I love grammar. I can remember in sixth grade when we spent weeks parsing sentences. There was a moment of self-awareness when I thought to myself, “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 it's not normal.

My first real corporate job came right after I went to graduate school for English. The job I landed was managing content for Ingram Micro‘s web site. The experience I had was HTML—I turned my master's thesis into HTML before anyone knew what HTML was.

So the head of copy writing had to teach me the AP Stylebook. I was the only person in the department who had gone to graduate school for English. I was the only person who had been published in literary journals. But when it came to grammar, there is a whole book of rules I had to learn so I could write in the Fortune 500.

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 blog post 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 naturally comes at the heels of good grammar.

(Please note that I am not talking about typos, even though I do think you should largely ignore them. Writing without typos is outdated.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 would be booming. But instead, the riddled-with-typos blogging industry is booming.)

What good grammar reveals is what sort of education you had. 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. Here's a great example of someone doing just that. The person who wrote the post says that if you don't know grammar rules, you're stupid.

It's snobbish because it's a set of rules that are not actually that useful. 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 actually interesting, and even created a bestselling book: Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Most grammar rules don't matter, though. That is, if you get them wrong, the reader still can find the meaning. For example, few people know when to use effect and when to use affect. But it doesn't matter because the first is a noun and the second is a verb so the likelihood you’ll mistake the meaning of a sentence because of a grammar error in this case is extremely low.

Here's another example: Find me a sentence with the wrong version of it's that you can't understand due to the error. Wait. No. Forget it. Because you can't. So a lot of grammar does not clarify meaning, it just serves to show you are good at grammar.

But why is being good at grammar more important than, say, having good social skills? It shouldn't be. People get hired and fired for getting along with people. Not for knowing when to use lay and when to use lie. The irony is that most people who are great at the rules and details of grammar do not have great social skills — it's just how the brain works.

Why do we need to spend our brain power learning the rules of grammar if it is not interesting to us? Why not focus on what we like? Really, if each company is hiring a range of personality types with a range of talents, then only twenty percent will be interested in the philosophy of grammar, and only twenty percent will be good at memorizing 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!

Test yourself: Can you find 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.”

But look, 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. And if you don't, you risk being more newspaper and less Internet, and we know where that's going to put your career…

248 replies
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  1. Jake
    Jake says:

    Find me a sentence with the wrong version of it's that you can't understand due to the error. Wait. No. Forget it. Because you can't. So a lot of grammar does not clarify meaning, it just serves to show you are good at grammar.

    There a facet you haven’t considered: that good grammar makes reading faster and easier for readers. Every time I see “its” vs. “it’s,” the perceptible lapse while I wonder which the writer actually meant means that I’m not intuitively understanding what the writer says.

    If a grammar mistake like this happens once, it’s coincidence. Twice, it’s circumstance. Three times, and, as Goldfinger would say, it’s enemy action.

    Grammar has more functions than just showing one’s skill at grammar: it’s a signaling device regarding education, as you note, but it’s also a courtesy regarding readers’ time. If you take too much advantage of that courtesy, readers aren’t going to stay readers.

  2. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Grammarians come in two flavours: prescriptive and descriptive. Prescriptive grammarians prescribe how people *should* speak and write; descriptive grammarians describe how people *do* speak and write.

    When you talk about grammar, you end up taking one side or the other.

    Dictionaries fall into these two camps too. Many of my fellow editors find Webster’s to be “too descriptive” for their taste. Sometimes I find the Chicago Manual of Style too stifling in its prescriptions.

    You say tomayto, I say tomahto…

    What’s interesting to me is how many things fit into this prescriptive/descriptive split. For example, religious scripture books can be read either way: prescribing how you should act, or simply describing how the people in the story actually acted. This is the essential difference between fundamentalist-conservatives and nonliteralist-liberals.

    Your blog too. It’s sometimes descriptive (how I bumbled through this gnarly workplace situation) and sometimes prescriptive (how to bumble through this gnarly workplace situation).

    Grammar isn’t just about words. It’s about when we mean “should” and when we mean “is”. Either you’re a “should” person or an “is” person. And whatever you are, you are likely that kind of person for everything.


