The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

February 20, 2014

The Mangling of the Language

By Steve Motenko

Where do you stand on the importance of dotting your t’s and crossing your i’s in your use of the language?  (And yes, I know I did that wrong ….)  Are you a grammar Nazi, intolerant of those who refuse to take the time to use the language correctly?  Or do you think of grammar Nazis as tight-assed, petty and officious?

Here’s my bottom line:  the purpose of language is effective communication, period. What fosters effective communication should be considered acceptable, even laudable, irregardless of whether it breaks pre-conceived “rules.”

Now — if I were reading the paragraph above, “irregardless” would have stopped me in my tracks, eliciting negative judgments about the author.  In other words, it would have impeded effective communication.  Maybe you’re not that way.  Maybe you think “irregardless” is an actual word, and so it didn’t impede the flow of your reading in the least.

I took part in a recent LinkedIn discussion headlined, “Are You a Grammar Bully?”  Participants came down passionately on both sides of the debate.  And even among the self-professed perfectionists, I found multiple grammatical, spelling, punctuation and syntactical errors in their posts.  Question is, Do they get in the way of my tracking or understanding the comment?  If so, it’s ineffective communication, because it’s not landing cleanly in me, the reader.  If not, the communication works.

Bottom line: it’s not about the “rules.”  It’s about your audience, and whether following the rules matters to their understanding.  I, like many of those in LinkedIn discussion, tend to be somewhat of a language Nazi.  I correct people (privately, of course) who want to learn, who care about how their language lands in the receiver, who understand that the cleaner your language, the larger the audience that will respond positively to it. 

But it’s all about the audience.  If you’re writing to an audience that doesn’t care about the rules, that doesn’t know the difference between “they’re,” “their,” and “there,” there’s not much need to care about the rules yourself.  Unless you just like being a pompous tight-ass.

Listen to The Boss Show episode on this topic.


About the Author

Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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