Standards and Anti-Standards

 

lol i dont know why sooooo many millennials hate grammar but whatchya gonna do about it ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Joking aside, this phenomenon drives me mad. Scarcely a day passes when I don’t see some flagrantly ungrammatical Facebook posting by someone who should know better. Twenty-something scientists, mathematicians, historians, poets, journalists, and even editors — editors, for goodness’ sake! — all write in the same quasi-illiterate nonstyle. When the social-media output of America’s aspiring literati is indistinguishable from that of its middle-school dropouts, something is deeply, deeply wrong. Our language’s Millennial gatekeepers haven’t merely abandoned their posts; they’ve joined the barbarians in storming the castle.

Now, I’m a pedant. My standards are unrealistic. I understand that. I certainly don’t expect people — even well-educated people — to plop HTML style tags into their text messages in lieu of italics.* I don’t expect them to distinguish between em dashes and en dashes. I don’t demand perfection. Typos happen. But is it so difficult to separate different sentences with periods? Does it truly take undue effort to capitalize an “I” or spell “don’t” with an apostrophe? I think not.

So, what’s happening here? It’s not poor education. These same people who present themselves on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as dyslexic fifth-graders are perfectly capable of writing polished prose. Indeed, I’d bet that a great many of them could pulverize me in a writing contest. They know the rules, and they fail to apply them. They choose to be ineloquent. Why? Because it’s a form of social signaling. Because sending into the digital nether a garbled mishmosh of words and abbreviations, all garnished with a heaping helping of emojis, says, “I’m young and sociable and cool, just like you.” Because ignoring standards has, paradoxically, become a standard. Because the absence of rules is itself a rule.

My friend and I once became embroiled in a heated (read: nearly violent), multi-day argument about punctuation in text messages. His position? That ending a message with a period constitutes a breach of the social contract. That terminating a text is an immoral act. This friend is quite bright — brilliant, even. He’s an economist and a classicist. He can read Latin. He’s an able writer. But he, like a great many Millennials, seems to believe that terminal punctuation is something to be reserved for only the tensest of interactions. Writing like a second-week ESL student, by contrast, signals openness, friendless, and a willingness to engage with interlocutors. Failing to understand this might have professional consequences, he warned. It might give someone a reason to fire me.

Pfft. I’m willing to take the risk. If grammar counts as a fireable offense in my boss’s eyes, I ought to run, screaming, from that boss, anyway. If grammar makes me look like an out-of-touch curmudgeon, good. It’s my pleasure. Better to be a curmudgeon than a mushy-minded social milquetoast.

I ought to remind my friend, though, that anti-standards have consequences. Just as an anti-joke is nothing more than a joke that subverts the expectations surrounding jokes, anti-standards, in general, are nothing more than standards which fling aside all the rules that proceeded them. Artistic anti-standards brought us postmodern art. Architectural anti-standards brought us brutalism and Cabrini–Green. Anti-standards tend to encourage a race to the bottom. In the realm of language, it’s an egalitarian race. Everyone — learned and ignorant, smart and dumb — competes to look as inane as possible. The pathology spreads — first from informal settings (like text-message chains) to semi-informal settings (like a Facebook page), and then to public platforms (like Twitter, Instagram, and personal blogs). Writing grammatically becomes ever slightly more unnatural, and ever slightly more a technical specialty.

What is the consequence of all this twaddle? I don’t know. All I can say is this:

The Millennials can pry the punctuation from my cold, dead hands.

* Yes, I used to do this — until I grew tired of fighting my phone’s automatic spelling correction. Now, I settle for asterisks.

There are 95 comments.

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  1. OldPhil Coolidge

    Me to.

    • #1
    • July 27, 2018, at 5:37 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  2. philo Member

    Christopher Riley: The Millennials can pry the punctuation from my cold, dead hands.

    Love it. (And bonus points for the use of “twaddle.” One of the great underused words available to us.)

    • #2
    • July 27, 2018, at 5:39 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. She Thatcher
    She

    Christopher Riley: Because it’s a form of social signaling. Because sending into the digital nether a garbled mishmosh of words and abbreviations, all garnished with a heaping helping of emojis, says, “I’m young and sociable and cool, just like you.” Because ignoring standards has, paradoxically, become a standard. Because the absence of rules is itself a rule.

