Monday, November 26, 2012

Musings – Vocabulary, Grammar, Knowledge, and Intellectual Snobbery

RJ Pisko

RJ Pisko, Columnist

I used to think that the more thirty-dollar words one injected into a conversation, essay, or letter to the editor, the smarter the author.  I still do, albeit with increasingly rare frequency.  Correct use of grammar, good spelling skills, and the ability to compose a coherent sentence is what’s more important than trying to be a walking thesaurus.  It’s important in both written and spoken language because – well, because if one speaks and writes in a manner that is comprehensively distracting and intellectually off-putting, the message will be lost.  That means there will have to be an “in other words” explanation.  That should never be necessary.

Clear presentation of one’s thoughts is vital if they are to be accepted as worthy of someone’s attention.  For example, poor grammar, spelling, and sentence structure in a résumé cover letter isn’t going to get the thing a second glance.  Clarity, conciseness, and respect for the readers’ or listeners’ level of possible interest will get a much more favorable response than a rambling, mistake-ridden, distracting nonsensical diatribe.  Or not, but the cards are on the table, easily readable.

As an English teacher (oops – teacher of English?) of more than a few years I find it a bit odd that so many folks seem to feel that correct language usage is somehow intellectual snobbery – that using one’s command of her/his language isn’t very cool.  Too bad – those are the very folks whose ideas, when presented written or verbally, are usually difficult to swallow simply because of off-putting and distracting usage.

But back to the thirty-dollar word snobs – like, I mean, duh, who wants to read stuff by some pontificating pinhead who (correctly “that”,  but in this case I’m referring to a person) simply has an annoyingly infectious proclivity for pretentious, insubstantial, insipid verbosity?  Such foppery!

Gotta git me one a them tee shirts...
The most common offenders (not all of them) I think I’ve come across in all those classroom years – and now on Facebook, which leads me to believe that things haven’t changed much – are rife in student writing and the bane of English teachers and professors:

Your (instead of) You're
To, Too (interchanged abusively)
There, Their, They're (completely guessed at, often)
Than, Then (OUCH!)
Allot, a lot – many writers confuse “a lot” as “alot” (ewwww)

It’s not that poor writing and speaking skills reflect one’s intelligence or lack thereof – but it certainly suggests a lack of respect for communication, and therefore a lack of respect for the person addressed.  Appreciate language skills.  Clear meaning and intent from the start really makes human communication.  That fosters understanding and respect.  Maybe peace and harmony?  (Sentence fragment)
Monosyllabic grunting between speakers of similar mind is OK for those communicating on their own understood and accepted terms, I guess, but using reasonably acceptable and traditional grammar (both spoken and written) gives the listener or reader the impression that they are in the presence of someone educated and caring about how they convey their ideas – hence there is an automatic air of respect and attention.   At least I feel that way of someone whose ideas are presented clearly and respectfully.  Not necessarily respectful of the intended audience (who may not deserve respect) but of the very ideas being put forth.  Now just for fun -

Are you a Grammar Guru?   Try fixing this string of words – so that it makes perfect sense, in full sentences. Capitals and punctuation only are necessary.

It’s from the movie Charly (Cliff Robertson, Clair Bloom, 1968) based on the novel Flowers for Algernon – yes, I remember it well...

that that is is that that is not is not is that not it it is

 I’m sure Chris has the answer... :)


  1. We're waiting Chris? :-)

  2. There are a lot of people by the name of Chris in this world.
    Now will the real Chris stand up please?
    But not all at once as it could get crowded in the comments section.


    That that is, is.
    That that is not, is not.
    Is that not it?
    It is.

    Is there more to it than that?
    That is a possibility.

    Have a great day with the language we call english.


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