HomegrammarSpelling and Grammar – Casual Versus Professional Contexts

Last week, a friend on Facebook posted some image about making judgement calls on things like spelling and grammar. It was meant to be funny, but it really upset me for some reason. I’m sure part of it had to do with the outpouring of negativity building up to that day along with hateful nonsense in other areas, but that one graphic really stuck out to me.

Cafe sign
Entertaining as it is, I don’t think I’d want to go to this company
for a sign any time soon.
by Neal Chambers, [CC-BY 2.0], via Flickr

I ended up stepping away from the computer for a while. Once I calmed down, I realized why it got to me. People judge others on their spelling and grammar every single day. Some take it a step further, and turn it into fodder for bullying. Having dyslexia, I’ve experienced that personally.

Professional Context
When it comes to professional work, spelling and grammar do matter. If you’re being paid to write something, be it making a sign, tattooing a saying or writing an article, you need to put your education to work.

Odds are, whatever you create will then be put out to represent the company for which you work. If you don’t bother with putting your best foot forward, you risk making yourself look foolish as a professional and your employers look negligent in their work as well.

This is especially true when it comes to looking for work or submitting writing for any sort of publication. Unless you’re writing for a place which is interested in quantity over quality, if the editor can’t read or understand your writing, it simply won’t get accepted.

Basically, if you’re getting paid for your writing, you must do it correctly. If I’m looking for a book to purchase, for example, I won’t purchase the one full of errors or difficult to read text.

This also goes for professional emails. I have corresponded with people like doctors, lawyers and CEOs who refused to even use spell check while conversing with me via email. I had the hardest time not replying with corrections, or simply “What?” One person even used chat speak with me and wondered why I wouldn’t respond in kind.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe a certain level of professionalism and respect needs to come into play over the course of a work-related conversation.

Of course, when you’re writing for school, you must also proofread your work before you hand it in. Students who are just learning how to write should be allowed some leeway in the classes that don’t concentrate on the mechanics of writing, of course. However, once you get to college or even high school, your work should have the best spelling and grammar you can muster.

If you’re still accommodating for a learning disability or are still learning the language, your teachers should be told about it beforehand, so they can adjust whatever criteria they have accordingly. You should still write to the best of your ability and seek help if you can.

Casual Context

Screenshot taken from Tumblr with identifying info
blocked out. Forgive the profanity, but this is a more
extreme example of what happens.

When you’re communicating via text in your free time, spelling and grammar takes back seat to relationships and content. As long as I can understand the point you’re trying to make, you don’t need absolutely perfect spelling or grammar.

Being endlessly corrected when you’re simply trying to hold a conversation gets extremely irritating and hurtful. It also tells you that the person doing the correcting probably cares less about what you’re saying, and more about their comfort, status or both. It simply comes across as obnoxious and insulting.

It’s even worse if they know you have some sort of learning disability or don’t speak English as a first language.

Who doesn’t want to kick back and simply enjoy a friendly conversation? Being under pressure to display your education 24/7 eliminates that enjoyment for many people, which is why errors happen.

Unless the person in question says it’s ok to correct mistakes during casual conversation, just go with the flow. Unless grammatical errors are more important to you than your relationship with the individual, there’s no harm in letting them pass.

I think I’ll blame my recent obsession with using cooking as an analogy on my husband and his love of Gordon Ramsey’s TV shows. Anyway, think of it as preparing comfort food for yourself versus cooking for a five star restaurant.

When you’re preparing comfort food after a long day, you won’t care so much about how the food looks, so much as how it tastes. You don’t need perfect technique or beautiful plating. It’s there to soothe frazzled nerves and help you calm down for the evening.

Cooking a top of the line meal for a high class restaurant, on the other hand, does require great technique. The final product must look as good as it tastes, and it needs to be worth the price the customer pays for it.

Writing is very similar.

If you’re writing for strict enjoyment, you don’t necessarily need to have perfect spelling and grammar. The person you’re trying to communicate with must be able to understand it, but it doesn’t need to be perfect.

