Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Plea for Sanity this National (US) Grammar Day | Gary McCormick, harm·less drudg·ery

I like this column so much I'm going to feature its conclusion:
There is so much to celebrate about our language. English may be a shifty whore, but she’s our shifty whore. Please, this National Grammar Day, don’t turn her into a bully, too.
National Grammar Day in the United States is this coming Monday, March 4. It's not a day many people observe with any sort of celebration. I doubt if many people have even heard of it. I doubt if it's printed on many calendars--or any calendars. My prediction is that it will never get much public attention. And I'm fine with that. 

Obviously, I care about grammar. I care about clear writing. I care about the power of quality communication. My blog often focuses on the rules of grammar and writing in a consistent, clear and concise editorial style. 

I want professional and novice writers to pay attention to grammar but not for its own sake. Grammar is a tool for helping us communicate. Its rules aid writers in choosing their words and structuring their sentences in a logical, consistent way. 

But at least as important as that purpose, grammar helps readers understand the word choices and sentence structures of writers. When followed, grammar rules are a common knowledge that helps both friends and strangers interact and share information, ideas and feelings. Grammar helps us tell stories that other people can follow. 

The rules of grammar are like the rules of the road--the traffic laws that most of us usually follow and should follow. Those laws help drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists know what to expect when interacting on the road with other drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. At least they work that way when we respect the laws and respect the lives of other drivers (and their passengers), pedestrians and bicyclists.

When someone doesn't follow those traffic laws, that behavior can confuse other people, at best, and it can kill other people (or the law-breaker), at worst.

The rules of grammar work the same way, though the consequences of disobeying them or not knowing them are not so potentially deadly. (Of course, unclear writing in health and safety statements can certainly be dangerous.)

But celebrating grammar for its own sake is like celebrating stop signs. I'd much prefer celebrating the respect for other people that I believe is the reason for and the consequence of following the rules of grammar ... and the rules of the road. 

As McCormick suggests, we don't need to be bullies about showing that respect. 
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McCormick's column is featured today, March 2, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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