Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Respect Your Reader

Welcome to (yet) another edition of “Yes, Writing Well Really Is Important.”

In my last post, I shared a few observations stemming from a very animated discussion on a local news station’s comment board. A user with the handle of “Old Town” not-so-gently advised a young man to use proper grammar, capitalization, and punctuation if he wanted others to better understand his viewpoint.

I agree with the sentiment, if not Old Town’s choice of time and place to offer this guidance. Considering that the distraught young man had just lost a beloved family pet, his lack of grammar skills probably could have been overlooked. But Old Town does have a point: A person’s communication skills (or lack thereof) affect how that person comes across to others.

Typically, I avoid the comments section of online news articles like I avoid running off of cliffs with a bungee cord tied to my ankle, or jumping out of mechanically sound airplanes. Modern media affords anyone the ability to comment on online articles, and many people use – and abuse – that privilege. My experience is that pertinent and well-written comments are the exception, with the norm being something like, “Thes peole dont know what your talking about, get you fact strait.” Not the type of writing I want to spend time trying to decipher, and I know I'm far from alone in that regard.

If you want to establish any sort of credibility with a reader, and if you want folks to understand your message, you need to write clearly and correctly. Period. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a report for work, using social media, or participating in an online discussion. Say your piece and say it well. Good writing shows respect for the writer as well as the audience. Respect your reader.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rough Week for Broadcasting

My favorite local TV news station has had a bit of a rough week. First, an anchor presenting a segment about a man burned in a small kitchen fire either read some bad copy or suffered a slip of the tongue when relaying advice from the fire department:

“…every home should have a fire hydrant in the kitchen…”

Fire hydrants are, of course, the very large metal devices located on street corners that supply water to fire engines. You know – like this:

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
The anchor obviously meant to say “fire extinguisher,” which is one of these:

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Fortunately, this important safety tip was correctly reported in the station’s online story:

“Every home should have a fire extinguisher rated for use in a variety of fires, firefighters said.”

The same station's online accuracy took a hit a few days later in a story about a man who fought off a pair of loose dogs that attacked his dog, and then attacked him:

“The man ran out to help his dog and was bitten in the process. It's unclear which man bit the dog.

Several commenters pointed out this cranial cramp before the comments section spiraled into a heated debate over dog breeds, gun rights, and general insults about who was being ruder to whom on the forum. Predictably, a few people rebutted the “typo police” with their own misspelled, incorrectly punctuated, uncapitalized, run-on comments. My favorite, reprinted here verbatim, came from “Melissa”:

“omg, its called a typo, there news casters! normal people like you and me, there not the gods of grammar, get over it for crying out loud.”

To which “lsilvest” replied:

“They are paid professionals (ostensibly) and are held to a higher standard.  They should know how to use a spell-checker and should always proof read their articles.  The posts from the local stations consistently have errors, many of which actually change the meaning and are often misleading.”

(Such as confusing a fire hydrant with a fire extinguisher…)

So why are typos such a big deal? One answer can be found in a commenter’s advice to an emotionally charged young man whose own dog was attacked and killed by the same pair of loose dogs:

“Please try some grammar/capitalzation[sic]/punctuation. It may help others understand your position.”

More on that in my next post…

Sunday, February 12, 2012

For Want of an Apostrophe

There’s a punctuation controversy in the Pikes Peak region that, apparently, continues to drive certain grammarians absolutely bonkers: the lack of an apostrophe in “Pikes Peak.”

Having lived in the area most of my life, I’ve simply grown accustomed to the spelling of Pikes Peak sans apostrophe. But the story of how this spelling developed was lost in cranial space until I was reminded of it this past week.

The short answer: It’s the government’s fault.

The slightly longer answer for you history buffs: The majestic mountain that overlooks Colorado Springs was named after explorer Zebulon Pike, who was dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson to survey the southwestern borders of the Louisiana Purchase. The name originally shown on maps was “Pike’s Peak,” with the apostrophe. Then the apostrophe disappeared.

According to the “Did You Ever Wonder?” column in the Gazette:

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names was created by the President in 1890. It removed most of the apostrophes from the geographic locations including mountains, bodies of water, etc., because the apostrophe denotes possession.

Six exceptions included: Martha’s Vineyard (1933) because of a vocal local campaign and Clark’s Mountain in Oregon (2002), requested  “to correspond with the personal references to Lewis and Clark.”

Additionally, the “Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain” web page says a law passed by the Colorado state legislature in 1978 mandates usage of “Pikes Peak.”

You will still see references to “Pike’s Peak,” but they’re probably written by rebellious grammarians.