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.