Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Bad Grammar Epidemic

From the Wednesday WSJ:

"Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.

There's no easy fix. Some bosses and co-workers step in to correct mistakes, while others consult business-grammar guides for help. In a survey conducted earlier this year, about 45% of 430 employers said they were increasing employee-training programs to improve employees' grammar and other skills, according to the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP." 

Accompanying the article: How's Your Grammar? Take a 22-question grammar quiz here to test your skills.


35 Comments:

At 6/23/2012 3:48 PM, Blogger Buce said...

What reason do we have to think that managers use better grammar than employees? I should think the swots who stay home diagramming sentences on Saturday night are precisely not the ones who will be walking away with the pay and the perks.

By the way, shouldn't it be "went rightly?"

 
At 6/23/2012 5:14 PM, Blogger Bret said...

Why not just fire up the built in grammar checkers in Word and other applications?

 
At 6/23/2012 5:47 PM, Blogger Methinks said...

Some grammar rules are made to be broken. Unfortunately, we often violate the ones we shouldn't. Even more unfortunately, I've increasingly noticed journalists to be the worst offenders. For God's sake. It's their JOB!

 
At 6/23/2012 6:34 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6/23/2012 6:37 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

Methinks ponders question 8...

a. Its there job.

b. It's they're job.

c. It's their job. > XXX <


Methinks, the monotheist, answers correctly!

 
At 6/23/2012 7:34 PM, Blogger Glenn Jericho said...

Call me a "sore loser," but I'm pretty sure that the "that/which" questions could go either way, depending on what grammar book you consult.

 
At 6/23/2012 7:56 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

You know what's an interesting thing to do? Read National Geographics from, say, prior to WWII. Even as recently as the 50's and 60's. And compare them to the ones you currently find on the newsstand. The grammar is remarkably different. Sentences were longer and more complex, and the older the magazine, the longer and more complex the sentences were.

Of course, this is true not just for National Geographics, but, really, for any US printed media.

I was reflecting on this several years ago, and it occurred to me: A hundred years ago, literacy rates in the US were lower than they were now, as were general education levels. So, the people reading National Geographics and other printed media back then were a smaller portion of the population than now. So, we've gone from having a small portion of the population reading items written in a far more complex form of the English language, to having a larger portion of the population reading items written in a much simpler form of the English language.

This is what happens when something - even literacy - becomes democratized. To increase the quantity of consumption, you need to decrease the quality of consumption.

And the internet is taking this to the next level.

 
At 6/23/2012 8:46 PM, Blogger Glenn Jericho said...

"This is what happens when something - even literacy - becomes democratized. To increase the quantity of consumption, you need to decrease the quality of consumption.

And the internet is taking this to the next level.

6/23/2012 7:56 PM"

i can has cheezburger???

 
At 6/23/2012 8:58 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Got one wrong. But knowing grammatical rules does not mean that when you are in a hurry or not paying much attention will not create a number of errors.

That said, some archaic spellings and rules need to go away because they do not make any sense.

 
At 6/24/2012 8:35 AM, Blogger Pulverized Concepts said...

Grammar is a description of the structure of a language, not a prescription for its "correct" usage. Languages change through time, few contemporary English speakers would be able to understand the speech of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton or even Goldsmith. The orthography, the printed version of the verbal language, is another matter, being the visual representation of speech, and is influenced by conventions adopted for the convenience of printers and publishers. The real issue is making one's self understood, successfully transferring information to another. If the recipient understands what is meant, that's what really counts. This is not to say that English is not on a downward slope into the grunts and gestures of a troop of baboons. It is.

 
At 6/24/2012 9:56 AM, Blogger Its GSATT said...

It's pathetic how bad it really is. Not only is grammar lacking, but the handwriting of most is at best barely legible. My handwriting is horrible, but its better than most. The last time I was instructed on proper techniques was in the 1st grade. And that was just tracing letters if I remember correctly. Just enough to scape by.

