Why I am a grammar cheerleader

The Twitter list I have for people who post about editing and grammar this morning alerted me to the fact that the United States celebrates March 4 as National Grammar Day. Grammarly, in particular, is very excited:

Though I don’t really hold with awareness days, my Friday morning thoughts meandered to grammar, and why it has such a bad reputation (even though Grammarly is working so hard to make it sexy).

When I was at school, South African education was going through a phase when children were not taught formal grammar. The only reason I know anything about grammar is because I did Latin in high school. My son, who has spent much of his primary school career being taught about things like subjunctive tenses and gerunds, would probably envy my school career. There’s no way round it, grammar as taught in school can be dead boring. And once you’ve made it out of school, there’s always the awful chance you may encounter someone who corrects your grammar for you, as you speak. For most people, the mere thought of grammar is a complete turn-off.

Speech bubbles

Because grammar rules (and “rules”) are often used by those “in the know” as a cudgel to shame people or shut out voices, a lot of people have a negative perception of grammar. Picture: ilker, freeimages.com

But grammar is important. My job for many years consisted of editing the writing of others, and that sometimes involved correcting their grammar. They didn’t like it – but in the end, good relationships were forged around a central understanding: writers and editors are working together towards articles and books that communicate with clarity and elegance and beauty.

And grammar (in any language) is the bedrock on which communication is founded.
An interview by Andy Bechtel with Lisa McLendon, co-ordinator of the Bremner Editing Center at the University of Kansas and author of “The Perfect English Grammar Workbook: Simple Rules and Quizzes to Master Today’s English”, expresses this very clearly:

Q. In the book, you write that you prefer “grammar cheerleader” over “grammar cop.” What do you make of debates over grammar on social media and elsewhere?
A. I’m glad people are talking about language. Healthy debate is good, and anytime people (myself included) can learn more about language and how it works, it’s a good thing. Anytime people think about making writing more clear and accurate, it’s a good thing. Because grammar rules (and “rules”) are often used by those “in the know” as a cudgel to shame people or shut out voices, a lot of people have a negative perception of grammar. That’s why it needs a cheerleader instead of a cop.
But like it or not, we DO get judged by our language, especially online, where the vast majority of communication is written, and often that judgment will override any information someone is trying to convey or point someone is trying to make. Understanding grammar can help someone gain credibility and write authoritatively.

So tomorrow, March 4, I will be raising a glass to grammar and to being a grammar cheerleader.

Comments are closed