Erika on Grammar Rules for Digital Communication

The following is a guest post from Associate Editor & Copy Manager Erika Spelman on  following or ignoring the rules for correct grammar and punctuation when writing emails or sending texts.

“Thanks, there’s no rush, since I don’t have a record player.”

I recently wrote this incorrectly punctuated and arguably stylistically flawed sentence in an email to someone who apologized for not yet having returned my old collection of vinyl records. I thought about it consciously before sending it. Would a period after “Thanks” be interpreted as irritation? A semicolon would have been pretentious. A dash might seem too hurried. A comma, though incorrect, seemed friendlier.

Although my last blog post argued with grammarians who frown at the use of “since” to mean “because,” I still secretly feel like I’m getting away with something not quite proper when I use it this way. “Because” in this reply would not have meant the same thing. To me, using “because” would have signified that the cause of there being no rush was that I didn’t have a record player. I did not mean to indicate a causal relationship but to mention a factor that helped explain my feeling that there was no rush.

The aforementioned email is just one example of electronic communications in which I deliberately use incorrect punctuation and less formal syntax than I would in other writing, and I know of other grammar sticklers who confess to doing the same thing. One friend, who is one of the few people I know who actually uses the word “whom” correctly in casual speech, gets worried if I end a text message with a period and will call me to see if I’m angry. Another, whose first reaction to a rather long email I showed her from someone else was that it contained no typos or grammatical mistakes, agreed with me when I described my deliberation regarding the period, semicolon, dash, and comma options in the construction “Thanks, there’s no rush.“ Yes, this shows how much I thought about it–I actually consulted someone I trust who has equal respect for the rules of grammar!

Much has been said about the butchering of the written word stemming from the conventions of text messaging. Going for the fastest and least typing-intensive means of expression is one thing; deliberately breaking rules even when it makes one feel uncomfortable to do so is another.

What rules of grammar do you knowingly break when sending electronic communications?

Erika Spelman is an associate editor and copy manager at AMACOM. She shepherds books through the production process, helps set house style, and serves as a resource regarding style, word usage, and grammar for the company. Prior to joining AMACOM, Erika worked as a principal manuscript editor at West Group and as a proofreader at Counsel Press.

Earlier Posts:
Erika on the Top Ten Copyediting Mistakes
Erika on the Noble Art of Proofreading
Erika on an Associate Editor’s Role in Interior Book Design

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