  3. Mary Cullen
    Mary Cullen says:

    I agree with you that content is more important in career writing than grammar, but grammar shapes the content so we all understand each other clearly. Without it, we’d spend too much time trying to decipher meaning. But, nitpicking grammar smugly benefits no one.

    Training business people to write better for the past ten years, I’ve met so many smart, creative business people who are absolutely paralyzed by grammar. They’re convinced they are poor writers, when they are actually very competent. They have highly honed analytical skills and creative insights, but are hesitate to write them due to grammar inadequacies. It’s so easy to fix grammar, and it’s much harder to develop these important critical thinking/analytical skills. I always tell my clients that grammar is important, but an occasional error will not derail a career; it’s a brief embarrassment only. Content (ideas, information, direction…) is much more important to business communication success.

  4. Greg Turner
    Greg Turner says:

    Your assertion that everyone understands what is communicated in spite of poor grammar is poor hog wash. If you were correct, almost every legal contract could be reduced in length by 90% and there probably would not be any need for 90%% of all civil litigation.

    Show me someone who does not make an attempt at good grammar and I will show you someone who does not know how to think critically, much less have basic thinking skills.

  5. Clare
    Clare says:

    “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” is about punctuation, rather than grammar. The subtitle is “The Zero Tolerance to Punctuation”.

    Good grammar matters if your job involves written communication with clients, suppliers etc. Often or not, people notice “bad” grammar and it tends to overshadow your message.

    But the examples given here aren’t glaringly huge grammar mistakes. The ones I notice tend to be their / there; your / you’re; it’s / its mistakes.

    Caitlin was right when she brought up the issue of different varieties of English. So many American speakers of English have told me my English is horrible because I write “If I was…” instead of “If I were…” What do you say? I’m always tempted to tell them to get a life, but I do the patient teacher thing and point out that in the UK, that’s what we generally say and write and that it’s considered “correct”.

    Thanks for a great post and the interesting comments!

  6. avant garde designer
    avant garde designer says:

    Here’s a question for you…
    Why does the Chicago Manual of Style have to be so lame about numbering its index? Why can’t I look up ‘capitalization, with colon’ and see that it’s on PAGE 257 instead of SECTION 6.63?

    It drives me crazy. I inevitably go to the wrong part of the book, often in the wrong section depending on the number. I know there’s a rhyme and reason for their system, but I don’t use it often enough to figure it out.

    • Maus
      Maus says:

      Why? So the CMS can be updated without having to cross reference the page designations in the index every time. It is a very common publishing trick in the legal field.

  7. sheryl k
    sheryl k says:

    “The one” we are voting for can refer to the childre or the homepage rather than to the doodles…that bugged me.

  8. sheryl k
    sheryl k says:

    “The one” we are voting for can refer to the children or the homepage rather than to the doodles…that bugged me.

  9. Grady
    Grady says:

    I have to wonder if you’d make the same basic point about logic: When people get the point you’re trying to make, does it matter if there’s actual logic behind it?

    I damn well hope so! See, your invalid assumption that tight adherence to grammatical rules = the demise of newspapers is logically outrageous.

    And sure – logical syllogisms are cumbrous and dinosaurian in many contexts; strict grammar is often the same. But the rules are there for a purpose.

    Personally, I agree that effective communication trumps grammatical finickyness, but I also believe intelligence and education should be seen as virtues (not snobbery) and that the more lax people are about grammar – and logic – the worse-off we’ll be. And I’m 22, by the way, so don’t think I’m just old school.


    • East Coast Snob
      East Coast Snob says:

      Hear, hear! I agree about the newspapers: mainstream media is dumbing down in a big way. I think that hampers their credibility.

  10. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    I agree with the theme of the message, but there has to be a line somewhere. Saying “grammar doesn’t matter” doesn’t distinguish between genuinely bad grammar and decision to not follow institution-specific style rules. It’s a slippery slope. At some point, refusal to attempt to follow rudimentary grammar rules or to even run a spell-check is just rude.

