THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Breaking rules: When good grammar isn't so good
In sixth grade, we spent weeks parsing sentences. There was a moment of self-awareness when I thought, "If I let anyone see how much I like this, I'll never get invited to good parties."
So I know I love grammar, and I know that's not normal. I got a masters degree in English and got published in literary journals, but for my first real corporate job I had to learn the AP Stylebook.
An example (which, by the way, is e.g., not i.e.): "Follow up" is two words if it's a noun: "I'm doing a follow up." But it's hyphenated if it's an adjective: "Follow-up meeting."
But when I say I love grammar, that is not what interests me. I'm interested in how we naturally know grammar because we naturally speak in sentences with good rhythm. I will spend an extra hour editing a column by reading it out loud and hearing in my cadence where a preposition is wrong.
This is all to tell you that I think we need to stop judging people by their grammar. We should judge people by their ideas, their creativity, their enthusiasm. None of this comes at the heels of good grammar.
Please note that I am not talking about typos. Writing without typos is outdated. It's impossible to proofread your own work, and it is not financially viable to produce typo-free copy. (If it made financial sense, the newspaper industry– instead of the riddled-with-typos blogging industry– would be booming.)
The more conventional and well-funded your education was, the better your grammar will be. And this is largely how people use grammar— to make snobbish judgments. Yes, there are some grammar rules that, should you violate them, completely change the meaning of your sentence. However, these situations are so rare that they are interesting, and even created a bestselling book: Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
Most grammar rules simply don't matter. For example, few people know when to use effect and when to use affect. But because the first is a noun and the second is a verb, there little likelihood you'll mistake the meaning of a sentence.
Here's another example: Find me a sentence with the wrong version of "it's" that you can't understand due to the error. You can't. So a lot of grammar does not clarify meaning; it just serves to show you are good at grammar.
Why should having good grammar be more important than, say, having good social skills? It shouldn't. People get hired and fired for getting along with people. Not for knowing when to use "lay" and when to use "lie."
We really don't need to spend our brain power on such rules. Do you think I'm nuts? Here's what's on Google's home page on May 16, 2009: "Over 28,000 children drew doodles for our homepage. Vote for the one that will appear here!"
Can you spot the two grammar errors?
The AP Stylebook says "over" is a way to move— a preposition. And "more than" must precede a number. Also, if you are voting for one, specific doodle, then the AP Stylebook tells you to use "which" rather than "that."
There is no page in the universe that gets more traffic than the Google home page. So you can bet someone who knows grammar knowingly violated AP Stylebook rules.
Anyway, if Google is deciding that these rules are no longer useful guidelines, then we can all follow suit.
Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.