    This. Although as well as signaling “I’m young and sociable and cool, just like you,” I think there’s a considerable element of sticking their fingers in the eyes of their elders by disappearing into the secret and shared mysterious patois of youth. It was ever thus (or has been for a very long time), but I think that the cheapness and ease of mass communication in the twenty-first century has rendered the phenomenon even more unintelligible, illiterate and baffling than usual.

    And on the occasions when I see “grown-ups” who should know better trying to show how “cool” they are, by trying to fit in with it, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    • #3
    • July 27, 2018, at 6:01 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. I Shot The Serif Member

    Millennials aren’t trying to write; they’re trying to directly substitute typing for speech and other face-to-face social cues. As long as they still practice writing, and they understand that some people desire writing from them in electronic communications, they do fine.

    • #4
    • July 27, 2018, at 6:12 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Oh, this one is easy. Get off Facebook. Although I will say that you will never, ever, wrest my exclamation marks, double exclamation marks, from my cold, dead hands!!!!

    • #5
    • July 27, 2018, at 6:25 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos Post author

    I Shot The Serif (View Comment): Millennials aren’t trying to write; they’re trying to directly substitute typing for speech and other face-to-face social cues.

    This is what they say they’re doing. But I don’t believe it explains everything.

    The written equivalent of a facial gesture is an emoji. Slapping down words willy-nilly without regard for even the most simple and well-known rules of written grammar — well, that has no obvious equivalent in speech. Speech and writing are different things, and they will always be different things, no matter what the Millennials say.

    If emulating speech is truly what they want, I’d like to see them send unbroken strings of IPA characters.

    • #6
    • July 27, 2018, at 6:26 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    Christopher Riley: My friend and I once became embroiled in a heated (read: nearly violent), multi-day argument about punctuation in text messages. His position? That ending a message with a period constitutes a breach of the social contract. That terminating a text is an immoral act.

    Just the thought of all the people I’ve unwittingly “offended” by using punctuation in text messages warms the cockles of my heart.

    Or it would, if I had a heart.

    • #7
    • July 27, 2018, at 6:37 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  8. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    I’m with you. I still insist on proper capitalization and punctuation even when I’m texting, which of course marks me as old. Even worse, apparently there have been studies indicating that ending a text with a period connotes anger. What? I’m sorry, you’re talking about a different language from English, and it’s not what I speak.

    What annoys me even more is the fact that the millennials are now taking over the news media, and they’re bringing their bad writing with them. It’s one thing to be sloppy with grammar and punctuation in a text with your friends; it’s another to do it in a mainstream news article published by a supposedly reputable outlet. Political bias is just one way the news media are committing suicide; another is the complete abandonment of standards.

    My standards are also unreasonably high. But I have also learned that it’s best not to be a jerk, so I don’t offer to correct anybody else’s spelling or grammar unless they ask me to. More and more, though, I find that my response (even if asked) would be “Where do I start?”

    • #8
    • July 27, 2018, at 6:48 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos Post author

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment): Even worse, apparently there have been studies indicating that ending a text with a period connotes anger. What? I’m sorry, you’re talking about a different language from English, and it’s not what I speak.

    This is what’s so interesting (and infuriating) about text-speak.

    Nobody “teaches” Millennials how to send “good” text messages or write “good” Facebook posts. Nobody told me, or any of my friends, not to punctuate. (Even if someone had, I would’ve ignored the advice.) The convention — insofar as it deserves to be called a convention — emerged spontaneously, and only among a group of people who had already bought into it.

    If my style of text-messaging makes me “old,” so be it. But how dare they accuse me of ill-will merely because I’ve not intuited the unwritten rules of their argot.

    • #9
    • July 27, 2018, at 7:02 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Buckpasser Member

    Get off my lawn.

     

    Oh yes, that is a period.

