Grammar and Your Finances

I had an interesting exchange with my two sons yesterday (separately). I am trying to motivate my elder son to speak more articulately and with a greater awareness of proper grammar. He retorted that I do not know how to communicate and that as long as information is conveyed effectively, it does not matter how it is conveyed. I tried to explain that words are very much the doors to perception and that the words we use (or even think) very much influence not only how we are perceived, but how we actually perceive. He scoffed.

Fast forward a couple of hours. My younger son and I were talking in the car and he made a statement. I politely corrected his grammar. He did not get defensive, but he told me that he really thought that the past participle was proper in the sentence that he used and he gave me reasons for his belief. Somewhat terrified that I might be out-word-smithed, I had to dig back to my 10th grade English and explain why I felt the present participle was a better choice. We discussed it for a while and he then agreed with me, but it was a remarkable discussion from the moment he started using terms like “past participle.” There is hope for the next generation, or at least my bloodline.

Although I do believe that the use of a robust vocabulary and proper grammar is important in life, and especially in business, it may be that both of my sons have valid perspectives. On the whole, I see future generations becoming more and more divided not only in communication styles, but in lifestyle and citizenship.

My elder son could very possibly find success in an industry that does not require any language skills above texting, and perhaps the target market for that industry will be limited to people with similar communication styles. At the same time, if the need to integrate himself and his products or services into other “communities” (more word-focused communities like the one my younger son and I represent) should arise, he will face some difficulty. Accordingly, I see his attitude — that his way is the only way — as being potentially limiting.

Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that my general unwillingness to text and my tendency to use an excess of verbiage can also be limiting. Unlike in Dickens’ day, we are generally not paid by the word when we speak in business settings. Accordingly, just as my elder son needs to learn to balance the brevity of text-speak with a greater selection of words, so too do I need to learn to communicate with a generation that is largely focused on immediate gratification and minimalist communication. Indeed, as that generation increasingly enters the workforce, it may become essential for people like me, whether managers, executives or otherwise, to learn how to effectively get messages across to a younger generation that does not use words the way my older, and perhaps more literate, generation does.

What do you think? Are you part of the younger, texting generation that gets its information digitally and does not necessarily know how to parse a sentence, or are you part of an older generation that still proofreads everything that you write, even if you have a spell check program? How do you think words and grammar influence our personal success and how do you think your views might have to change as current teens and 20-somethings enter the work force?

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17 Responses to Grammar and Your Finances

  1. Broken Arrow says:

    You know, I remember hearing about a radio expose once on the poetry and musicality that of language (English language in this case), and much to my own surprise, a lot of what the author believed was poetic and musical in language expression included a lot of internet and street slangs that I myself thought was poor English. But he talked about the flavor and the strength of many of these slangs and how it just brings so much flavor to certain conversations and contexts. It was quite interesting.

    But as a father, I completely understand what you’re saying here. And before one can even explore the alternative nuances to the english, I too believe that we must first learn the basics of effective communication. Basic English.

    Hopefully, your son will understand the important of effective communication sooner rather than later, and strive to be a better speaker. I think language should not just be heard, but to be enjoyed as well.

  2. rmyr says:

    My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are/were blue collar workers and farmers in the rural Midwest and South. Knowing about crops and machines was much more important to survival than parsing a sentence.

    My father and his father are/were great readers, and while their vocabulary is/was quite extensive, they speak/spoke in the vernacular so they didn’t come across as “too good” for their environment.

    I have struggled my entire life to speak and write properly. There are many grammar rules I know, and many I have tried to learn and remember. It’s difficult for me. I don’t know if that’s because I have few role models or if it’s something more inherent (nature v. nurture).

  3. Min says:

    I think brevity and proper grammar are different things. In business/academic contexts, BOTH are important. The latter is emphasized more heavily, but getting your idea across clearly and with as few words as necessary is also very important.

    Now, text-speak offers brevity purely in lowering the number of characters/words needed, but it has poor grammar. But there are contexts where it’s appropriate and there are contexts where it isn’t. I think it’s understanding those contexts that’s the most important.

    In other words, someone growing up in this age needs to have some knowledge of both; being skilled in text-speak doesn’t prevent one from also knowing proper grammar and exercising it with brevity. He just needs to know when to use what.

