Are You Down With Grammar?

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2009/10/are-you-down-with-gramamar/

by Dawn Allcot

I was dismayed to see #DownWithGrammar trending on Twitter the other day. Some people used the hashtag to bemoan their high school English classes, others to confess to bad spelling, and many to make fun of politicians and political signs.

Others – and these are the ones I commend – turned the phrase around in a clever play on words: “I’m #downwithgrammar,” JoannaOC tweeted. “That’s why I want the line to be for people with ‘fewer than 10 items’ instead of those with ‘less than ten items.’”

If you’re scratching your head at why the first is correct and the second is not, this column is for you!

But first, let me tell you why I’m #downwithgrammar in the positive sense.

1. Grammar makes things clear. It’s easy to be misunderstood in print and on the Web. We don’t have visuals or tones of voice to convey our intentions and emotions. All we have are the words. Therefore, we better make sure the word we choose is the exact right word, at the right time. Yes, English has a lot of purely arbitrary grammatical rules, but a lot of them are common sense. They’re there for a reason; to make it easier for us to understand one another in writing.

2. Proper grammar shows you care. Many writers who struggle with grammar take the attitude that it’s the editor’s job to fix it. Maybe… maybe… if a writer’s content is unparalleled, (a top-notch investigative reporter, for instance) an editor will tolerate sloppy grammar on a repeat basis. Otherwise, these writers will soon find themselves looking for another gig.

Editors are overworked, underpaid, and often cranky (I know, I’ve edited 4 magazines, including 2 at one time!) They have better things to do than to edit your grammar because you are too lazy – and yes, it’s a matter of laziness – to look up the proper way to phrase something or double check your spelling and usage.

I’m not talking about intentionally breaking the rules as a stylistic device; I’m talking about, for instance, using “your” when you should use “you’re.”

3. Turning in grammatically perfect work means the end product will be, well, grammatically perfect. I copyedit entire magazines for a number of clients. When a writer submits an article riddled with grammatical errors, I take a lot of time and focus to fix it. That increases the odds I’ll miss something “big” – like spelling the writer’s name correctly.

I’m not saying I shouldn’t turn in perfect work to the editor-in-chief every time. I’m just saying, the more I have to change, the greater the odds that something will get screwed up. And it’s your name on that story, not mine.

4. Proper grammar makes you sound educated. The way we speak says a lot about who we are. When you communicate with clients, potential clients and colleagues on social networks and through e-mail, do you want to sound smart and professional?

5. I’m going to steal my last point about why I’m #DownwithGrammar from a witty tweet from @TLaTela: “Good morning tweeple! #downwithgrammar => How are you going to abbreviate what you can’t spell?”

If you’re #downwithgrammar, too, (or would like to be!), join me here at FWJ, where I’ll share the rules you need to know to show your editors you care. I promise I won’t lecture in a schoolmarm-ish way and you’ll never, ever have to conjugate a verb. (I’d show you if I knew how!)

Let me end this first post with a quick thank you to Deb Ng and the rest of the FWJ family. I’m a long-time visitor to the site, and I love everything it has to offer. I also love how it’s evolved from a top job source for freelance writers to an unrivaled blog network for anyone who loves writing and earns money from it.

To say I’m flattered that Deb picked me to join this hard-working, friendly and brilliant staff is an understatement… but I really can’t find the right words to describe how happy I am to be here. ‘Til next time…

Comments

  1. Fabulous work, Dawn! While I don’t consider myself a grammar queen, I believe people need to exercise more common sense when phrasing thoughts. Ignorance might be bliss to some, but it shows through the structure we utilize.

    I’m glad to see you over here!

  2. I love this! I can’t stand improper grammar, even though I fall victim. It drives me crazy to listen to ‘netspeak’ or to erad it. Yes, I said listen! There are people who think it is cool to talk in netspeak and it’s insane.

    Your point about caring…so true. I can’t stand talking to someone that can’t be bothered to type better than a pre-schooler. If you don’t care enough to use the shift key, really, why are you writing?

  3. Ack- read, not erad. Dang it.

  4. Dawn:

    Nice to see you starring in your own column on FWJ!

    Grammar Goddess, we need you!

