Thoughts on double-plus good writing are double-plus good.
This morning, I discovered some notes I’d made years ago, which included this quote from Cliff Seal:
“No one has ever been offended by proper grammar or proper sentence structure. No one has ever emailed you to say I really wish you would use six more exclamation points on that sentence to let me know what you mean.”
No doubt when I copied it down it seemed a great reminder that editing matters; and it still does. However, in the breath after reading it I realised it wasn’t true.
I’ve accidentally offended people with proper grammar. I’m one of those people who writes tweets and (when I had a mobile phone) texts using complete words and complex punctuation. This habit includes putting a full stop at the end of sentences, which I discovered is a signal of disdain or other negative emotions toward the recipient.
And, while I haven’t received an email asking me to use more exclamation marks to clarify a point, I have received a direct message suggesting I use emoticons to signal whether a comment is serious or not.
I’ve also become entangled with the egocentricity of “proper grammar” as a concept at all: people striving to point out my mistake in writing “any more” rather than “anymore”; people stating that “the government are intending…” should be “the government is intending…”; the serial comma debate. Even the concept of proper US grammar runs into the issue of AP vs. Chicago vs. myriad other regions, styles, and so forth (as an aside, grammars differ on whether one can have “a” myriad or not).
Thus, while I still consider both editing and the attempt to express our thoughts coherently as great pursuits, I prefer to draw hope for this arbitrary new year from the realisation Seal’s comment does not refer to a binary: a great many people aren’t offended by improper grammar or improper sentence structure, and almost nobody who reads a sentence will ever email you to say they really wish you’d used different punctuation to make the sentence clear.
To allay the fears of those who enjoy my prose structure, rest assured I shall nevertheless continue my commitment to abstruse nuance.