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A word of advice on words [Dec. 11th, 2003|10:47 am]
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The most disturbing words I have heard from high school students:

I don't have time to mess with proper sentence structure and spelling.

(And usually it's, "sentance stctur," or some similar torturing.)

This is their defense for writing all but incomprehensible responses.

How can you not have time to do something that should be second nature? Certainly, we all make spelling and structure errors in our rush to commit thought to paper, and the on-the-fly nature of LJ is such that we do not spend hours engaged in careful edit and rewrite (rewrite is frequently the source of my grammatical errors, when an "of" or "have" avoids excise with the rest of the clause it supported). Nevertheless, some attempt at coherence is the very reason for the written word in the first place.

I know I have told this story before, but it bears repeating. One day when I was at the dentist's office, waiting for my daughter, I picked up a "desk-top published" book from among the dated magazines. It was entitled, "Why Teenagers Hate Discipline." I read the introduction, which explained that the project came from an English assignment that had produced particularly interesting results and that the class had determined to publish it in the hopes of opening dialogue with adults.

At least that's what it meant to say. I extracted that information from a rambling essay that included run-on and incomplete sentences, and sentences that were incomplete thoughts. I winced my way through it, sighing at the low level of acceptable written English for high school students these days, and turned the page to complete reading the introduction.

It had been written by the teacher.

The essays themselves bordered on incomprehensible, and included phrases such as, "It's just so lame that your parents make you clean your room because, like, who cares?" and "I mean, like, why should you have to do what they say?" These writings weren't essays, they were rants in street vernacular, and the English teacher was apparently incapable of recognizing the difference.

This diminution of the ability to write well is far graver a problem than the mere irritation (and, let's be honest, amusement) engendered by the incomprehensible arguments that the dedicated students of Allan Johnson have flung at theferrett. The real problem is that the ability to write correlates directly with the ability to think. An extensive vocabulary is more than a winning Scrabble strategy. It is a tool for deepening one's understanding of the world. Words give us the ability to move past the surface of things and really think about abstractions, and without words and the ability to use them, a person's ability to think is handicapped.

The kids about whom I am speaking will hotly argue that when they have to, they can use the language properly. They are kidding themselves. They may be able to form complete sentences and structure those sentences with verb/noun agreement, but they will not be capable of manipulating those sentences into persuasive, dynamic theses. They are second language speakers of the written version of their native language, and unlikely to overcome that handicap.

College professors despair at the level of written communication they must grade, and my law school professors join them in that despair. People are not learning to write anymore. I am certain that my ability to structure a comprehensible essay question response is worth half a grade point on my law school exams. I know it was worth at least one full grade point in college. No one knows what to do about this crisis; no one knows where to start. Start with remembering that the creativity of a fourth grader's essay should be praised, yes, but that you aren't doing him or her any favors by overlooking the structural issues. The whole point of having grade school children write essays is not so that they can express themselves, it's so they learn to use the language properly. Focus from there. Make them read good literature, make them write. Talk about the writing itself. Stop pretending that it's easy, because it's not. Start doing the hard work.

And if you are a young adult with poor writing skills, work on them. Every time you write anything should be an opportunity to perfect your communication skills. Nothing is too trivial. Stop making excuses and start taking advantage. It will pay off - cash money, and I'm not joking - when your writing skills make your resume stand out in a crowd and you get the job instead of the dozens of other applicants. You'll be smarter, and richer. How can that be bad?

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-11 10:14 am (UTC)
Funny that - people treat you with more respect if they perceive that you are intelligent.
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[User Picture]From: thewhitedragon
2003-12-11 08:55 am (UTC)
I partially blame Windows, AIM and other instant messenger services as well. When I first went on-line, most of those individuals who I shared Cyberspace with were intelligent people (read: "geeks") who used lingo, buzzwords and common abbreviations but they also knew, and for the most part used, proper sentence structure and grammar.

A few years later, along comes the Windows GUI. Now everyone can use a PC and go on-line -- even those mindless non-technical people. Granted, I thought it was great to get people who might never have experienced the friendships and camaraderie that I had with people whom I might never actually meet. With these people, who though technically challenged were nonetheless intelligent individuals, came the throng of everyone and their mothers, literally.

