One semester when I was teaching a media-writing course, I handed a quiz back and one of the students blurted out, with a mix of exasperation and fear, “I didn’t know grammar counted.” I replied, of course it counts, because if you are going to write for a living, your writing needs to look professional.
Since then, I’ve encountered articles and studies that emphasize the importance of clear, clean writing in the professional world – and provide valuable advice to students (or anyone who writes).
The advice coalesces into three main points:
- Good grammar is good for your career.
- Good grammar is good for your business.
- Good grammar is good for your love life.
I hear people all the time refer to the “Grammar Police,” or, even worse, “Grammar Nazis.” (As an aside, can we all please quit referring to anyone other than Nazis as “Nazis” — real Nazis were far more heinous than any politician, pedant or petty bureaucrat.) And while I’ve made a living as an editor and a teacher of editing, I don’t like to think of myself as the “Grammar Patrol” but rather the “Grammar Pep Squad.” After all, grammar is a grand and necessary thing, and it deserves a little cheerleading.
Grammar structures our language and lets us use it to communicate all manner of information (as linguist Noam Chomsky put it, a finite set of rules for infinite combinations). The rules of grammar help us convey messages clearly and accurately, and let us express meaning through small nuances and great distinctions. Grammar is not always elegant, but we need it. Without grammar, our sentences would fall apart and we’d have a hard time communicating. And communication is the point of language, after all.
Supporting clear, professional language and helping people understand how to get there calls for celebration, not scorn.
So, give me a “G” … give me an “R” …
I’ve started this blog to have a place to put stuff too big for Twitter and too opinionated, tangential or snarky for my official work website. You can read the “About” page to see more about me.
Come on in!
(Crystal Leigh Shearin/stock.xchng)
My goal for this blog is to have a place to share thoughts and tips about grammar, language, words and editing, and teaching all of those, in journalism particularly; to point out egregious errors in the hopes that they will help others avoid such mistakes (or give some folks a laugh for the day); and to explore different and changing usages in English.
As an editor, I know that “standard” language is important in professional writing, and that certain rules need to be followed for a writer to be taken seriously. As a teacher, I know that students need to have a good command of the rules to understand how language works and how to write clearly, then to know when they can successfully break or ignore these rules. But as a linguist, I know that “rules” are a moving target — only dead languages never change. It’s not impossible to reconcile these three aspects, and I strive to be a “reasonable prescriptivist.”
Posted in Editing, Grammar, Language, Teaching
Tagged editing, education, grammar, language, linguistics, prescriptivism, teaching, words