  11. Suzy
    Suzy says:

    The longer I live abroad and work in a non-native English speaking environment; the worse my grammar, style, and basic command of the English language get! When you hear the same mistakes often enough, they start to sound correct.

    The bright side is that we are all more focused on understanding each other than correcting each other!

  12. Ginny
    Ginny says:

    I can speak from experience in saying that having the ability to use grammar properly can be a double-edged sword. I am the only person in this office that can write; therefore, I am the person in this office that is given everything, and I mean everything, that needs to be written on behalf of the company. I love to write, but I purposely chose not to become a writer because I know that I get bored with it after a while; yet, I am constantly drowning in a sea of writing deadlines because of my coworkers’ lack of grammatical skill.

    I realize this comment wasn’t exactly relevant to this post, but I needed to vent. Thank you.

  13. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Wow – I can’t believe someone else agrees with me! I ‘learned’ PR in the U.K. and frankly my experience there was that the quality of creativity and thought was more valuable than the structure of your sentence. (Can you even purchase the AP Stylebook in the U.K.?) Don’t get me wrong – I get grammar, I like grammar even, but it’s not the end all be all. I can’t imagine anything worse than working on a communications plan for days only to have it returned peppered with “check AP!!!” comments. How is that communicative? And – how exactly did ONE style become gospel? As referenced in your comment regarding blogs, do readers actually recognize the difference? I write to reach an audience, to reach customers and build brand awareness – not for a copy editor to cut and paste! Great post!

  14. East Coast Snob
    East Coast Snob says:

    Yes, the use of grammar does reveal what sort of education one has had. However, your statement “And this is largely how people use grammar – to make snobbish judgments” is hardly a natural conclusion. I had an excellent public education under demanding English teachers. They didn’t teach elitism, they taught the curriculum and made us believe it was important. I’ll bet that people who come across as fussy in e-mail are fussy in other ways too.

    I am grateful for the quality of the public education I had and lament the dumbing down to which my son is subjected in the name of inclusiveness. If all that matters is speed and efficiency, why should we bother with education at all if we don’t find it “interesting”? We could receive training instead and complete it in record time.

  15. Christian
    Christian says:

    You can convey a creative thought with good grammar. Good grammar is not about being snobby; it is about communicating your ideas effectively. It is sad to see that people think good grammar is just about pleasing their editor and that it has nothing to do with communicating with your audience. But the Internet is making us very lazy and sticking up for good grammar will get you shot at and run out of town on a pole. And if you even think of politely pointing out that “lose” is not spelled “loose” and that “definitely” is not spelled “definately” and that “come on” or “c’mon” is not spelled “common” you better hold your head on tight because somebody who insists on spelling wrong is likely to cut your head off.

    Did you ever see the movie “Blast from the Past?” Watch it because there’s a character who says, “I used to think that having good manners was about showing other people how much better you are than them. But then I learned it’s really about helping others feel comfortable in your presence.”

    • Jane N-B
      Jane N-B says:

      Yes! One of my favorite quotes from a very cute movie. It was the perfect embodiment (did I spell that right?) of the popular culture’s perception of anything that smacks of culture and manners.

  16. Eric
    Eric says:

    I am so not OK with this post but maybe it’s because I’m french and I’m a recruiter.

    The recruitments criterias (for the first sorting) is really not the same between US and Europe.

    We believe that if you apply with a covert letter with typo errors in it, then you aren’t exciting enough by your application and you don’t think that your future boss deserve the best (which is supposed to be you, the applicant).

    I’m recruiter but a co-founder too. As a co-founder I take the “Public Relation” and “Marketing” job to me.

    I’m often stuned by the number of typo errors’ coming from people who passed some very high diplomas. I am self-taught person but I’m pleased to say that in my own language (which is not english as you can see) I’m trying to be nearly perfect. I couldn’t afford to send an e-mail or some intel with typo error in it. It’s not professionnal at all. It’s called Quality.

    I’m a little disapointed that you, a councelor for my Gen (Y), who’s followed and listened by many of us, you preach the number over the quality.

    You cannot be granted of the “Title” of Entrepreneur if you cannot write in your own native language.

