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Opening Arguments

This are not good

Wasn't hard to see this one coming, was it?

When Caren Berg told colleagues at a recent staff meeting, "There's new people you should meet," her boss Don Silver broke in, says Ms. Berg, a senior vice president at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., marketing and crisis-communications company.

"I cringe every time I hear" people misuse "is" for "are," Mr. Silver says. The company's chief operations officer, Mr. Silver also hammers interns to stop peppering sentences with "like." For years, he imposed a 25-cent fine on new hires for each offense. "I am losing the battle," he says.

Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.

There's no easy fix. Some bosses and co-workers step in to correct mistakes, while others consult business-grammar guides for help. In a survey conducted earlier this year, about 45% of 430 employers said they were increasing employee-training programs to improve employees' grammar and other skills, according to the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP.

"I'm shocked at the rampant illiteracy" on Twitter, says Bryan A. Garner, author of "Garner's Modern American Usage" and president of LawProse, a Dallas training and consulting firm. He has compiled a list of 30 examples of "uneducated English," such as saying "I could care less," instead of "I couldn't care less," or, "He expected Helen and I to help him, instead of "Helen and me."

Actually, I think it's a little misleading to put all this on email and Twitter. Grammar standards have been slipping a long time. All the social media have done is to speed up the deterioration.

I know it's fuddy-duddyish to make too much of this -- a language that's alive and dynamic will evolve. But I am an editor, after all; it comes with the territory. And there should at least be a floor above which we try to keep the standards, not because it's "proper" but because it helps us communicate more effectively.

I found an incentive that worked, by the way, at least on one person in one office. We had a copy editor in Michigan City who was a terrible speller for the simple reason that he assumed he knew how to spell an unfamiliar word instead of looking it up in the dictionary. (That's why most people are bad spellers, but it's a definite career impediment for a newspaper copy editor.) He was also a martini drinker, so I started making him martini bets on the spelling of challenging words in the stories our reporters were handing in. After he lost his third martini bet in a row, he started keeping a dictionary handy and became a very good speller.

How's your grammar? Take the test and see.



Mon, 06/25/2012 - 11:07am

15 of 22, I thought I could do better but the truth is, I am fortunate that I didn't do worse.

Mon, 06/25/2012 - 12:30pm

Just for fun, I used to say "ain't tain't a word and ain't tain't in the dictionary."  But, I was wrong.  Tain't isn't in the dictionary.

At work, when I've been really busy, I've had people ask me what I was doing.  I guess I was correct when I replied, "I ain't doin' nuthin'."