Suddenly, everyone was on-line. The 'net became a major part of everyone's lives. AOL comes along and gives it to people who are even less technical. Instant Messengers appear and in an effort to be able to keep up with highly interactive discussions "ppl" start abbreviating virtually everything. It goes unchecked except for those who despise spelling and grammatic errors, but by and large as more and more people gravitate to the 'net it becomes commonplace to use these abbreviations. They become catch-phrases. People becoming increasingly acceptable of it and the laziness is propagated further.

Watching over my nephew's shoulder one day I was laughing at the spelling errors, incomplete sentences and buzzwords. I actually had to ask him to explain some of them to me. It was that horrid. He of course knew, and used, all of the "AIM lingo".

In as fast-paced a world as we live, any way to cut corners is acceptable. Any way to condense the time it take to do something (frozen Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, anyone?) is applauded and built upon. Proofreading is discouraged and pushed back on the list of priorities.

I find it sad that people have become so lazy that they don't care about how they sound or write. I have a Baltimore accent to an extent and often get tongue-tied when I talk, but I try to talk coherently and proof-read everything I write several times (I'm in Software Quality Assurance, so it's part of the job).

A well-spoken or literate person has much more credibility than someone who can't bother to take the time to review (or correct) the blatant errors. Such an example of not caring how you come off is written about in theferrett's journal -- it's from a high school student taking English and Debate classes. Ugh.

The most attractive part of a person, for me at least, is their mind. I value intelligence over just about everything else, because when all is said and done, the mind is the largest erogenous zone in the body. Stimulate that, and you stimulate me.

l8r d00dz. [smirk]
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-11 10:13 am (UTC)
Those programs have certainly added to the problem, but the problem is larger, and older, than those programs. When I was in college in the early 1980s I briefly had a job tutoring English Composition. Even though it paid well, I gave up. My efforts to try and explain to people what was wrong with their writing failed, and they simply wanted me to rewrite their work for them - this we were specifically forbidden to do. It was too frustrating to try and convince people that they needed to learn these skills for themselves.

The situation has not improved in the past two decades, to put it mildly.
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[User Picture]From: kibbles
2003-12-11 08:57 am (UTC)
Some schools ENCOURAGE children to write poorly, with the thought that writing poorly is at least writing, and they can always fix it later.

You have no idea how crazy that makes me!

So far, though, my daughter hasn't been in any classes that have fallen into that trap. Once, though, in grammar whores or some other community that makes fun of people with poor grammar, I brought up how it was such a delicate matter to correct my daughter's grammar without upsetting her, or going past her level of comprehension. (I believe she was in kindergarden or first grade at the time.) You cannot believe the number of people who jumped all over me for that! It was as if they wanted me to raise someone for them to make fun of, in the future! Crazy.

On LJ I strive for coherent. Same with emails, unless, of course, it is to a business or something else that needs better writing. Chat and MUCKING? Forget it. I'm suprised I understand myself, sometimes.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-11 10:15 am (UTC)
Even chatting I use punctuation, but I'm very bad about correcting my dyslexic fingers. Ever so many "teh"s and "jsut"s go out. And they always bug me. [g]
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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2003-12-11 09:06 am (UTC)
Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: spooke
2003-12-11 09:31 am (UTC)
I love you. Have a sex change and birth my babies. (g) Have you and the Ferrett ever thought of touring schools? The very idea makes me envision a tail-wagging Dogbert deep within.
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[User Picture]From: spooke
2003-12-11 09:32 am (UTC)
Erm... when I say, "have a sex change and birth my babies..." er... I'm just being an equal-opportunity birth supporter! Yeah, that's it!
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[User Picture]From: keonandra
2003-12-11 10:49 am (UTC)
I don't believe I've heard truer words. And at the risk of being one of these ignorant young adults, I've seen the same thing growing up.
Even at my own home. It would be me, the youngest, who had to force people to try and write more clearer and better, and yet, I'm constantly told how my poetry alone can be somewhat 'better'.
Poetry in my mind, has to be the way it is, structure or not, but thats getting off the point.
You have a great point on how it helps you get a higher paying job. Nothing is more accurate in my mind.
In my case? It landed me a husband. I'll explain since some of you probably don't know what I'm talking about.
I was tired of having the relationship with this guy I've known for years in real life. I started just giving up on the prospect of having anyone that would intrigue me or interest me. Then I got into roleplaying online (which is higly different from offline in my eyes)and kept wanting to be a part of any kind of event that the group was having. There would be just the indroductions, mass spars, training, etc. It was the very night that we had a death spar launching that night were I would be more than surprised of the intelligence of some people. I see this one character (which mine was spotting ironically) descriping his attack, his movements, even how he breathed and his clothes formed around him almost perfectly. I instantly was in love. I could not stop staring as this guy put words on the screen about his char during this match. Both characters gave it their all but this one guy, wow... I was honestly smitten. It would be a year later I find who the mun was, and a year after that the very mun proposes to me and now he and I are married 2 years later.
To this day now we try to keep writing to improve not only our skills but our vocabulary, seeing to what depths we can get to. He still shocks me to this day, but because of shadowarchangel I probably type more often than he does now, adding more descriptions and being more thorough than I've ever been in my life.
Granted I need to still work on my structure, but I haven't heard many people in this house badmouthing my work as of late.
Theres got to be something about getting help from not only your friends and peers, but loved ones as well.
Made a difference in my life :-D
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[User Picture]From: elf_inside
2003-12-11 12:27 pm (UTC)
Keonandra: I hate being a grammer cop, but in this particular discussion it seems I can't avoid making some comments. If you are unable to avoid even the most basic grammatical errors, don't make comments bragging about your fantastic grammar skills. I haven't even picked through, and immediately saw several grammer errors. I'll pick on the second line.

