Friday, June 21, 2024

At this point, I would settle for people not randomly capitalizing words

If you're someone who writes for a living or as a hobby, people often assume you're a stickler for grammar, punctuation and all the things your English teachers tried to get across to you.

I'm a writer (of sorts), but that isn't true of me. I don't go around judging people's spelling or word usage, mostly because I don't much care anymore.

While I understand the value of good grammar for clarity of communication, I am well past the days when I would carry around a virtual red pen and mentally edit every bit of writing I came across.

Part of the reason is the natural mellowing that often occurs with age. There are more important things to worry about, I find.

There's also the constant battle I wage against becoming a cranky old man. It's easy to find reasons to be angry and annoyed if you go around looking for them. I simply choose not to.

Then there's this question I often ask myself: How much does it really matter?

Again, yes, we have rules of usage and syntax and so forth for a reason. It's not about wanting to appear smart or trying to turn everyone in Shakespeare. It's about making sure we, as English speakers, are able to get our point across clearly and effectively whenever we speak or write.

Can I do that while still ending my sentence with a preposition? Yes, I can.

Can I do that while not understanding what a subordinate clause is and its role within a sentence? Yes, I can.

Can I do that without getting into a heated debate with a British person over whether collective nouns should be treated as singular or plural ("And the crowd are loving it!") ? Oh yes, I most certainly can.

The book pictured above sits on my desk at work, but I'll be the first to admit it's more decorative than anything else. As you might expect, "Warriner's Handbook of English" goes into great detail about parts of speech, sentence elements, phrases and clauses, pronoun cases, verb usage, modifiers, composition, spelling, and every aspect of punctuation you can think of, including the proper use of that pesky semicolon.

It was published in 1948. The preface to the book suggests it can be used as a teaching tool for 9th or 10th graders.

Maybe in 1948, sure. Nowadays, I don't think most adults could work their way through it.

Is that a bad thing? I'm not so sure it is. The way we communicate inevitably changes over time, regardless of what you and I think.

Here is the one thing I will ask of my contemporaries, though: Let's agree, collectively, to stop randomly capitalizing nouns. We are not German. Unless it's a proper noun (a specific name for a particular person, place or thing), and unless it's the first word in the sentence, it doesn't need to start with a capital letter.

Yes, there are exceptions in formal legal or business writing, but for the most part, keep 'em lower case.

If we can do that, I promise to scroll past your dangling modifier without saying a word.

1 comment:

  1. I loved and related to all the points in this great post, Scott -- especially about not Randomly Capitalizing letters. Hate that! Thanks for the great perspective, especially the mellowing out that comes with age.