This off-topic rant was entirely fueled by my friend Trisha re-posting a picture from grammarly.com’s Facebook account. The picture said “Vote to stop the use of the word irregardless today! Like to cast your vote!” It created a conversation that resulted in 53 comments as of Wednesday evening. I initially responded with a somewhat douchey comment just to start a fun argument, but it turned into a surprisingly deep conversation.
The gist of Trisha’s point- we need good grammar in order to effectively share ideas.
he gist of my points-
- First, “irregardless” is a word even though it does not enjoy standard usage status.
- Second, there is no consensus authority to determine what is and is not grammatically correct (which includes grammarly.com.)
- Third (and most importantly), the exclusion of written ideas based on arbitrary “rightness” or “wrongness” of details such as grammar ultimately hurt us as a society.
My first two points are pretty self-explanatory and don’t really warrant much more discussion.
The third point does, however.
Grammar (and spelling) are essentially a set of rules. Most of us learn these rules from a very early age. The problem- there is no central clearinghouse to determine what is and is not correct. Most of us probably agree on some things, but certainly not all. Many people will claim to know the “correct” grammar rules, but where does their authority originate? I’ve met a lot of English teachers that insist on a specific usage of language because it was “correct.”
The authority issue pales in comparison to the effects of this perceived “rightness.” Let’s take writing as an example. The purpose of writing is to share ideas. If we insist on a certain minimum standard of grammatical correctness, we automatically eliminate those that do not reach that arbitrary minimum proficiency. A person may have brilliant ideas, but we choose to ignore them because the person uses the word “irregardless.”
In short- insisting on a specific grammar acts as a barrier to the free sharing of ideas. That may have been a good strategy back when publishers and editors acted as gatekeepers to determine who was worthy of entering the world of “professional” writers.
The world is changing, however.
The Internet has caused a great democratization of thought sharing. Anyone can now freely share information with any other person worldwide. Each one of us has become our own publisher. This gives us unlimited opportunity to learn from each other… if only we support the freedom to communicate.
Insisting on the use of proper grammar is another way of saying “You’re not worthy of contributing; your ideas are invalid.”
Calls insisting on proper grammar is a last-ditch effort of the old guard trying to protect their long-lost power as gatekeepers.
If we really want to capitalize on the power of the Internet to share ideas, we have to learn to accept all communication. We have to learn to decipher that which may be difficult to understand. If we really want to open ourselves up to open communication and the opportunity to learn, we have to take the responsibility of interpretation.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t throw out the study of grammar altogether. There will always be those that refuse to digest communications that don’t meet a minimum level of grammatical proficiency. As such, the information we share will reach a broader audience if we play be their rules. Besides, it’s fun to learn new things and push boundaries. Also, it’s a lot more fun antagonizing the grammar police when you know which laws to break.
Thoughts? I know many of my friends are sticklers for grammar rules. I also know a lot of my friends don’t give a damn about grammar. Finally, I know a select few share my ideas of the free exchange of ideas and oppose all attempts at creating or maintaining barriers and gatekeepers. What are your thoughts?