Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Elements of Style

   Months ago I was perusing a comment thread which came after the posting (by a friend who teaches at a university) of a provocative statement . Obviously it, along with some comments left by other academics - presumably either adjuncts or grad students in the department - left quite the impression:
"This ubiquitous replacement of "you're" with "your" is getting out of control. Whenever I see such a misuse I immediately stop reading because the author's writing (and point) is not worth my time."

"I dropped an entire book, which I had been extremely excited about reading, because the author's typos and grammar flaws hadn't been edited out. If the writer doesn't care enough, the reader shouldn't be expected to either."

"Don't tolerate contractions! I have this disallowance in my term paper instructions, and tell my grad students that if contractions are used I will not accept their papers/reports/posters or othe written materials. No exceptions."

    I’ve been blogging a few years now, and every so often it’s pointed out, or becomes painfully obvious, that I can’t really write all that well. But I’m okay with that, as I write exactly like I draw, which in turn tends to be well, cartoonish. So no, nothing ever winds up looking too much like reality, or follows the damn rules, but it “works,” and people know what I mean either way. I try and have as much fun with playing words as I do with lines, textures, form etc. When it comes down to it, they're all just marks made on a piece of paper (or a screen) that stand for something, whether it's a letter, word or an essay - or a doodle, sketch or drawing.
    But what sometimes irritates me are elitists whom, to paraphrase, won’t bother to read something if it has spelling or grammar mistakes, as it “isn’t worth their time.” These are the very same people who no doubt wouldn’t listen to what other people have to say because it doesn’t sound “right” either, or they maybe the other person doesn't speak proper English. Makes me kinda glad my time is as cheap as my thrills.

   It reminds me of this past year’s efforts at mastering the making of omelets. As with many other dishes, more often than not, it fails to result in a centerfold-perfect dish like the ones pictured in the cookbook. But it still tastes good (usually), and that’s all that really matters when you’re hungry for sustenance. This carries over into artwork as well. Which is not to say one shouldn't stop trying to better oneself, either with words or with omelets (or in my case, word-omelets). When teaching, it's equally crucial to continually pushing the limit - breaking more eggs - and keep setting the bar for perfection or mastery ever higher... as it is to recognize what works well enough, as it is.


  1. Those poor little bastards in the National Spelling Bee are in for a rude shock when they find out that no one really cares about what they're good at.

    I also had the sudden realization while watching the most recent coverage of the National Bee that Asian countries can't have spelling bees because they don't write their languages phonetically. Only our country is simultaneously proud of ignorance and obsessed with the minutia of language.

  2. Would that we had a national obsession with literacy.