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Fighting for the Honour of the English Language

Be warned, this is a bit of a rant so if you have no desire to read the diatribe of someone who is weary of seeing abuse piled upon our English language then click over to a cat video.

You see it on Facebook. You see it on Twitter. I’ve seen it in interoffice memos and posted publicly. The intentional misuse or sheer ignorance of basic rules and regulations of grammar is endemic. Now before you start your own vociferous appeal, let me clarify.

I understand that short forms are used in texts or on Twitter where speed or space is an issue. I also realize that innocent mistakes are made by people who are not native speakers or writers of English. In fact in most of those cases the non-native English speakers are oft times more correct in their use of the language than a large percentage of those raised with English, and I applaud and admire their efforts to grasp a second language. I also understand the use of colloquialisms in written dialogue. I’ve used them myself in many of my works. Conversational English is also very different from written English. So there are the exceptions out of the way.

My objection starts with the Facebook post where an individual is trying to make a salient or serious comment about an important topic. Because of their misuse of common words such as your/you’re or the perennial favourite there/their/they’re I find it difficult to take them seriously after the first couple of sentences, and that simply belittles the importance of the subject being discussed. The use of i instead of I when referring to the first person singular is another habit ingrained in our information technology psyche, not to mention punctuation that any first grader should know is either wrong or nonexistent. In this age of technology there is no excuse. Simply right click and the correct usage or spelling will be provided, or Google your grammar page of choice. There are thousands available. I am also appalled when I see such mistakes made in longer written works such as novels or essays. Again -- no excuse with the tools at your fingertips.

So why is this happening? There are several theories.

Is it laziness? We all have off days where we don’t want to expend the energy necessary to make our point, although a finger click is hardly excessive in energy expenditure.

Do we simply want to ‘stick it to the Man’ or thumb our nose at the Establishment? As a child of the sixties and seventies who threw her middle finger at the Establishment more times than I care to recall this point doesn’t seem valid. Most of the Flower Children I’ve known, past and present, still recognise the necessity of basic grammar.

Many would argue that English is an evolving language, and therefore they are simply helping in that progression. I would argue that these people are the ones who haven’t bothered to gain the knowledge in the first place, and in order to subvert the rules one must know and practice the rules to earn that right. Would people not balk at the disregard of the precise rules and guidelines in their favourite sport or game?

Can it be blamed on the rumoured denigration of our public school systems? My younger coworkers who have children in the public schools regularly regale me with the lack of cursive writing or grammar instruction. Yet, my Father never had anything more than a grade eight education and he maintained scrupulous attention to his use of written grammar.

I throw up my hands.

While I am tempted to correct, I do not unless I am asked. It’s poor form and being Canadian I endeavour to uphold our reputation of being polite (not always true, but that’s another rant). Besides, you would be leapt upon from great heights and labelled as the dreaded ‘Grammar Police!’ leading to the degradation of the importance of the topic at hand. Also I realise I am not infallible.

So why is this topic of grammar important? Clear, concise communication is necessary in a world where misunderstandings are all too real and dangerous. We have the means. Use them.

Thus endeth the tirade.

Here’s a cute cat picture to soften any of the blows experienced during this rant.

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