Bad Grammar, Part Two

July 25, 2007, 3:23 PM UTC
Fortune

weatherbee.gifOkay, I admit it. I never know when one of these little blogules is going to prick your balloon, float your boat, fry your oyster. Sometimes I post something I believe to be eminently worthy of comment, and only a few of you bite. Other times I field what I think is a personal pet peeve and wham, out you come with your placards and banners and, in some cases, a couple of rotten tomatoes. I love it all. Every single comment. Oh look, I say to myself, a comment! Then I take it home and wrap it in bunting and feed it special tidbits.

Such is the case with my little screed on the difference between I and Me, offered yesterday in what I considered to be a vacuum of true business news. That happens a lot lately. Who cares about most of the stuff you see in the business section these days? Another merger? Ho-hum.  Another 30-year-old quadrillionaire? Zzzzzz. Bad grammar in the workplace? Yeah, baby!

Anyhow, quite a few of you have written in to agree with me, castigate me, and make fun of my English usage. Several of these have made me laugh, others have gotten under my skin.

I had no problem at all with those who found stupid grammatical mistakes in my original post. I admit I’m not perfect, and spelling has never been my long suit. So I corrected the spelling on some key words, the use of “their” instead of “its” someplace, I forget now, and of course, changed the name of the posting itself to “When smart people USE bad grammar,” which is better, I admit it. I don’t mind being corrected. When I’m wrong.

Whoops! Look at that! I just used an incomplete sentence! In a discussion of grammar, is that verboten? I think not. In this space, I basically speak to you very much the way I would talk if we were sharing a beer at the corner bar after work, or, since I really don’t drink very much beer, vodka, scotch, tequila or, in a pinch, very cold gin. This explains not only incomplete sentences, but distortions of tense that I like to use because they sound right to me, the way people tell stories.

That explains the first sentence of my original posting, about which some of you chose to get up into my grill. “I’m sitting at a lounge last week in Los Angeles with a top business reporter” is correct, because a) it’s mildly amusing to use slightly demented lingo in a demented world, b) I choose to do it and c) the use of the present tense in this context places you in the scene immediately, and is therefore a dramatic device. In short, while the sentence is unconventional, it is not an error in grammar.

Others complained about people like Smith in Topeka, who wrote in to say, “Me hates it when people do that!” The thing is, when I read that comment, and several others like it, I laughed. I want to encourage anyone reading this site to always, always get in touch when you have anything frivolous, idiotic or even slightly funny to offer. Don’t be dissuaded by the Grouchies. Me likes it.

Speaking of annoyed individuals, Joe, in Charleston, SC, speaks for a lot of folks, I think. He’s angry. “I’ve come across many people,” he says… 

… who like to point out grammatical errors of other people and most have the same common characteristics: they are arrogant, snooty, and they seem to think that such “grammatical attacks” make them appear to be more intelligent than the victim. I was blessed with a fairly high IQ and I pay little attention to grammar because it really doesn’t matter much as long as I get the point across. Likewise, our IQs and other characteristics that are beyond our control really do not matter in this world. You will be on your death bed before you know it. Do you want to look back on your life and realize that all you have done is fought for your own pride and vanity? Or will you even be so wise? Perhaps you will only look back at how well you spoke your nonsense and hope that your wonderful grammar will be legendary.

First, I’d like to note that Joe’s grammar and writing style is not peccable. Second, Joe and those like him are exactly the reason why nobody corrects anyone else’s bad grammar these days. People hate you if you do. They think you’re a snob, a hoity-toidy loser, a wimp, a stickler, obsessed with meaningless detail and empty form. Personally, I raised this issue because when a smart person with whom I am speaking says, “Larry and me will get back to you on that,” I worry about the impression they will make in a business setting with guys who have an even bigger stick up their butts than I do.  If that makes me a modern-day equivalent of Marie Antoinette, I guess I’ll have to live with that.

I do sympathize with Joe, though. When I was in France, I didn’t meet one single French person who did not correct me on my usage, my pronunciation, my accent. I even got corrected on the way I said “McDonald’s.” While I appreciated the constant French lessons, I did feel, after a while, that there was something annoyingly sticklerish about the entire nation on this issue. But hey. They love their language. In some ways, it’s all that’s left of their once dominant culture. So I forgive them. And Joe should too.

Finally, I’d like to thank Tim in Montreal for his citation of a new one to me: Skitt’s Law, in which “spelling or grammar flames always contain spelling or grammar errors.” That rings true. I’m sure this one do too.