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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Your Fired

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Times this morning reports on the grammar stickler Stefan Gatward who, exasperated by living in a street which was signed "St Johns Close," went around painting apostrophes in the correct location, so that the sign reads, correctly, "St John's Close." Whilst cheered on by some neighbours, others called Mr. Gatward a vandal. One, he explains, even "tried to tell me that the Post Office would not deliver to the street if you put an apostrophe on the address."

It is now six years since Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation was first published, providing a militant call to grammar sticklers everywhere. Whilst I do not rate that book particularly highly - Truss seems too severe in describing "proper" language, whereas language is the product of social consensus rather than anything that can be defined from the top - I do appreciate the importance of correct grammar, and can understand why Mr. Gatward might have been so annoyed, wielding his paintbrush in protest.

The key reason for using grammar properly is that it gives a positive impression of the writer, leading the reader to be more confident of the validity of his or her arguments, opinions, or actions. What does it say about a council's efficiency if they cannot produce accurate road signs? What did it tell me about the government's views on the War on Terror when I received a badly-written response from the Home Office a few years ago? It is because grammar implies much about the writer as well as being an aid to the reader that I mark with a heavy red pen on university English Literature essays. If students cannot use language properly themselves, why should I trust their critiques of other authors' use of it?

Another perfect example of why grammar matters arrived in the post yesterday. This was, sadly, a warning of redundancy sent to Mrs. Ishmael. The letter contains numerous errors. The letter invites her to a meeting on "either the 19th of August However..." There are two sentences missing full stops. The letter explains the "principals" (not principles) by which selection for redundancy will be made. It points to section 15 of the staff handbook, which contains information about redundancy; in fact, the relevant section is 13.

So how do you think my Mrs. Ishmael and I felt when she received this letter? Here she was, at risk of losing her job in spite of her excelling in her role, whilst the middle manager who would make that decision was incapable of using language appropriately, and had not even bothered with a basic proof read in such a personally important document.

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Posted by Alistair at 8:12 am


Blogger Tim Acheson said...

Stefan Gatward deserves our full support in his noble crusade against bad English!

Does anybody have his email address? I'd very much like to hear his opinion on the use of dashes in web addresses:-


4:15 pm  
Blogger rose said...

Grammar is important because it is the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language.Grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences not only in English but in any language.Thank you very much for sharing this with us.

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9:27 am  

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