When I was in grade school, I was a bully. I punched a lot of kids and even stabbed one with a pencil. I have older brothers, and I have had anger issues, but I still feel bad about my behavior. Once I got to high school, however, there was a paradigm shift. I was picked on by these jock twin brothers who played basketball and made out with girls. They took it upon themselves to frequently remind me that I was a "fag." I was lucky to avoid physical torment, but as it stood, I still couldn't defend myself. In their limited scope, "fag" meant uncool and I was. I was a nerd. I obviously resented their bullying, but at least it gave me perspective and I vowed to never bully anyone ever again. A few days ago, however, I failed. I bullied a professional basketball player in the nerdiest way possible.
I majored in English in college, and when I text, my grammar is impeccable. My sister's boyfriend, a fancy lawyer, says he feels self-conscious when we G-chat, because I punctuate with such vigor. This is a nerdy attribute, no doubt. However, in the way that we all currently communicate, I contend that proper punctuation is more important than ever. The majority of my relationships are maintained, not face to face, but through written electronic messages; G-chat, AIM, Facebook, Twitter, text messages and even the chat window in a game of Words With Friends. Punctuation, grammar and syntax are a standard. Deviation from this standard can highlight tone and make the intent of one's words much clearer. When I type in all caps, you better believe those words are to be emphasized when read aloud.
For a long time (let's just say from the advent of the written word until Myspace), the only words that were indiscriminately disseminated to the public were written by professionals: newspapers, advertisements, books, pamphlets, journals, etc... Today however, a massive amount of the text that comes across my computer screen is written by amateurs. This is not where I have issue. Amateurs can do great work (and I'm not just talking about pornography, although I am ALSO talking about pornography.) In the case of Facebook, many a cyber-soapbox is stood upon (the following also applies to the "comments" section of any news site). If a "friend" of mine wants to share his views on how terrible he thinks the administration is, then I'll be open to hear his views. I think that's the social contract we all accept when we click "Confirm Friend Request." But if the argument starts with "Mr. Obama, your an idiot," then whatever my "friend" says next is irrelevant. I believe that, if one's words are intended for public viewing, then the validity of their messages should be colored by grammatical execution.
To dissuade critics from saying that my point of view is purely elitist, classist or any other "ist," allow me to clarify. I don't have a problem with people who never learned the difference between "your" and "you're:" The shortcomings of the educational system in The United States are an entirely different subject. My problem is that if a person is going to make an argument or declaration that includes facts or even just an effort to persuade, then they must at least adhere to the lowest common denominator of a written argument to be taken seriously.
This brings me to my bullying and now apology to Dion Waiters. In a series of tweets responding to his comment about not wanting to be a bench player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dion used poor grammar. I rarely write a message on Twitter to a person with whom I'm not personally connected. A few days ago, however, I chose to "call out" Dion's syntax in a public tweet. It was a chump move and the nerdiest bully of all time. Dion, I apologize, it was mocking, insensitive and elitist. My issues aren't with you, my issues (obviously) lie a bit deeper.
I acted out of fear. I'm fearful that literacy, a skill that used to separate the masses from the ruling classes, is falling away again. Many preach about social and economic inequality and I think a symptom of that problem is the lack of standards in our public discourse. If basic spelling and grammar dissolve and people stop communicating face to face, then we'll become more and more separated as a society.
Alas, I'm just left more questions; am I on the wrong side of history on this one? Should all people who send their words out into the ether be held to the same standards? Am I the poor communicator, using my rigid grammatical rules, and people like Dion are truly communicating with a 21st-century readership? And finally, if there is a type-o in this article, how embarrassed will I be?
I look forward to you're comments.
Follow Josh Stein-Sapir on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joshopolis