Steer Well Clear

This morning a friend told me about this article, all about a new advertising campaign run by Steers, a South African fast food chain.  The article is all about the gross misuse of grammar in the campaign and musings on corporate irresponsibility.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share my thoughts on the humble, often-neglected, apostrophe and the evolution of language.

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Gentle Editing

Like many programmers, I’ve come to love Stack Overflow and the rest of the Stack Exchange network. Its unique Wiki / Blog / Forum blend creates a fantastic platform for knowledge sharing.

Thanks to its Wiki-like editing capabilities, quality sticklers like myself can get stuck in and help to smooth out some of the rough edges of the content base.

Unfortunately we geeks sometimes allow our egos to get the better of us, resulting in reasonably common, dreaded, edit wars.  To avoid these, I’ve come up with what I feel is a very gentle and respectful editing style which I’d like to share with you today.  My edits always take a fair bit of time, but I feel it’s worth the investment in the interests of the greater good.

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Language in the New Millennium

One of my passions has always been the articulate expression of oneself through language.  We have this wonderful, rich language we call English and there is great joy to be found in learning to use it effectively.  The point of this post isn’t to rant about the degradation of the language or our frequent abuse of it – I’ve covered that already – instead I’d like to talk about different ways of using the language in different contexts, and that I believe it doesn’t make sense to enforce strict, blanket rules across the board.

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To Be, or nt 2 B?

In the age of cellphone text messages, online instant messaging and e-mail we are using written communication more than ever before. It seems ironic then that our language is suffering as much as it is.

Believe it or not but “txt speak” is actually going to be allowed in some schools. Why have we spent centuries developing our language to be so expressive and concise only for it to be mangled virtually beyond recognition?

Worse still, this problem isn’t limited to teenagers and others from the online generation.

We seem to be relaxing on our written language standards even in the workplace. Every day I write far more words in e-mails than I speak in phone calls. Far too much time is spent reading and re-reading e-mails trying to decipher what people are talking about. It seems that many people don’t even read over their messages even once after they’ve written them to detect the most basic of grammatical errors. Spell checkers are obviously useless in this instance even though sadly they have somehow become the one and only check for not only e-mail but much documentation.

I’ve recently even seen job advertisements with horrible “txt speak” adaptations! What kind of people do recruitment agencies hope to attract? If I see a job ad with that kind of rubbish in the title I skip immediately over to the next one.

10 Items or Less? 10 Items or FEWER!

This is obviously more of a vent than anything else. I don’t expect anyone to become a language Nazi like me in the near future just from reading this article. Perhaps people just need to pick up a classic novel now and then to re-learn the basics. Is the problem in schools? I’m not sure. It’s not all that long ago that I was in school myself and there was certainly a decent amount of emphasis on effective usage of the English language.

I think it’s probably just our culture. Maybe it’s just another by-product of our constantly expanding hunger for super convenience. Come to think of it, maybe we will be much more efficient once we devolve back to grunts and basic body language. The integration of basic universal sign language in every day life, particularly on the roads, seems to also be on the rise anyway so why not add in a few grunts and screams for good measure?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the continuing evolution of the language.  I can certainly also appreciate subtle online additions such as the humble emoticon.  Used appropriately these can effectively enhance or emphasise in just the right way ;-)

It’s more important now than ever before to have decent written communication skills. With so much writing going on we can’t afford for effective communication to suffer any further. We’ve already let our standards slide far too much.