Sunday, March 03, 2013

Why I'm Celebrating National Grammar Day and Why You Should, Too

National Grammar Day is Monday, March 4, 2013. It is a day to write well, speak well, and help others do the same. It is a day to put aside our annoyances and pet peeves, and declare our appreciation for the effective use of our language.

Permission granted to use screenshot by Steve Dembo.
No, Steve Dembo, You Are Not an Idiot!

Everyone makes mistakes and humans have short memories. Made a mistake in an email? Let it go. Periodic mistakes often go unnoticed by harried recipients who don't have a lot of time.

Made a mistake on Facebook? Fasten your seatbelt! People have a lot of time on their hands in that space! Brief updates that are peppered with mistakes are often fodder for fun.



I think communication on personal social media accounts (like Facebook and Twitter) has been given a "pass" in the grammar game. Is that ok? We need to let our hair down somewhere, right? What about professional accounts? How about professional missives?

CONFESSIONS OF A GRAMMAR NERD

I confess I have a sickness. I can spot an extra space in a 5000 word document. My eyes are drawn to public signs that use misplaced apostrophes. My brain sounds an alarm when I see subject/verb disagreements. I cringe when listening to someone say, "The girl that didn't do her homework needs help." I can't help it. It's a sickness. At work, I've earned a reputation for being a Grammar Nerd. Although we joke about it, I'm sure people are annoyed by me acting as if I "know it all." I hope that's not true, and those who are close to me are well aware of the fact that I don't know it all and I'm not opposed to admitting it. I do a lot of writing and when I'm unsure, I look something up or ask someone for assistance. Even with my best efforts, I still make mistakes and sometimes publish items I wish I could correct. That doesn't stop me from having high expectations of myself and others.

Am I the only one who believes educated professionals should be able to write complete sentences? Is it too much to expect people to understand the differences between:

  • your and you're
  • to and too
  • its and it's
  • there, their, and they're
  • wear and where
  • lose and loose

An article in the Wall Street Journal speaks to the unfortunate increase in workplace grammar gaffes. Good communication is credibility. Sometimes, your written words are all you have. Consistently poor grammar (and spelling, for that matter) stands out and can result in loss of respect and credibility.


RULES

There are many grammar myths regarding "rules" that perpetuate the cycle of misinformation. Sometimes, when following a rule may actually cause confusion or when a debate ensues, it may just come down to a matter of style. In those cases, the best strategy is to just make a choice and then remain consistent. For example, if you insist on capitalizing a specific non-proper noun, then do it consistently throughout your document. (Keep in mind however, all important nouns are not proper nouns.) Likewise, if you are not a fan of the Oxford Comma, then don't use it - but be consistent.

WRITTEN VS. ORAL


When I hear someone say, "Send the document to Cassie and I," I chalk it up to a problem of the brain moving faster than the mouth. We don't always have time to analyze and organize our words on a conscious level before speaking. Most of us make some grammatical mistakes when we speak (and then cringe inside when we hear ourselves). Disorganized speech however, is not only unforgivable, but detrimental to one's credibility. Those who consistently use poor grammar, repeat themselves, go off on tangents, or use verbal pauses (e.g., um, er, like) would do themselves a favor to take the pulse of the room and adjust accordingly. Privately, ask someone you trust for feedback after you've had a chance to speak.

When we write professionally, we owe it to our "audience" to proofread and at least make a good effort to be clear and concise. Obvious mistakes draw attention away from the focus. Sometimes, despite our best efforts we still issue memorandums or send emails with mistakes. It happens. Employees who don't think writing is important though, are likely to think other things are not important. In today's technological world, the written word is even more important. People are writing to communicate more than ever before.

GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY
  1. Understand if spelling, grammar or writing in general is not be your cup of tea, it is not a reflection on how "smart" you are. Smart people acknowledge their shortcomings, use resources, and surround themselves with people who are even smarter. If you are the smartest person in the room, go find another room. 
  2. Take the time to learn how to write clear sentences
  3. If you know grammar is not your thing, circulate your documents to coworkers to proofread for grammar and clarity.
  4. Use a free browser plugin to catch mistakes. Try Ginger or Grammarly.
  5. Subscribe to Grammar Girl's newsletter. 
CAN'T WE ALL GET ALONG? ADVICE FOR GRAMMAR NERDS WITH BIG EGOS
  1. Don't correct people when they speak. Let it go. Nobody appreciates being embarrassed in front of others. 
  2. Offer assistance if asked. Resist butting in where you don't belong.
  3. Choose your battles. When someone corrects your grammar and you'd rather not use the suggestions, just say thank you and carry on. Unless that person is your boss and you've already explained why you think your way is correct. In that case, appease your boss and bite the bullet.
  4. When someone accurately corrects your grammar, acknowledge your appreciation for a "good catch."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

8 comments:

sendkathy said...

I think Ginger and I will soon become best friends! Thanks for the tips. Grammar is like the island we know is there. It is our destination, but on the way we are hindered by a sea of converging languages, dialects, spellings, sounds and bad habits!

Brenna said...

Nice post. I, too, agree that social media (fb, twitter) have caused us to be more lenient with our grammar. Social media is a quick way to communicate. I use twitter much more than fb so my phrases are limited to the 140 characters.

But I think that grammar is very important in larger documents and more official postings. I think blog postings should go through a spelling and grammar proofread before publishing. To come across as professional and for others to take us seriously and knowledgeable, we must look and sound knowledgeable.

Cathy said...

From one nerd to another, you're missing a final quote mark in your last line there. Lovely article.

Lee Kolbert said...

Hey @Cathy!
Good catch! Thanks!
Lee

Urban said...

This is a loaded topic. I can go into a meeting to see a report that a manager wrote up using something other than MS word. Every last bit of the report will be underlined in green and red.

Saying anything about it is forbidden! Lol

Samantha Spence said...

I am 100% a grammar freak! If you do not know the difference between your and you're then you should probably go back to third grade. One of my teachers in my first year of college made us write a summary of what we had learned in class every single week. In this summary, we could not use any conjunctions. She said it was to prevent the misuse of words like they're and you're. It would also make a 100 word summary into an 150 word summary. Thank you so much for your blog!

Jessica Strickland said...

Dear Lee,
I just want to say, I had no idea what an oxford comma was. I have been committed to using it since elementary school. It just looks weird to say "Jack, Jill and Bob went up a hill". I NEED the comma before "and" in a list.
I truly enjoyed this article. I am not a grammar nerd; however, I cannot stand to find misspellings in an important essay, resume, email, Facebook post, etc. I really enjoyed the links you provided. I honest went through all of them.
Sincerely,
Kameron Strickland
http://stricklandkameronedm310.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Please a friend at work says '...I Celebrate you'... kinda sounds worng grammatically, but is it?