Glaring errors:
1) "Even at my own home." This is a sentence fragment. It lacks a verb.
2) "more clearer". There are specific rules here. It's "more clearly" or "clearer". Never "more clearer".

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[User Picture]From: finding_helena
2003-12-11 11:03 am (UTC)
I was raised by two editors and spent my youth groaning at the terrible writing employed by my peers. My job as a copy-editor of the school paper allowed me to rewrite my peers' essays so they made sense, but then I had to deal with myriad other editors who thought my job was unnecessary, because style mattered more than substance.

Sigh. Anyway, I sympathize.
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[User Picture]From: zillah3
2003-12-11 02:08 pm (UTC)
Hey, I was raised by an editor too, and a father who asked us how to spell everything. (Not literally everything though, fortunately.) I have to admit that the teachers I had who harped on correct grammar sounding more intelligent were right. Just look at the horrors committed every day.

Style is important, but you have to be able to get your message across or your work is going to be random gibberish. Art must have a point or its existence is undefensible. Besides, you have to know the rules before you can break them!!
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From: random123
2003-12-11 11:15 am (UTC)
Granted that I wasn't raised in a typical household, but when I was eight or nine I wrote history paper on the Second World War, and accused of having my mother write it for me.

History has always been one of my favourite subjects, particularly the Second World War. Both of my Grandfathers fought in the war, so this was a subject which I had studied quite a bit, and which I had amassed a collection of books about.

Like you, I believe the key is reading. I have a file folder here of ost of my old report cards and such, and one of the consistent comments was about the strength of my reading comprehension, because I actively sought out good reading material, and lots of it.

Obviously, if you start the kids off on the right path, their skills will grow like a wildfire.

I'm unclear as to whether we differ here or not (I'm leaning towards not). I agree with you that young adults (and their teachers), should work on their writing skills, but (perhaps I should infer your agreement with this), I think that reading is the most important piece of the puzzle, regardless of age.

Good reading leads to comprehension, which supports the development of critical thinking. Unfortunately, I think that too many students these days restrict their leisure time reading to cereal boxes, comic books (not to say that they are bad in and of themselves), television and movie listings, and entertainment magazines (marketing hype).

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[User Picture]From: crwilley
2003-12-11 11:25 am (UTC)
Oh, how true - actually you might be giving the average student too much credit! I'm reminded of something fmh posted about a book giveaway in his apartment complex that turned out to be a colossal bomb except for him and his kids, with the average comment being, "Oh, it's just books."
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[User Picture]From: the_siobhan
2003-12-11 11:24 am (UTC)

love of language of love

I credit any skill I have with the English language to the fact that I was a voracious reader when I was growing up. I prefered books to people. So I when I had to write essays in class I could tell if words and sentances "looked right" because I had seen them on the printed page so many times.

