Me fail English? That’s unpossible!
Kudos for today’s blog title goes to Ralph Wiggum. In response to the recent spate of articles and blogs concerned with grammar - or the lack thereof - in offices and digital correspondences globally, I feel compelled to weigh in. This dialogue began last month with an article by Sue Shellenbarger in The Wall Street Journal, This Embarrasses You and I*, and continued with responses by Kyle Wiens and Susan Adams.
As a student of English, my education inclines me to side with the naysayers and deplore the death of the English language at the hands of txtspk and other grammatical crimes, brought about by an over-reliance on spellcheck and, perhaps, even an obliviousness to the “correct” way of doing things. It is in these moments when I am most grateful to the wordsmith, Stephen Fry, for his guidance and understanding in linguistic matters. I find this video soothes my ingrained urges and reminds me to, instead, enjoy the evolution and fluidity of a living language:
Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography - Language from Matthew Rogers on Vimeo.
While I do my best to abide by the rules of grammar in my own writing, I try not to let it get in the way of the rhythm. I can think of nothing more abhorrent than being one of those on twitter that feel the need to correct every grammatical error. Twitter is a real-time social media channel and grammar is seldom its focus. If someone is consistently misusing to, too and two, a friendly correction can be beneficial to all parties, but if it is a single typo by a skydiver tweeting as they plummet to Earth, I’m willing to let it slide.
There are exceptions to this laissez-faire approach, as stated by Fry, in partial agreement with Wiens; “You slip into a suit for a job interview and you dress your language up too.” Similar to a job interview, consumers assess businesses online by the strength of their content, which requires an attention to grammar. As Wiens argues [emphasis added],
Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. [emphasis added]
In spite of the relaxed setting of social media channels, if you are using these channels professionally you must act and sound professional. Whenever you are representing your organization, you need to act appropriately. That’s just good business. If you are meeting with a client, you dress and speak appropriately, so why should interactions with your audience on social media be any less professional?
Whatever your feelings on grammar used in the office or outside of work, it is good practice to ensure your online identity is supported by grammatically correct content. Poor grammar can undermine your image and distract from your message. A good policy to follow, as noted by Shellenbarger, is Bryan A. Garner’s requirement for “employees to have at least two other people copy-edit and make corrections to every important email and letter that goes out.” So by all means take your jacket off, put your feet up, speak freely in work and on your personal twitter account, but have your professional online content proofread. Twice.