Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Communication and Language

So, I have a reputation as something of a grammar nazi. I think it's partially because I just naturally focus on that nitty-gritty sort of stuff, and also because I'm much more comfortable communicating via written text than I am speaking, so I'm constantly putting all these rules into practice. I really do try not to be obnoxious about calling people out on their mistakes, but I can't help but notice them. And in my own head, and to like-minded individuals, I'm continually astounded by the level of ignorance and/or laziness out there.

"Well, you know what I meant," is always the excuse, especially when it comes to using "your" instead of "you're" and the like. And yes, chances are I do know what you meant. But when you start compounding those kinds of mistakes, eventually I'll decide the effort to decode your thoughts just isn't worth it. Yes, I know some people have learning disabilities, and no, English isn't everyone's first language. I get that. This is the internet, and there are all types of people, all communicating together. But I know a lot of what I'm seeing is just laziness, and the more I see it, the less patience I have left for those who truly deserve it.

Hmm, I seem to have gotten off track.

Anyway, I recently saw a link to an article about grammar rules that we should just give up on: 7 Bogus Grammar "Errors" You Don't Need to Worry About.

I know this is the part where you expect me to go off on another rant, but these rules really don't concern me. Stuff like splitting infinitives, ending a sentence with a preposition, beginning a sentence with a conjunction, using passive voice . . . I do most of these myself, especially when I'm writing conversationally, like in a blog post or on social media. Breaking rules like these just makes you sound less formal. It doesn't actually affect the meaning of a sentence the way that using the wrong word or punctuation can.

Speaking of using the wrong word, though . . .

The final argument of the article is the one I can't agree with, at least not universally. The idea is that if a word has been consistently used "incorrectly" for fifty years or more, that takes it out of the realm of error and into the realm of language evolution. Most of the examples the author lists, I totally agree with (of course, that could be because I wasn't alive when the pedants of the day were complaining about their incorrect usage). But I just can't wrap my head around his final example. According to the author, "I could care less" is perfectly acceptable. And skimming the comments, it seems I'm not the only one who's not buying it.

When it comes to language evolution, I think it's perfectly fine to allow words to take on new meanings . . . but not at the expense of the original meaning. One example from the article is "hopefully." Originally this meant "in a hopeful manner." For example, "She waited by the phone hopefully." Tacking it onto the beginning of a sentence -- "Hopefully, he will make it back safely" -- would have been considered incorrect. Some people may still consider it incorrect, but personally I don't see a problem with it.

"Literally" isn't mentioned in the article, but it's another word that would probably be on this guy's list, if not now, then in the near future. People use it all the time to mean "figuratively," and they show no signs of stopping. This, I'm not okay with, because they're using it to mean exactly the opposite of what it really does. To me, "I could care less" falls into the same category.

We communicate every day. It goes a lot smoother when we're all on the same page, don't you think?

1 comment:

  1. I was in a meeting today and someone used the phrase "Me and Matt went to check out the issue." My brain immediately went "Matthew and I!!!!!"

    I was surprised that the word "jealous" wasn't on that list. As far as 99% of the world is concerned, there is no difference between jealousy and envy. I even have a hard time using it properly because saying you were envious of someone just sounds weird.