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Why Bother?

by Matthew Furrow

Red H. MacGuffin wrote in response to my editorial of March 20th that "grammar is something that needs to be taken with a bit of perspective" and that "there is no absolute." Tom Moore, also in response to my editorial, wrote: "If people get what you are saying, what difference does it make if you have good or bad grammar." I strongly disagree with these statements.

What is the point of having grammar at all? Why, if everyone knows what you mean, should one bother spelling words correctly, using punctuation appropriately, or reviewing one's work for errors? I ask a counter-question: why have a language at all if you aren't going to bother to use it? The entire point of language is to allow people to understand each other--so that we can communicate our thoughts to each other. If everyone just decided to ignore the conventions of language, and everyone made up their own ways of spelling words, their own ways of pronouncing them, and their own ways of using them, the entire purpose of language would be defeated. Instead of agreeing to use a single language, everyone would be making up their own.

The only reason why people can get away with using execrable grammar--why it is still possible to "get what you are saying" even if you abuse the English language--is because the rest of us make an effort to use it properly. If everyone in the world decided to take the easy way out and no longer cared about the way they wrote or spoke, one would very quickly discover that nobody could communicate with each other, because there would be no linguistic standards. If everyone just decided to make up their own rules, if grammar had "no absolute," there would soon be no point in using language at all, and we might as well go back to grunting and pointing at things.

I have no problem if someone acts to the best of his or her ability and still makes a couple of grammatical mistakes. I know that such a person, someone who devotes time and effort into his or her writing, will attempt to learn from the mistakes he or she makes and try to improve upon them. What I dislike is when people cannot be bothered to try to write well in the first place, let alone correct their errors.

Go ahead. Use whatever spelling and grammar you like. Take the easy way out and make the rest of us try to decipher your writing, instead of actually having to spend a little time writing in a clear and comprehensible manner to begin with. You may consider it perfectly acceptable; I consider it downright rude. As I've said, I don't expect people to become George Orwells overnight. It would be nice, however, if more people would put some effort into their writing every now and then. The world would be a better place for it.

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