Thursday, February 14, 2008

Does Grammar Matter?

People who say grammar doesn't matter give all sort of reasons:

- language changes;
- we can usually suss out the meaning from badly crafted sentences; and/or
- prescriptivism is often misguided.

While all of these things can be true, there's also that pesky thing called "reality" to consider. Below is a post from the blog of the Arkansas Times. It contains language that will offend some people, so if you're delicate, go ahead and click that back button.

To summarize: A female editor quit because of a perceived sexist, racist environment at the paper. Regular readers of this blog will know that SPOGG leans to the left. We can't help it. As Stephen Colbert says, "Reality has a known liberal bias."

Anyhoo, we're naturally sympathetic to the editor who quit. Because of her bad spelling, punctuation and grammar, however, we aren't sure we believe her claims. She's an editor, after all. If this is how she writes, then yikes--she could very well be incompetent. And how else will an incompetent editor find the atmosphere at work to be? Hostile. And deservedly so.

It's a shame, because there's nothing we like more than someone sticking it to The Man and standing up for injustice. When you do this, though, your spelling and grammar must be perfect, or you're going to look incompetent. Grammar and spelling matter. Here's your proof:

Democrat-Gazette: 'Good ole' boys club'

There's been a bit of a dustup at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today.
State editor Marilyn Mitchell, who is married to assistant city editor Jack Mitchell, resigned today with a blast at her perception of sexist atmosphere at the newspaper.

We're told by multiple sources that Mitchell had an argument in the newsroom with a superior a few days ago about decisions on storm coverage. Multiple sources also say that Mitchell, who came to the paper last August, wasn't widely liked herself.

Mitchell's blast to all staff members prompted an all-staff response from veteran political editor Bill Simmons to her remarks about alleged managers' references to penis size, blonde bombshells and racially derogatory terms.

From: mmitchell
Subject: Fuck the glassDate: February 14, 2008 8:36:31 AM CST
To: to-all
Cc: to-all-LR, to-all-NW
All I wanted to do at this newspaper is [SHOULD BE WAS] to do a good job. I came here because I thought it was a good newspaper. But, [NO COMMA NEEDED] it's not. It's a good ole' [OL'] boys club made up of old white males. Nobody else has a voice. This is a newspaper in which: The city editor can verbally abuse another editor in the presence of the managing editor and nothing is done. [SHOULD BE A SEMICOLON, NOT A PERIOD] The managing editor in a news meeting slugs a potential 1A story as blonde bombshells - a story in which bombs were strapped on two retarded foreign women and sent into a crowd. Male editors are allowed to talk about penis size during news meetings. Editors call Hispanics wetbacks [PUT THIS WORD IN QUOTATION MARKS] in news meetings [OOPS, MISSING PUNCTUATION] Editors are proud to call blacks niggers [QUOTATION MARKS, PLEASE] in news stories. A city editor gets his feelings hurt over coverage of a story and I'm penalized for it. The managing editor is a bald face liar [BALD-FACED OR BAREFACED] and the executive editor doesn't give a damn. So to "the glass," I resign effective immediately. Marilyn Mitchell

From: Bill Simmons
Date: February 14, 2008 10:11:20 AM CSTTo: Marilyn Mitchell, To-All
Subject: Re: Fuck the glass
As an old white male, let me offer a few thoughts for perspective (and not to set off an onslaught of similar missives):
1. In my dozen years here, I have NEVER seen anybody (editor or otherwise)"proud" that the "n-word" was used anywhere. I can't say nobody was, becauseI can't be everywhere all the time, but I can say I NEVER saw anybodymanifest any such attitude when I was around.
2. The reference to "wetbacks" has a history -- a history of disagreement over whether the term is acceptable in any usage, with most editors herebelieving it is not. Sometimes the term is used in derision of the view that using it is acceptable, not in furtherance of its use.
3. I suppose some males will discuss penis size in the news meetings (boys being boys), and I have heard in long ago [HYPHENATE ME] meetings some remarks that were offensive. But this hasn't happened in any recent news meeting that I attended and it is not appropriate to convey the idea that this is standard practice in the meetings.
4. The "blonde bombshells" complaint omits the fact that every day some quipish [QUIPPISH] summary of each leading news items of the day's leading is posted on the board. When the governor makes a speech, it may be "Beebe's lips move." When an Al Quaida leader was blown up by a car bomb, it was "Bad Guy Goes Boom!" And political in-fighting in Pakistan will become "Pakitics." And so on. The reference to "blonde bombshells" had no sexist nuance that I perceived, any more than "Econ Tanks" (a summary of a downturn in the economy) was expressing approval of a recession or anything else. Practicing humor has its risks, and one of them is being misperceived and distorted.

See the blog.

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