  5. So wait, why IS “less than ten items” incorrect? After all, when entering the line, I DO actually have a number of items that is less than ten…

  6. Great inaugural post, Dawn! Welcome to FWJ.

    I’m a big fan of point #4. When someone uses poor grammar – and I mean major stuff, not just typos or obscure stuff – I can’t help it. I think less of them. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a very rural, very poorly educated area. Maybe it’s a repressed self-loathing.

    I’m even a member of a Facebook group called “I judge you when you use poor grammar.” How wrong is that?

  7. Honestly, the schools, at least those around me, do not help one bit. I was in the middle school last night and was glancing at a 7th grade writing project. They’d each been assigned a word and had to write a story about that word pretending the word was an actual person. All the kid’s papers had been supposedly edited by the teacher before being hung up in the hallway.

    Here are some snippets of mistakes:

    “Hurtle jumped out of bed.”

    “After eating dinner, Fantstic shouted about what a great desert it look like.”

    “Plagarism was sad when his teacher fails him for the copied paper.”

    All of these mistakes were not just typos either, they were carried throughout the entire two page story. Then on top of the spelling errors, papers were littered with punctuation, capitalization and verb tense errors. At 7th grade, I expect better. Yet, even my daughter tells me the teacher is still telling them to spell words they don’t know phonetically and not to worry if their punctuation or spelling is wrong, the main concern is getting their point across. I keep wondering WHEN is grammar taught now?

  8. Thank you so much for doing this! I’m an editor too, and often feel that blogs and getting sloppier and sloppier with their grammar/punctuation/style consistency. It’s beginning to feel like a losing battle! The “average person” may not care, but as someone who knows all the rules, it’s very frustrating to read prominent blogs with obvious errors.

  9. Dawn,

    What a great post – all so true. I’m a grammar freak! And I must be since I write most of the marketing for our business, for all the reasons you and JulieF pointed out. When my sons were in high school, they’d come to me for my opinion on their papers, but their first question was always “do you have a pen or pencil in your hand?” If I did not, they’d hand me their masterpiece; if I did, they’d take it away from me for fear I’d mark all over the paper!

    Great blog post; I hope it encourages people to pay attention to the ‘art’ of good grammar (should that be a ‘ or a ” around art?).

  10. Love the twist!

    I need to be more down with grammar. I consider my horrible copy editing skills as my biggest downfall as a writer.

  11. Well, I was going to retweet this message using the “retweet” button, but then I read the tweet, and you misspelled grammar as “gramamar.” That’s downright embarrassing. Looks like at least three people have fallen victim.

  12. Eugene-

    I noticed, and the irony wasn’t lost on me!

    I was going to leave it unmentioned since I wasn’t actually the one to type in the title (I submitted an email for my first blog rather than typing directly onto the server)… I will *definitely* speak with Deb about getting that changed, as I’m not sure how to do so.

    Cindy – Double quotes around “art.” Single quotes are used when they are within double quotes. For instance: “I hope it encourages people to pay attention to the ‘art’ of grammar,” Cindy said. Keep the questions coming. ;) If I get enough, I’ll start responding in posts!

    Anne – That IS scary…but it explains a lot.

    Everyone – THANK YOU for the warm welcome to FWJ. I have to admit, it is a bit of pressure writing a grammar (or “gramamar”) blog. After all, I have to make sure every word and bit of punctuation is perfect. But I’m looking forward to doing my little bit to clean up the Web, grammatically speaking.

    Off to join the Facebook group Bob mentioned now! :D

  13. Wonderful post, Dawn! :)

    Your mention about conjugating verbs brought back memories of taking French immersion classes. We did a ton of that stuff and even had to take a full year of French grammar in high school one year. Good times…(shuddering)

  14. Anne G:

    I live in Wyoming. I received my education primarily in Wyoming. My children are beginning their educational careers here, too. I reflect on how I was taught to spell by sound, utilizing Phonics. I work with my Kindergartner now and encourage proper spelling through Phonics as his school does not incorporate Phonics teachings. The difference between myself and my youngest brother (whom received no Phonics education) is vast. At twenty-five, he still struggles to spell many words correctly.

    Standardized testing is utilized but standardized teaching is not. Disappointing.

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