Write Now: It pays to be pedantic

Write Now: It pays to be pedantic

By Luiza 16/12/10

Our deputy editor Luiza Sauma introduces her new weekly column, Write Now, which will cover every form of writing – from poetry and novels to journalism and ghostwriting. This week, she begins with the basics, and ponders the importance of literacy...

You don’t have to look at statistics to see that literacy is on the decline. On an almost daily basis, I see grammar, spelling and punctuation slips in big-brand advertising, job applications, press releases, shop signs and even in the press itself. But when an old friend of mine – a teacher at a comprehensive – sent me an email crammed with primary-school spelling, I had to despair. If a teacher can’t write properly, who the hell can?

For most people, mistakes like these are nothing to get hot and bothered about. At best, they’re just typos – we’re all guilty of those – but at worst, how well one writes is the kind of thing that, later in life, keeps otherwise able and talented people from fulfilling their ambitions – and not just in wordy professions.

For the best part of our lives, writing is a practicality: signing a contract, sending a text to arrange a night out, writing a cover letter, dropping a work email, chatting online with friends – and each of these modes of communication has a different sets of rules. I’m a card-carrying grammar geek (it’s my job, after all), but even I’ll drop my caps when chatting online or emailing close friends. Oh, the shame!

But when unintentional txt spk, badd speling and ran’dum punctu-ation [self-sics all round] creep into your everyday existence, you end up saying things that you don’t even mean. Usually it’s harmless stuff, like the classic (but utterly heinous) you’re/your mix-up, as in “Hope your [sic] well” (hope my well is what? I don’t even own a well). At its very worst, there are adverts for that holiday must-have, “incest repellent” – as spotted by the beady-eyed GrammarBlog.

Pedantry has negative connotations. This is a good thing when it refers to an obsession with something horribly tragic, like the minutiae of 1970s prog-jazz; but when it comes to writing, knowing how to articulate yourself is a very good thing. Even so, sometimes I find myself apologising for it; on occasion, I’ll call myself a “grammar Nazi”, but in truth, comparing myself to the most destructive fascist regime of the 20th century is a self-deprecation too far.

Being good at writing is something to treasure. Not just “being a writer”, but writing for its own sake, even if no one else is going to see it. As Lucy MacNab, the co-director of east London’s new writing education centre the Ministry of Stories, tells me, “Being able to express yourself is a fundamental part of life – whether that’s in stories, or poetry, or being able to write songs, blogs, texts and emails. I think it’s important for young people to have confidence in their own voice and it’s important for the world to read and hear what they have to say.” And for the world to understand them, it’s also important for young people to have the capacity to say it well.

Write Now is going to be a weekly celebration of all writing – not just journalism, poetry, books and plays, but writing in itself. Because whether you’re putting pen to paper or fingers to phone, keyboard or – at a slightly pretentious stretch – typewriter, every word you write brings you closer to yourself.


Drop me a line at Luiza@ideastap.com.

Image courtesy of sgrace on Flickr.

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