It occurred to us the other day that what you read on social media seems to be declining in proper grammar. This is a sobering realization for us given the fact that all the tools used to post to social media are devices which contain spell checkers and often times, grammar checkers. We’re going to poke some fun at this but at the same time point out why it all matters.
We’ve been called Grammar Nazis a lot. It doesn’t bother us at all. The owner of the company even has a t-shirt that says, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” Understand that we are absolutely not perfect. Here at PFTS, we all have our grammar nemeses, but when the red squiggly lines pop up or auto correct suggests the proper spelling of a word, we don’t just ignore it. Not just because it’s what we do but because it’s important.
However, why it’s important is the real question. Isn’t it?
There are an abundance of reasons why using correct grammar (both written and spoken) is important. As parents we teach our children grammar, good or bad, by the grammar we use. If they get to school and have to unlearn what they were taught, it’s doubly hard on them.
Grammar is the structural foundation of our ability to express ourselves. The more we are aware of how it works, the more we can monitor the meaning and effectiveness of the way we and others use language. It can help foster precision, detect ambiguity, and exploit the richness of expression available in English. And it can help everyone–not only teachers of English, but teachers of anything, for all teaching is ultimately a matter of getting to grips with meaning.
(David Crystal, “In Word and Deed.” TES Teacher, April 30, 2004)
I believe what David was trying to say in the simplest of terms is without using correct grammar, you can unintentionally change the meaning of a sentence. For instance, without a comma and capitalization, you’d be helping your uncle jack off a horse instead of helping your Uncle Jack off a horse. Another example would be explaining what pleases you: “I like cooking, my family, and my pets.” Alternatively, you could be admitting that you’re a psychopath, “I like cooking my family and my pets.” Punctuation completely changes the meaning.
Some would argue that grammar is no more necessary in post-education life than calculus or algebra. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I used a formula from any of my advanced math classes. However, does that make it unnecessary? Didn’t simply learning it once teach me how to figure it out later? Would we have needed good grammar if we weren’t working in transcription?
It is necessary to know grammar, and it is better to write grammatically than not, but it is well to remember that grammar is common speech formulated. Usage is the only test.
(William Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, 1938)
In essence, by using correct grammar, we improve our communication with others. By knowing what good grammar is, we’re less likely to be viewed as a psychopath and more likely to give assistance to our relatives.
Amazingly, with all the bastardization of grammar occurring due to txt shorthand and educational apathy, young people are wondering if good grammar is still necessary. Let’s ask Jerry Seinfeld (or American Express).
If that’s not funny to you, how about the time a single comma was worth $2 million? In October 2006, a contract dispute between Canadian cable company Rogers Communications and telephone company Bell Aliant revealed that a misplaced comma changed the parameters of a contract.
The contract said:
“This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”
Rogers Communications believed the placement of the second comma stated the contract was good for at least five years, while Bell Aliant said the comma indicated the deal could be terminated before if one year’s notice was given.
In the end, Canada’s telecommunications commission sided with Bell Aliant. They stated the comma should have been omitted if the contract was intended to last five years in its shortest possible term. As a result, Bell Aliant was able to save over $2 million by ending the deal early.
It should go without saying that the use of good grammar increases credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in emails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They speak for you when you can’t do it yourself. Like it or not, people will judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re. Using good grammar is also important when you’re trying to get a job. Obviously it’s EXTREMELY important in jobs where you have to write or speak. However, grammar usage signifies more than just a person’s ability to remember high school English. People who make fewer grammar mistakes tend to make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to the proper use of language — like flipping hamburgers or frying potatoes.
That attention to detail is our specialty. While we live in different English dialect speaking areas around the globe, we all know what proper grammar is. While we don’t edit for content, we do take the content we’re given and make it read properly.