  4. Eleanor says:

    My Father received a very strong college prep education and can probably still diagram a sentence quicker than I can. He is quick to correct any of his adult children when we make a grammatical error in speech. One of his pet peeves is “my friend that…” He is quick to point out that is is “my friend WHO…” Do you know that last week I wrote this statement in MSword, and it corrected me, changing it to “my friend THAT…?! Another pet peeve of my father’s is “Get it for free.” Technically, there is an unspoken “of charge” after “free,” making the sentence “Get it for free of charge.” I am realizing that the English language is constantly in a state of change. If it were not, we’d still be speaking “the King’s English.” My father will never give up his pet peeves, but the rest of us are likely to accept them as part of our evolving language.

  5. Chris P. says:

    Knowing the rules and choosing to break them for more effective communication makes you clever. Breaking the rules because you refuse to learn them or find them useless makes you willfully ignorant.

  6. Princessperky says:

    When I was a kid my grandfather took the long rout to say ‘when in Rome’ regarding words.

    Essentially if you need to get your point across you aught to pay attention to who is listening.

    I like the above comment, know the rules so you can break them when needed. Don’t ignore them and hope folk have a clue what you are saying.

    Oh and I so hate reading ‘leet’ speak, it is honestly painful to see some FB updates. It doesn’t hurt to learn to use capitalization, and to spell out your words, and if anyone from another language is reading, it just might help you to be clearer.

    Not that I don’t screw up plenty, just that one should put some effort into it.

  7. Louis Russo says:

    I don’t recall corrercting either of my children’s grammar, and both speak well and seem to follow accepted guidelines. Of course, both are adult professionals, so that may have something to dowith it. I do try to speak and write correctly, and I’m privately mortified if I put something out in public that I later realize is icorrect. I firmly believe that proper grammar and punctuation makes being understood much easier. I have never texted, so I am pretty unfamiliar with any conventions that might exist there.

    I think the best thing that parents can do is to model proper speaking and writing patterns (although I’m not surre how many actually write anymore). Public correction, I believe, rarely works.

    I would guess that your older son will gradually find that, in order to be taken seriously in most jobs, he will need to think carefully about how he says things. You, as a wordsmith, will always have the advantage over those who can less fluently explain their point of view.

    Neither of my parents graduated from high school, yet I can rarely recall when either of them used grammatically incorrect speech. I guess it kind of rubbed off, because, although I can’t tell you what a particple is, I can sense when a speaker or writer is incorrect.

  8. Louis Russo says:

    This is me blushing. I noticed after submitting my comments that I spelled “incorrectly” incorrectly. I also missed the spacing between “do” and “with”. PROOFREAD!

  9. Ann says:

    In my younger years, I had a boss who drove my fellow professionals (CPA’s) crazy. He would sit down and go over a report with us word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by paragraph, concept-by concept.

    Truth be told, I didn’t mind in the least because the ending report was tight, concise, grammatical and so clear that an idiot could understand it. For anyone who’s had to deal with an instruction book that isn’t, the value is self-evident.

    One of the handiest little books I ever read, which I’ve subsequently given to a number of subordinates, is Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style”. Nice, humorous refresher course on the stuff that tends to drive us crazy.

    Like it or not, we are judged based on how we speak and write. I’ve tossed resumes in the “no” pile because of bad grammar. If you can’t pay attention to spelling and grammar in something as important as a resume (first impression), chances are pretty good you won’t pay attention to the details in your job… and my people had a lot of details in their daily responsibilities.

    Extensive vocabularies are nice (and help in the effort to be clear and concise), but grammar is a must.

  10. sewingirl says:

    Case in point : we have a washing machine at work that does not work. Someone very neatly printed a sign out that said ” Do not use – washer is broke” I ignored it for a few days, then I just couldn’t resist, I wrote in at the bottom “most washers don’t carry much cash!”

  11. brian says:

    Can we have the sentence in question please?

  12. jefffou says:

    One belief that I mistakenly held upon entering into the business world was that there was a very high correlation between folks who could think and folks who could talk.

    I have recently decided that the correlation is not as high as I had first believed.

    What I eventually decided, though, was that if I could be fooled into believing that, so could others.

    Therefore, as parents of three, my wife and I have decided that with effective communication skills, our children be perceived to be better thinkers than they are!

    My kids are all pretty sharp, and will be fine in the world. However, they’ll be selling themselves in this world just like the rest of us.

