Punctuation is powerful stuff. True, nobody ever died from a misplaced exclamation mark, but let’s not risk it. I’m a constant corrector and it drives those non grammar, spelling and punctuation Zealots around me crazy – particularly my husband. Luckily most of my friends and colleagues are of like mind and nothing lights our collective touchpaper like a greengrocers’ apostrophe or a fiery debate about the Oxford comma. In fact, several of my work colleagues and I once demanded to be moved from a restaurant table right next to a sign announcing the toilet’s. It wasn’t the toilets themselves that were offensive, only the sign – a sign that someone had gone to the trouble to paint on the wall, error and all. Only last week I tweeted Good Morning Britain to point out a faux pas in a news banner that appeared on my TV screen as I prepared for another day of vigorous punctuating and grammar correcting in the day job. (I didn’t get a reply but I felt slightly superior all day) It’s a legal judgment in case you’re interested – see pic. And one thing I do know about is a missing E.
But how much does such pedantry still matter in the modern world? Who really cares if you can’t spell or your grammar is sloppy? Is knowing that they’re going there in their car important? (Carrie Bradshaw was gleeful in Sex and the City on discovering that her ex’s new wife didn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’.) Wearing my legal proofreader hat, perfect grammar and punctuation is vital. As a writer, I maintain that it’s all about presentation and polish and attention to detail. What about everyday life? I really would have to think twice about using a company whose promotional material offered Removal Quote’s or Decorating Service’s: if you’ve put that little thought into the detail of your advert, what is your end product going to be like? I’m sure that Daves Removal Service’s (No Job To Small) do a sterling job and they are, after all, in the business of hefting about boxes and not proofreading. But those errors would grate.
Similarly a journalist friend recently confessed that she disregards any reviews of hotels or restaurants containing dreadful spelling and no punctuation. I’m just the same: if you, the reviewer don’t care about the quality of your writing then surely our views and tastes cannot possibly be similar? And I’m not talking about dyslexia here or those for whom English is a second language, just people who don’t care. How can you not care?
Much as I long to prowl the streets with a large permanent marker pen to correct all those signs and A frames I do try very hard to fight such snobbery. I know lovely people who don’t think being able to use a semi-colon correctly is at all important and even schools don’t place as much emphasis as they used to on getting grammar and spelling right. What hope is there for future generations? Or will the need for perfect punctuation soon be as obsolete as the video player?
So as an experiment I tried to relax my punctuation and grammar a little in texts and instant messages. It was tough but guess what? The world kept turning. I carried on breathing in and out. Nothing major happened. Nobody even mentioned it. I even bit my lip – hard – when someone said a friend of theirs ‘should of’ done something. That took some effort. But stop off at the stall near work selling ‘Tea’s and Coffee’s’? I’m still working on that.