Monday, July 2, 2012

The Slow Death of Grammar

The Wall Street Journal has a piece "This Embarrasses You and I*" on the death of grammar in the office.
Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say....

At RescueTime, for example, grammar rules have never come up. At the Seattle-based maker of personal-productivity software, most employees are in their 30s. Sincerity and clarity expressed in "140 characters and sound bytes" are seen as hallmarks of good communication—not "the king's grammar," says Jason Grimes, 38, vice president of product marketing. "Those who can be sincere, and still text and Twitter and communicate on Facebook—those are the ones who are going to succeed." 
Perhaps I'm simply showing my age, but I cringe when I read a report or memorandum that has misspellings or poor grammar. It distract me from the content of the piece, and I assume - perhaps incorrectly - that the target audience for the piece feels the same way.

It's difficult to tell professionals that their writing can be improved. Reactions range from the resentful ("Any moron can tell when I meant, so what's the problem?") to the delusional ("What do you mean I have a problem?"). One would like to assume that someone who has made it through twelve years of primary and secondary education, earned a college degree, and slogged through a graduate program would have the basics down. (And, to be fair, most of my colleagues are pretty good.) Other places of business are absolutely appalling. I once received several emails from an employee - a highly-paid employee, at that, with supervisory responsibilities - at a Federal agency that shall remain nameless. These emails were so poorly written that I had no idea what the writer was trying to convey.

We're increasingly seeing the results of an educational system that emphasizes individualism and rewards effort, rather than one that emphasizes rigor and rewards results.

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