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I’ve had this one building in me for a while, but I never wanted to approach it, because it’ll make me sound like an elitist git. It wasn’t until a couple of minutes ago that I realized that what I was actually trying to say wasn’t a complaint. If I flipped it on its head, then it was something deeply important to me that I had to share. It just manifested as anger because I hated seeing it abused. Today, I want to talk a bit about that thing. That thing is, of course, language. In my case specifically, the English language and, by extension, being a writer. Or writing. Or any combination of the two.
Let’s start with one of the purposes of language: communication. What is language without communication? A bunch of arcane symbols and noises. In other words, you can say anything you want, any combination of gobbledegook at all, but it will be meaningless unless it can be understood. This is why grammar and syntax are so important. I’m sure you’ve been to Facebook, Reddit, or The Internet, and seen the high-larious, hackneyed posts about the important differences between “your” and “you’re,” so I won’t bother getting into the specifics here. However, the idea serves to highlight an important point: re-read your work. Edit. Get someone else to read it. Take a walk, come back and read it yourself. Freeze yourself and send yourself back in time a bit, or alter the time-stream to create a parallel version of you with no knowledge of your current work, and get that version of you to read it. Care about the words you say and where you place them. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s an okay thing to do. BUT, you mustn’t be careless. Anyone who reads your work is letting you into their head. They are bringing life to your vision, so make sure it makes sense.
That brings us to the flip-side of the coin: grammar-nazis. There will always be people who are willing to correct your work. Not all of them will give you constructive criticism, though. Some of them will just demand that you stick to the rules or not make mistakes. This sort of critique is mostly useless. I understand wanting to win an argument over the internet, but insulting someone’s grammar will never net you a win; it will just prove that you’re a tosser. Correcting it is fine, especially if the sentence is so malformed that it doesn’t make sense, but proving a point takes more than words. It takes ideas. Yes, words communicate ideas, but not all ideas are always equally applicable. Sometimes, a mistake is just a mistake. Demanding that you stick to a set of rules seems like a reasonable demand, but it isn’t universal. Grammar exists to help us communicate more clearly, but its rules are constantly in flux. Personally, I have a well-worn copy of “A Canadian Wrtier’s Reference” by my desk that’s about 4 editions behind. Each new edition has added something new. I’m constantly finding out that convention has changed. Most of the time, it’s stuff that I can safely ignore, because it gets really obtuse. However, you can’t ignore it all because the obtuse stuff can get you in the end. It can warp the meaning of entire phrases. Language doesn’t crystallize forever, either. Look at ye olde English Bard, yon Shakespeare. Some people think he’s absolutely impossible to understand, the height of nonsense. Of course, if you read him, then you know that’s not true. It does serve to illustrate the gulf that can form with time, though. Someday, our work will sound like that, too, if we’re lucky enough to have people interested in reading it.
However, even current convention must be subsumed within the larger purpose of communication. Once you are familiar enough with the rules, as the age-old saying goes, you can bend them. Yeah, I know you’re not supposed to start a sentence with “But” or “And,” but, sometimes, it’s the best way to do so. Sometimes, it lets you communicate more clearly. Sometimes, you’ll have to break convention to get a point across. Using “…” or repeating words over and over again can bring life to a sentence in a way that nothing else can. It gives your writing flavour. The writers who compile the rules of grammar and syntax know this. The ones who judge our works from on high are well aware of the inherent flexibility of language. That’s why those rules exist: to try to rein in limitless fecundity just enough to let words speak to each other. Otherwise, we’d be left garbling to no one.
Overall, my point is simple. Make sure you place your words with care. Don’t be afraid to bend the rules of form and function to serve communication. All you have are your words, their placement and their context to get what you’re trying to say across. And, you ignore one at the expense of the others. Revere language because it’s more important to humanity than any of us can fathom without it.
More-so, if you’re a writer.