I think kids now don't get that same kind of exposure. Or at least, the influence is diluted by the written words on the computer screen, which comes to them sans editor and full of "text-speak" abreviations. I've noticed my spelling has gone to crap since I got this this thing.

It helps that I've always been fascinated by language and how it's used. I've always wanted to learn another language because I always felt that learning how they speak offers a glimpse into how they think - and the way different cultures view the world is enthralling to me.

(I was further motivated in this when I realized that the people I have been hanging out with for the last couple of years collectively speak Spanish, German, Latin, Russian, Ukranian, Polish, French, Italian, Gaelic and Cherokee. I feel downright illiterate.)

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[User Picture]From: monkeycid
2003-12-11 12:00 pm (UTC)

Adding my voice to the choir

I think that reading much is vital for developing writing skills. I read just about everything I could get my hands on that interested me in the slightest when I was growing up (I guess I'm young enough to be considered "still growing up" from y'all oldies perspective [and actually from my own as well], but that's another matter), and that helped me develop a grasp of my native language (Swedish) far beyond that of my classmates.

I think that computers and games can be valuable tools in teaching english. My first practical use of english was playing Magic:The Gathering - I got a box of cards when I was seven years old and I wanted to be able to read the rules and understand the game. Thus I had to learn at least some english in order to do that.

Computer and console games (among them, foremost RPG games) have helped me develop my english skills greatly. Once I had a decent understanding of the english language I started reading the fantasy novels I'd read translated in their original language (The Belgariad / Mallorean / series about Sparhawk and The Wheel of Time, mainly). I was around 11 then and that helped my reading comprehension greatly. I was a better English writer than my classmates then since I had seen so much English - I knew how it was supposed to look.

Now enter the internet. Rather than ruining my writing "skill", it greatly helped my written english. I found a great message board where you had to write coherent english or be ignored and deleted. I spent some time observing how other people posted, and started to post myself. My written english was far from good then, but at least it sufficed. Now, after two years of frequent posting on that board, my written english is a thousand times better.

To summarize; I believe that actually using the language in real situations (i.e reading books, playing games, posting on message boards and so on) help the development of the language in question greatly, as long as care is taken to use the language correctly . Otherwise, everything goes to hell and we get teh kidz wrting like diz will eb.

Um, this wasn't very original, was it? Ah well, I just wanted to add my voice to the choir :) Apologies for grammar errors - even though I'm boasting my relative skill, english is my second language and I'm sure I left some errors in there.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-12 06:05 am (UTC)

Re: Adding my voice to the choir

I am extremely impressed by your grasp of the English language. Like a couple other people I know, you have disciplined yourself to master it beyond the skill of most native speakers. Congrats.

Funny how computer games can be a help or a hindrance. My younger daughter finally mastered reading in order to play Mario.
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[User Picture]From: alexmegami
2003-12-11 12:57 pm (UTC)
I'm going to add my voice to the faction of "avid readers are better writers". I know I never learned proper sentence structure or grammar; hell, I had a hard time playing Mad Libs as a kid because I was never taught what adjectives, adverbs, verbs and the rest were. I still need to think about them to keep them straight. Thankfully, due (I think) to being a bookworm, a lot of writing is intuitive for me. I still have bad habits, but I'm better than most people my age (19) when it comes to essay writing.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-12 06:06 am (UTC)
Some people intiut them, but I think it's better to provide the toolbox of grammar. Diagraming sentences has gone out of fashion, but there is no better way to understand how they are put together and what's missing when something just doesn't feel quite right.
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From: (Anonymous)
2003-12-11 02:00 pm (UTC)

Requiring excellence in today's schools is bad..

..because those students who are unable to provide such, will get poor grades, and thus their precious self-esteem will be damaged.

And isn't a student's self-esteem the most important thing in the world?

Too bad it's not like that in the real world.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-11 06:18 pm (UTC)

Re: Requiring excellence in today's schools is bad..

And then, don't forget, be perplexed why school isn't working and make 4-year-old kindergarten mandatory because we obviously aren't getting them started early enough.

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[User Picture]From: chipuni
2003-12-11 02:11 pm (UTC)
Know the rules of grammar. Know why they exist. Then you can break them intentionally.

For example, certain kinds of sentence fragments can add strength to an essay, though they've been overused by advertising. An intentional spelling mistake calls attention to a word: think about brand names.