    • #10
    • July 27, 2018, at 7:06 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  11. I Shot The Serif Member

    Christopher Riley (View Comment):

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment): Even worse, apparently there have been studies indicating that ending a text with a period connotes anger. What? I’m sorry, you’re talking about a different language from English, and it’s not what I speak.

    This is what’s so interesting (and infuriating) about text-speak.

    Nobody “teaches” Millennials how to send “good” text messages or write “good” Facebook posts. Nobody told me, or any of my friends, not to punctuate. (Even if someone had, I would’ve ignored the advice.) The convention — insofar as it deserves to be called a convention — emerged spontaneously, and only among a group of people who had already bought into it.

    If my style of text-messaging makes me “old,” so be it. But how dare they accuse me of ill-will merely because I’ve not intuited the unwritten rules of their argot.

    Languages grow organically, and they are not taught. Each new generation changes language. It seems that texting may be an example of a language-like phenomenon for which prescriptive rules have not been written, and you are not a native speaker?

    • #11
    • July 27, 2018, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. philo Member

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment): I still insist on proper capitalization and punctuation even when I’m texting

    Yes. Of course, with a firm grip on my flip phone, 99% of my texts are but single characters (Y, N, or “?”) so I’m not sure a hard stance on the subject is all that meaningful in my world.

    • #12
    • July 27, 2018, at 7:15 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    I Shot The Serif (View Comment):

    Languages grow organically, and they are not taught. Each new generation changes language. It seems that texting may be an example of a language-like phenomenon for which prescriptive rules have not been written, and you are not a native speaker?

    As curmudgeonly as I am, I am not necessarily a prescriptivist. I agree that languages change and grow organically, and many of the grammatical rules and spellings that I insist are correct were not always so. I think there is a legitimate argument to be made that text-speak is, if not a language, a dialect of English.

    But it’s not the dialect of English that I speak. I’ve become reasonably good at understanding it, but no one should expect me to adopt it, any more than they should expect me to affect a British accent when I visit London.

    And there is, I hope, still a place for standard English. People are free to speak whatever argot they like within their social groups, but they also need to be able to speak the proper language in the business world or in print.

    • #13
    • July 27, 2018, at 7:19 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos Post author

    I Shot The Serif (View Comment): Languages grow organically, and they are not taught. Each new generation changes language. It seems that texting may be an example of a language-like phenomenon for which prescriptive rules have not been written, and you are not a native speaker?

    Sure. It may be a new language, but it isn’t quite the English I know, love, and use. And I don’t want to be a native speaker.

    Most of the time, language indicates place of origin. This language indicates membership in a particular group — a group I find off-putting, and a group I ought to be allowed not to join, if I so choose.

    • #14
    • July 27, 2018, at 7:19 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos Post author

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment): As curmudgeonly as I am, I am not necessarily a prescriptivist. I agree that languages change and grow organically, and many of the grammatical rules and spellings that I insist are correct were not always so.

    I think the prescriptivist–descriptivist dichotomy is a false one — or, at any rate, a less-than-precise one.

    Why can’t I hold both that language changes and that enforcement of rules has a meaningful place in language education? Isn’t resistance to change as natural a phenomenon as the change itself? Shouldn’t change occur in spite of expectations, and in spite of the demands of language’s gatekeepers?

    • #15
    • July 27, 2018, at 7:25 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. MarciN Member

    I’d bet the people who are reacting so negatively to sentence-ending periods are also engaging in uptalk. There are few things I find more grating than uptalk.

    • #16
    • July 27, 2018, at 7:53 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  17. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    Christopher Riley (View Comment):

    I think the prescriptivist–descriptivist dichotomy is a false one — or, at any rate, a less-than-precise one.

    Absolutely. There is a place for a descriptivist approach: that’s what dictionaries are for, to tell me how words are used and what people mean by them. (Some dictionaries have usage notes, but that’s not their primary purpose.) There is also a place for a prescriptivist approach, which is what style guides are for.

    So I can put on my descriptivist hat and understand (usually) what people mean when they use text-speak. That doesn’t mean I’m going to follow their (unwritten) style guide.

    • #17
    • July 27, 2018, at 8:14 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. David Carroll Thatcher

    I guess as an old person, I don’t have the experience of exchanging texts with any millennial’s. My children and children-in-law are Gen X, not millennial.