    So yes, a top manager or an entrepreneur who’s sending me an e-mail with typo errors inside, I’ll not think that he’s stupid but I’ll probably think that is amateur.

    If you really know your weakness such as the typo errors then get some lessons or hire an assistant.

    I’m sorry P’. Usually, I used to support you on most subjects but not this one. Typo errors between friends are acceptable. Typo errors in business is certainly not.

  17. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I don’t agree. While we’re all guilty of making careless grammatical mistakes, I think it’s imperative that we strive to do the best job we can despite sinking standards.

    The same could be said for manners and etiquette, quite frankly.

    There are many reasons for writing with grammatical integrity, most of which have been mentioned in the comments preceding this one.

    I think your blog is excellent, Penelope. Keep up the great work.

  18. Christian
    Christian says:

    Good to see some people here sticking up for good grammar. Eric brings up some good points, especially when he says, “Typo errors between friends are acceptable. Typo errors in business is certainly not.” This is what I try to tell people: no, you don’t have to be pristinely perfect in casual conversation with friends and family but you should have professional communication professionally polished. But to even suggest such a thing nowadays . . . boy, you better duck and cover because the best thing you’ll get called is a snob, which is entirely missing the point. It has nothing to do with snobbery.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      Thanks Christian. No one called me a snob yet but as I said, I guess the criterias are kind of different between US and Europe. In my speciality (Video Game Recruitment) I see a lot of Gen Y who are used to cell phone text mode or MSN mode which mean short sentence, a lot of typo, no ponctuation at all, etc.

      The problem is that a lot of people who don’t care about typo on forums, blogs or MSN WILL do typo error in business, just because they took the habit to do so.

      I’m really stunned when I’m reading interviews with typo error or even press releases ! C’mon, these guys tries to communicate about their business to the mainstream with typo errors ?

      I mean, when a dev does a typo error in an internal mail, nobody cares. He’s a dev. His job is to dev something, not to do Public Relation.

      But when you are in a position of making Business to Business, Business to Customer or media relationship, you cannot afford to do typo errors.

      It’s hard to find the words to really tell how I feel about typo error because english is far to be my native langage.

      But I cannot imagine a manager who’ll send a review document to his team members with typo error. He’s the manager. He cannot be considered as the “Boss who don’t even know how to write his own native langage”.
      A manager have to gain respect by his behavior, by his work, by his professionalism and not only because he’s the manager. A manager cannot do typo errors. At least, he cannot let his team know that.

      I’m really sad to see that writing his own native language is considered that much hard than people don’t give a damn about it. It’s important. It’s communication. It’s the difference between “To Be” and “To Appears”.

      And over all, which is one of important topic of this blog : It’s about branding yourself.

      If you cannot even writing down your own langage, why somebody that don’t know you will trust you ?

      Peneloppe speaks a lot about appearance. She’s right. Because the appearance is the first thing that somebody will see about you, before knowing you.

      It’s the exact same thing with typo. It’s appearance. It’s what people that you communicate with will see about you at first.

      If you wish is to give a really bad impression about you, then… suit yourself.

  19. Diana
    Diana says:

    Thank you. I am so tired of business writing. There must be some room for informality somewhere in our lives. I think blogging is a good place to relax a little.

  20. Christian
    Christian says:

    “if you love language you’ll love how it changes too.”

    Sarah, nobody said anything about not wanting language to evolve. There’s a stark difference between letting language creatively evolve and pure Neanderthal stupidity dragging language down and rendering it less effective.

    • Sarah D
      Sarah D says:

      Indeed. What a shame some people’s definition of Neanderthal stupidity extends to language usage in new and emerging fields. And I guess it depends who gets to define creative evolution too.

      You seem confident that you’ve grasped the inherent contradictions. I admire your conviction.

  21. Benjamin Lukoff
    Benjamin Lukoff says:

    ES&L is a rather silly book. If you’re actually interested in the English language, try some of these instead (links to an Amazon So You’d Like To… guide I wrote back in the day; don’t worry – no affiliate links)… or take a course! If you’re in a university town, they ought to offer Introduction to Linguistics or something similar through their extension department.

