Embracing My Inner Grammar Nazi

Posted by at 7:33PM

Yoda drove him crazy.

I think it’s safe to say that the PWR 2 program has failed Stanford students.

Or, at least, that’s what I was thinking as I sat in a discussion section today.  It was one of those stereotypically uncomfortable sections where discussion flow is dictated by raised hands and everyone has to speak at least once to get participation points.  I personally believe that people who have nothing to say should not be forced to vocalize that nothing, but that, dear readers, is for a different rant.

After 30 minutes of frustrating, tangent-wandering, abruptly-topic-switching section this morning, I decided to make productive use of my remaining class time via informal statistical study.  Quietly labeling and tallying columns for “like”, “right?”, “y’know?”, and “[or] whatever”, I kept careful track of the filler words used by my classmates.

It was more than a little scary.

Grammar panda is watching you.

The top prize goes to Mr. Like, with a total of 10 likes within a 10 second span during his most prolific statement.  His individual words were in English, but his sentence communicated no meaning.  Impressive.  Honorable mention: Or Whatever Girl, who concluded each contribution with “or whatever.”  This example was most astonishing to me because, logically, when you complete a statement with “or whatever,” you are equating everything you just said to “whatever.”  Think about it.

I’m not a humanities or social sciences major.  I’m not likely to pursue a career in politics where each word is sliced, diced, and analyzed and where mistakes become memes before the debate even ends.  I’m a techie, but I believe strongly in expressing yourself effectively.

Fortunately, I’m not alone.

Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, recently published a mouthful for those who can’t master basic grammar.  The piece should be required reading for all science and technology majors.  The basic gist is that grammar and attention to self-expression are valuable indicators of what kind of person you are.  As Wiens writes, “good grammar is credibility.”

iFixit founder Wiens wants you to fix your poor grammar

You might propose, as Wiens suggests, that “grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?”  That’s the feeling I get from my techie peers much too often.  But “if it takes [you] more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s,” then that’s not a learning curve [you should be] comfortable with.”  Grammar has commercial value as well, especially if you’re trying to market yourself in today’s software industry.  “Programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code….  Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important.”

Why would Stanford belabor the point of coherent self expression as much as it does – with PWR 1 and 2 and writing in the major and more – if it were somehow not important to your personal assets?  Stanford students are smart, but there’s no point in being smart if you cannot communicate your ideas effectively.  Your listeners drown in a sea of “like’s.”  Your readers blow you off at the first incorrect their/they’re/there.  You sound less intelligent than you are.

To me, it’s a social contract.  Those who do not take the time to express themselves effectively have not earned the right to an audience.  Friends, acquaintances, and housemates, beware: I will correct the heck outta your grammar because I care about you.

Sectionmates… next week, I’m bringing Vader.

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One Response to “Embracing My Inner Grammar Nazi”

  1. Julie says:

    Right you are . Being a proofreader and blogger I noticed lots of “Netlish” – kind of Network English. Effective communication requires solid and effective writing skills and today’s instant networking via emails, SMSs, social network chats has made our habits terrible. We are using abbreviations, slang, smileys instead of words, and this can all reflect onto our writing when preparing papers, essays or working on other assignments.

    But there lots of online services now that can help you brush up skils.

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