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Opening Arguments

Stop. Read. This.

In the age of tweets and texting, are zero-tolerance grammarians going to have a smaller and smaller pool of acceptable applicants?

If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building.

Some might call my approach to grammar extreme, but I prefer Lynne Truss's more cuddly phraseology: I am a grammar "stickler." And, like Truss—author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves—I have a "zero tolerance approach" to grammar mistakes that make people look stupid.

[. . .]

On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?

Wrong. If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use "it's," then that's not a learning curve I'm comfortable with. So, even in this hyper-competitive market, I will pass on a great programmer who cannot write.

Grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing—like stocking shelves or labeling parts.

I'm not quite that much of a stickler, but I am on the low-tolerance side. Maybe it's unfair, but I especially judge bad spellers harshly. And I never will get the hang of texting -- oh, I do it, but I just can't stop using complete sentences, including the correct punctuation and capitalization.

Oh, and this just in. The president's campaign slogan, of all things,  is causing a grammar controversy:

The. Obama. Campaign. Slogan. Is. Causing. Grammarians. Whiplash.

"Forward." is the culprit. It was chosen to reflect the direction Mr. Obama promises to take the country if re-elected. It also is designed to implicitly convey the opposite: that likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney would set the nation in reverse.

Simple enough. Except the moment seven characters became eight, things got complicated. Period. Even for some in the president's orbit, the added punctuation slams the brakes on a word supposed to convey momentum.

"It's like 'forward, now stop,' " said Austan Goolsbee, the former chairman of the National Economic Council who still advises the Obama campaign. He added, "It could be worse. It could be 'Forward' comma," which would make it raise the question: "and now what?"

The president signed off on his own slogan, but evidently isn't sold. "Forward! Period. Full stop," he has joked to his campaign staff, according to an Obama adviser.

I think "Forward." pretty much captures it, although "Forward:" might be even better, the colon implying an agenda that just isn't there -- momentum without purpose, which pretty much explains his first term.

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