How to get comments

On the Shoebox Blog site, this Chuck & Beans cartoon by brian:

Certainly Kyle Wiens got an extraordinary number of comments on his July 20th posting on the Harvard Business Review blogs, “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.” — over 2600, the last time I looked.

Some of the flavor of the posting:

… [Lynne] Truss and I disagree on what it means to have “zero tolerance.” She thinks that people who mix up their itses “deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave,” while I just think they deserve to be passed over for a job — even if they are otherwise qualified for the position.

… grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn’t make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.

Good grammar makes good business sense — and not just when it comes to hiring writers. Writing isn’t in the official job description of most people in our office. Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers.

… Grammar signifies more than just a person’s ability to remember high school English. I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.

In the linguablogger world, I’ve seen replies from Geoff Pullum on Language Log (“Fiddling with spelling shibboleths while the economy burns”, here) and Lane Greene on the Economist blog (“Language and computers”, on the extent to which language and computer code are analogous, here). On Geoff’s point, note that all of the “grammar mistakes” Wiens mentions have to do with punctuation or spelling or both: apostrophe use, comma use, its vs. it’s, their vs. there vs. they’re — matters that have extremely little to do with effective writing. But Wiens believes that such things provide a measure of general attention to detail, and even floats the hypothesis that performance on his garmmra test correlates with accuracy in other tasks — a hypothesis that I believe has never been carefully tested, but represents a bit of dogma on Wiens’s part.

Then the comments, overwhelming in their number and their passion. Commenters picked on virtually every sentence of Wiens’s piece, raging about his beginning sentences with and and but, a split infinitive, the failure to capitalize Internet, the spelling apologize (instead of “correct” English apologise), a stranded rather than fronted preposition, the Oxford comma (“superfluous and poor grammar!”), and on and on. Then the commenters, a number of whom made inadvertent typos of the most ordinary sort, were attacked by others for their poor proofreading skills, while others were pilloried for their non-native English.

It’s enough to make an actual grammarian (like me) weep.

7 Responses to “How to get comments”

  1. Melinda Says:

    Towards Usenet’s middle age (mid-to-late 90s or so) it became the case in the technical groups, or at least the Unix ones, that asking a question almost never got an answer. The way to get a question answered was to post something that was just plain wrong and then wait to be corrected.

  2. Nancy Friedman (@Fritinancy) Says:

    Cunningham’s Law: “The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it’s to post the wrong answer.”'s_Law

    And, of course:

  3. Ryan Says:

    You misspelled “Grammar” in your second paragraph.

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