  13. Debbie M says:

    I am a big fan of standard English only because it is a universal language. This is the one everyone tries to learn. So, when you are trying to communicate with people and you don’t know them or you can’t see their faces (or hear them asking you questions) such as with a resume or manual, standard English is the way to go.

    However, being bi- or tri-lingual is also handy. Text talk lets you write more in the same time. And other variants can help tie you to others.

  14. charlie says:

    The most successful people are those who can communicate effectively in a broad range of social environments. Think of any president, hob-nobbing with foreign dignitaries and factory workers alike.

    For this reason (and no other) an impressive vocabulary and grammatical coherence matter. In certain environments one will garner favor by communicating in the classical “correct” and “eloquent” way. In other situations, it can be a net negative.

    I would gently correct the older son just so he knows the deal, but his knack for the vernacular might serve him well.

  15. Gail says:

    My mother was always correctly my English but she (and my father) were also the ones that kept moving the family so that I ended up going to many different schools and missed a lot of basic English. Since then I have gone to college and nursing school where I had to learn to write correctly and clearly. I’m also dyslexic so that trips me up many times. My hubby and I have a whole booksehelve dedicated to reference works and dictionaries so that we have no excuse for not looking up words we don’t know or understand in context. The point to all that is I try very hard!

    What I have trouble with though, are those that try to sell on line and ask people to critique their stores and when you mention their very poor spelling, grammar, writing skills they take great offense and state that it doesn’t matter. As far as they are concerned no one coming to their store will judge them based on how they have written their descriptions of the items they want to sell. I beg to differ with that thought. I think they are just too lazy to try or to get help. Unfortunately you can’t convince them and they go on wondering why no one buys from them. Granted even the biggest on line corporations have mispellings, etc. sneak into their presentations but they know that it is imperative to write well to garner customers. We have a lot of basically illiterate people coming down the pike and those that have a good command of the English language (or whatever their native tongue is) will be miles ahead of the pack when raises and promotions are handed out. I have even seen machine embroidery designs with phrases in them that are up for sale mis-spelled!

    The other day I suggested that my one son start an online business of proofreading others websties and blogs as he is such a good speller and very good at catching the mistakes in grammar. Those who care about such things I would think would be happy to pay a free lance editor to help them out.

  16. Cindy M says:

    Wow, you really touch a nerve with me along similar lines. As a medical transcriber, I can tell you hard-and-fast grammar rules are apparently very much subject to change, and most definitely not for the better. You cannot imagine what comes out of the mouths of the younger physicians when dictating medical records. I’m charged with transcribing verbatim the incredibly stupid things they say on a daily basis. My work is checked for quality control, and I have been docked for correcting grammar mistakes that I can actually back up with the latest rule book because of this verbatim thing. No more the days when a medical records supervisor had guts enough to sit a doctor/PA/nurse down in her office and instruct him he needs to dictate good English or maybe hire a good PA to do the dictation for him/her so it’s done properly for the record. Please understand I’m not talking about the docs who have English as a second language, either; on the whole, they do a much better job of communicating than American-born and bred folks. It’s all about how fast things can be done because apparently in this country, money and turnaround time are the only things that matter. American medical records are being sent to places like India, Pakistan, Barbados, etc., also, by the way; anyplace where they can be transcribed quickly and cheaply.

  17. Jo/GaelicWench says:

    With only a HS diploma, followed by 4 years in the military, in my back pocket, I make sure to maintain good grammar, spelling and punctuation. Correct syntax plays an important role if you want to be taken seriously when seeking a job.

    Like your older son, after I married into the military, my active duty husband would correct my grammar. However, unlike your son, I would not be offended; quite the contrary. I didn’t realize I was using double negs, improperly placed pronouns,incorrect adverbs and mixing present and past tenses. Fortunately, spelling was NEVER an issue.

    This was a clear indicator that I hadn’t made the effort to retain what I learned in my 12th grade English class. I later found out it was because I was ADD. So, whenever my husband corrected me, I made sure to remember to use it correctly. This was 28 years ago. To this day, I still remember those lessons.

    I have two kids; both have a college education. I find it interesting that now and then they use incorrect grammar and correct them on it. I get the “Mom, I don’t worry about how I write when I am on Instant Messaging” talk-down. Yes, it’s definitely the texting generation we’re dealing with.

    I take immense appreciation and pleasure that I’ve continued to educate myself, despite the lack of a college degree. Everyday for me it’s a learning experience. I make sure to remind my kids that education continues even after college graduation.

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