    Besides, my wife and I find that dictating texts is much quicker and easier than all that finger punching. And the smart phone spells everything correctly. Of course, being old school, we dictate our full-stop periods.

     What I find annoying is about not only the millennials, but the speech of many supposedly educated educated people. A Gen X relative who shall go nameless but who has a doctorate will say things like “Me and John went to the store.” Ugh.

    Worse, the talking heads on the news will use the nominative case when the objective case is correct: “That really affected my wife and I.” Double ugh.

    • #18
    • July 27, 2018, at 9:18 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. ST Inactive
    ST

    yep

    • #19
    • July 27, 2018, at 9:31 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. Hoyacon Member

    I Shot The Serif (View Comment):

    Christopher Riley (View Comment):

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment): Even worse, apparently there have been studies indicating that ending a text with a period connotes anger. What? I’m sorry, you’re talking about a different language from English, and it’s not what I speak.

    This is what’s so interesting (and infuriating) about text-speak.

    Nobody “teaches” Millennials how to send “good” text messages or write “good” Facebook posts. Nobody told me, or any of my friends, not to punctuate. (Even if someone had, I would’ve ignored the advice.) The convention — insofar as it deserves to be called a convention — emerged spontaneously, and only among a group of people who had already bought into it.

    If my style of text-messaging makes me “old,” so be it. But how dare they accuse me of ill-will merely because I’ve not intuited the unwritten rules of their argot.

    Languages grow organically, and they are not taught. Each new generation changes language. It seems that texting may be an example of a language-like phenomenon for which prescriptive rules have not been written, and you are not a native speaker?

    I don ‘t have much to add to this, but I (a rather fussy grammarian) also see a distinction between adherence to grammar in “traditional” correspondence (even email) and the use of grammar in texting. The latter is essentially designed to be a rapid, convenient form of communication that is sui generis. If somebody wants to save time by using “4” instead of “for” or skipping an oxford comma, that person can be my guest.

    • #20
    • July 27, 2018, at 11:16 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    White people and their

    (shuffle)

    correct gramar and spelling.

    • #21
    • July 27, 2018, at 11:22 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Increases in literacy are generally accompanied by linguistic innovation. If you want one you have to be tolerant of the other.

    During periods of lower literacy, the rules remain rather static because the only people who can read and write are the same people who enforce the rules.

    When there’s a cultural or technological change that results in an increase in literacy, it means more people who aren’t formally “in charge” get to play in the world of words, and they come up with innovations.

    This happened with the printing press (which resulted in the deprecation of certain letters, like þ), and the King James Bible (which went a long way towards standardizing written English), and public education (resulting in an increase of popular fiction which often used local vernaculars), and 20th century business communications, and now the Internet.

    The “rules of grammar” one cites were more often than not set in stone arbitrarily as a reaction to these increases in literacy. i.e. the spelling conventions prescribed by Noah Webster, the grammar conventions prescribed by William Strunk or John Dryden, etc. They did not correspond to common usage of the time but were rather an imposition of those individuals’ preferred usage.

    For example:

    http://www.cracked.com/blog/7-commonly-corrected-grammar-errors-that-arent-mistakes/

    • #22
    • July 27, 2018, at 11:32 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  23. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    ON THE OTHER HAND …

    Linguistic innovation can be a sign that writers are writing more for the purpose of expression rather than comprehension.

    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself, but it can become problematic if everybody’s writing with little-to-no regard for how their words will be interpreted.

    Linguistic innovation can also be a sign that writers are writing primarily for a particular audience, and have little-to-no regard for how their words will be interpreted by readers outside of that audience.

    Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself, but it can become problematic the more these linguistic groups are in opposition to each other.

    • #23
    • July 27, 2018, at 11:37 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos Post author

    Hoyacon (View Comment): I don ‘t have much to add to this, but I (a rather fussy grammarian) also see a distinction between adherence to grammar in “traditional” correspondence (even email) and the use of grammar in texting. The latter is essentially designed to be a rapid, convenient form of communication that is sui generis. If somebody wants to save time by using “4” instead of “for” or skipping an oxford comma, that person can be my guest.

