Grammar ain’t all that

Bob Borson —  July 27, 2012 — 20 Comments

For those of you who have been through Life of an Architect before, you will know that I take a lot of liberties with my “grammar”. That’s right, I am a bad boy when it comes to following some of the rules but at this point – some 350+ posts later – that cat’s been let out the bag and I don’t really care. That’s because I have developed a writing style that I like to call “I type it just like I thought it out in my head” [yeah ... that's a bad-ass title]

… I’m not writing a technical manual here – I am trying to get you to read what I am “saying.”

Since I get some grammar police on my back from time to time, I need you busybody people to understand that I think faster than I type and when I make a mistake, it’s on purpose. Well… sort of. For the record, I always spell check so it isn’t too often that I misspell a word. I might use the wrong word but that mo-fo will be spelled correctly.

(did you notice how I used the right version of “too” instead of “to?” I get that right sometimes…)

So yes, my writing style is a written version of my talking style minus the wild arm gesticulations and the appropriate regional dialect. I scatter commas into my sentences like buckshot – but I’m not writing a technical manual here – I am trying to get you to read what I am “saying.” It’s not as easy as it looks.

When is the right time to add a dot dot dot? Hmmmm … I wonder?

How about dealing with a sentence that goes on and on and on – maybe a dash would fit the bill? Sometimes I use dashes when I want the reader to “hear” what I wrote as if I was speaking under my breath. As it turns out, there are loads of examples of speaking under my breath in. this. very. post!

How do you convey a conversation with yourself or show what you are thinking? (because in my blog world, that’s important)

Bob: I wonder if this post will make any sense…

Inner Bob (who also happens to be much better looking): Your readers are super smart, I’m sure they’ll understand.

Bob: I don’t know. I’m not all that sure that I understand. You know I’m making this up as I go right?

Inner BobOf course I do, who do you think is actually coming up with all this stuff in the first place?

Bob: think they know that I use italics whenever I am thinking inside my head?

Inner Bob: They do now

I could go on for a while but I think the idea of my post is established now. I am sure there are rules for all the things I do in an effort to convey the conversational tones of my blog posts. While I don’t know if you literally get it, I do know that people recognize that there is a purposeful style to how I write.

Wow … okay. For the record, I almost barfed when I wrote that I “write” because I don’t write. I speak and then I type (or more specifically I think and then I type, and clearly I don’t think all that much before I type). 

I read a post on the Harvard Business Review titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why” and I thought “Oh my Gawd, I could never work for that guy because my grammar sucks”. Don’t worry about why I was reading the Harvard Business Journal and don’t worry about the fact that I wouldn’t want to work for that guy anyway. The point is that I write a bunch of garbage (re: this post in particular) and stick it out there for anybody to read knowing that there are most likely grammar mistakes. I also know that it is easy to judge somebody by the quality of their writing (I do it) … I’m just not sure my sort of “writing” qualifies as actual “writing.

There is something inherent about a blog that implies spur of the moment stream of consciousness sort of sharing. I don’t agonize over how the content is delivered or whether or not how I write is as important as the message I am trying to convey. Of course, if the message is lost because the grammar is so terrible that the posts are agonizing to read … that’s a different story … err, conversation.

How about proof-reading? Sure, of course I proof read, but since the time span from when I wrote it to when I am proof-reading it is typically nothing, my brain fixes the errors internally when I am reading what I just wrote. If you write I think you’ll understand what I just said. After a few hours of sleep, I almost always find a few things I would like to change when I go back and read what I wrote. Unfortunately I am not programmed to work like that. I get an idea or an itch to talk about something and it just pours out of my head … as soon as I take out the trash and clean the litter box. I try to type as fast as I can to keep up and then hit the “publish button”. Maybe not the smartest thing to do but with the exception of a handful of people who feel the need to publicly correct a typo or grammar error – which is a total jerk move by the way. Besides, I’ll go back and fix it and when people read the comment you left pointing out a mistake that doesn’t exist anymore guess who looks like the dolt? Most people I don’t think care too strongly one way or the other. Typos and grammar issues in blogs such as mine don’t bother me as much as articles that I read in magazines, newspapers … anywhere an article is written for pay or isn’t on a blog.