Breaking the rules depends first on knowing the rules.

Hrm. Isn't there an essay that combines pornography with teaching good grammar?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-11 06:22 pm (UTC)
Great minds think alike. I was just making this point in another response. You can't create effective variations on a theme until you understand the underlying music.
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[User Picture]From: zillah3
2003-12-11 02:15 pm (UTC)
I agree with the reading early, long, and often being a major key to coherent thought and writing later in life. I also wonder if we shouldn't also encourage poetry along with essays? There is the whole camp of Free Verse, but in general words must be picked with more care in poetry than in essay writing- and in my experience, writing poetry was the first thing dropped from my English classes in favor of more reading and reports on said reading.

I like haiku myself- my last Italian class was, sadly, the worst of my 6+ years of undergraduate work and I often spent lectures attempting to write coherent haiku in Italian. Fun, when one word can often be a whole line!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-11 06:26 pm (UTC)
Peotry is great, because it's evocative, but taught badly it's a disaster. I remember in 7th grade we studied the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, and the teacher told us NOT to read ahead. I did anyway. I LOVED it. Everyone in the class HATED it. She was trying to break it down into mechanics with the idea that when it was all done they would have an organic whole.

A bit like buying a lot of steaks in the hopes of building a cow.
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[User Picture]From: lovemonk
2003-12-11 02:22 pm (UTC)

Who here has seen Tales for the Leet?

Someone did Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet in leetspeak. Though funny in that they take the Shakespeare plays and emphasize a lot of what's visceral and great about them, they also demonstrate what we're talking about here in that the subtlety goes out the window along with the subtle language structures we would all like to preserve.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-11 07:02 pm (UTC)

Re: Who here has seen Tales for the Leet?

People have said that there are really only 9 stories, and all the rest is in the telling. This is a case in point.
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[User Picture]From: mizdandylynn
2003-12-11 02:42 pm (UTC)
daily... I deal with it in written and verbal forms...
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-11 07:03 pm (UTC)
I feel for you. Deeply.
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[User Picture]From: naath
2003-12-11 02:52 pm (UTC)
Hmmm, I read a lot (allmost up to 100 books this year in addition to all the work I have to do for university) but I still have really crappy writting style. This I blame on the fact that nobody ever tried to teach me 'how to write an essay' they just said 'write an essay on xxx' and when it was marked the comments would mostely be about the content, rather than the style.

I was never taught grammar untill I took Latin (now I know what a subjunctive is!), which was a major failing of the (UK) school system.

The Physics department has just finished giving us lectures on 'how to write a scientific report' and since they bothered to actually tell us how to sturcture such a thing I managed to turn in a fairly coherant effort. It is imnportant to teach basic grammar and structure to children, and it's something that the eductation system does very poorly (though apparently we are getting better at it here).
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[User Picture]From: whirlygig
2003-12-11 03:14 pm (UTC)
I was never taught grammar untill I took Latin (now I know what a subjunctive is!), which was a major failing of the (UK) school system.

Exactly the same thing happened to me in Australia. I had to teach myself what nouns and verbs were, too. And then there was Latin.

And yes, as soon as we got to high school, we were simply told to write essays without any regard for how to do so. I suppose it is a learning process, and I came out okay, but plenty of others never figured it out.
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[User Picture]From: theonlykow
2003-12-11 03:04 pm (UTC)
Whoo! Stick it to me!

As an ex-high school student, I applaud the ability of others to realize that high school students are, collectively, morons. Sure, one or two of us will pop up with a bright idea, but as a whole... I mean really. Come on.

Grammar POWAR! UNITE! *shazam*
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[User Picture]From: spreadsothin
2003-12-11 03:22 pm (UTC)
I just recently turned eighteen, so I'm on the border of(if not directly in) the generation you are talking about. I read voraciously and always have done so.

However, as I become more of a person who interacts with humans instead of books, my writing has become tainted. While I am often praised for my good writing skills, I know enough to become frustrated at the relativity that dubs me a proficient writer.

While the words and ideas I state may be prolific, many of my sentences end in prepositions. I overuse commas, semi-colons, parentheses and especially the - found so often in the Bronte sisters' works.

My writing has now ceded to becoming a narrative. My writing is very close to my actual conversational speech, with only slightly better polish as I consider the words' transfer through a pen or keyboard.

