The bad grammar of Yalies is a problem up with which I will not put. The advent of e-mail and instant messaging has made written language increasingly informal and closer to spoken language. The result of the easy access and instant gratification of e-mail and particularly instant messaging is that correspondents have become careless. How carefully do you proofread your IMs? iwould be willign ot bet not very thoroughly. Yet there is a difference in the registers of discourse between what a student can say to his roommate and what the same student should say to a professor. Who is your audience? “Hey man whats up in the hizouse wouldya look at my thesis yo?” or “Hello, suitemates: Would you like to meet for dinner at 5:30? Best, EA.” This distinction has been blurred to the point of absurdity.
The primary aim of grammatical rules is to restrict ambiguity. So if a writer puts a comma or an apostrophe in the wrong place I, as reader, am sent down the garden path and get lost. Punctuation in the proper place is not garnish like parsley on a salad; rather, it is the markings on the highway, put there to help make your journey as smooth as possible. Good punctuation should be unobtrusive, like good manners. You shouldn’t notice it.
Take, for example, these ridiculous bladderball e-mails from a few days ago. One idiot, in a message with the subject heading “Replys” (I am not kidding), gave us this gem: “Please do not continue to reply to the list (I know this message does not help), the owner of the list is already aware that the address has been compromised (thanks to all the reply’s).” What’s a comma splice among friends? But what about the horrible “thanks to all the reply’s”? I wonder what Mr. Reply possesses.
Now, what would have been wrong with a simple period between a couple of these thoughts? “I’m not sure who made this list or why it keeps sending all of us viruses, I’m sure it will be deactivated soon, if not by the lists creator, then hopefully by a helpful ITS type person.” Splice-splice baby. The “lists creator” must be someone who creates many lists. An ITS-hyphen-type person would be a tech-support guy. So would an ITS person.
Another great example — though more forgivable, because it’s funny — was the hoax e-mail from a certain “bladder ball” that had the subject heading “its been deactivated.” This introduces an ambiguity between Been as a routine verb and some new creature, owned by someone, namely its Been. Maybe it was a typo: Jack fell off the stalk, its bean deactivated.
The ITS/IT’S problem is rampant like a virus. I think the best plan in this case is to leave the explanation to our friend Strong Bad:
— If you want it to be a possessive, it’s just “ITS”,
But if it’s supposed to be a contraction, then it’s “I-T-apostrophe-S.”
Don’t even get me started on the custom of not properly capitalizing or punctuating. It seems to me that Capitalization is not a big Deal, but leaving out Apostrophes is a Crime. You cant do that! In the feventeenth Cvntvry, it was common to capitalife almoft all Novns. and now look where we r headed
Oh, and another thing. Since I’m on the topic of grammar: IT CAN NEVER BE “BETWEEN YOU AND I”! It’s between YOU and ME! She gave the book to Bob and ME! (Would you ever say “She gave the book to I”? I didn’t think so. Or if you would, you have more problems than I can address.)
Linguists have been debating the issue of grammar for centuries; there is, granted, a difference between prescriptive and descriptive analyses of speech and dialectal patterns, and that’s fine. I do take issue, however, when people simply haven’t learned the basic, rudimentary rules of grammar. Perhaps more students should read the manual on prose writing that Yale issued them when they matriculated. A good read of H.W. Fowler or the Chicago Manual of Style wouldn’t be terrible, either. Or, maybe instead of tweaking the language requirements for graduation and replacing them with “quantitative reasoning,” the administration should require an English writing class or two.
I give you in conclusion a modest proposal, courtesy of ITS administrator Lynna Jackson. (It’s administrator?) In the future, please remember that the best place to report abusive email is the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. All reports are dealt with confidentially and on an individualized basis. Up to and including defenestration.
Stay with us for our next episode: The Subjunctive’s Last Stand or The Object of My Preposition.
Elizabeth Adams is a senior in Berkeley College.