Friday, 21 January 2011

On Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling

I'm guilty of doing this myself; most of us who consider ourselves to be good with spelling, grammar, punctuation are.

There's a billboard going up for Circle K marts and petrol stations all over Charlotte. It reads: Wake Up People! and has an advert for some deal on coffee. Now, those of you who know how to use a comma know that rather than encouraging people to wake up by drinking their coffee, Circle K is actually encouraging us (or someone) to wake people up, rather than, say, animals? I don't know, something.

The error "Happy Birthday Josiah!" (one of the most common) turns Happy Birthday into part of my name; or, conversely, uses my name as part of a greeting or salutation.

"wat r u doing tmro?" "nto to muchhhh. Uuuu?" Before I give a shudder of...something...let me say that this isn't necessarily the best example; it does, however, fit into the principle of what I am about to bring up.

This relates to my writing habits, in that during my study and practise of writing, I've had several revelations concerning this. And the principle is this: however much we may dislike, or like to make fun of, or look down on spelling like that above, or punctuation, or grammar errors, there is one fact that cannot be changed: Punctuation, like Grammar, and Spelling, are tools to help us communicate, to regulate our use of language so that others know what we are talking about, and know what others are saying; it is a TOOL and nothing more.

The "rules" of grammar, however much they should be adhered to as a means of reducing chaos in the communicatory world, should, I say, be changed to the Tools of Grammar.

It is understandable to become uptight about the way people speak, or, especially, write. To a certain extent. But take the first example: a billboard, the authors of which should know better, write a sign that should say, Wake Up, People! and they leave out a comma. What? Now it says something entirely different! Idiots!

Well, yes, something of that sort might apply; but what about the fact that we all know what they mean, and are only upset because they should know better, not because it affects the way we read the sign? Suddenly, it's not about Grammar and Punctuation being a tool, it's become the rule and the rule is what matters, not punctuation.

You are given a hoe. The task before you is simple: hoe the garden. Instead of using the tool, however, you ditch it, and use your hands. Your overseer approaches you, enraged: not because you aren't doing your job properly; in fact, no one could ask for better work. But you didn't use the tool! Idiot!

As soon as we stop using Grammar (Grammar serving as a stand in for itself, Punctuation, and Spelling) as a tool and start using it because that's what "proper" English is and for no other reason save that "proper" is best, it's lost its function. It's no mortal sin; in fact, it's probably no sin either way, using it for its own sake, or ditching it completely. Most of the time we need structure; without it, our conversations would fall apart. Especially written ones. Spelling is important, as without it we could end up over our head in faux pas; punctuation determines who we're talking to, how we're talking, and the way we want it said. Grammar, of course, makes it all make sense.

But what about those times when ditching the rule still gets the job done? Are we getting angry because the garden isn't hoed, or because we didn't like the way it was done?

In writing, I, and every writer, follow certain rules, most of the time. It's good writing, usually; it's the standard, accepted method for essays, or novels, or poems, etc. But as a writer, the unexpected becomes commonplace; a bump in the road means I'll have to go over it, or move it out of the way. As soon as the tools of communication stop being tools, or become unnecessary, there are times when these "rules" must be abandoned.

Because I know good punctuation, and because spelling is natural to me, and grammar, for my faults, is only a small one, it's faster, easier, and smarter for me to use it when I write. Most the mistakes I make don't make it just as easy to understand for them either. (Though that sentence, purposely awkward, still probably gives you the gist.) Some people need to work on their spelling; sometimes it does create a difficulty. There are times when I don't have any idea as to what I'm being told, because it's been misspelled, or mis-written. There are roots and rocks in the garden, and the hoe sure comes in useful. If you can use it, and you know how, you'd be foolish to cut your hands and waste your time when for less effort you could use the tool provided.

But remember. It's just a tool. It's not the rule of life; communication is what we're trying to accomplish. Does that one comma really, actually, matter?


  1. Josiah that was well thought and well said very good job i liked it ;)

  2. Haha, see? I understood you perfectly. ;)

  3. I have had the experience several times of people using short hand and trying to use the rules, but not. I can't even figure out what they say, so I don't know what to say back. I feel like I'm in da hood and someone just asked me something. I nod, smile, and then go one.