Maybe it’s a characteristic of architects to always have a “work in progress” view towards things?

Or maybe I’m on an island here …

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  • HeeHaeHyukTeuk

    I’m Malaysian who is trying hard to speak English really well, but when people judge my grammar, I feel like want to give up. It’s hurt. well, just saying.

  • Karen Gio

    I “write” pretty much the same way…basically, how I speak, which in my country is REALLY bad cuz I’m from Trinidad & Tobago (in the West Indies), so my dialect comes out sometimes. But for the record, I really enjoy your style of “writing” grammatical errors and all!! It’s real, it’s down-to-earth, it’s like you’re speaking directly to me in layman’s terms and so I understand-for the most part.

  • http://twitter.com/remarchitect Robert Moore

    When I am reminded of my grammatical errors by the Grammar Police I always think of a quote I picked up on another blog:

    “If grammatical mistakes make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, you may find it difficult to restrain yourself from correcting the errors of others. But a conversation is no time to be pedantic. You’ll come off as smug and patronizing and bring any rapport you were building with a person to a screeching halt. Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

    Actually, if grammatical mistakes make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, you might want to look into taking up some new hobbies.”

  • Richard

    I barely have a grip of my own grammer Bob…..I think it would be laughable for me to even consider correcting someone elses wordsmithing. As long as I can understand the sentences, and I get a good laugh, I’ll be returning here for more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/doug.burke.35 Doug Burke

    Grammar’s one thing but far worse are the writers who somehow missed that day in the 4th grade where we all learned about the paragraph and it’s function.
    In an internet world where 99% of all reading is voluntary and writers are presumably seeking maximum readership, some still produce these 1000 word one paragraph posts.
    My eyes just glaze over upon seeing these and it’s on to easier readable and understandable thoughts, observations or questions.
    Doug

  • http://twitter.com/vivianvolz Vivian Volz

    Your grammar is perfect for your blogging voice! You convey exactly what you mean, how you mean it. It’s the people who think they’re conveying meaning but are actually mixing it up who make me turn up my nose. Imagine if I’d said “Its the people who think their conveying meaning…” – would you have known what I meant? But would you have less respect for my ability? I enjoy your style, and it doesn’t diminish my respect for your observations.

    Absolutely, the person who wrote the Harvard piece needs to be a different kind of stickler from you. Technical writing demands a different level of precision and a voice that literally disappears. One wrong apostrophe is far more distracting when there are no waving arms or soaring similes to engage the reader. And they’re representing the company, and sometimes also a client, so they have to have a best foot to put forward.

    I’m a specifier. When I correct the grammar of specifications, I fix things that either confuse the reader (whether grammatically correct or not) or look egregiously foolish. That audience is contractors and estimators, and they just want to know what it’s going to take to build the building. And when I correct the grammar of product literature, I’m much stricter, because I know the audience is a bigger bunch of sticklers than I am: other specifiers.

  • http://agirlandamac.com/ lisa league

    Hey Bob,

    I definitely think the context should determine the style of communication, and you’ve hit the mark here – I’d even love to see the written equivalent of your wild arm gesticulations mixed in, too.Your unique voice and style are what keeps us coming back, grammar be damned!

  • Raymond Bowman

    Rules of grammar and conventions of style change over time, and as it happens I imagine there are always people who cry foul and people who shrug and keep reading. As long as you don’t start writing this blog in txt msg shorthand, I think we can still be friends.

    I started writing my blog once a week as a way of maintaining a creative flow, not so I could have something to point to when I interview for the New Yorker. As such, it’s more important to me to contribute something to a creative dialog, whether or not its immaculately crafted from a grammatical standpoint. I think most people get that. The rest can knock themselves out with their Chicago Style Manual quick-draws.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I can’t say I won’t change over time and mix in some short-hand but as of this moment here today, I don’t like text message shorthand either.