  22. Christian
    Christian says:

    “Just because someone can work out your meaning despite your poor grammar, it doesn’t mean you should force them to.”


  23. Jenn R
    Jenn R says:

    I honestly thought that I was the only person on Earth who LOVED diagramming sentences in elementary school. I’m so relieved to know that I’m not alone. I totally see your point, but I would say that the reason I like to use my brain power on grammar is that, for some weird reason – it’s very satisfying to me. (And no need to point out how many grammar errors I’m making in my reply….maybe that’s the point, right? Or maybe I’m just typing quickly…) The best analogy I can come up with is that, in my opinion, the challenge of grammar is satisfying in the same way as crossword puzzles. Of course…now I’m just proving that I’m the biggest nerd on the planet.

  24. Ben
    Ben says:

    I would have said “I’m going to follow up” being two words and “I’m going to DO a follow-up” being hyphenated.

  25. Christian
    Christian says:

    “What a shame some people’s definition of Neanderthal stupidity extends to language usage in new and emerging fields.”

    Uh, I’m not confusing the two and never said anything that would imply that I am so thanks for the straw man. Both phenomena exist separately. I’m just saying one shouldn’t be confused with the other. You can creatively coin a new word and you can create new vocabulary for new and emerging fields and that is great and I personally have no problem with it; in fact, I have done it myself.

    You can also lazily use bad grammar, repeatedly misspell words thereby putting the onus of interpretation on the reader, not care that you are communicating poorly with others, tell people who do know how to communicate properly that they are snobs, etc. and that would constitute Neanderthal stupidity and I see it all the time, especially with the emergence of the Internet . . . and I’m not just talking about blog comments, text messages, and Tweets.

    I trust you are intelligent enough to see the difference. Or, if you’d like, you can naively insist that they are the same thing.

  26. Eric
    Eric says:

    Oups. I replied to you Christian but linked it with a previous post of yours. It’s up of there. My bad.

  27. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This post has generated a lot of great discussion about grammar. Thanks for the Google doodle link. The doodle artwork and words are impressive for the kids in all age groups. I think someone from Google should be reading this post and all the comments regarding their grammar for this contest. I think Google could learn a few things. Maybe this contest is in the alpha or beta stage. Google is highly influential in many areas but they are not who I would emulate or go to for grammar or style. Maybe they should give grammar more consideration. However they won’t be derailed since I’m sure ideas, creativity, and content at Google trump grammar, style, typos, etc.
    P.S. – “So I know I love grammar and I know it's not normal.”
    I think you have a lot of company. :)

  28. Kirez
    Kirez says:

    I’m interpreting your thesis, very loosely, as “prioritize content over style, substance over polish.”

    I’ve known hundreds of people who, self-aware or not, choose style over function. I can entertain the stereotype of an ultra-conformist who follows the rules faithfully and meets with success for this virtue, though she never produces an original thought or insightful analysis.

    Let’s weigh the thesis of sexual selection: that our primary use of non-critical education and virtue is to display our fitness as potential mates.

    Let’s entertain another thesis, that fastidious grammar may be only one facet of a general intelligence factor that I prize: attention to detail. Or perhaps another: holding oneself to exacting standards in performance.

    But returning to the basic trade-off in question here, that of content vs. fastidiousness, let’s just imagine that we’re weighing the influence of conspicuous grammar display on credibility. While judging someone’s written word, grammar and spelling and typography are among the very few displays available aside from the content. You will never convince the bulk of our species to ignore these signals of fitness. It’s utterly contrary to human nature. Given a similar value of content or analysis, the more eloquent, articulate, and yes more grammatical communication is going to be more persuasive. While I can wholly agree that content must be prioritized over style, I cannot bring myself to agree that our instinctive reaction is wrong.

    Let’s suppose you ask me to meet you for lunch tomorrow. You suggest a time and place, I agree eagerly, and then I say, “So, do you want me to come to the right place, or at the right time?”

