Monday, March 4, 2013

Grammar Hound

Disclaimer: This post in no way is meant to condemn, offend, or personally attack anyone. It is about the big picture message and is simply my opinion. If it comes off as snobby, then it may well be. I have a B.A. in English and I take language very seriously.

This weekend, in my just-opened-my-eyes-but-still-in-bed stupor, I posted a mini-rant about those Facebook memes floating around that say things like “Name a city in Pennsylvania that doesn’t have the letter ‘e’ in it.” I’ve seen these for movie titles, states, songs, animals, etc.  A lot of times, they look like the one below:

Django Unchained, The Change Up (c'mon, make it a challenge)

I saw one yesterday that had a little anecdote added: “this ones really tricky guys ;)” {sic}. I think it was name a fish without the letter ‘a’ in it (flounder, monkfish). What are these little memes trying to prove? The one above lacks proper capitalization and punctuation. The grammar is often incorrect. Usually, they have THOUSANDS of comments in response. Maybe it speaks to the limited vocabulary of some?  It makes me wonder about the person(s) who created these. Do they really think they’ve created a stumper? For them, maybe something like this is hard. Does reading a thousand answers and “this isn’t that hard dummy” (an actual comment on one post) gnaw at their self-esteem? I think some may just be trying to get a response, to garner X number of shares/comments/likes. But if you’re going to post something about words, at least spell everything correctly and use proper grammar.

Side note, I often see comments on these along the lines of “some ppl on here can’t use grammer,” {sic} and a little piece of me dies inside. I saw one of these that said "name words that use all the vowels" and waaay too many comments were "what are vowels?" I wept. 

THIS. Thanks Mark.

The larger point I am getting to is about the breakdown in language and lack of vocabulary that I am witnessing on a daily basis. Even with the sometimes annoying and always hilarious invention of auto-correct, I see posts, statuses, texts and even professional e-mails at work that are misspelled, under punctuated and filled with “lols” and short-hand. I gave up auto-correct as a means to a) see if I could get away from the crutch and b) remind myself of the value of typing/texting etc. without spelling assistance. It was hard for approximately one day. I won’t lie- that assuming the word you want thing is pretty handy for typing speedily. It was also hilarious when auto-correct robot got it wrong. But I no longer need it.  It is a great necessary tool for many and yet, I see so many mistakes and so much short hand that sometimes posts are not even readable.

My teacher friends can speak to this; I don’t think educators have stopped teaching proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. Nor have they stopped teaching essential vocabulary words.There are a wealth of amazing teachers out there (Emily, I STILL think about the skunk and the pumpkin when I am trying to remember prepositions) who teach the basics and teach well. So what’s happening? Has the internet ruined it all? For as long as I can remember, even all the way back to AOL Instant Messenger (throwback!) I have always typed/written with proper capitalization, punctuation and spelling (or always tried to and naturally got better at it with age and education). I rarely use short hand. People argue speed, but it actually takes me longer to do all the short hand stuff. I am wired to do it correctly. Many of my friends are the same. I have FB friends (who shall remain anonymous) who post statuses that are so short handed, so misspelled and under-punctuated that I cannot even understand what they are saying. I have to read it 3 or 4 times to get the gist. And then, people comment/react (much in the same shorthand manner) like they totally get it. So what’s different? Who or what is to blame?

It's not right to write before you're sure your writing is right.
Before you say “oh it’s just FB or chat or texting etc.” let me tell you something. I work with graduate students, most of whom are adults 30+ years old. I think my oldest student is 65-6. I get e-mails daily that are hard to read due to misspelling and poor grammar. From GRADUATE students. They are professional students, writing to academic and administrative professionals. Why is this okay? There have been times I have wanted to write back to them “I cannot answer this message until you use proper spelling and grammar, and then I’d be happy to help you,” but alas, that would not go over well. I’ve seen letters of appeal that I want to attack with my red pen. When working in the writing center when I was attending college, I would see papers, academic papers, with “r” in place of are and lol, and mix-ups of there, their, and they’re and you’re and your etc.  

What I am talking about here isn’t the occasional typo or spelling error or lack of grammar (we’re all guilty from time to time). I’m talking about the chronic communication problem. Granted, in many cases I only see what someone posts on FB- maybe they are better, more serious writers off the social media landscape. But what if they aren’t? And don’t you want to represent yourself in the best possible light? As mentioned before, I see this issue in e-mails and papers and all manners of communication I encounter. And I think it’s getting worse.

We could blame technology, which I think plays a huge role. Our faces are more or less always stuck in front of a screen. We use the internet for fun, for work, for learning. Sure, maybe it’s easy to get ‘lazy’ and shorten everything on FB. But don’t you want it to be the best representation of yourself? Employers look at this stuff, guys. And maybe to some, language and communication are not as valuable; why take the time to learn spelling and grammar and punctuation when auto-correct does it for us? What would happen if technology broke down, a la ABC’s Revolution, etc. and we needed to communicate? In the event of a technology ‘blackout’ or zombie apocalypse, I know I want to be able to leave clear messages to fellow survivors. You know what they say about Uncle Jack, horses, and punctuation.

But maybe something else is to blame. Maybe we just need to make a little more time for each other (sans screens) and a little more time for putting our best selves forward, whether that means dressing to impress, writing correctly, or smiling at strangers. Either way, you’ll feel and look a lot more hip.


