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The grammar rant: Totes soz for caring so much

By Tim McNamara | Mar 14, 13 07:20 AM

Sometimes, some of us don’t realise, or don’t care, just how much our writing can affect our own personal brand.

I admit it; when it comes to spelling, grammar and how to communicate the English language, I’m something of a pedant.

I enjoy long, sometimes heated, exchanges about the Oxford, or serial, comma’s potential use or omission (it just works in this case, ok?!).

I take delight in finding and fixing the most basic of howlers within both corporate and creative copy. And I love, love, love when taking that little more time to have just one more read of a document uncovers an error or elicits an idea for an alternative word or phrase that can result in your story, report, announcement or speech being just that little bit more credible or impactful.

Years ago, after I had finished editing a feature article, I received a reply from the author in which she, being appreciative of the effort I had put in, kindly told me, “your great”; I had to laugh. My great what, exactly?

It reminded me of this brilliant definition of grammar I was sent some years ago, and which is now shared with delight by grammar pedants the world over:

Grammar: the difference between knowing your sh*t and knowing you’re sh*t.

Now, I don’t mean to sound self-righteous; writing well is difficult. Sometimes, however, I think some of us don’t realise, or don’t care, just how much our writing can affect our own personal brand.

Did you ever think about what you stand to loose (sic) from ensuring your writing is error free and consise (sic)?

For example, I know a hiring manager who immediately discounts potential candidates on finding a single typo within a respective cover letter. It’s pretty tough, I know, but his rationale is that if a prospective candidate can’t put together an error-free cover letter, they’re likely to make other, potentially more costly, mistakes on the job.

I think the increasingly blasé approach to writing and grammar has a lot to do with the ubiquity of new communications channels, whose informality makes the use of abbreviations, emoticons and, sometimes, entirely new words, acceptable and encouraged.

Take the Short Messaging Service, or SMS, for example. With over 6 trillion of these sent in 2010 alone, the humble text message’s frequency and disposability has meant many simply don’t afford it the same grammatical scrutiny as they would an email, or a letter.

Twitter, too, as a result of its 140 character limit, has encouraged the adventurous reinvention of certain words and phrases. So, whereas normally one might ask “Could you please give me background on that tomorrow?”, Twitter and the language of brevity it has helped create now deems the following monstrosity, “cld u pls giv me bgd tomoz?” as actually meaning something. I mean, really? FML.

I’m partial to the odd shortening of “please” to “pls” in some emails, and make use of abbreviations as much as the next writer. Importantly, though, I know where and when to do it.

The real worry is with those younger and emerging professionals, many of whom have grown up in an online world where, increasingly, the laws of grammar are ignored or not afforded the same importance.

In that case, the danger is that writing in compressed language via more informal channels creates the risk of such language infecting more important channels — namely work email and official correspondence — where such a blasé approach can reflect negatively on you.

Cambridge Professor David Abulafia said as much in a story in the UK’s Telegraph earlier this year. What he feared young people in particular were losing, was “the mastery of the English language – the ability to write continuous prose, elegantly and precisely setting out an argument.”

What do you think? Is actually understanding a written message more important than how it’s written, or do you think the world has gone ‘totes cray cray’ where writing and grammar are concerned?

This post was originally published on Firebrand Talent's Blog and was republished with full permission.

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1.
Karen Curran
By Karen Curran NSW | Mar 15, 2013, 11:27 AM

So love this article. When I read anything, emails included, I hate that I unconsciously 'proof read' as as I'm reading. My most recent book was Ita's 'A Passionate Life' - it was a pleasure to read without having to worry about grammar or spelling. It is a reality, however, that many people did not learn correct grammar or English at school - and that's for first language people. Nor do they think of searching a dictionary to check. I loved the history of English where we learned the roots of where words came from and their historical use. A great challenge is to go into the church (St Andrew's Cathedral) at Town Hall, Sydney and try to read the open pages in the glass topped lecturn that has the olde English Bible. Fascinating.Reply

2.
Jasmine  Malki
By Jasmine Malki VIC | Mar 15, 2013, 09:09 AM

I learnt English as a second language and I think that has made me respect the correct use of grammar. Perhaps that is the key; learn another language and you will treat your native language more delicately! I am not sure people realise the full impact of sending an email that says ‘your great’ – I have received a number of these emails and have been unsure whether I should point out the error. After all, they have just paid me a compliment, I think?!Reply

3.
Fiona Lucas
By Fiona Lucas VIC | Mar 14, 2013, 05:24 PM

This is a great article, and I love the correct use of the written English word. I do fear however that my own skills have diminished somewhat over the years. I have always been the girl who writes a FULL text message, but I love emoticons too! Perhaps my brain is wired incorectly but I often cannot understand fully abbreviated text messages. So when at the end the question is "is actually understanding a written message more important ..." I find that a bit of oxymoron. How can we be sure we are understanding a message when the language which would give that clarity is not in use? Somewhere in the middle perhaps is the right space. Many children have no idea of any rules of grammar at all, and self correcting technology often leans towards American spelling. I think Prof. Davi Abulafia is correct - we are losing the ability to precisely set out an argument, and we certainly seem to have a shrinking vocabulary to some degree, replaced I guess by short versions. LOL!Reply

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