A Speaker’s Worst Fear – Being Grammatically Incorrect; A Writer’s worst fear – Being Ungrammatical and Having Punctuation Errors

October 6th, 2011 by Michael Tabor
Do you put any stock in the title of this blog? Well, if you’re a writer or a public speaker, the title resonates loudly and clearly (I almost inserted loud and clear but I’m modifying the verb – resonates, so I need adverbs not adjectives). Additionally, If you are some sort of an authority on grammar or if you possess the distinguished title of a grammarian, the fear of making a mistake is even more resounding.  But why is this the case? Should we be this terrified of not constructing our sentences the way we ought to?   How about ending a sentence with a preposition like I just did in the previous string of words? I am tipping my hand but my real answer is fear – NO, care and consideration – YES.
Here is a shocking disclosure and revelation – WE ALL MAKE GRAMMATICAL MISTAKES! Even E.B. White, the ultimate authority on grammar and the author of “Strunk & White,” I’m sure would admit that he would blunder from time to time. Certainly, his miscues would be fewer than the average writer or even a great writer for that matter, but a mistake here and there I can assure you he made– no doubt. The truth of the matter is the English language, grammar, and syntax is: 1. prodigiously difficult 2. arbitrary 3. utterly confusing 4. and forever evolving and changing.
As a teenager and young adult, one invariably speaks and talks like his or her parents do. If your parents were well educated, spoke well, and deemed grammar as important, then you most certainly would follow suit and have a tremendous head start in life. (I know it stinks and it’s unfair but that’s life. It’s not unlike the “rich get richer” adage. ) If on the other hand you were like me, whose parents were poor working class folks ( I love my parents and I wouldn’t change places with anyone) then I’m certain you got less than excellent marks on your written assignments. Moreover, to further undermine your already low self – esteem, I bet your teachers, especially your English teachers whenever you opened your mouth, always corrected you.
My favorite paradox is “There are no absolute truths except that there are exceptions to every absolute truth.”  So, on a occasion you will find the youngster at a very young age who buries his face in books and looks up every word in the dictionary and breaks out of the “bad grammar” cycle. This scenario usually occurs when the uneducated parents scrape together their funds and send their children to private schools. Another possibility, so as not to stray from the topic of grammar, is that your parents may be well-off and still have bad grammar – for example the rich folks who own a welding facility or some other blue-collar establishment. In my case, it wasn’t until I was in college and majored in journalism that my grammar improved significantly.
Anyway, to end with the point I want to drive home, I’ll will conclude with the truism that – Grammar is supposed to facilitate the use of the English language not stifle it. So the better your grammar, the better you write and speak. The written and spoken word will be clearer, more lucid, more intelligible, and less ambiguous; and isn’t that what communication is all about – connecting with other people. And as for Punctuation, just think of it as traffic signs for readers; the pauses , tone, geatures and expressions, etc. – punctuation is just a matter of choice. A comma means pause, the period means stop and an exclamation mark emphasizes a crucial moment.
So whadaYaThink ? What do you think? My philosophy is if you can actually be clearer and more expressively lucid using less than perfect grammar and you have a unique and appealing style Like Jack Kerouac, then be ungrammatical. And if some pedantic, word-watching, snob chooses to look down his condescending nose, well  the grammarian is none the wiser. Just do it, do not be self-conscious, use your own style, and just remember that grammar exists to help you elucidate and clarify communication not hinder it.

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