little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: grammar

Laying down the grammar checker

For a while I’ve been slowly unpicking my tendency to snark about other people’s grammatical waywardness, becoming aware of the snobbery inherent in the snark and the stories behind how we write and what we know.

My working position now is that I’ll seek out and celebrate writing that chimes well with me, and if someone asks me for corrections (or better still, pays me), I’ll do my level best to help them create a strong, coherent, engaging document, free of error and jargon. But otherwise, you write your way, my friend, and I’ll turn my editing eye aside.

Anyway, this morning I was visiting The Lady Garden and found a link to this blog post about literacy privilege. Here’s a bit:

Do I sound angry? That’s because I am. I’m angry that linguistic elitism is so deeply embedded in our social discourse with so little critical analysis. I’m angry that it took me four years of being slapped in the face with the daily realities of poor literacy skills before I finally relinquished my own prescriptive bayonet. As a member of a marginalized group myself, I am hyperconscious of other, more well-recognized types of privilege – male privilege, white privilege, straight privilege, able-bodied privilege. I want to be vigilant about the ways that I might be contributing to the marginalization of others. And the more I understand about my fellow human beings, the more I recognize the importance of taking the time to stop, listen, and learn about their struggles before unleashing my own careless judgements. I have by no means become a saint in this regard – I still have redhead moments where I snark before I think – but I am committed to finding better ways to engage with people whose opinions, experiences and means of expression are different from mine.

The whole thing is great; have a look. The discussion in the comments is worth reading too, and the follow-up posts. Something to chew over.

Speaking of which, I’ve got a stellar quote for you, but it’ll have to wait until my sister finishes reading my Christmas present.

Bad grammar between friends

The Lady Garden

Literacy privilege

Fancy up your punctuation

Lovely!

But hang on, isn’t this a business blog?

Oh, so you noticed. Noticed that along with the writing tips, the wordplay, and the grammar musings, some other things keep slipping into this blog. Bits of fiction. A poem (!). Stories about my children (good grief). Words like decolonisation (really?). Reflections on motherhood (enough already). Feminist analysis (settle down, ladies). Politics, family history, Christmas presents. What’s all that about? Am I confused? Do I know what I’m doing?

Well, “yes” and “not really”.

 

“Yes”

My main aim with this blog is to treat it like a scrapbook. To gather together snippets of the things that move or inspire me, that have me laughing in agreement or making sense of another day spent trying to fledge a business and hold together the threads of a full and busy household. To say, “Look, this is what writing can do. These are the words we need to guide us into a more hopeful future.”

And I’m also trying to be as open and generous as possible in my understanding of what a business can be. Because why shouldn’t a businesswoman think about colonisation or feminism or children or any of that? Because those things don’t go away when we say, “No, you didn’t see the boundary there; this is business, this is work.” Because I’m not going to cut myself into pieces and sanction one little bit to build this business up. What you’ll get is all of me, stroppy, reflective, silly, curious, ratbaggy as I might be. And I don’t expect anyone else to agree with my views, but I do think that there’s space in the business model for me to wander off the page and write about the rest of my life, about the questions and anchors and truths that keep me alert and keep me whole. And if there’s not that space, there should be.

 

“Not really”

But, of course, it’s not that simple, is it?

Because I do put my own boundaries on what I write, and I do worry away at the distinction between a personal and a business blog. I question my decisions. I self-censure. I link to other people’s words instead of putting my analysis and thinking on the line. I feel vulnerable when I post creative writing and a bit soft when I write about mothering or my children. I tell the funny or appealing family stories — not so much the ones where I am less than graceful and composed.

 

“Well maybe”

So, what to do?

You know, the thing I keep coming back to is the idea of wandering off the page. Of saying, “Yes, this writing is connected to my business, because it all stems from me and my writing self, but it’s a little bit to the side, a little bit meandering. It’s where my thoughts turn in my quiet moments, or where they snag as I’m playing with the kids or making dinner or listening to the radio or having a shower. It’s the writing I do when I’ve got something to say.” And what I’d really like is to live in a world where the page origamis into new shapes, where the centre no longer holds and the eye is free to follow those wandering, marginal lines.

What’s a little bad grammar between friends?

This post has been brewing for a while. In a couple of Facebook conversations about the importance of correct grammar, I’ve found myself in the strange position of arguing that grammar doesn’t matter so very much. I say “strange” because I’m an editor by trade. A good sentence makes me ridiculously happy, and I’ll willingly pull an all-nighter to put the polishing touches on a client’s documents. One of my most exciting recent discoveries was that an em-dash is sometimes called a “mutton”, and an en-dash a “nut”. But it makes no sense to me to dismiss a person or their writing because they’ve got the grammatical wobbles.

So, in true Gemini style, I thought I’d play both sides of the argument. And so as to avoid making a final call, I thought lists might be the way to go.

 

10 reasons why grammar matters

1. Correct grammar is usually necessary — though not always sufficient — for clarity.

2. A sound grasp of grammar, punctuation, syntax, and so forth shows that you are professional and have an eye for detail.

3. Taking the time to write something correctly is a mark of respect for your readers.

4. If you’re lucky, a grammatically incorrect sentence might be ambiguous. If you’re unlucky, it’ll be stupid or offensive.

5. If you understand how your language works, you’ll find it much easier to learn a new one.

6. Get control of your grammar and your writing can be so many things — elegant, stompy, fierce, light, outrageous, compelling, funny.

7. Getting a sentence right is pleasing, and I’m all for cheap kicks.

8. How else do you think word-nerds flirt with each other? The semi-colon isn’t used as a winky face for nothing.

9. Half an hour spent researching the finer details of an aspect of grammar or punctuation might just turn out to be the highlight of your day.

10. Your grandmother might appreciate it.

 
10 reasons why it doesn’t so much

1. Focusing on grammar as the key marker of writing ability always seems to me to miss the point. Other reasons why your writing might be unclear include:

·      you haven’t structured your writing logically
·      you’re using too much jargon
·      you’d need a spaghetti diagram to parse your sentences
·      you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Get those things right, and then we’ll talk about grammar. Otherwise, it’s like painting the windowsills on a derelict house. Or as food writer Nigel Slater says, “all fur coat and no knickers.”

2. Humans have a pretty robust ability to communicate. If we really need to say something to each other, we’ll find a way. (Seplilng is nto etsnstail fro udnrestnading etihre, though it makes reading easier.)

3. If you’re talking in a language that you’re not fluent in, it’s likely that you’re making mistakes. Chances are, you’ll still be able to order lunch or make a friend.

4. Have you talked with a three-year-old lately?

5. Go on too much about other people’s grammatical slips, and you start to sound like a snob. Read with generosity, and you might be surprised at what someone has to say.

6. Nitpicking can make people feel anxious about writing. It’s only Facebook. These people are your friends. If you don’t understand what they mean, you can always ask.

7. Sometimes one of your favourite authors will make a mistake. You don’t want to let that distract you too much.

8. Rules change, conventions shift.

9. You can always hire an editor.

10. If you worry too much about following the rules, you might forget to play.

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