The more I read, the more I read things that are not up to snuff. I remember becoming exceedingly frustrated with high school assignments to paraphrase Shakespeare (as our AP English class, most of which would go on to Ivys, "obviously" couldn't understand it as written), or to write essays in "diary" or "teen magazine" format.

While I have learned enough to reject the Intro, three paragraph proof and Conclusion format, I haven't learned enough to make this language a perfect articulation of my thoughts.

I suppose it's a process. Part of me very much regrets that my schooling did not reference syntax or linguistics in any depth whatsoever. My study of Spanish is just now giving me bridges and insights to the English language.

As to the online argument, I adore Tales from the L33T- even as I notice that my long forms of writing have become increasingly parsed.

It's a matter of being wary. The it's and its used to be very natural, and now with the near-total exclusion of punctuation, the difference takes a thought.

And perhaps that is the problem, the collective we does not want to invest the thoughts or work necessary for good writing, even while aware of its inherent advantages.
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[User Picture]From: takumashii
2003-12-11 06:30 pm (UTC)
The thing about not ending sentences with prepositions is utterly wrong, an attempt to force the rules of latin syntax onto the English language. Don't sweat it. (So say my linguistics professors and English professors).

For what it's worth, as a linguistics major I've learned that a lot of prescriptivist grammar rules don't have any rational reason to be followed. If studying linguistics did anything for me, it freed me from my compulsivity about grammar.
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[User Picture]From: adriang
2003-12-11 04:42 pm (UTC)

In the grand scheme of things..

I'm not sure this is really that new or that big a problem. There have always been people who are not interested in learning to communicate clearly or to think clearly. It seems to me that most of our population could fit into one or both categories. I wonder if the trend you are really seeing has to do with more such people being pushed into finishing high school and into attending college.

There will always be people who don't care to learn to communicate well or to reason their way through problems. Many of these people will claim that it's unfair that they aren't thought of as just as capable and valuable as employees as those of us who do try to learn to communicate well and to think analytically. We simply can't accept the excuses. Those people should be rewarded for their excuses with bad grades, and frankly I don't think anyone should be able to refuse to try to learn to communicate well and still earn a college degree. One should flunk out of college for offering lame excuses as a substitute for evidence of communication skills. I don't want the value of my college degree to be watered down by people who have received similar degrees without learning anything.

In the grand scheme of things, those people who decline even to try to learn to communicate well will often find themselves stuck in low paying jobs, and frankly, this is the way things should be. We can't afford to treat everyone equally regardless of how hard they try to improve themselves, simply because we want to avoid offending anyone. When you choose not to develop skills, you choose not to be qualified for better jobs. There's nothing inherently unfair about such a relationship between the skills you choose to have and the possibilities in life that become available to you.

Of course, we all make mistakes. I don't know if I've ever written a substantial document that didn't end up in its final form with a few errors. But there's a difference between a paper with a few honest mistakes and a paper that shows the author to be completely careless and completely clueless.

I know it must be frustrating to any teacher to have students who don't think they need to learn. There are times when all you can do is leave them to the fate they've chosen and to spend more time with the students that want to learn but are having trouble. We have to preserve the degree as a sign of learning in those people who choose to learn, and the only way to do this is to deny the degree to those people who think that actually earning a degree is a waste of their time.

Children grow up when they are intellectually capable and when we demand that they do so. Once their brains develop to the point that they can mature, we must challenge them to do so. As much as we may hate to see the discomfort an immature student may bring on himself with his behavior, sometimes we have to see that discomfort as necessary for inspiring the student to grow up. We shouldn't fail to advise the student of his mistake ahead of time, but we may have to settle for saying "I told you so" later, and hoping that the student will listen more carefully, next time.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-11 07:24 pm (UTC)

Re: In the grand scheme of things..

You do have a point, but there are a couple things you aren't considering. First of all, there is a general "dumbing down" of curricula in an attempt to prevent a rift from developing between the "care" and "care not" and this fact is of no benefit to those who care. Secondly, there are many fewer jobs in the blue collar sector for the nonintellectual to occupy, forcing them into the low-paying end of the service sector. And because of the attempt to homogenize for the sake of equality, the white collar end of the service sector and other white collar managers are tearing their hair out at how woefully underprepared the workforce is. It is impacting our economy, and the lives of people who might have been on the "care" side of the equation, but no one ever challenged them.
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[User Picture]From: correspondguy
2003-12-11 07:37 pm (UTC)

A thought..

