3 groups of people who should ignore the grammar police

Social media users, academics and professionals could use a healthy dose of spelling and grammar independence, don’t ya think?


Lois Lane is a horrible speller and she’s considered a world-class journalist.

OK, so she is a comic book character. So what? (Not to mention it’s a bit questionable how good a journalist she was considering she couldn’t figure out that Clark Kent was Superman, but that’s another debate all together.)

Journalists tend not to get bogged down in fine-tuning their prose because editors exist. But should any of us be wasting our time on comma placement and proper capitalization?

An article in Wired magazine advocates that spelling and grammar need to evolve with the technologies that have been unleashed in recent years.

“Standardized spelling enables readers to understand writing, to aid communication and ensure clarity. Period,” writes Anne Trubek. “There is no additional reason, other than snobbery, for spelling rules.”

My first reaction was to chuckle and go back to dutifully looking up words I was about to egregiously misspell on Twitter.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to notice how much of my time was sucked into making sure em dashes were used correctly, or arguing whether the period goes inside or outside the quote. And who cares how poorly I spell on social media. It’s supposed to be fun, right? As long as you get my meaning, what else matters? Why do we all live in fear of the social media grammar police—who, frankly, are right up there with telemarketers in my book—spoiling our good time?

So now we need new rules. Where do we start?

Here are three areas that could use a healthy dose of spelling and grammar independence:

Professionalism

I understand that writing a succinct and well-structured email is important in professional life.

Okay, I don’t honestly believe that. Mainly because I’ve worked places where people I consider to be superb professionals couldn’t write properly-formatted emails to save their lives. I’ve seen multicolored fonts, subject lines treated like the body of an email, no capitalization or punctuation, etc.

Does any of that make those people any less professional? Of course not.

To me, the level of seriousness and energy you bring to the job every day defines professionalism. I’d rather have someone do a sparkling job than spend precious time and resources fretting about a boss nitpicking over the correct use of “their” and “there.”

Sure, poorly structured emails might suggest an employee is underperforming in other areas, but we should judge our co-workers’ complete performance, not just the professional equivalent of a spelling test.

Get your message across quickly, don’t waste my time, and put your concentration where it belongs: on the job you’re being paid to do.

Academia

I am an academic, so I’m allowed to be über-cranky about how boring and stilted academic writing is.

I think higher education is our most important tool in forging a prosperous and secure future, but the way information is disseminated and distributed by academics defeats the purpose of its goal.

The whole reason academics exist is to give us valuable insights on our past and present society and culture to help us get the most out of our short lives. That’s kind of hard to do when professors try to out-snob each other rather than craft a coherent message to the public it’s trying to inform.

I once had a journalism professor hold up a piece of paper and ask each student to read it. After all of us did, he said we were saying it wrong and continued to go on a 20-minute rant on how we hadn’t been taught anything useful up to this point. He had written “email” on the page, and claimed we didn’t pronounce the word correctly because the actual spelling was “e-mail.”

It was a pointless exercise not only because all of us had grasped the meaning of the “misspelled” word immediately, but also because AP Style changed its mind and now “email” is perfectly acceptable.

We get it academics: you’re smart. But show us why we should care instead of rubbing it in our faces.

Social media

Do I really have to expend any more words on why spelling and grammar should be given free reign on social media websites? No? Outstanding.

Okay, just a few reasons why you should write however you want on Twitter and Facebook:

  • It’s fun!
  • You have a limited amount of characters. On Twitter, it’s a set number, but like everything else, the longer your post is, the less likely people are to read it. Drop some vowels and consonants and pack in more message.
  • You can make your voice distinct. Uniformity is never as boring as it is on social media.

I’m in large part playing devil’s advocate here—for no other reason than to avoid being taken out to the editorial woodshed by…well, everyone—but these ideas shouldn’t be casually dismissed at first glance.

The world’s recent struggles are all about attaining or preserving freedom, and the most important freedom we have is being able to utilize the language we speak. We should be making it work for us in the most effective way possible instead of limiting ourselves by existing rules and regulations.

What do you think?

(For an instant rebuttal to this post, please read: “This is not ‘Nam. This is grammar. There are rules.”)

Daniel Ford is Web editor for JCKonline.com, while also studying to be even more of a history nerd. A version of this post first appeared on Engage’s blog.

(Image via)

COMMENT

Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.