Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Grammar, Manners, and Other Things That Shouldn't Matter

"where image takes precedence over wisdom where sound bite politics are served to the fastfood culture where straight teeth in your mouth are more important than the words that come out of it"
- From "Television, the Drug of the Nation" by The Disposibile Heroes of Hiphoprisy

Is it important to speak and write with correct grammar and spelling? It is, but not for great reasons.

Like manners, grammar and spelling are social conventions. There's nothing inherently good or bad about the way things are said. Societies agree on how to do things, and we get irritated if those rules are broken. As a result, your message will be more poorly received if it's got grammar or spelling errors.

Ideally we should try to understand the content of what is being communicated, and evaluate the communication on those grounds. Fight the temptation to disregard the content of what is being said based on grammatical and spelling errors. If you bristle at this advice, ask yourself if you think it's okay to judge what someone's saying on their physical attractiveness, teeth straightness, or how good their breath smells.

We're more likely to listen to and believe an attractive person, but that's not a good thing. One of the most irritating things in the world is a person who finds grammatical errors. More specifically, the people who can't keep it to themselves are irritating. Some of my readers might be bristling at this too, thinking that people should use correct grammar.

The problem is acute with our evaluation of foreigners. Our perceptions of people's intelligence is greatly affected by their fluency with language. This explains why we tend to think non-native speakers of our language are stupid. I hope all of my readers can agree that you shouldn't be too nitpicky with grammar when a foreign speaker is trying to tell you something important.

Grammar and spelling are only important because people think it is. As you listen to people, try to be better. Strive to treat it like physical attractiveness-- it's the gift that matters, how how well the bow is tied on the box.

Pictured is an octopus.


Katharine said...

Grammar and spelling both matter. Anything that improves reading comprehension and communication matters. The better I am able to understand what a writer is saying, the better I comprehend the ideas being expressed. If I have to sit there and translate, trying to figure out exactly which word the writer intended to use, it slows me down, and leaves uncertainty as to whether I'm getting the signal through the noise of typos and errors.

In my opinion, it isn't about judging someone based on their spelling or grammar. It's about simple practicality: how difficult is it for me to understand what the author is trying to say?

Anonymous said...

Grammer and speling isnt cosmetic, theys the basic framework for comunikashun.

When we communicate, we attempt to use mutually agreed upon word definitions, grammar, syntax and spelling, etc. - specifically so we can focus on the content and not deciphering the basics.

People who are nit picky about spelling and grammar are either sincerely trying to help you improve your draft or they are seeking to display some superiority. In which case the individual is the one with a problem, not the rules of language.

Grammar and spelling matter. They just don't matter as much as being patient, understanding and respectful to others who are striving to communicate.

- Tember

Rick said...

Re: evaluation of foreigners. It's true what you say. The British constantly go on about the words and phrases that I use from American English, like their version of English was the first and therefore better. The irony is that General British is actually totally inflexible because it takes too long to say anything, while American English can generally expand and contract easily.