I concur regarding the ridiculous decline in writing skills. It's utterly silly; as you point out, we're not talking about a creeping error here or there (the confusion of it's and its being an example to which you have alluded), we're talking about a fundamental failure to understand the structure and utility of language.

I see the resistance to correction as a defensive reaction to criticism. Simply put, "you don't write effectively," even if true, is a value judgment, and many people see it as saying "you're a friggin moron and you don't matter." Because they are friggin morons, they take this personally. (They're morons because they fight the battle on turf on which they are destined to lose - as experience has taught us, the response to "Your rant is incoherent" is another incoherent rant.)

This defensiveness is commonplace. My ex-boss, the pointy-haired idiot, got all bent out of shape when I pointed out 1) that the word to which he objected ("Unrealistic") did not have the meaning he believed it did, and 2) his word choice and sentence structure had led me to believe his goals were different than they were. By definition, his written communication was poor - he'd failed to get across his point.

The solution, as you correctly argue, (IMHO) is that we admit that effective writing is hard and generally the product of careful editing. We challenge people. We have to do something. Spider Robinson has a terrifying anecdote where he describes a graffito: "Tood loves Janey." Assuming that no one actually named their kid "Tood," we have a person who is old enough to feel love/lust towards Janey and wish to immortalize this love in cement, yet doesn't know how to spell his own name.

And, yeah, I am convinced that the writing skills are saving my GPA in Law School.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-12 03:49 am (UTC)

Re: A thought..

How can you not understand the meaning of "unrealistic"?

"Tood" My stars, that's priceless.

Writing well is a competetive advantage, no doubt. Good luck with the rest of your finals.
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[User Picture]From: shiftercat
2003-12-11 09:27 pm (UTC)
"The real problem is that the ability to write correlates directly with the ability to think. An extensive vocabulary is more than a winning Scrabble strategy. It is a tool for deepening one's understanding of the world. Words give us the ability to move past the surface of things and really think about abstractions, and without words and the ability to use them, a person's ability to think is handicapped."

Thank you!

This is exactly the point I'd been turning over in my head for a long time, but hadn't been able to put so succinctly!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-12 03:55 am (UTC)
I think there are people who just don't realize it.
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[User Picture]From: astridsdream
2003-12-11 10:58 pm (UTC)

I think this is the most polysyllabic comment I've ever scribed.

I had to put down the pen in my hands or I would have broken it. This post enrages me with its truth and makes me want to become an English teacher just so I can help the masses.

My sister, amandathegreat, was taught in elementary school on "guess and go" spelling. Being my sister and therefore an intelligent creature, she refused to accept this. Now she has turned into what her friends lovingly refer to as "The Spelling Nazi, Grammar Gestapo, and Punctuation Police." One year, while still in high school, she recieved for her birthday a big, fat, red pen. She used it liberally on the signs in high school, correcting some abyssmal abuses of spelling and punctuation (some people need to be smacked in the face with an apostrophe until they learn how to use it correctly) and had a grand time.

About a decade ago, when I was discovering the joys of the internet and chat rooms, I would always keep my sentance structure as perfect as I could get it. I'd had no formal grammar instruction, but I'd read a lot (like so many others here) and I knew how a sentance SHOULD look, even if I didn't always know exactly why. Why did I do this? Because no one else did, and I wanted to be perfectly clear when I communicated. I was actually encouraged in this at least once that I can clearly remember, and have continued to this day. Even on AIM, even when my friends ignore such trivialities as capitalization and punctuation and spelling, I make sure to keep to the code, as it were, and be as clear as I can, regardless of how I communicate.

One time my high school psychology teacher claimed that "alot" meant a great amount of things, while "a lot" was the thing like a plot of land. I disagreed so vehemently ("Call my sister! She'll tell you I'm right!") that he looked it up. And had the good grace to grin and accept it when I proved him wrong.

There's a sign in a store in my hometown that claims that the name of the store is "Iv'e been framed!" It makes my sister, my father, and myself all want to cry whenever we see it. And it's been that way for as long as I can recall - at least five years - and probably even longer than that.

