When I finally decided to commit myself to the journey of becoming a writer, I knew that sooner or later I would have to face my old nemesis: Grammar. In high school, this was always the part of English class I hated the most. I was a good speller, I could keep on top of punctuation most of the time, but identifying parts of speech, dissecting sentences, learning the difference between nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives and the seemingly endless conjugations of verbs drove me crazy. I had to make sure my participle wasn’t dangling and to keep my tenses matching. Regrettably, I can’t say I ever fully understood the detailed structure of words in my native tongue.
This is probably not what one might expect someone who now thinks of himself as a budding writer to say. I admit, my weakness in this area is a source of embarrassment and frustration for me. A professional should not accept such sloppiness in quality when it comes to his tools of the trade and yet, even as the perfectionist in my brain berates me for my limitations, I have begun to see that I am not alone in my lack of grammatical skill. I speak not of the endless posts on social media by the average person. Professional writers on blogs both small and large are writing with astonishingly poor grammar. I’ve seen misspelled words, improper punctuation, incorrect sentence structure and honestly, I’ve tried multiple times to read sentences and even full paragraphs in some articles with absolutely no comprehension of the author’s intent. Recently, I’ve even begun to notice poorly written articles on the websites of major publications such as “The New York Post”.
I’ve asked myself how this could be. I went to college but earned no degree (another source of embarrassment for me). I’ve had many different language type classes but I never majored in writing or journalism. I have what I feel to be a solid working knowledge of the English language but I acknowledge my limitations and despite those, I still manage to turn out relatively well-written essays (for a non-professional). How then, could someone who has earned a degree in writing fail to produce a flawlessly written short article? Moreover, how did these mistakes slip past an editor? I simply cannot fathom how such poor work can be so prevalent.
The internet can make a star of anyone. Personal blogs, YouTube and other sites provide exposure to anyone with a computer. I’ve long praised the World Wide Web for it’s power to level the playing field in the contest between large corporations and the common man. It seems though, that in doing so, we have severely lowered the bar on what is now considered to be acceptable writing standards for professionals. Ironically, the leverage of the internet that I now use to sound my own inner voice to the world may be tainting the waters of the language I love. I discussed the changing landscape of English in my article “Death by Elocution” and while it’s painful for me to see the slow degradation of English corrupt popular culture, it seems that it’s now invading what I thought to be sacred ground: Professional writing.
I have a choice. I could breathe deep and accept that change is inevitable and embrace the growing indifference to upholding standards in communication OR… I could fight back by studying my grammar and composition books and finally master my craft and set myself apart from the gibbering hordes. I choose not to sit in the kiddie pool any longer. It’s time to jump into the deep end and learn to truly swim.