by Dawn Allcot
I was dismayed to see #DownWithGrammar trending on Twitter the other day. Some people used the hashtag to bemoan their high school English classes, others to confess to bad spelling, and many to make fun of politicians and political signs.
Others – and these are the ones I commend – turned the phrase around in a clever play on words: “I’m #downwithgrammar,” JoannaOC tweeted. “That’s why I want the line to be for people with ‘fewer than 10 items’ instead of those with ‘less than ten items.’”
If you’re scratching your head at why the first is correct and the second is not, this column is for you!
But first, let me tell you why I’m #downwithgrammar in the positive sense.
1. Grammar makes things clear. It’s easy to be misunderstood in print and on the Web. We don’t have visuals or tones of voice to convey our intentions and emotions. All we have are the words. Therefore, we better make sure the word we choose is the exact right word, at the right time. Yes, English has a lot of purely arbitrary grammatical rules, but a lot of them are common sense. They’re there for a reason; to make it easier for us to understand one another in writing.
2. Proper grammar shows you care. Many writers who struggle with grammar take the attitude that it’s the editor’s job to fix it. Maybe… maybe… if a writer’s content is unparalleled, (a top-notch investigative reporter, for instance) an editor will tolerate sloppy grammar on a repeat basis. Otherwise, these writers will soon find themselves looking for another gig.
Editors are overworked, underpaid, and often cranky (I know, I’ve edited 4 magazines, including 2 at one time!) They have better things to do than to edit your grammar because you are too lazy – and yes, it’s a matter of laziness – to look up the proper way to phrase something or double check your spelling and usage.
I’m not talking about intentionally breaking the rules as a stylistic device; I’m talking about, for instance, using “your” when you should use “you’re.”
3. Turning in grammatically perfect work means the end product will be, well, grammatically perfect. I copyedit entire magazines for a number of clients. When a writer submits an article riddled with grammatical errors, I take a lot of time and focus to fix it. That increases the odds I’ll miss something “big” – like spelling the writer’s name correctly.
I’m not saying I shouldn’t turn in perfect work to the editor-in-chief every time. I’m just saying, the more I have to change, the greater the odds that something will get screwed up. And it’s your name on that story, not mine.
4. Proper grammar makes you sound educated. The way we speak says a lot about who we are. When you communicate with clients, potential clients and colleagues on social networks and through e-mail, do you want to sound smart and professional?
5. I’m going to steal my last point about why I’m #DownwithGrammar from a witty tweet from @TLaTela: “Good morning tweeple! #downwithgrammar => How are you going to abbreviate what you can’t spell?”
If you’re #downwithgrammar, too, (or would like to be!), join me here at FWJ, where I’ll share the rules you need to know to show your editors you care. I promise I won’t lecture in a schoolmarm-ish way and you’ll never, ever have to conjugate a verb. (I’d show you if I knew how!)
Let me end this first post with a quick thank you to Deb Ng and the rest of the FWJ family. I’m a long-time visitor to the site, and I love everything it has to offer. I also love how it’s evolved from a top job source for freelance writers to an unrivaled blog network for anyone who loves writing and earns money from it.
To say I’m flattered that Deb picked me to join this hard-working, friendly and brilliant staff is an understatement… but I really can’t find the right words to describe how happy I am to be here. ‘Til next time…