    This is a fair position. Before unlimited-data plans came into existence, using such workarounds made sense.

    The distinction breaks down outside the world of text-messaging, though. Unlike a text message, a Facebook post lasts forever. It isn’t ephemeral. It isn’t intended for one person’s eyes only, nor is it a substitute for a face-to-face exchange.

    Much of the grammar-mangling I see is very public.

    • #24
    • July 27, 2018, at 11:42 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos Post author

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment): Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself, but it can become problematic the more these linguistic groups are in opposition to each other.

    This is the heart of the problem. These people are the Noah Websters of their time.

    Suppose Webster prescribed certain usages in his dictionary, then turned around and broke every rule he introduced — and, moreover, had the audacity to claim that anyone who dared to follow his own dictionary was, by virtue of doing so, a horrible person. This is how many Millennials think. It’s bound to create some erosion in their ability to use language the “old” way.

    (I’ll admit that part of my irritation is personal. I hate social inconsistency. It’s why I can’t bear the sight of an intoxicated friend. It’s why I’ve always felt uneasy around the theatre crowd. It’s why I bristled at Obama’s and Clinton’s bizarre slips into dialect.)

    • #25
    • July 27, 2018, at 12:02 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. David Carroll Thatcher

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    Increases in literacy are generally accompanied by linguistic innovation. If you want one you have to be tolerant of the other.

    During periods of lower literacy, the rules remain rather static because the only people who can read and write are the same people who enforce the rules.

    When there’s a cultural or technological change that results in an increase in literacy, it means more people who aren’t formally “in charge” get to play in the world of words, and they come up with innovations.

    This happened with the printing press (which resulted in the deprecation of certain letters, like þ), and the King James Bible (which went a long way towards standardizing written English), and public education (resulting in an increase of popular fiction which often used local vernaculars), and 20th century business communications, and now the Internet.

    The “rules of grammar” one cites were more often than not set in stone arbitrarily as a reaction to these increases in literacy. i.e. the spelling conventions prescribed by Noah Webster, the grammar conventions prescribed by William Strunk or John Dryden, etc. They did not correspond to common usage of the time but were rather an imposition of those individuals’ preferred usage.

    For example:

    http://www.cracked.com/blog/7-commonly-corrected-grammar-errors-that-arent-mistakes/

    I suppose you promote a living constitution as well. :-)

    • #26
    • July 27, 2018, at 12:29 PM PDT
    • Like
  27. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos Post author

    For all the woke linguists (insert smiling emoji), I’m curious:

    Must a recognition that language changes translate into support for a particular change in a particular language?

    Doesn’t spreading knowledge of linguistic “truths” (like the fact that prescriptivists are dummies (insert second smiling emoji)) risk altering the very thing linguists seek to study?

    • #27
    • July 27, 2018, at 12:35 PM PDT
    • Like
  28. ST Inactive
    ST

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    For example:

    http://www.cracked.com/blog/7-commonly-corrected-grammar-errors-that-arent-mistakes/

    hilarious. thanks.

    • #28
    • July 27, 2018, at 12:40 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. MarciN Member

    The language used by a particular group of people is a code. The grammar of that language tells its users how to encode and decode information. It saves a lot of time and trouble when people use the grammar for their language to transmit information.

    For example, if I write “the clean water act of 1972,” readers know instantly from my use of lowercase that that is not in fact the exact wording of the act’s title. Had I capitalized it, they could bank on that title’s being accurate as inscribed on the act itself. If I write “my son John” without commas, people know instantly that I have more than one son. Readers can count on that.

    The code works well.

    • #29
    • July 27, 2018, at 2:11 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. MarciN Member

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    For example:

    http://www.cracked.com/blog/7-commonly-corrected-grammar-errors-that-arent-mistakes/

    I don’t agree with 7 through 5. “Hopefully” means “full of hope.” It’s “few,” not “less,” if you can count them. It’s “he or she” if it’s one person, not “they.”

    • #30
    • July 27, 2018, at 2:13 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
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