Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Grammar counts ... or should

My high school English teachers could give testimony to my general dislike for the subject. I actually believed that as someone who had a natural affection for mathematics, it was expected that I would detest and far from excel in English, grammar, etc. And  when I got my bachelor's degree, I was sure that I'd never be forced to do any writing again; boy, was I wrong! I was in the Army only a short time when I learned that I'd be writing memos, training lessons, and much more. Several years later, I discovered I liked to write, and so invested a fair amount of effort to improve my own grammar, though I know I occasionally make mistakes. I recall my friend, Herb Chain, subtly trying to let me know that it was wrong for me to say we would insure that something would occur (i.e., it should have been ensure).

My younger son, Douglas, who is the editor of The Journal of Performance Measurement(r), posted this on Facebook:

I'll confess the occasional onset of a grammatical error allergy when I see exceptionally bad cases, especially in advertisements.

It's my contention that we are all doing a lot more writing than our parents, and much more than we would have expected. Even if you're not writing articles or hosting a blog, you're probably still posting on Facebook, Linkedin, and other "social media" sites. And, you're probably occasionally penning memos and letters, as well as loads of emails.

I was fortunate in high school that I took a typing class. Back then, men (boys) weren't often seen in these classes. A friend of mine and I "goofed off" during the first few classes, so the teacher separated us. This forced me to "buckle down," and I learned that I was pretty good at typing.

My typing skills paid off, though I was once criticized for typing a letter, when I should have had one of our department's secretaries type it (this was before word processing became so common). This same individual and I ended up at a different company, several years later, and on more than one occasion I spied him typing into his PC's word processor; this software has, no doubt, altered the way letters are composed, and made typing something everyone should be skilled at.

As a result of all this crafting of written communications, we're forced to confront some of our weaknesses. Fortunately, word processors (I still prefer WordPerfect) have spell checkers, and some even check grammar. But it's still up to us to ensure that what we're composing is written properly. We should take pride in what we compose, even if it's a short email to a friend, or a post on Facebook.

I recall reading a friend of a friend's criticism of one of our former presidents on Facebook, saying how "stupid" he was. Her composition had multiple grammatical errors, including the use of the plural form of a word, rather than possessive (i.e., the apostrophe was missing). To quote Forrest Gump, "stupid is as stupid does."

I will freely admit that I could benefit from a proof reader to check all of my compositions, but this simply isn't possible. Depending on what's being written in our firm, a document may be reviewed by three or more folks. But even after these checks, there's still the potential for errors. But, we still strive for perfection.

Cartoon has been reprinted with permission,


  1. Dave,

    As you probably know, I am a real stickler for grammar. I do not get as ill as the cartoon guy, but it does pain me when people just don’t bother. I am also averse to “phone text” being using instead of proper written English. As a friend of mine put it, “it’s like receiving a letter written with a crayon”. I would highly recommend “Eats Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss – highly entertaining as well as a little educational (I learnt about the Oxford comma!)

    All the best


  2. Anthony, thanks for your comments. I read the book, and agree that it's a great tool. As for "phone text," even when I "text" I refuse to use it ... I key in the extra letters. Sadly, many young folks WRITE for school using these abbreviations. A sad state of affairs.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.