    I hope you’d be dumbfounded. Nature doesn’t usually respect these arbitrary distinctions and tradeoffs that we make (hmm, was trade-offs supposed to be hyphenated? I didn’t know that despite my backgrounds in economics and editing…). I *love* the exceptions to this rule, the mathematical, scientific and other flavors of genius who flaunt careless disregard of classical education; but to my own mind, grammar is a pretty low hurdle, and I believe that in practice there is tremendous correlation between the clarity and the truth of a signal.

  29. L. Hernandez
    L. Hernandez says:

    Normal is the average of deviance. Consider it a very good thing you aren’t normal in your ability to diagram sentences.

    Business failures usually occur because of a weakness of some sort, not a strength, so it’s not knowing good grammar that stops us, it’s not knowing the difference between format and content.

    Last time I checked, HTML and other programming languages had grammatical rules as well. Why? Because they’re snobbish, of course.

    Since I only expect to work with native speakers of American, it would be downright useless of me to learn the grammar of any other language, such as Arabic or Mandarin or Spanish.

    Really, what are the chances a Gen Y person would have to deal with a computer or become an expatriate?

    Lastly, a little grammar experiment —

    Call me crazy, but the snob in me feels that good creative cursing requires grammatical knowledge. Vocabulary isn’t enough.

  30. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    I don’t think it’s snobbish. I think it’s a critical, judging attitude. Whether it’s spelling, style, or grammar, really, what difference does it make if you get the point.
    Plus, I think some of your commmenters are a perfect example of you see what you believe. Some are mad because you don’t think grammar is important and some are mad because you do think grammar is important. Do you think they even actually read the post before commenting? Just wondering. Nutjobs.

  31. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    You’re correct in that proper grammar is not needed to effectively communicate ideas most of the time. However, it’s easy to see a twisted cycle that rewards bad grammar and perpetuates the problem further.

    If a child were to complain that he didn’t like division but he was okay with adding and subtracting, would that be okay? By simply accepting bad grammar (or trying to use shorter, simpler, but less-accurate words) as a necessary step in effective communication, we’re reshaping the language into something that is slowly becoming LESS effective.

    Imagine if that same child was simply never taught how to divide or multiply. As an adult, he/she could do some more advanced math problems, but it would take FAR longer to use the less-effective addition/subtraction as complete substitutions.

    Not everything that needs to be said or written can be done using words only found in Harry Potter books. The people who KNOW proper grammar should use it and encourage others to use it, not just toss it aside as a crusty antique.

    It’s also not just about maintaining something that will result in better communication in the long run. There may be few cases in the business world where casual lingo is encouraged (blogging, marketing, etc), but there’s nothing that makes a business look more unprofessional than simple grammatical / spelling problems that appear to be unintended mistakes.

    I’m quite sure this post has many grammar flaws, but my American upbringing has done its job, so it’s rather difficult for me to tell where those flaws are. I hope that there will be some point where future generations will be far more eloquent than how we are now.

  32. le
    le says:

    Wow who would have thought a debate could rage over this … if only we all paid this much attention and cared to this extent with regards global warming maybe we’d be making a difference and the ice would not be melting …

    Seems we care as much about your thoughts on grammer as we do about your bedroom antics …

    Just for the record I won’t ever judge a blogger’s value on grammar or spelling … defeats the purpose of the medium I feel. Opps nearly spelt grammar wrong …crucificion at sunset … le

  33. Katie
    Katie says:

    Ludwig Wittgenstein, the great Austrian philosopher of language once stated, ” the limits of my language are the limits of my world”.

    While I do not entirely agree with this statement, language and especially grammar, do have a role to play in shaping our minds. As a European, I have had grammar classes for 9 years in English, for 7 years in Latin, and for 6 years in French, not to mention in my native language, German. This adds up to an absurd amount of grammar classes. I do not remember a word of Latin, and my French is not pitch-perfect, but I have found that it has helped me tremendously to develop a sharp and very analytical mind, enabling me to gauge and understand the mark-up and the meaning of a phrase/text much faster. Learning grammar is equivalent to building a solid infrastructure for your brain, a highway network for the mind, so to speak.

