My little brother once said to me: “Rob, you are using uncorrect grammage.”
I thought this was one of the most ironic things I had ever heard. I grew up in a family that valued precision in speaking. It was pretty obnoxious at times; if you ever used a misplaced modifier or misused the word “literally,” you’d be fair game. The wolves would undoubtedly always descend. I guess I can tip my hat to my family for this (along with teaching me to love to read) as it has probably played a large role in my ability to write. Now it is only on rare occasion that I am the target of the grammar police (although my kids have started down this dangerous road). Overall, I think I am pretty good at using words.
But now I am a little nervous again.
As I said in my last post, I am gearing up to do a podcast for the Quick and Dirty Tips folks. The flagship podcast for this company is that of Grammar Girl, which is a weekly show in which she goes over various topics, such as the use of for vs. because, or the use of colons vs. dashes. I have listened to this podcast for a long time, starting when I would take my daughter (who also likes to write) to school. We got a kick out of some of the illustrations she uses (using Squiggly and Aardvark), and I always thought she wasn’t too militant in her suggestions.
But now it is like I just moved into a neighborhood where the person next door has a yard that has been featured in Southern Living. Can I really put out the lawn gnomes and reflector globe? Can I let the crab grass grow at all? Technically I can do whatever I want, but I will certainly feel pressure to raise my standards due to the company I now keep.
Those who have read this blog for any length of time will attest to the presence of typos and odd use of punctuation. I have never quite figured out semicolons, and I like to use dashes a lot. Commas give me a headache as well. I suspect that with my upcoming association with the grammar maven, I will have to step up my game some – not because I must, but because I feel a little more self-conscious.
Doctoring requires a good use of the English language (at least the kind of doctoring I do). In medical school I doubled my vocabulary and greatly expanded my knowledge with real complicated stuff. But I can’t talk to people using the big and impressive doctor words and expect them to benefit; and my job is to use my knowledge to benefit my patients. So I do a lot of translation. I do my best to give patients a basic understanding of what the science is and what my plan is, based on that science. I think I am pretty good at it (some doctors are terrible).
I am not just doing this because I am compassionate, I am doing it because I want my plan to succeed. I want my patients to get better or to stay healthy. This is much less likely to happen if my patients are confused. I try to use understandable words because I hate futility.
But it is one thing to speak, and another to write. My speech doesn’t use commas, dashes, or semicolons. Even though I can still have verbal gaffes, the patient is not likely to catch me on it, as they are more interested in the content. But with the upcoming podcast, even my spoken words will be recorded for posterity. Sure, I will use a script (to some extent), but it just seems to carry more pressure.
Up to now, I have been pretty laid-back when it comes to particulars in grammar. This was highlighted when I used the word “sited” in a post instead of “cited,” causing one reader to comment:
It’s CITED not sited.
I found you through Google Reader’s suggestions. But after reading the first line of the first post I stopped reading.
I know it’s just a blog, but you should use language correctly if you want people take you seriously.
To which I responded:
I don’t know what you are talking about. I see “cited” up there.
Yeah, I edited it. I git that one wrong a lot. Remember, however, that the enemy of better is best. If you don’t read something worth reading simply because of a grammatical error, then perhaps you miss out on some good ideas.
Yes, I know I wrote “git” on purpose.
Oh yes, and thanks for the correction. I hope you enjoy other cites.
Followed by a kind word from a regular reader:
I enjoy it when I see typos in your blog. It makes you seem real and approachable. And it gives me hope for my child who has difficulties with spelling.
So my increased visibility brings increased scrutiny. I promise I will never be a type-A compulsive about my grammar – I think that is a biological impossibility. I am just not wired that way. Nor am I going to change my style to avoid risking a grammatical faux pas. I do agree with the idea of being more “approachable.” It is very important to my readers and future listeners that they see me as a normal person who happens to be a doctor.
But that Southern Living house next door sure does make mine look shabby.This material, written by me, is free to re-post and share under the Creative Commons agreement. In other words, use it all you want; just give me credit.