when we use the correct verb: to lie. I'm not sure he's up to the task. 

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