But all is not without hope. My friend skippytoad is in a grammar class this block. She's learning exactly what a gerund is and how to use it (among other things). Three of her classmates in this class are on the committee that approves club constitutions for Student Senate. These classmates asked one of the organizations I represented if we could go back and change a couple of things because they didn't flow well. I laughed - we'd changed many, many things that year in the constitution committee PRECISELY because they didn't flow well. And yet we'd missed one. I laughed. (No, we didn't go back and fix it, because that would have required reratifying the damn thing in a general club meeting. But we have noted it to fix next year.)

As far as instant messenger communication goes, it's like speaking on a telephone. The only difference is that you have to use punctuation to indicate where the pauses and ends of sentances go, and for how long those pauses hold, and what the phrase SOUNDS like if you were to speak it out loud. i have a friend who types like this...... no commas.... no dashes or hyphens.... no semicolons.... just lots and lots of periods. I've learned to translate that, and I've tried telling her why one should use proper English spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but it just doesn't work. Gragh. I'm going to point everyone I know to this page. Maybe they'll understand why I have pet peeves about communication. (A lot is two words! Learn to use the apostrophe properly!) The ablity to write what you say is a blessing. Treat it as such.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-12 04:15 am (UTC)

Re: I think this is the most polysyllabic comment I've ever scribed.

As Ferrett said about this thread, "You aren't getting comments, you're getting essays!

When I was in junior high school, my amazing Writing teacher would not even alow us to use "a lot" to describe many thing. A lot was a piece of land, and there were better ways to describe a group of objects. Our grammar final was 200 questions long. She busted our nuts day in and day out for all of seventh grade, and at the end of it ALL of us could write. There were still varying degrees of talent and interest, but not one of us was incapable of completing a coherent essay.

The world needs more Miss Hildebrants. Instead of crap like guess and go.
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[User Picture]From: danodea
2003-12-11 11:45 pm (UTC)
I think Nietzche said it best: "To write clearly is to think clearly".

I grew up with two teachers for parents, so I did have something of an advantage - but that isn't all of it.

I know that it makes me sound like a fuddy-duddy, but when I went through ninth grade English, Ms. Block took a letter off for every word that wasn't spelled correctly. A Letter Grade.

We had to take grammar and research, and grammar and composition. How does one pass college courses without being able to structure an essay? Point, discourse, summary... the same format that is the standard in business writing is also the standard in an essay.

Yes, I intentionally break the rules - I have done so several times, including once in this sentence :)

As noted by chipuni, I do know the rules, I choose when to bend them or break them, and I know what effect I want as a result.

Language: It isn't just a good idea; it is the sole generally available means of communicating thoughts, ideas, emotions, and facts.

Quite honestly, if someone can't be bothered to write well, I usually can't be bothered to read their crap. They will definitely not make a favourable impression on me, and may make a rather unfavourable one.

As trollopfop once said in regards to incomplete sentences, mixed case, l33t, and poor spelling, "That Shite gives me a headache."
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-12 04:26 am (UTC)
I'm using the Nietzche quote as my new subtitle.

If teachers tried to do such a thing these days, there would be hell to pay. I had a friend who gave up on the teaching profession because he had no leverage with the students. When one of them complained that his requirement of footnotes was too onerous, he was called into the principal's office, made to stand side-by-side with the whiner, and asked, "Now what's all this about footnotes?" Jamie explained that he had taught the kids how to do them in class and had afforded them plenty of opportunity to do the research. The principal overrode him and changed the requirements for the paper, eliminating the need for proper footnotes.

This was in a private, prep school.

It's an uphill battle on every front.
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[User Picture]From: wolfieboy
2003-12-12 05:20 pm (UTC)

Re: a word of advice on words

Just thought I'd let you know that I posted a link to this article over in my journal.

I try to make everything that I write reflect my best writing because I never know when someone might do a search and pull up something really embarrassing if I didn't take care. Also, one of the prime reasons for having a journal, for me, is to get better at writing. I've had a number of comments that suggest that it is helping.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2003-12-12 05:56 pm (UTC)

Re: a word of advice on words

Wow, thanks for linking to me. I completely agree with your assessment. My writing skills have improved from their rather rusty state since I began journaling.
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