Rachel Morgandale, Arts Editor
The Devil in the Details: Why Grammar is still importantWe’ve all done it. We’ve made a lazy spelling mistake, misused a comma, or misused a dreaded semi-colon. In a faster paced world where instant transmission of thought has become the norm, some wonder why grammar is even bothered with any more. Do we even need such stringent linguistic rules?
As an English major, I may be biased, but I believe we still do. It’s true that English is ever changing its shape. This is what makes it an exciting, expressive language. Perhaps more than any other language, it has reshaped itself, simplified, clarified, and picked up useful expressions from other languages. Many English “purists” will argue that slang and the habit of turning verbs into nouns (or vice versa) are destroying the language. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Many of these critics forget the fact that English was never really pure to begin with. I believe that as long as a linguistic change or shift adds to the expressiveness or clarity of the language, they are welcome additions. The world around us is changing and language moves to accommodate it.
It’s the question of clarity that often suffers when grammar is ignored. Browse the internet and you’ll find plenty blogs and memes that are concerned with the misuse of grammar. A simple comma can truly change the meaning of a sentence. Remove the comma from “Eat smart, kids,” and it changes from encouragement for children to get their five a day to, “Eat smart kids,” a statement implying that members of the chess club should be served for lunch.
One of the most neglected areas of grammar is the plural possessive tense. If a nest belongs to one falcon, it is the “falcon’s nest.” If it belongs to two or more falcons it becomes the “falcons’ nest.” Homonyms are equally neglected in many cases. Many Facebook statuses would imply that there, their, and they’re are interchangeable. Or you’re and your. Or to, too, and two, for that matter.
Part of the problem is that the rules of grammar aren’t emphasized in public school. With large class sizes and a strict curriculum of material that must be covered, only the most glaring errors are addressed. There were many punctuation concepts that I wasn’t taught until college.
A level of self-policing is needed. We should be aware of the things we write, even if it is only Facebook. The occasional error is understandable in informal settings, but getting into the habit of good grammar is a useful skill. We should be able to easily slip into our “business grammar” for work and other important occasions. If someone is mentally correcting our errors, they won’t be paying as much attention to the content of our ideas. Yes, in an ideal world perhaps a potential employer shouldn’t judge us for using “their” when we meant “there.” Perhaps they shouldn’t judge us for wearing sweatpants to an interview either, but they will.
Taking the time to make sure your writing has no major errors in it shows you care. It also forces you to look over what you’ve written and evaluate it again. If more people did that, it might improve the content of what you’re writing. Even if it is only a Facebook status, you’re putting it out for the world to judge when you hit publish. You don’t want to invoke the wrath of the grammar-Nazis.