I remember my grandfather saying they used to tie his left hand behind the chair so he would write with his right hand. Try that stunt now and a someone's going to jail.

 
At 6/24/2012 11:09 AM, Blogger Don Culo said...

I'm like so confused by this, and I'm all laughing so hard.

 
At 6/24/2012 3:29 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"This is what happens when something - even literacy - becomes democratized. To increase the quantity of consumption, you need to decrease the quality of consumption"...

Hmmm, sounds to me like unknown could be describing, rap, hip-hop, and or texting...

 
At 6/24/2012 4:44 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

Sorry, Its GSATT, but I can't resist this one.

In your comment you lament your lack of schooling in proper grammar and writing with this:

"The last time I was instructed on proper techniques was in the 1st grade. And that was just tracing letters if I remember correctly."

And then support your claim with this.

"Just enough to scape by."

 
At 6/24/2012 6:20 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Hmmm, sounds to me like unknown could be describing, rap, hip-hop, and or texting...

What is wrong with rap? Is the quality really lowered?

 
At 6/25/2012 12:46 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

This was inevitable from the day, 15-odd years ago, when there was an "its" error in a nationally televised HBO commercial.

Not just how many people, but how many "language professionals" -- copy writers, editors, graphic artists, and so forth -- had to see and sign off on and watch that... and never, ever notice the usage of the wrong its/it's ??

 
At 6/25/2012 12:50 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

PC, you are partly correct, but this is not the gradual shift of language, this is the failure of our edumacashinal system, combined with arrogance about being wrong as some kind of whacko "badge of honor", and the person who corrects your error being some kind of vile "grammar nazi".

It's funny, the only ones who want to use English correctly are those for whom it's not a native language. THEY appreciate your corrections.

 
At 6/25/2012 1:37 AM, Blogger SteveH said...

Mark, In the Serfdom book there are two uses of "loose" that are incorrect. "lose their health insurance when they (or their spouse) loose a job." And "Insures focused on employer-sponsored insurance would loose in this segment"

 
At 6/25/2012 5:55 AM, Blogger geoih said...

Writing is simply an invented technology for making a record of a person's speech or thought. The idea that there is a "correct" way to write is as silly as saying there is a "correct" color for writing.

The only measure of correctness is, does the writing convey to the reader the information the writer wanted to convey. Other than that, we might as well be arguing about fashion.

 
At 6/25/2012 8:41 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"What is wrong with rap? Is the quality really lowered?"...

Why yes it has lowered quite a bit vangeIV and those links you provided are IMHO two prime examples...

Thanks for pointing those out...

 
At 6/25/2012 8:48 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"Other than that, we might as well be arguing about fashion"...

Well geoih I totally disagree...

There has to be a certain agreed upon consistency and style in both grammar and spelling so that communication and conversation can have its broadest impact...

Otherwise its just niche art...

 
At 6/25/2012 9:03 AM, Blogger Jon Murphy said...

The only measure of correctness is, does the writing convey to the reader the information the writer wanted to convey.

Actually, I have to agree with Geoih. Which is why grammar is so important. One's message is often lost when one's grammar is incorrect. The purpose of grammatical style is to help writers achieve maximum clarity within their writing by providing clear and concise rules.

I understand the larger argument that language is alive, and I agree wholeheartedly. But there is a world of different between "you're" and "your" and commas can save lives: Let's eat Grandpa! vs. Let's eat, Grandpa!

 
At 6/25/2012 9:58 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

Why yes it has lowered quite a bit vangeIV and those links you provided are IMHO two prime examples...

Let me get this straight. You get to listen to two songs and after a few hearings get to retain more useful information than by attending a university course and you consider it bad quality?

I think that you might be interested in a different view than the one that you currently seem to hold. You should download 'Commerce and Culture' from iTunes U and listen to Paul Cantor's lectures. In them he handles the 'quality' question quite well. I think what you are trying to do is compare the typical piece today with the best of the music that has survived through the centuries. But I do not think that a comparison between Mozart and Manilow is a fair indication of the difference. To do that you would have to look to the average composer and performer then and compare it to the average composer and performer now.

