Thursday, November 29, 2012

Law of the Letters

Jessica Love:

One needn’t be a liberal to be a grammar fanatic. Nor need one be a grammar fanatic to be liberal. It is easy to imagine a world in which the two are independent, orthogonal, like rolling a die and then rolling it again. Indeed, this world is probably our own.

And that is what’s so bizarre. Language use varies along the same factors—class, race, ethnicity, region, age, gender—as other cultural practices and markers. Yet, many self-proclaimed liberals disparage others’ language with a fervor they’d never use to criticize the same people’s music, clothing, diet, spending habits, or parenting techniques.

This again? Okay. I can accept that such people exist somewhere, sure. However, anyone who has spent any time at all reading the progressive blogosphere will have seen a plethora of examples of "self-proclaimed liberals" criticizing every one of those things. Hell, I think the only stories I saw last week about the Hostess bankruptcy happened to be written by discerning authors informing us that they would never pollute the sacred temple of their bodies with such cheap artificial corporate garbage junk food blarg blarg blarg. Freddie deBoer has produced thousands of words examining the phenomenon of progressives who construct rigid caste systems of taste and cultural capital. Suffice it to say, if these fascist-in-grammar, relativist-in-everything-else liberals didn't exist, a lazy writer with several hundred words needed for a deadline would have to invent them.

As to her argument that insisting on rules and consistency in spelling and grammar is just insensitive linguistic imperialism, I can only quote George Carlin:

Yeah, I know you say, "Well many people are using it that way, so the meaning is changing." And I say, "Well, many people are really fuckin’ stupid, too; shall we just adopt all their standards?"

I'm not an educated fellow. I won't pretend to be familiar with the standards of composition that English undergrads study, let alone all sorts of arcane grammatical rules. But I honestly would consider it an insult, however unintentional, for someone to present a piece of writing to me, whether in the form of personal correspondence or a public post, that looked like a careless mess of misspellings and nonexistent punctuation. I mean, if I'm talking to a stranger, someone with whom I have no expectation of intuitive understanding, I go out of my way to speak clearly and explain any necessary background for their understanding. Why should it be any different in print? If you don't take your own thoughts seriously enough to make every effort to be clear about them, don't expect me to take them seriously enough to do the extra work of decoding it.

I do still cling to a naïve belief that professionals and other people who are responsible for communicating to the public should be nearly flawless in their spelling and grammar. But the shit that gets presented to me for revision in my copywriting gig is slowly eroding that idealism. Good lord, you would not believe how illiterate some of these people can sound.

...adding, someone must have put out a memo.