The workplace was rife with similar errors when spell check first became available. I found myself repeatedly admonishing folks that spell check didn’t check for grammar, and that they needed to self-correct for homonyms. These days, we have what is billed as a spelling and grammar check, and it will catch these basic errors, but not all. I find that once I begin writing complex sentences, the grammar check function gets confused, and I often have to overrule it.
Meanwhile, I am the go to person for editing not only for the folks who report to me, but also for my managers and others in my 125 person department in corporate America. The good news is I love wielding my red pen. The bad news is there are some awful examples of writing out there, even among educated professionals. It is highly likely that everyone I work with is a college grad, yet I encounter the most obvious of errors—well I think they are pretty obvious—in subject verb agreement, pronoun antecedent agreement, possessives, sentence fragments and run-on sentences. And, forget about commas; they seem to have disappeared. It seems if you don’t know how to use them, you just don’t—at all. Oh my, I’m beginning to groan as I write this.
I’ve begun to lose the ability to quote which grammar rule has been abused, but I can still spot and correct an error. Luckily, I have a dog-eared tenth grade grammar book at my desk. I seem to recall it was old enough to be destined for the trash bin even when I got it in the 70’s. The basics, however, just don’t change.
All of this makes me think of a delightful book, beloved by grammar geeks the world over, Eats Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. If you don’t know the Panda joke the title derives from, check it out. Lynne Truss, the author, rails against the misuse of commas, apostrophes, dashes and semicolons and provides easy-to-follow guidelines.
Were you aware that an English district actually banned the use of apostrophes on street signs so as not to confuse GPS systems? When I first read the headline, I assumed it was because so few people knew where to put apostrophes, but that wasn’t the problem as they saw it. After much protest from grammarians and in particular, the Apostrophe Protection Society in England, they reversed their decision. And, yes, there really is an Apostrophe Protection Society. Could I possibly make this stuff up?