Uncommon Ground

Writing

I am a snoot

I have little trust in people who don't use the Oxford comma.

From grammarly.com

Last Friday I confessed to my obsession with grammar and usage. In response, Alex Buerkle (@disequilibber) passed along a link to a wonderful article by David Foster Wallace describing the state of the “language wars” in the early 2000s. If you’ve never heard of the language wars or of the epic battle between prescriptionists and descriptionists, you may not find the article all that interesting, but it really struck a chord with me. I am a snoot.

A SNOOT can be defined as somebody who knows what dysphemism means and doesn’t mind letting you know it.

OK. Maybe I’m not really a snoot. I had to Google “dysphemism” – a derogatory or unpleasant term used instead of a pleasant or neutral one, such as “loony bin” for “mental hospital” – and I probably won’t brag about knowing the definition now (and I doubt that it will enter my regular vocabulary). So maybe it’s more accurate to say that I have a lot of sympathy with snoots. If you want to understand that means, I’m afraid you’ll have to read Wallace’s article. Here’s the link: http://harpers.org/wp-content/uploads/HarpersMagazine-2001-04-0070913.pdf Bottom line: Grammar and usage matter, because they convey a lot about us. The dialect we choose to use says a lot about who we are and about who we think our audience is.

On commas and grammar

I have little trust in people who don't use the Oxford comma.

From grammarly.com

I admit it. I am obsessed with grammar and usage. I own all four editions of Fowler, and I also own Follett, Garner, two or three editions of Strunk and White, and many other usage manuals. I am also a big fan of the Oxford comma. So I was pleased to see Kathleen Parker’s column in The Washington Post last week. Here’s why:

[Grammar] matters because good grammar conveys a great deal about a person.

Quality is in the details — and attention to commas, semicolons, dangling participles, gerunds and the proper placement of quotation marks says to the reader that this person is careful, considerate (because bad grammar is painful to the discerning eye), and (there’s that Oxford comma) competent.

“Grammar is credibility,” says Amanda Sturgill, an associate professor of communications at Elon University, where I recently spoke. “If you’re not taking care of the small things, people assume you’re not taking care of the big things.”