It has been a little while since my last post here at Cyber-Esq., and I appreciate all of you who have stayed with the blog during my absence. I would like to jump-start Cyber today with a subject that is serious business in the legal world – grammar. For my purposes in writing this post, grammar means not just spelling and punctuation. Instead, I use the term to include our entire system of communicating with each other, both verbally and in writing.
Being a teacher as well as a lawyer, even as I typed the word “grammar,” I could almost sense your collective groans, followed by a perfectly reasonable question: Why am I writing about grammar on a legal tech blog?
To put it simply, I am writing about grammar for two reasons. First, this past Friday was “National Grammar Day,” so grammar is a topic that has generated considerable interest, debate and humor around the blogosphere. For the historians and trivia buffs out there, the first “National Grammar Day” was founded in 2008 by The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. When it comes to grammar, this group manages to combine an oft-maligned topic with a generous dose of good humor. If you are interested, you can check out the group’s blog, Grammatically.
My second, and more important, reason for blogging about grammar concerns the changes – nay, havoc – that technology seems to be causing with our grammar. Arguably, some of these changes may be useful, even beneficial. Others, I am not convinced serve our society so well.
Consider Twitter and “texting” as two perfect examples –
As an “info-holic,” I make no secret that I love Twitter. For me, Twitter is a beguiling bonanza of factoids ranging, quite literally, from the ridiculous to the sublime. If you love knowledge for its own sake, Twitter can be a dream come true – or your worst nightmare.
Because of its enormous capacity to feed information, Twitter could also be described as virtual vomitorium that is destroying our grammar with its 140-character limit. For an interesting debate on this topic, with humorous references to politicians’ bad grammar, you may want to check out this CNN article.
Furthermore, when you consider the nearly drug-like addiction many have to texting, well-crafted or even beautiful grammatical expressions seem to be devolving into shorthand notations like “WTF” and “LOL.” For a humorous list of the most often used abbreviations of this kind, check out this article.
And, then, let us not forget those annoying (yet seemingly inescapable) smileys constructed out of colons and the “dangling” parentheses. Have you ever stopped to consider that, in the past 5 years or so, we have probably used the colon more in “writing” than in the previous 25 years? All in the creation of smileys…the quintessential hieroglyph of the digital age.
Even a phrase as simple, yet significant, as “Thank You” gets shortened to “ty.” Any day now, I expect to see Hallmark peddling “Thank You” cards embossed just with the “ty.” Of course, think of the ink that can be saved! They could market such cards as “green” products!
However, if you recall the last time you uttered the phrase, “Thank You,” and I hope you can, you will appreciate my larger point. When you said it, did you happen to notice how the listener reacted? Perhaps, you were the listener. Do you remember how the atmosphere in the conversation was altered? “I am sorry” has that same power, doesn’t it?
Communicative moments like these are important in our emotional and psychological interactions with one another. Truly, such moments can be turning points, can’t they? Many a relationship has been saved – if only for a day, a week, or maybe a lifetime – by simply saying “thank you.” And, whether you believe it or not, I have heard client after client say, “I would not sue so-and-so if they would just say I am sorry.”
Sadly, I fear that these moments in our collective communications are being sacrificed on the altar of such vain and contrived notions as “retweeting.”
Whether techy or not, most lawyers I know are wordsmiths. To one degree or another, lawyers recognize grammar’s ability to facilitate as well as hinder. In the past, we tended to use grammar in a wordy fashion; punctuation marks carefully laid out like mines on a Napoleonic battlefield. Today, with the advent of the Plain English Movement, the legal academy has adopted an approach emphasizing clarity, simplicity and brevity.
With today’s technologies, however, it often seems like meaningful communication is allotted ever-shrinking time and space. While it is our job as lawyers to communicate clearly and succinctly, we must also not lose sight of the inherent power of the written and spoken word. When well-crafted in both style and structure, language can move masses of individuals to action because it touches something inside us.
For example, consider the following, one of the most beautifully written phrases in the history of writing:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In the Twitter-sphere, we might ask ourselves, How many characters is that? If you must know, Jefferson’s immortal words breaks Twitter’s limit by 69 characters.
So, if you were advising Jefferson on this new-fangled social media thing, Internet marketing, communications and such…what would you have him eliminate?
An excellent site to learn more about National Grammar Day, in addition to the links below, is FindingDulcinea.com. Their blog featured the photo shown above, which I thought was hilarious and which you can get on a t-shirt from AllFavourites.com
Here’s to good grammar, even in cyberspace!
- Time to Celebrate Grammar! (fortheloveofpr.com)
- Chrome Extension Fixes Twitter’s Grammar, Tells Us “Whom” We Should Follow (techcrunch.com)
- Defending good grammar (mbconsulting.wordpress.com)