Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Letter to Wired Magazine

Dear Editors:

You published in your February, 2012 issue a piece titled “Use Your Own Words”. In fact, you chose to make it the first article in the magazine. It is this article with which I would like to take issue.

The author, Anne Trubek, bemoans the constraints of proper spelling and the constrictions of English grammar. Yet if you re-read the article (as I assume you at least perused it once before it was published) you will see that her argument boils down to “why spell correctly or construct sensible sentences when it inconveniences me?”

To me, it reads as sheer arrogance. Ms. Trubek advocates throwing away the rules built over hundreds of years simply because using them would require an extra click or two on your “smart” phone or tablet. If such strenuous writing taxes her that terribly perhaps she should make a phone call and communicate orally.

Had she stuck to her contentions I would, perhaps, not have taken umbrage at her opinion. When I reached the end of the article, however, I found that she had undermined her entire argument that people spell and punctuate in any way they chose. Ms. Trubek wrote, “Standardized spelling enables readers to understand writing, to aid communication and ensure clarity.”

How, then, does throwing out that standardization help to improve communication? While podcasts, videos, and hangouts allow people to correspond orally in unprecedented ways, it is in these media that spelling and punctuation do not matter. (Grammar, naturally, always applies, though the rules relax dramatically in verbal communication.)

Writing, whether in a text message, on social media, or in an article—on-line or print—demands a higher standard if an author cares at all about being understood. If he or she does not, why write out a message at all?

Ms. Trubek’s assertion that written and oral communication now share a digital grey area couldn’t be less true: the two words have perfectly serviceable definitions that draw a black-and-white line between them. I notice that the article itself, excepting one exemplar, contained words spelled correctly and punctuation used properly to clarify her meaning.

Language continually evolves. It’s to be expected and even embraced. But disregarding the inconveniences of existing rules because you’re too rushed or lazy to follow them leads to degradation, not evolution.

I’d like to see a refutation of her article in a future issue but I presume your publishing of the article to be an intentional stirring of the pot to bring readers to your site. In that respect it was a successful piece, at least.

Thank you for your attention.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Craptacular Grammar Tip: Quotation Marks Gone Wrong

NOTE: In case you thought I might be unaware, I know that “craptacular” isn’t a word. It seemed to fit the quality of the examples, however. Check back for more posts in this new series!

Out of curiosity, I clicked a reputable organization’s free “Grammar Tip of the Day” link, to see whether I’d like to subscribe. I found this example and immediately thought that the only reason I’d ask for such a tip each day would be to provide fodder for One Step Forward. Why? At best the tip oversimplifies punctuating with quotation marks. At worst it gets the rule wrong.

I would perhaps not have reacted so strongly had the first example not been incorrect. If you use quotation marks you should only include the punctuation if what is inside them would stand alone. You do put commas and question marks inside quotation marks for dialogue but not song, movie, and book titles unless the punctuation is part of that title.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the tip should be rewritten entirely. Were I to be so foolish as to reduce the proper use of quotation marks to a single sentence it would read thus: “Punctuation only belongs inside the closing quotation mark when it is part of the quotation itself.” Don’t bow to “popular opinion”; learn how to use quotation marks correctly!

Remember that this does not apply to dialogue. In writing the spoken word the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks, though the period does not. Well, it does if it’s followed by another sentence in the same…I should write a post about this. Oh, wait, I did.

It offends me to see such sloppy advice sent out as “help”. If people unfamiliar with the grammar rules take this and its ilk as gospel it will further erode my ability to teach my children how to speak and write like educated persons. Oh, and you all, my dears.