Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Genius is in the Details

So, continuing our discussion about the importance of appearance as well as substance, and the hope that we’re not going to let several millennia of civilization collapse in a text-messaging, pictogram-riddled heap at our feet, let’s talk about details, shall we?

j0428638.jpgIt is sadly clear that there are a number of people out there who do not care in the least whether they write, spell, or speak correctly. These poor misguided souls have no idea that they’re lacking an important human imperative (to communicate clearly), having managed to ignore grammar-teaching school teachers for years, and are quite happy to live in ignorant bliss. There’s really nothing I could say to change their minds (even assuming they were reading this at all).

For the rest of us, though, forwarding Civilization through the cause of good grammar and basic manners is all about the details. I don’t (only) mean the details about knowing when to use a comma, or when it’s polite to give up your seat on the bus. Details such as these are important, yes, to live in a well-oiled, free-flowing society. It’s always nice to have something done correctly.

The details I mean, though, are the deeper ones, not just the superficial ones. Not just the rules themselves, but the “Why” behind the rules . . . or rather, why they are important. The e-mail-fostered laziness behind some lagging spelling standards does not, in itself, mean that Western Civilization is collapsing, but if we don’t stop to examine why it’s a troubling sign we’re all in trouble.

I am not the only person who feels like they’re shouting in the wind about “Correct grammar can save you!” I certainly don’t want to sound like a stodgy, old mothballed coot, either, yammering about the “good old days.” But the point isn’t that the “old days” were better. I’m not recommending going backward to the mythical, polite days of yore when everybody’s handwriting was legible, I just want to make sure that the future is healthy.

So, an analogy: Don’t think of me as a pundit talking about grammar. Think of me as your doctor, urging you to exercise and eat right, not to mention flossing after meals. When you’re young, you shrug it off, yeah, yeah, some day. But one day you’re struck with aches and pains and tooth decay and you shrug that off, too. Just the price of getting older, take a little aspirin, whatever. But then, suddenly, it’s diabetes, and heart disease. Lung cancer from all those smoky nights with friends. Things that are bad and scary and serious . . . and that could have been prevented.

My urging people to pay closer attention to the way they express themselves, the way they communicate with each other? That’s like telling you to take a multi-vitamin and the occasional stroll around the block. It might not save your life, but it might just make enough of a difference to your health that you can avoid that grammatical heart attack later on, you know, when nobody knows the correct spelling of “through.”

4 Comments on “Genius is in the Details”

  1. Gillian

    As well as spelling and grammar, there is a lack or misuse of hyphenation. I was noticing yours and appreciating. And as I write, I’m stopping to think whether I’ve worded my sentences reasonably well.

  2. This is a wonderfully written article, simply wonderful. I had my fair share of trying to explain people this rule or that, only to be waved away as being too bothersome. In my country too I notice each and every day people writing in ways one might have thought unimaginable, like those people never opened a book or a newspaper in their entire life. And why? Because they do not care. I’ve seen people writing blogs filled with mistakes and when someone tries to point these mistakes out their reaction is along the lines of “it’s my blog I can write however I want”. So much so it made me feel like I was fighting a lost crusade on trying to help people write well. This being said you have no idea how much joy your article made me feel, the fact that there are some more people out there that put some value on “communicating clearly”, as you very well put it.

    Congratulations and thank you :)

    PS I am not a native English speaker so forgive my mistakes. I am trying to write as well as I can not to mention I have subscribed to your blog since day 1 :)

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