If you’re writing as part of your job, school or as an income, your spelling, grammar and technique must be the best you can muster at all times. Your audience must be able to read whatever you’re putting together, and it must look great at the same time.

Although spelling and grammar are important, there’s a lot more to friendships and other personal relations than the technicalities of the conversation. If you happen to come across spelling or grammatical errors in your casual conversations, ask the person if they mind being corrected before doing so. You might just save everyone involved more unneeded irritation.


Spelling and Grammar – Casual Versus Professional Contexts — 2 Comments

  1. As the friend that shared that facebook joke, let me start out by saying that it hurt me to think that I had hurt you, however inadvertently. I apologize for that.

    I've thought a lot about this since – I credit you with changing my appreciation of the "big is beautiful, skinny is not" joke/memes that go around on facebook- while created as a backlash against a thin-obsessed culture, it doesn't do to turn the hatred back on our thinner sisters (or brothers). I get that now, thanks to you.

    With this, though… while it may be *insensitive* to someone who has a learning disability such as dyslexia, I don't think the joke/meme is aimed at that population. That certainly didn't cross my mind when I clicked "share" – and when brought to my attention, my immediate thought was "well of course if someone has a disability, this doesn't apply."

    My second thought was, "and it's not even true" – as in I don't actually go around judging people by their spelling, and so on – facebook being what it is, half the time we hit send and realize afterwards we've made a typo – especially in the morning before we've had our coffee. I found it funny because the joke was actually a reaction to racism and other forms of bigotry – the line being I don't care what color or religion or orientation you are, I'm only snotty towards people who write sloppy – because I'm an elitist grammar nazi.

    Snarkiness aside, I think the joke is more a commentary on said sloppiness in social media- typos and learning disability aside, there's rampant misusage of things like "your" vs "you're", comma placement, common spelling words, especially among younger users. Whether it's a problem with education or laziness or a dependence on quick technology, I don't know, but it is evident and it is alarming. Texting btw friends is one thing, but facebook, twitter, blogging – while not quite "professional", social media IS representative, and these people (kids) who don't have a legitimate excuse aren't putting their best face(book) forward.

    To me, a good analogy is someone sitting on the couch and moaning because the remote won't work. If they're disabled and their wheelchair isn't at hand, ok, I won't expect them to get up and change the channel manually. But if there's nothing wrong with them, they need to get their lazy ass in gear.

    The PROBLEM with this line of thinking, as I see it, is that you can't always know in social media who has a disability and who does not… but, like I said, I don't *actually*, individually judge people on their status updates. (except for my niece, who I know for certain has no learning disability, just a lack of motivation) I judge social media culture generally, because I know in terms of numbers, learning disabilities don't account for the prevalence of lazy writing.

  2. Well, like I said, it was probably a culmination of negativity and a few other things, but that image was just what tipped me over the edge.

    Also, I know you don't judge exclusively on word usage/grammar, but I have met way too many people who do. I've also met way too many people who don't believe learning disabilities even exist, and have been treated terribly because of it.

    That's why I tend to draw the line of expectation between casual versus professional writing. I don't think people need to be 'on' all the time when it comes to that sort of thing, especially when it comes to kicking back and having fun. When you start getting pressure for poor grammar and spelling, recreation stops being fun. In today's world, that's what social media is for most people – recreation.

    Also, when that mode of communication is eliminated, friendships also tend to crumble. I've stopped frequenting chat programs completely, because spelling/grammar elitism is so rampant in my areas of interest. There's no way I can keep up with the conversation while searching for the right spelling, word or grammar. Half the time, I can't read the lines correctly the first time around, but most people wouldn't know that. It's more about picking my battles than anything else.

    And of course, I know LD doesn't account for prevalence of errors, but you even admitted that exhaustion comes into play when it comes to some of them. We have no way of knowing what's going on in the person's life other than what they post. Many teens have a ridiculous amount of pressure on them, as do adults. If that manifests in lazy writing, so be it.

    For me, content is far more important than form, and approaching a situation with empathy is more important than harping over typographical errors.

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