Sunday, March 29, 2015


There are many quite unflattering names to describe those individuals for whom  proper grammar and syntax is extremely important:  The Grammar Hammar, Grammar Nazi,  OCGD's (obsessive compulsive grammar disorder), and Grammar Police (which technically would need to refer to a group of grammar sticklers) are only a few examples.

I guess it makes sense that our current culture would refer to these grammar gurus in the negative.  After all, we live in a high tech, speed of light, word counting world, and these detail crazies are annoying.  We don't have time to write out the whole words.  And that extra button to capitalize the personal I?  Well, it can be a personal pain that interrupts the texting flow.  Numbers have started to find their way into our words:  l8r, m8, let's go sk8ing, for the sake of time and a strange sort of cleverness I don't fully understand.  As far as capital letters to begin our sentences or put nouns in their "proper place?" (only the true grammar nerds will get that one) That is almost a dead art.

Believe it or not, I was your age once.  I remember believing that it was more about the creativity and "word painting" ability as a writer than where the commas and semi-colons belonged.  I wanted my writing to move people, make them see something differently, or maybe even REALLY see something for the first time.  That should be the assessment focus.   Punctuation?  Well, that was cute, too, but not as important as style.  Much to my chagrin, Marina High School's Honors English III teacher, Mr. Hole, had a very different point of view.

The first piece of writing I ever turned into him was a narrative.  I was very proud of that narrative, and was expecting to receive some very encouraging comments of recognition when it was returned.  Instead, my paper floated back to me in a river of red ink.  I was crushed, and if I am completely honest, I was also indignant and a little bitter.

For a while, I was afraid to write for Mr. Hole.  I experienced blocks that I had never known as a student writer.  I was convinced my past glowing reports were all just a sham, and now that I had entered the world of REAL writers, well, I just plain wasn't one.  I went to see him during office hours every time we had a paper due brimming with all sorts of insecure questions.  I would write, rewrite, throw away and write again before I would show anything to him.   Then, one day, he said this to me, and it really changed everything:  "Kristin, you are a very good writer.  You are creative and I can tell you have a genuine love of words and story telling.  You must believe you are an artist.  But what good will any of that do you if people cannot clearly see the vision you have poured out on the page?"

It stuck.  I even wrote it down to remind myself of that.  What good, indeed?  And furthermore, what if a poorly placed comma or missing semi-colon placed my work in a negative light for an intelligent, syntax-savvy reader?  This was a necessary, humbling experience that not only made me a better more effective writer, but it also made me realize how complex the process of creating communication really was...and you know what?  It SHOULD be!  Communicating effectively deserves our time and close attention!  Words are extremely powerful!  We have certainly explored that notion this year.  But that power is quickly drained in untrained hands.  Nathaniel Hawthorne said it best:  "Words--so innocent and powerless as they are standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows well how to combine them."

So why should you care?  Well, for one, like it or not, the professional world cares.  According to an article in Forbes Magazine, (dated March 11, 2013):  "....good grammar is a fairly accurate predictor of professional success."  Apparently, there are studies to prove it.
1.  Professionals with fewer grammar errors in their profiles had achieved higher positions.  The profiles of those who'd failed to achieve director-level positions within the first ten years of their careers made almost three times as many grammatical errors as their director level colleagues.
2.  Fewer grammar errors correlate with more promotions.  Professionals with six to nine promotions made 45% fewer grammatical errors than those who'd been promoted 1-4 times.

 In the article, Forbes interviewed iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens, who maintained that grammar skills typically indicate positive workplace traits, including but not limited to attention to detail, critical thinking and intellectual aptitude.

You don't need to be a Forbes editor or a Fortune 500 CEO to know that you only get one chance to make a first impression.  In our tech-savvy world, most communication is now written and sent via email or text messaging.  When face time is used, grammar and syntax skills still come through in verbal communication, as well: "With whom shall I conference on this topic?" vs. "Who do I follow up with?"  OR  "Where shall we meet on Friday?"  vs.  "Where do you wanna meet up at this Friday?"

I'll admit, that last so-called sentence I just typed made me cringe.  I do not at all profess to be perfect or even nearly so when it comes to English grammar and syntax, but I do strongly believe in its great significance.  As you are revising and then editing your essays for me this week, please take the time to consult grammar and syntax resources, such as the classic Elements of Style book that graced many an English major's personal desk-handy library or the newer Purdue Owl online writing reference.  It is time very well spent as it makes such a difference in how others perceive you as a communicator!  We may be moving from the calligraphy pen to the stylus, but that just means communication is now more readily available and easy to access.  Now more than ever, it is important to be an excellent, effective communicator....literally!

Enjoy this video and humorous blog.  It will certainly give you a much needed comic relief, but on another level, it will also show you how seriously the Grammar Hammers of the world take this issue.  Hey, let's be honest, you should probably take it seriously, too, because according to Forbes, these Grammar Nazi, OCGD, Grammar Police Officers will most likely be your employers and promoters someday!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH in an uncertain world...

"There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul.  We spend our entire lives looking for the outlines." ~Josephine Hart

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, each one of us is on a quest for truth.  It is human nature to wonder--to seek--to fill the gaps of knowledge, and color in the spaces between the known and the unknown.  We are not satisfied to "let it be" and accept that perhaps some information is beyond our grasp.  It is what makes life frustrating and wonderful.  It is what makes us pathetic and extraordinary at the same time.

We are seekers.

And thank goodness we are.  If we weren't, polio would still plague us.  The world would be flat.  Lands and islands would remain undiscovered.  We want answers.  We want to be able to look into the looking glass and see not the murky image but the real one.  We are searching for the truth.

Whether it's the Truth with a capital T or the truth about something specific, it is the same general concept.  Every subject you take in school supports this search:  What really happened on December 7, 1941 and what were the events that led up to it?  What is the answer to this mathematical puzzle, or what steps did Einstein take to derive his theory of relativity?  What is the author really trying to tell us in this passage, and does this symbolize anything profoundly universal?  We want the answers, and we want them to make sense to us.  We want to know, once and for all.  

Schools seek to teach us not only how to uncover "truth," but how to recognize when something might be masquerading as truth.  It starts early--some might argue too early--in elementary grades when we try to identify the differences between facts and opinions.  We try to define both--put them into a neat little box--so we can easily and quickly recognize both and decipher their differences.  

But...that begs another question...can "truth" be characterized in this way?  Can opinions also be facts?  What about morals and ethics?  Are they facts?  According to many dictionary definitions, they are not. So if our notions of right and wrong cannot be characterized as truth, but merely opinion, then why was the world so outraged recently when a cartoonist was brutally murdered because someone did not like what he had to say?  What right do we have to point fingers if "Murder is wrong" is a moral opinion, not fact?

So much to sift through.  I would like to challenge you to read this opinion article recently submitted to the New York Times.  Not only is it an excellent  piece of persuasive writing, but it also challenges the way we define truth and differentiate truth from opinion.  After you read, please answer the following questions:  1.  What, if anything, is wrong with the current distinction between fact and opinion?  2.  Is there such thing as "moral truths" or does everything that is classified as a moral or belief indicate opinion only?  3.  Is there such a thing as truth?  How do we recognize it? 
Maybe the search for the truth will always remain just that:  a search.  As the quote indicates at the top of this post, maybe truth is eternal.  Therein lies the quandary:  

We are bound creatures searching for  something boundless....