The death of grammar

The Sanford Media Center in Gorgas Library practically turned into a campsite for my honors film partner, Ryan Murphy, and me. From about six-thirty until eleven, computer number eight and Final Cut Pro took over Ryan’s mind while writing the documentary voice over narration occupied my brain. In all honesty, sitting and refreshing thesaurus.com easily filled about a fourth of my time writing. Another fourth of my energy remained focused on the tedious process of sentence reconstruction, and by eleven o’clock Ryan and I had begun to research a nonexistent punctuation mark called the “quemma.”

Attempting to read the narration to tempo with our film, we came across a difficult sentence that only sounded satisfying if it was partly a question and partly a fragmented declaration. The declaration part of the sentence hung around after the independent question clause, but we preferred the sound of the fragmented sentence over any grammatically correct version. No proper grammar allowed our sentence to embody the right emotion and emphasis that we envisioned. Thus instead of reconstructing the sentence, we landed on the only solution, the “quemma.” It has the body of a question mark that is merely above a comma rather than a period. In a delusional post-studying state, I am not exaggerating when I say that we thought this “quemma” was the epiphany of our lifetimes. A tad bit of research online proved the existence of others who saw a place for the “quemma,” too. 

Although a movie narrative might have just enough creative wiggle room for Ryan and me to get away with using the “quemma,” further reflection upon leaving the library lead me to the night’s second epiphany about grammar. Perhaps the entire night’s struggle of writing fluidly with proper grammar and existing punctuation said something more about the writers of our generation. I reluctantly accepted myself as one of the writers who inadvertently seeks grammatical shortcuts and excuses. Until this point in time, I had grown oblivious of my tendency to blame the English language over my inability to properly execute it. Two opposing epiphanies in one night will really get the mind thinking.

Upon consideration, I quickly accepted the later of the two epiphanies as the far more profound revelation. Not only did the fear of our own generation’s depleting writing skills concern me, but also the effects this epidemic could have on the generations to come. The social pressures serve as one valid explanation, for using, creating or knowing the most current slang words and abbreviations is second nature to those who vie to acquire a stigma of “social success.” Some of these slang terms are humorous while others are offensive. Aside from questioning the meaning behind these words, I propose a different question. What does it mean to have generations that are beginning to see greater value and impression in writing with trendy words and phrases rather than with timeless ones? 

Finding a fix to a social epidemic that threatens our nation’s standards for proficiently using proper grammar is no easy task. Reading applications on tablets revolutionized the way our world reads. Without discrediting the incredible accessibility this technological progress has given to readers of all kind, it is important to note that the reading applications frequently compete, and lose, against the ever-so-enticing apps such as Snapchat. The major detriment here is not that we use grammatically incorrect words on social media, but that we succumb to the addictions that veer us away from some of the greatest writing teachers of all time, books. 

Writing with proper English and a wide range of vocabulary comes from reading as well as a much needed grammar crack down from teachers. Reading Faulkner, Hemingway, Morison, Austen or Fitzgerald gives one an ear to hear how good writing should sound. Readers learn how to craft a compelling narrative because they remember ones that have compelled them. They craft more persuasive arguments because the know how they in the past have been persuaded. 

Teachers matter too. If teachers fail students based off nit-picky grammar mistakes, perhaps we should start to admire this service to the future workforce. Messing around on Google directed me to Cheryl Conner’s article and blog review titled, “I Don’t Tolerate Poor Grammar” on Forbes.com. I expected an interesting yet mundane opinion on the subject, but she grabbed my attention a few paragraphs into the column, with her humorous and witty outcry for grammatical justice in the work force. While she opens with the valid point that, “Poor grammar and writing is an epidemic in the workplace. While the era of social media and texting has caused many to believe it’s a problem they couldn’t resolve, a number of businesses are finally finding the nerve to crack down,” she follows shortly thereafter with a a realistic wit. The line that really got me laughing reads, “Actually, I do tolerate poor grammar; I just don’t do it willingly.” 

As I wrap up my own slightly humorous outcry for students and teachers to put value back into quality writing skills, I understand the realistic struggle to actually do more than just cringe when faced with awful grammatical errors. If you have time, you want a laugh or you, too, have a grammatical epiphany, I suggest reading this article. If we all take some time to ponder the benefits of working towards decreasing our educational, social and societal tolerance of poor grammar while still in college, we are ultimately saving ourselves from countless cringe-worthy moments. Thus, I officially put the “quemma” to an eternal rest.

Anna Scott Lovejoy is a sophomore majoring in general business and biology. Her column runs biweekly.

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