January 20, 2005
Perry de Havilland says that old fashioned good grammar just might be making a comeback on the Internet

Earlier this evening I was socialising at Perry de Havilland's. It was essentially a meeting between these people and some of the starrier of these people, among them the people who actually first wrote the software that this blog uses to run itself. Had I truly understood who they all were exactly (one of them was definitely this lady and I sat next to this gentleman), I would probably have felt even more insignificant than I did.

I was only there at all in order to return a copy of a magazine in which an article about Adriana appeared, which I had been scanning in text and the photo from, and I had to leave early. But before I did, I picked up an interesting little observation from Perry de Havilland.

Perry spends quite a bit of time participating in on-line chat-rooms (please forgive my approximate spelling there) mostly on the subject of computer games, concerning which Perry is an enthusiast rather in the way that I enthuse about classical CDs. And Perry reckoned that he might (he's not sure but … might) have spotted an interesting trend, with clear educational vibes attached to it.

During the last year or so, Perry says, he thinks he has spotted, in the many chat-rooms he frequents, a somewhat new attitude towards English grammar. Whereas in former times, chatterers would chat away using very bad spelling, worse punctuation and with no apparent idea of the meaning of the word 'paragraph', such chatterers are now starting to be criticised by more orthodox and easily understood contributors. Several times lately, for instance, a chatterer has erupted with a list of queries presented as a slab of miss-spelt gobbledegeek, and the very first responder has responded along lines like these: "I probably could answer your questions, but first I would have to understand what the hell you are talking about, which I presently do not. Try spelling words correctly. Try using capitals at the beginnings of sentences. Punctuate. Arrange separate questions in separate paragraphs. In general, make an effort to be understood and to make sense. Until you do, I have nothing more to say to you." Harsh! But: interesting!

Will this kind of pro-grammar heckling have consequences? If it gets louder in volume and vehemence, then it is surely bound to.

Perry and I were interrupted about half way through making the following point, so this next bit may only be my opinion and not Perry's. But as I recall it we were both converging on the notion that what is happening here is that human beings, so to speak, are entering chat-rooms hitherto mostly inhabited by extreme geeks, and these humans are bringing with them their old fashioned ideas about how well-written English is easier to understand than semi-literate techno-babble, or just plain babble.

Personally, I am startled by the illiteracy and bad spelling of some (but not most) blog comments, not all of which is at all explicable as merely caused by haste and/or poor (or no) checking. But that is a value judgement, and is not the central point I am making here, i.e. that Perry was making. The point here is that old fashioned grammatical correctness, quite aside from how much people like me prefer it, may actually, as a matter of fact, be making a come-back, and what is more doing so in an arena hitherto assumed to be a force only for grammatical anarchy.

Personally I have had very little to do with chat-rooms, and a lot of that is because of my prejudice that they abound with – often deliberately – lousy grammar. Blogs, in general, certainly the ones I read regularly, tend to be far better written. They are written by humans, for humans.

Which is all part of why the people I met earlier this evening are all of them so splendid. I wish them all, both my friends in the Big Blog Company and the Six Apart/Movable Type possee, the very best of good fortune. They deserve it.

I checked this posting more carefully than usual for grammatical errors, for obvious reasons. Deep apologies for any grammatical errors that still remain.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:55 PM
Category: BloggingGrammarLiteracy