 
At 6/25/2012 11:00 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

jon-

the interesting thing about your precision issue is that languages tend to become less precise as they age.

they drop declensions, lose tenses, etc.

it's a bit of a one way trip. i cannot think of any examples of languages gaining these things.

english has far less formalized structure than say german or russian (or finnish, with its bewildering 15 declensions).

such structure ma be useful among native speakers with perfect comprehension, but it makes a language very difficult to learn and means that small mistakes can dramatically alter meaning.

english grammar is easier to pick up than a declined language.

it's easier to remember and to hear "with" than hearing and distinguishing first and second declensions in russian if you are not familiar with the language, especially as each also has a singular and a plural meaning that 4 quick (and potentially different) sounds at the end of a word must be understood and parsed just to get the notion of "with" across clearly.

there is a point where you cross the line on clarity into complexity.

don;t even get me started on trying to speak a tonal language as a non native.

 
At 6/25/2012 11:51 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"Let me get this straight. You get to listen to two songs and after a few hearings get to retain more useful information than by attending a university course and you consider it bad quality?"...

Where's your credible evidence that couple of songs are going make retaining anything is factual vangeIV?

"You should download 'Commerce and Culture' from iTunes U and listen to Paul Cantor's lectures"...

What makes you think that listening to Cantor's spoken word is somehow more valid and useful than actually reading the information?

Bizzare!

Besides I find the sound of Cantor's voice irritating in the extreme...

 
At 6/25/2012 12:10 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Its really annoying and taken on a life of it's own.

(jk)

 
At 6/25/2012 2:39 PM, Blogger Pulverized Concepts said...

this is the failure of our edumacashinal system

Language acquisition and education are unrelated. Humans spoke intelligibly to one another long before there were schools or even tutors. Some of the most complex languages are spoken in illiterate societies. Infants learn their basic language from the people around them and add to it as they mature. Nobody needs to go to school to learn a language.

 
At 6/25/2012 9:01 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Where's your credible evidence that couple of songs are going make retaining anything is factual vangeIV?

If my kids and my neighbour's kids can retain information about the Keynes/Hayek differences than I would say that the songs are doing their jobs. The fact that the videos have been translated in several languages and have received a lot of attention among young people interested in economics and liberty is also quite promising. I would say that the creators were far more successful than they imagined.

What makes you think that listening to Cantor's spoken word is somehow more valid and useful than actually reading the information?

It isn't. But what he points out in the lectures is not available in written format as far as I know.

Bizzare!

Besides I find the sound of Cantor's voice irritating in the extreme...


I find it somewhat irritating. But the message is absolutely great and right on the money. Many of the professional musicians that I know found Cantor very illuminating. One pointed out that if he had been exposed to this in school he would have been far more ready for the life of an artist and the journey would have been much easier. One of my pals, who teaches film, found the material very useful for his students. Of course, if you support the NEA or accept Marxist art criticism the message may not be very appealing because Cantor does a great job of destroying many of the positions of the Frankfurt School, ridicules most Marxist ideas about the arts, and takes well deserved shots at the NEA.

 
At 6/26/2012 1:26 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

>>>> Writing is simply an invented technology for making a record of a person's speech or thought. The idea that there is a "correct" way to write is as silly as saying there is a "correct" color for writing.

Yeah, and there is no right or wrong but what society tells us or what we each decide for ourselves.

Relativism is stupid when applied without limits.

Language is about communicating using an agreed upon standard. While some fluidity with the standards is ok, for the most part, you need to stick to the standard just to be sure you actually communicate what you want. There's enough ambiguity in spoken language as it is without being a total jackass and misusing the system just because you're too lazy and stupid to be bothered with learning the damned thing.

In reality, your comment is used as a crutch by exactly that sort of dumbass -- regardless if it's your reason -- who either can't or won't bother to learn how to communicate properly and effectively

 
At 6/26/2012 2:02 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

>>> You get to listen to two songs and after a few hearings get to retain more useful information than by attending a university course and you consider it bad quality?

