Friday, March 28, 2008

Grammar Police

I've been seeing a lot about grammar on the internet lately. Kerflop acknowledges that she has a problem with who's and whose. Craigslist is full of Spelling and Grammar Police who correct people constantly. Now there's a thread about grammar on Ravelry which has garnered 425 responses so far in twenty-four hours.

First off, let me say I am a bad speller and always have been. Thank heavens for spell-check, I don't have to pull out the dictionary so often, and if I do, it's online. Second, I used to have very good grammar and punctuation. I was proud of it. I was the go-to proofreader in the office. However, I had to work to remember all the rules, and now I have gotten a bit rusty, not to mention foggy-headed in general as I age and parent. (I just had to look up it's and its. The problem is I know that "it's" is a contraction for "it is", but I can't get my mind around "its" being possessive because most possessives have an apostrophe, for example "the dog's bone"). I know there are errors in my previous blog postings, and I catch and fix them from time to time.

The Ravelry poster says that it bothers her when people use poor grammar because sometimes it makes it hard for her to understand posts. She goes on to offer many examples of correct/incorrect usage. On one hand she is saying this is her pet peeve, but on the other hand she is basically telling people they are uncaring when they use poor grammar, and she wants to help them. In addition, to me, the tone of the message is condescending due to some of the phrases she uses. But that brings up another issue, that you can't "hear" a person's tone over the internet.

I don't have time to read all the responses, but it looks like many, many people, though not all, agree with her. A few years ago I might have, too. I never would have corrected a person's blog or Craigslist posting, but errors definitely bug me, and influence how I perceive people. I admit I thought people were lazy. But these days I've loosened up. I've come to realize there a lot of reasons people's writing is not always perfect.
  • Some people can't type quickly or well.
  • For me, it's hard for me to see errors on the screen. I catch many more when I have the printed paper in front of me.
  • Others may not have had the benefit of as good or as lengthly an education as others of us.
  • There are cultural and age differences. People say "where you at?". That's the way they speak. It's like "ain't". Language evolves. Things that were "wrong" to some become acceptable over time.
  • English grammar and spelling rules just don't always make sense. Some people give up, or do the best they can.
  • It is just harder for some people to remember these "rules". Just like math or chemistry is easy for some, hard for others. The internet is public, so those with trouble with grammar are more visible, than those, like me who struggled with Physics class, for instance.
But the main reason is my husband. He hired me to help him with setting up his computer and business. We met in person, we spoke over the phone a few weeks later, and he interviewed me in person. I was impressed by his business plans and knowledge of building. However, if he had emailed me I would have thought something very different, because he cannot spell. He is dyslexic. He has beautiful, engineer's handwriting, but the content appears to be from a schoolchild. Sometimes I don't understand what he's trying to say!

You know what? I can understand most postings that use "to" instead of "too" or "who's" instead of "whose". I think if you focus on the errors you get hung up. Just read it. These are brief messages about topics you are interested in. They are not novels or the Declaration of Independence. They are meant to quickly express an idea, to share information. I think it's sad that a knitter might be shy to post on Ravelry because he knows his grammar is not perfect and people might jude him.

But don't get me wrong, it does bug me to see incorrect usage. I think that actual publications should use correct grammar. I am amazed at how many errors I find in the newspaper. I guess as someone who graduated from high school in 1987 I wonder why poor grammar is so rampant, instead of blaming people for it. I am worried that grammar is not being emphasized at school anymore. I know writing essays and papers isn't. I was in my first year at S.F. State in about 1999 and was horrified that an upper division instructor had to waste my time with a session about how to write papers. I first learned this in Middle School. I guess things have gotten worse since then.

My point is: try to be open-minded about language. It is constantly evolving. It is a way to communicate, and if you can understand what a person is saying, is a misspelled word such a big deal?


Kristen said...

I admit that I can get annoyed by spelling and grammar mistakes, but realize that they are often a typo. (I have been known to go back into ages-old blog posts to correct errors.) Both my husband and son are atrocious spellers, but spelling has nothing to do with smarts.

Anonymous said...

In addition, those spelling, grammar, sentence usage, and punctuation mistakes make it even harder to find a job or buy something because they can mean scam. I'm always obsessed with proper writing when it comes to looking for a job, knowing I've had A's on my term papers in college, due to the fact that my teachers were very hard on students who didn't write properly enough.

I can understand the fact that you said that things have gotten worse since you were in school. Believe it or not, it's true. A lot of people don't even take enough time to proofread what they've written before they post it online.

In addition to that, didn't you know that if you use Firefox, it can correct any misspelled words?