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The Ways to Conquer the Great Grammar Divide

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My daughter actually wrote a paper for school – on her phone.

I. Can’t. Imagine. I struggle with a simple text. Zeros become 9s, Ps are Os, and forget the backspace vs. M battle. Middle-aged eyes and letter keys that could fit under a chocolate chip? Not a good match. Yet, for this generation, texting and social-media posts are more comfortable than actual conversation.

Forget emoticons and all-lower-case entries for a moment. Let’s not concentrate on spelling. (Although another of my kids once texted, “we picked up meet at the grocery store!”) Grammar – the framework of writing – is taking a hit.

What role has social media played in this slow-burning yet seismic downgrade of grammar?

The Grammar Police

To let your grammatical guard down among friends is one thing. But what if your words represent a brand? Readers once pounced on typos in local morning newspapers. Now, some people read with similar scrutiny blogs and social media posts.

They search and destroy brands who post updates with errors of grammar and spelling.

Quick to grill a company for missing commas? Consider this: Brands that relate to their audience succeed. Brands such as Sephora, ThinkGeek and Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center convey personality. They connect not because of impeccable grammar, but with messages that resonate.

Friends and contacts like and share content that resonates. They also frequent their content, and buy their products.

The evolving language of communication

There’s always a moment. Your grandmother sends btw in an email. Your own father uses 4 for for and 2 for too in a text. Chances are, they’d stop for a moment if they saw these deviations in ad copy for luxury cars or cereal. So why use it themselves?

Corporations, small businesses and bloggers must weigh the cost of hardline grammatical compliance. Is striving for perfection best? Or is there value in a conversational tone that evokes genuine connection?

Could it be that we place far too much emphasis on the written word? Our smartphones give us a free pass. We use disclaimers such as please excuse any grammatical errors, sent from my mobile device. If only we could tag this to social media posts, email and pick-up lines, too, right?

Grammar sets us off, but it’s not the only evil of the English language.

Blogger Mandi Castle, of Cellulite Looks Better Tan, summarized the struggle. She wrote a post titled Things You Should Have Learned in Grade School but Obviously Didn’t, In it, Mandi laments gaffes of a lot and cannot but also it’s and nother and literally and figuratively.

“Feel free to share this on Facebook,” Mandi writes. “As I’m certain 99.7% of people who use it daily should have had to sit through Mrs. Lawrence’s third grade grammar lessons because they still say ‘should of.’”

Literally (or figuratively?) the final word

A teacher friend recently graded third-grade grammar quizzes. “I fear for the future of interpretable communication,” she told me in a Facebook post. “Yikes.”

Kids, though, have jacked up the English language for generations. We often consider it adorable, with backward letters and everything. On the surface, the divide seems sharp: Either you’re a stickler, or you wing it. There’s a lot of rules, though, and even stickler status doesn’t guarantee expertise.

It’s unofficial. It seems, though, the key to forgiveness for all writing wrongs is simple:

How do you feel about the person or entity who made the mistake?

A fan of your favorite team can bust the “you’re-your rule” in exuberance over a victory. You’ll likely thumbs-up the comment, no questions asked. A member of an opposing political party forgets to capitalize Boise, and he’ll have upon him a literary wrath of biblical proportions.

It’s about how the words make you feel. Unless you’re in the grammar police. Then, you must ask yourself, has the slip-up spoiled the message?

Good grammar doesn’t guarantee compelling prose. Imperfect discourse isn’t wholly deemed unfit. A messy cookie is likely more desirable than broccoli fixed to perfection, right?

Maybe. I’ll text my kid and ask about that.

3 websites to boost your grammar

GRAMMAR BOOK | This site promotes a book, The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, by Jane Strauss. It offers quizzes, a newsletter and a list of grammar rules to follow.

LOUSY WRITER | It’s a free online resource to strengthen your writing overall. It includes how-to guides to many parts of speech, as well as tips for writing everything from a thesis to a screenplay.

PURDUE ONLINE WRITING LAB | Purdue University hosts this site. It covers grammar and mechanics, job search and professional writing, and popular writing vidcasts.

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