Friday, March 11, 2011

The Great Grammar Conspiracy

One of the things that fascinates me about the internet itself is how much some very poor writers actually write. I'm not talking about the average mediocre blogger such as myself; in fact, I'm not really talking about bloggers at all.

I'm talking about commenters. You know, the kind I mean. The ones who are filled with absolute confidence in shallow, incoherent thoughts that they express at great length using bad grammar and worse spelling.

I think the confidence part is explained easily enough by good old American "self-esteem" combined with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The spelling and grammar part is more complex. English grammar is complicated, and English spelling is ridiculously inconsistent. Whether it's because of some failing of our schools or some characteristics in themselves, there are people who simply never master some of the formal rules. But I don't have a problem in general with people making grammar and spelling mistakes. (If they're trying to express interesting ideas; unfortunately, there appears to be a strong correlation between bad grammar/spelling and dull ideas.)

What I find interesting about the grammar and spelling of this particular type of commenter, though, is that they don't even seem to know what grammar and spelling are for. Primarily, of course, grammar and spelling are agreed upon rules that smooth communication. By following the rules, we make it easier to understand one another.

Obviously, there are other purposes for grammar and spelling too. They play a role in the aesthetics of language. "Beautiful" language works in part because of its use of grammar, whether it's by following the rules or intentionally bending or even breaking them. And they can serve as markers of class and education. Probably more so in the UK, but definitely in America too, people are sometimes judged and categorized by the way they use language.

But our commenters recognize only that third use, while completely missing the communication and aesthetic aspects of grammar and spelling. To them, grammar and spelling are just tricks that over-educated snobs use to catch out regular people when they can't deal with their common-sense ideas. It's as if they think that grammar and spelling are nothing more than a grand conspiracy perpetrated by elites to make fun of common people.

Of course, the possibility that their ideas are foolish and long-refuted, and that they're not even not even expressing those ideas in an understandable way never even occurs to these commenters. They don't reason well enough to know that they don't reason well, and they don't write well enough to know that their writing is so bad that people struggle to understand it, if anyone bothers to wade through it at all.

Exemplifying the Dunning-Kruger effect, they just go on thinking they're "doing just fine."

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