  1. Honestly, I think it boils down to what the individual considers important. I'm not a math person, so when many people were in an uproar over calculators being brought into the classroom earlier and earlier (as opposed to long division by hand, etc) my response was barely a "meh"; however, when I found out many elementary schools are planning to do away with teaching cursive writing, "OH, HELL NO! MY KIDS WILL LEARN THAT SHIT FROM ME, IF NOT IN THE CLASSROOM!" So, yeah. That's my take on the matter. Great post!

    1. Definitely a good point. I have the same thoughts about math. I also know many children who will never know cursive, and that is sad.

  2. Don't even get me started on people with college educations typing statuses with words like "jelouse" and "pirsed" (which is supposed to be "pierced", btw). These aren't typos from being in a rush or hitting the wrong button(happens to me all the time)nor are they intentional short hand (who doesn't use "lol" and the like?) These are people who cannot spell and there is no excuse for it. Phones have autocorrect, which will show you the RIGHT way to spell it. Computers and internet browsers will underline, in red, misspelled words. Then, you can type the misspelled word into Google. Much like your phone, Google will also be able to show you the correct spelling. In the age of information and nearly endless resources (that basically do it FOR you!) there is no excuse for a college educated adult, with no learning disabilities, to have the spelling/reading levels of a first grader. It does come down to laziness. I don't know how these people aren't ashamed of themselves.

    1. This is why I love you and we are twins. :)

  3. It's laziness and technology, but technology should be no excuse for laziness. I understand why, 15 years ago, people used shorthand when texting, what with the numeric keypads on your phone, before keyboards. There is no excuse now. Well said, Maria. Well said. (Oh, and the word texting is underlined in red, indicating it is misspelled. I thought texting was now officially a word?)

    1. Thanks, cousin! I like that; "technology should not be an excuse for laziness." That is exactly my point. I just also fear that as a society where technology is king, it may be more than laziness. Not knowing the difference between their, they're and there and the "yours" is not laziness, it's ignorance. And that is what is really scary.

      And I think texting my be underlined for you depending on what dictionary program your computer/browser uses. It's not on mine.

  4. have you seriously received "lol" in papers written for college? this makes me want to cry. Though i am wary of the degree to which technology has become integrated into our society, I don't think this is the cause of the problem (well not directly anyway). The internet allows it's users to find well-written, insightful articles with an ease never before existing in our world. Also, despite the natural inclination to blame spell check for making people too lazy to learn correct spelling, I believe this is unjustified. Once upon a time, I was an atrocious speller; paying attention to the corrections spell check made to my botches of the English Language taught me how to produce the correct combinations of letters much more astutely than my school teachers ever did (not teacher bashing. I AM an English Teacher.). I could cite a few apparent problems to me, but I think the main culprit is the ADHD style of entertainment present across all forms of media. The brains of individuals are being wired by this type of interaction in a way which undermines the ability to develop complex thoughts and analysis. Despite how great they can be, (I love mine!)smartphones are one of the worst offenders. they are screen in your face all day every day.

    I will post the entire article if anyone wants to read it, but here is an extract that sums it up nicely.

    It has not escaped the notice of researchers from a variety of disciplines that digital
    communication is quickly becoming the norm. With this observation has come the natural
    curiosity to understand what effects this might have on us. One aspect of these effects is the
    physiological response that our brains have to this new mode of interacting with one another.
    While this phenomenon is still new and thus research is limited, it is becoming clear that our
    constant exposure to digital media, and especially the internet, is literally rewiring our brains.
    According to Dr. Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan, “Daily exposure to high technology- computers,
    smart phones, video games, search engines such a Google and Yahoo- stimulates brain cell
    alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our
    brains while weakening old ones.” Our brains are changing because of technology, and at a
    remarkably rapid pace.

    also check out

    I, however, believe that when scientists delve deeper into this, they will find that it is not technology itself that affects the way in which our brain forms, but the speed with which the images or text changes (if you are reading an article online, your attention is on one thing. If you are watching sponge bob, you are being shown a new scene every 11 seconds on average). this results in the formation of a brain which is incapable of really thinking about and learning from the world surrounding it.

    by the way, this is Justin Hebert if my name does not be displayed

  5. * is not displayed. that one was pretty bad

  6. Justin,
    I have seen 'lol' and short-hand in papers and graduate correspondence. It's rare, but it's there.
    I definitely get what you're saying. Sad but true fact, a lot of it is laziness and a lack of education (not necessarily at school, but a 'life education' that is driven by our experiences). Sometimes I wonder/worry about the physiological impacts of technology. Our brains have evolved to adapt to the technology around us, so we're capable of lots of data processing. I do wonder, what are we sacrificing in the name of speed? Are we damaging our brains? Perhaps the moral is, SLOW DOWN. We need to take the time to remove ourselves from the speed of life; to read ACTUAL books, with no distractions. To have slow, meaningful conversations. Allow our brains to remember processing more slowly. In the end, I think that would help.

  7. Dear All

    I totally sympathise (UK English) with everything you are all saying, as I used to teach literacy skills to 16-19 year old students, as part of their chosen College courses, in the UK.

    However, I have come to the conclusion, eventually, that it really doesn't matter. When I first started thinking like this, I questioned myself, wondering if my attitude was caused by apathy. At first, it may well have been, but after a while I realised that actually, these people, on the whole, really aren't that bothered by their lack of vocabulary or grammatical skill. So my question is, if they're not bothered, and mainly seem to be fairly comfortable with themselves, then why on Earth should I be?! (I still think the interrobang should have become common usage LOL!!)

    Partly, I'm just playing devil's advocate here, but another part of me really means it....... Why should I care, when they obviously don't?

    I've just discovered your blog by the way, Maria, very astute and entertaining......... Keep up the good work mate!! Bless.