Grammar is like Latin. A dead language reserved for science and law. Grammar rules are a lot like Kafka’s novel The Trial. You know you’ve done something wrong, everyone else seems to know you’ve done something wrong, but explanations of your crime are vague and difficult to understand.
I wouldn’t deliver client’s work without editing. The same is true for my novels. But, the truth is, I had my first book professionally edited three separate times. Dig deep enough and you’ll find there are still errors. Grammar isn’t a science. It’s an imperfect set of complex, oft complicated rules. Don’t cheer that statement. It’s the reason current grammar standards are dying and should be dead. I’d love to take a hammar to it—or is it hammer?
Blogging, however, is different. It’s not as stodgy as more formal forms of written communication.
You see, you and I are having a conversation. Although granted, I’m monologuing (not a real word). But like any conversation, we both understand most of the content in terms of context.
It’s highly unlikely a misplaced comma, an accidental their/there/they’re, or if I choose to make you . . . Wait for it, or…wait for it, that any of these will send you spinning into confusion.
It’s also unlikely that the use of this: this ; or this – will grant me different IQ points awards from a reader. Their presence is the issue, the absence goes unnoticed for the most part.
In fact, one of the primary reasons I don’t stress over blog edits is because I respect your intelligence. I know for example that the following text presents no trouble to your quick, smart brain:
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer inwaht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
So, how damn likely is it that my failure to employ an Oxford comma will cause you hardship or vertigo?
Proper spelling is of course, important. The occasional typo is understandable. And certainly, in legal and medical documents absolute clarity is critical.
For everything else, “proper” grammar is dying. And it should. And the first reason is right there in that first sentence.
I wrote “proper” not correct.
You know why?
Because no one can agree on what “correct” grammar entails. MLA, Chicago, Associated Press, even the Society of Biblical Literature has their own style handbook. Different rules based not on what is right and what is wrong but based on preference.
Go over to Wikipedia, who by the way has their own style guide, and you’ll see a mind-numbing list of style guides.
But here is the more important point: Literacy (THEY say it doesn’t need to be a capital “L”) but anyway literacy has reached its pinnacle.
We’re not going to get any better at written communication. Technology and social media has us back sliding toward hieroglyphics. Ah, you say, but that’s not true?
Well, in a recent court finding the judge determined that when a couple responded to a lease offer with Champaign glasses and smiley emoji’s that should be interpreted as their acceptance of the offer. They didn’t want the place but those emoji’s cost them the first month’s rent.
As a society, we’ve accepted new rules of communication. Most grammar rules are antiquated, confusing, and filled with more exceptions than your mobile service contract.
Consider this: The entirety of God’s Word from “In the Beginning: to “You’re all gonna burn” (that last part is my interpretation) takes 1200 pages. Everything we know about anatomy fits into Gray’s 1500-page text. (BTW someone let the Lord know that the proper writing would be, “At the Beginning” not “in.”)
Explaining a comma and whether it’s more proper to spell out 1200 or write twelve hundred takes the folks over at the Chicago Manual of Style over 1100 pages. To me, that means grammar is about as complicated as an all-knowing, creator of everything, deity.
Now I do run my blogs through Grammarly, (not this one though) which by its own rules comes up as a misspelling. And any good grammarian will tell you AI grammar programs are fallible.
Artificial Intelligence has to power to “Know” what word you want to write next. It can direct you to the exact pages, among billions, that contains the information you seek. It can run your house, and it can reorder your Twinkies on your voice command alone.
It can’t, however, figure out the rules of English grammar.
Our public education system gave up on teaching grammar decades ago. They devote perhaps a year to it. Usually around fifth grade. Everything else you learn depends on whether your teacher is comfortable enough with the rules to redline anything but the most common errors. And even at that, they aren’t dedicating any class time to explaining exactly why a semi-colon was more proper than a comma or that you could avoid the entire issue by starting a new sentence.
Truth is you probably have no idea what the writer expects of you when you encounter that confused little symbol called the semicolon
It’s like a traffic light’s yellow middle circle. Speed up or slow down. It’s your choice. Well, I don’t understand the benefit of leaving the sentence’s meaning in limbo. A comma or a period seems adequate to me. Using both makes the writer appear confused.
The most obvious reason for killing off most of the grammar rules and simplifying the rest is that the vast majority of people don’t know the difference anyway. As I wrote earlier, whether I tell you to take a breath, take a breath… take a breath . . . Or take a breath—you get it. Pause, pause . . . Or pause; you also get it. So, we need only one.
“But Raymond, you don’t understand, it’s more complicated than that.”
No, I do understand and I’m saying it shouldn’t be complicated.
The complete Spanish Grammar guide is less than 500 pages. They get it. And they had the sense to put the question mark in front of the sentence. No reason to wait until the end of the sentence to realize you just read it with the wrong inflection.
You often hear writers called “lazy” for their grammatical errors.
Sure, kind of like if I asked my lazy family doctor to do a heart transplant. I mean the anatomy book is right there on Amazon. How hard could it be to read it and follow the directions?
Well, a might bit easier than figuring out this:
Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and the object of a sentence are the same. They can act as either objects or indirect objects. There are nine in English.
Great . . . Um, what’s an indirect object?
It’s a noun phrase referring to someone or something that is affected by the action of a transitive verb (typically as a recipient) but is not the primary object.
Oh, well shit, that clears it all up. Thank you, Satan.
I think we hold on to all these rules just so we can make fun of people on social media whom we don’t agree. Plus, I’m certain grammarians derive great joy in pretending they are perfect.
No one is perfect at it though. No one can be.
Communication and literature will not be lost from a process of simplification. All it requires is a little agreement. We can do it officially or we can just let it happen as it is happening . . . Naturally.
Either way, grammar is dead because just like the folks at Blackberry held out against “Smart” phones, the grammarians are holding out against “Smart” grammar rules.
So, no, I’m not sending my blog post over to my editor to add a bunch of symbols that render it proper for most people. Although she uses the Chicago Manual, so reporters and medical writers would have an issue with some of her grammatical choices.
If by chance you find yourself (a reflexive pronoun by the way) confused or disgusted by the errors, I’ll understand your future avoidance of my posts. Also, I hope you get some help for that grammar OCD.
And if you want to hear the other side of the grammar argument, check out our interview on The Writers’ Podcast with editor Lynda Dietz.