      The creative flow is an interesting reason to start writing – it’s why I started this blog myself. Maybe a good way to look at this is to think of blog posts as sketches rather than finely tuned and completed works of art. Sometimes the process is the most important aspect.

      Thanks Raymond

  • http://twitter.com/Shoegnome Jared Banks, AIA

    That HBR article drove me crazy. One of those articles that I try to stop reading, but can’t because it pisses me off so much. I get the point of writing articles to stir trouble, but seriously? I’m horrible with mixing up homophones. I try, but it’s better to publish and deal with the fallout, like you say. I guess the author doesn’t spend much time trying to hire creative types with brains that just don’t function the same way as his.

    Great article, by the way!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I hear a lot from writers speaking about how blogs are dumbing down society with their poorly crafted sentences, spelling errors and inappropriate punctuation. I think it comes across more as a “circle the wagons” mentality as most technically proficient writers are finding it harder and harder to make a living because us “hobbyist” writers are being asked to lend our “voice” to their effort because they want us to bring our readers along.

      We all have our issues to deal with – I’d like to think that mine are at least intentional.

      Cheers

      • http://www.dogwalkblog.com/ Rufus Dogg

        I’m a hobbyist architect and I don’t care about all those doeys and whatsies that you guys think are important. Hey, that wall is plumb enough… let’s just get the damn rock on the studs; let the next owner of this shack worry about R-value and whether that Romex is safe or not… and those gaps in the moulding? That’s what caulk and paint is for, right?

        But when I’m writing, don’t be messing with the rules. Editors fire writers for not tucking their end punctuation inside the end quotes. Even if you don’t get fired, the copyeditor will throw it all back at you and say “fix it, stupid!” (see what I did there? :-)

        • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

          you have an open parentheses – it should have been:
          (see what I did there?) :-)

          We all make mistakes and if this was an article that warranted closer scrutiny (like the construction drawings I prepare) I would put the appropriate level of critical evaluation into it. If I wrote more often, I would expect my skill level to go up. That way, the odds of my getting something correct the first time without having to proofread it after I’ve walked away for a while would dramatically improve.

          I do my best with one pass-by proof read … normally it’s because everyone else is in bed and I am ready to move on to the next thing – like my pillow.

    • Raymond Bowman

      There are two hilarious things about the HBR article. First, on a high-minded ironic level, I think it’s funny that the guy who runs the business called “iFixit” willfully ignores that there might be a purpose to sometimes bending grammar rules. Second, on a stupid I-am-still-a-child level, the article’s title gets shortened in the address bar to “i_wont_hire_people_who_use_poo”. Now there’s some solid business advice.

      • http://twitter.com/vivianvolz Vivian Volz

        Your second hilarious thing is hysterical! Wiens should have controlled that, because in his world that’s egregious. In this context, we get to snicker.

  • http://twitter.com/mle_hoopah Emily Hooper

    It’s a good thing red pens can’t be applied to computer screens. I would never get anything done!
    I’m sure you know I’m more inclined to side with Wiens of the Harvard Business Review but I think you’ve raised a great point about taking linguistic liberties to convey an idea. One of my favorite writers uses fragments like tissues and I think that makes me like him a little more. It’s just so badassicle. (See what I did there?)
    Also, you used “dolt” in this post and that word is grossly misunderused. Thanks for bringing that back!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      As a person who writes professionally (and by that I mean you make your living through writing) I would expect no less. The way my (ahem) writing has evolved has had more to do with conveying the delivery style of a person talking and as a result, I have unintentionally gone about creating a way of using punctuation in a manner that would make most 8th grade English teachers cry.

      Yes … dolt is an underused word but I’m doing my part to bring it back.

      • http://twitter.com/mle_hoopah Emily Hooper

        We can still be friends. I used to teach kindergarten.

        • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

          an unnecessary zing but I can’t blame you for taking it, it was right there for the taking

          • http://twitter.com/mle_hoopah Emily Hooper

            Was it?