    HOWEVER: Has the European obsession with correct grammar helped us to come up with innovative ideas or to build a more vibrant economy? No. I tend to agree that this is because our thinking does not leave the comfortable highways of our mind and we have little desire to travel off the beaten path – why else would Latin still be part of our standard highscool curriculum?

  34. Anthony Peyton Porter
    Anthony Peyton Porter says:

    AP style is dictatorial and dim, and it omits serial commas, a clear sign of goofiness. It’s not good, it’s just common, like Windows. Try the Chicago Manual of Style. You deserve it. And the “that” shouldn’t be “which” It should be “who,” ’cause it refers to a person. “Which” would require a preceding comma and the assumption that the one you voted for would actually win.

    • Editormum
      Editormum says:

      Ah, you are so correct, Anthony, IF that “that” refers to the child who will win, and not to the doodle or homepage. If, on the other hand, it’s a doodle that’s slated to win (say, if one child submitted ten different doodles?), then the “that/which” controversy is back in play. :-)

      (Personally, I side with “that.”)

  35. old school
    old school says:

    Keep in mind, that you write towards things that make you look better. You’re feeding your ego instead of providing accurate, worthy advice.

    typose are extremely distracting. So sentence structure. If you not have those in paragraphs than reading someones writing becomes very difficult. But I guess well all have to take your advice and go with it.

    Keep in mind, the only reason we can speak and write with rhythm is because of a flow in our sentence structure and recognizing the spelling of words that we are taught. So in reality, if you want people to become frustrated with your writing and choose not to continue to read it, then yes, typos and grammar aren’t necessary. But if you want people to like what they read and be able to focus on that instead of your spelling and grammar typos, then it might be important for you to take a close look at sentence structure and to check every word.

    Penelope, I’m surprised that you’re saying you read your work out loud to hear the dialogue, yet you’re telling your readers it isn’t important.

  36. HR Chick
    HR Chick says:

    Penelope is correct on her 100% comment….
    If you give 100% to everything, you gain nothing.

  37. Christian
    Christian says:

    Wow who would have thought a debate could rage over this … if only we all paid this much attention and cared to this extent with regards global warming maybe we’d be making a difference and the ice would not be melting …

    Because obviously global warming is the only thing we should ever focus on and because, clearly, we can solve global warming in the amount of time it takes to make a few blog comments.

    Opps nearly spelt grammar wrong …crucificion at sunset

    No, you didn’t spell “grammar” wrong but you did spell “Oops” wrong, and in a way that would change its pronunciation. But that’s okay because it’s in a blog comment and not something you are presenting professionally. Not that you should purposely misspell words in blog comments but even the people here who are proponents of good grammar and spelling cut you (and themselves) some slack in this arena…

  38. Christian
    Christian says:

    “If you give 100% to everything, you gain nothing.”

    Let’s hear it for laziness!! Everybody stop trying to get things right! HR Chick said, “If you give 100% to everything, you gain nothing.” so obviously we need to stop putting effort into things. Even 99% effort is too much; go for something more like 2 or 3% effort. We don’t know where she got her saying from but it sounds clever and must be a pearl of eternal wisdom.

  39. Christian
    Christian says:

    “Learning grammar is equivalent to building a solid infrastructure for your brain, a highway network for the mind, so to speak.”


    “Has the European obsession with correct grammar helped us to come up with innovative ideas or to build a more vibrant economy? No.”

    But the solution is not to throw grammar rules out the window (we also don’t know that your assertion is true that one little factor such as “grammar rules” is thwarting European creativity; that’s a pretty big leap in logic there). Even the people here who are saying grammar rules are stupid are still expressing their thoughts with rudimentary rules whether they realize it or not. Why are they still clinging to those rules? Why don’t they free themselves up even more? Aren’t they wise enough to use no rules whatsoever? Perhaps they could express their thought in a comment with simply an explanation point or a chevron or an asterisk or a pipe and leave it up to us even more to figure out what they are getting at?


