Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grammar, pronunciation, and style! Oh my!


A few days ago I was initiated into a group of people who write to each other in order to gripe about the pet peeves they harbor about grammatical, pronunciation, and spelling errors that others make. This happened after I tweeted about how one of my pet peeves is when people pronounce the word “accurate” as “ak-red” instead of “ak-yur-it.” I find it ironic that someone who talks about accuracy can’t pronounce the word accurately.

Ever since I joined the group I’ve been afraid to write anything in fear of publicly committing some (or many) grammatical faux pas; I feel the need to reference dictionaries and style guides before I send out an e-mail, let alone post something on my blog.

There are socially accepted conventions to how we should write and we begin learning these formal standards in elementary school. We’re inundated with rules such as: avoid run-on sentences, avoid dangling participles, and never split an infinitive. What was an infinitive again? Or, for that matter, what the heck is a dangling participle? Yes, my mind just went into the gutter with that last question.

I still don’t know when to use “who” and when to use “whom” or if I’m using a dash, en-dash, and em-dash correctly. I may never figure out when to use a semi-colon instead of a comma. Do I overuse quotation marks? William Faulkner and James Joyce got away with using run-on sentences, why can’t I? Can fragmented sentences be used for rhetorical effect?

There are a few blogs I read from time to time because I know the people that write them. Their writing style makes me cringe. I’ve grown accustomed to those rules for how we should write and deviation from those norms makes their writing tedious to read.

My two favorite blogs are by Max Gerber and Anthony Bourdain. Neither strictly follow the formal rules of writing, but there’s something about the way they write that gives me a sense of pleasure. I can see, hear, and taste the things they write about. I feel what they feel.

Where is that line between bad English and an effective writing style?

Wasn’t one of those aforementioned rules to not have a paragraph consist of only one sentence?

Yes, I make judgments about a person’s credibility by the way they write and I don’t think I’m alone. An article released by The Latimer Group, states, “We all want to be thought of as intelligent. We all want credibility. We all want to be taken seriously. And one of the best ways to do that is to express ourselves clearly and articulately…. The importance of verbal expression, and the way it affects public perception, is crucial for success and has never been more important than it is today.”

I can’t always pinpoint what criteria I use to judge what bad writing is, I just know that I wince when I read it. I expect people to make mistakes from time to time and that’s okay with me, but when someone deviates from the norms of communication that I’ve come to expect, I question what other knowledge they lack – what else do they not know how to do, I question their credibility and ultimately their intelligence.

I strive to avoid those communication fumbles, but I know I still have a long way to go before I can communicate effectively. I toy with different styles and the manner in which I write depends not only on the context of the writing but also my mood. Sometimes I’m feeling serious so I’ll write in a more formal style; sometimes I’m feeling playful so I’ll use more colloquial phrases. Anyhow, please, please, please be patient with me as I try to figure all this stuff out. Correct me when I’m wrong and suggest (as delicately as possible – my ego is easily bruised) how I can improve my writing. Please.

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