Ummm...
Hyperbole, much?

They're both decent vids, and probably good to get HS students interested in the topic (as well as immature college students) but are hardly the substitute for a well TAUGHT university course.

...Granted, at most universities, the course will be taught by an idiot neoKeynesian, and thus suck.... hence the "well-taught" requirement.

 
At 6/26/2012 2:25 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

>>> Nobody needs to go to school to learn a language.

True, true... and this reflects HOW on the argument about using it correctly, consistently, and accurately...?


Missed that class on rhetoric and critical thinking, eh?

 
At 6/26/2012 2:51 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

>>> the interesting thing about your precision issue is that languages tend to become less precise as they age.

they drop declensions, lose tenses, etc.

it's a bit of a one way trip. i cannot think of any examples of languages gaining these things.

english has far less formalized structure than say german or russian (or finnish, with its bewildering 15 declensions).


Ummmm... So you're saying Latin is easier to understand than English????

And, while Germany and Russia are "more recent" nations than America, I'm pretty sure the languages are about the same age as English.

English is certainly much more dynamic than either of the other two, since it welcomes change steadily. The English of modern times has next to nothing to do with that of Shakespeare, much less Chaucer. I have no actual evidence on which to base it, but my suspicion is that the writings of JS Bach would probably be just as comprehensible to the modern German as the writings of a modern contemporary.

If anything, that constant change adds complexity, not simplifies it.

America further accepts change by doing what it always does -- looking at other cultures, trying out their own way of doing things, and adopting those ways and patterns it likes. Hence the vast -- truly VAST -- array of loan words inherent in the English/American language. English has something like 100k "relatively common" words, though about 10k are in steady use. Contrast with, say, Japanese, which has more like 2-3k, IIRC, and it's considered a mark of high intellect to know 10k Kanjis for Japanese words. A reasonably literate American has as many as 50-100k words, if you include whatever specialty vocab their profession uses.

I would note that, while some may argue against it, I have no problem with the idea of "verbing" -- taking a noun and re-focusing it as a verb... I think the idea is clear and understandable, regardless of how it matches with prior usage. Since it doesn't interfere with understanding or communication, it's not a bad idea.

But the application of their/there/they're is key, because each one has a context into which it fits to differentiate between different concepts.

Using the wrong one can be akin to the "Let's eat Grandpa!" comma idea above.

It's not the misuse of a construct that's the problem, it's the ignorant misuse of it.

Not using it correctly because you choose to for some reason is one thing.

Doing it because you're ignorant of proper usage... or because you're a postmodernist imbecile attempting to obfuscate effective communication under the mask of "nonconformity" are both unacceptable.

 
At 6/26/2012 7:29 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

Language is about communicating using an agreed upon standard.

Language is about communicating among individuals. The participants may not be interested in top down controls and if they use certain words and structures enough the standards will change.

 
At 6/26/2012 7:34 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

They're both decent vids, and probably good to get HS students interested in the topic (as well as immature college students) but are hardly the substitute for a well TAUGHT university course.

...Granted, at most universities, the course will be taught by an idiot neoKeynesian, and thus suck.... hence the "well-taught" requirement.



That is the point. Most university courses would never mention them because they are still teaching about the virtues of a planned economy. They are pushing either the left wing Keynesian or the right wing Keynesian schools of economics and leave out Hayek, Mises, Rothbard out of the curriculum even though the Austrian school predicted and explained events that the other schools failed to see coming.

 
At 6/26/2012 10:04 PM, Blogger Pulverized Concepts said...

But the application of their/there/they're is key, because each one has a context into which it fits to differentiate between different concepts.

Yeah, context. Ever heard of the term "homonym"? If you hear just the word "red", what does it mean? Without context you have no way of knowing if it means a color, the past tense of read, or, if the speaker was Spanish, a net. The interpretation of that spoken word doesn't actually have anything to do with grammar.

 

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