Saturday, July 28, 2012

Grammar Nazis: Saturday Links

As a former English teacher and a current editor for Madison Street Publishing, I find grammar more essential than some do. This week I ran across an article that was written a few years ago on the 50th anniversary of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. The title was inflammatory and the article was caustic beyond belief. Elements of Style was a book I had to buy for my college rhetoric class, so naturally I was wanted to hear whether "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice" had any valid criticisms.

The gist of the article is given in the third paragraph:
The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
The author goes on to explain that stylistic rules like "Avoid needless words" are pointless. People who know which words are needless don't need the rule, and people who don't know can't learn which ones from such a vague imperative. He argues that the authors of the book are grammar illiterates, using "examples" of the dreaded passive voice that aren't even passive constructions.

Many problems pointed out in this article are spot on--but throughout the whole thing, I still wanted to give the good, old Elements of Style the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps a kindlier approach would have lent the author more ethos. Perhaps a little more charity would have proved his point with readers.

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A slightly less caustic article appeared in the Harvard Business Review just this last week with the title, "I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why."

If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building. 
Some might call my approach to grammar extreme, but I prefer Lynne Truss's more cuddly phraseology: I am a grammar "stickler." And, like Truss — author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves — I have a "zero tolerance approach" to grammar mistakes that make people look stupid.... (read more)

This article makes the important point that people who pay attention to their grammar also pay attention to other things. Detail oriented writers are detail oriented workers.
Grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.
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And, for the few who haven't seen it already, here is a short video about a grammar Nazi searching for Jews amid double negatives, run-on sentences, and dangling participles.




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