    • Katie
      Katie says:

      Point taken. Of course it’s a generalisation, and I meant in no way to say that our attitude towards grammar accounts for our GDP. But I see it as an example of how we Europeans tend to reason, e.g. that your ability to master the conjugation of all Latin verbs in all 5 possible tenses + conjunctive will define your success in life, instead of enjoying reading ancient texts and asking ourselves what they could teach us today. I am a German student in France and and it has been a recurrent experience of mine that good ideas were simply ignored because I used the wrong preposition. In the US I felt – indeed -, free, because people were interested in WHAT I had to say.

      Nevertheless, I am a fan of grammar and nothing makes me more angry than the sloppiness of native speakers, not only because it devalues the years and years I have spent in sweaty classrooms, trying my best to get it perfectly right.

  40. Christian
    Christian says:

    “Penelope, I’m surprised that you’re saying you read your work out loud to hear the dialogue, yet you’re telling your readers it isn’t important.”

    Ah ah ah, we’re not allowed to point out contradictions here.

  41. Jay Lern
    Jay Lern says:

    Of all the bits of advice I’ve encountered here, this is by far the least helpful and meritorious. First, considerations of how one ought to behave should not be limited to how they serve one’s career plans. Other things matter too. Language is one of the few things that binds the members of our pluralistic society and it should be treated with respect. Second, it is still true – fortunately – that the business and legal communities consider faciliity with the English language to be a mark of a motivated employee with high potential. Even if one limits one’s thinking to career planning, using grammar well cannot hurt and likely will always help advance one’s career. Certainly in the legal profession, a casual attitude about grammar will get one nowhere. Third, given these and other realities justifying good grammar – which are fairly obviously in my view – a call to ignore grammar, to any extent, is naive and irresponsible – no better than the ephemeral attempt several years ago to justify the shoddy education of African-Americans who use “ebonics” by branding such speak as a “dialect.”

  42. Christian
    Christian says:

    “Point taken. Of course it’s a generalisation, and I meant in no way to say that our attitude towards grammar accounts for our GDP.”

    No worries. I don’t want to put the weight of the world on a quickly written comment.

    “First, considerations of how one ought to behave should not be limited to how they serve one’s career plans.”

    Remember that this is the “Brazen Careerist” blog.

  43. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    Re: The asperger’s link on a “trauma” page. Ugh; a minor faux pas. I (we) are glad you’re intrigued with the topic (and concur with your self suspicions) but Neurodiversity is much friendlier and accurate in its treatment of those on the spectrum.

    OT: Tyler Cowen has a new book out on July 9 called _Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World_ which is about the functional aspects of autism (I’m in it, yeah me!). You may find it interesting.

    I’ve been making a decent living at writing over the past 14 years. Funny that. I dropped out of high school after a journalism teacher said I was lousy and would never write. Til then, it never occurred to me I’d be anything other than a writer but I did give it up and become a tradesman. The pangs wore away and I was happy (really); I returned to writing only after circumstances left me with *no* other income possibilities. I find I’m less enchanted with writing the second go round. It’s too much work (“writing’s easy, sit down and open a vein”). Life is strange, no?

  44. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    There is a way to proofread your own work – taught to me by a wonderful editor many years ago. Start at the bottom of your work – and then read each sentence – one at a time from the bottom to the top. It forces you to read what is really there, rather than what is supposed to be there. I’ve found this method to be very effective.

  45. McCormick
    McCormick says:

    It’s a reason for HR departments to exist. If people only get jobs through internal connections then what is the point of having an HR department screening resumes and cover letters for typos? It’s a great excuse to weed out potentially great canidates for stupid reasons.

  46. Christian
    Christian says:

    “If people only get jobs through internal connections then what is the point of having an HR department screening
    resumes and cover letters for typos? It’s a great excuse to weed out potentially great canidates for stupid reasons.”

    You bring up a good point. I think that quite often a company will shoot itself in the foot by eliminating a “canidate” for some flimsy reason such as one typo on their resume when the position applied for may have nothing to do with writing skills and the company will pride themselves on what sticklers they are. But that does not therefore mean that purposely ignoring rules of grammar and spelling is a good idea.

  47. Jake
    Jake says:

    I love you. You say just the right combination of things that piss me off and interest me. Congratulations on another great blog post, and a great business in general.

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