Ignorance or Sincerity?

By Maeve Maddox

Grammar consultants are in great demand these days by employers who fear that the inability of their employees to speak and write grammatically gives their businesses a black eye.

In addition to including English lessons in their employee training programs, some administrators go so far as to correct subordinates as they go about their work.

The senior vice president of a marketing and crisis-communications company in Florida interrupted an employee at a staff meeting to correct her failure to make subject and verb agree. She’d said, “There’s new people you should meet.” The v-p said he “cringes” every time he hears people use “is” when the subject calls for “are.”

The usage the Florida vice-president objected to was lack of subject/verb agreement in an expletive sentence. Although still an accepted target of revision in written English, this error is so common in spoken English that I thought everyone had given up on it in conversation.

What the staff member said: “There’s new people you should meet.”
What she should have said: “There are new people you should meet.”

Or, she could have avoided an expletive sentence altogether and said something like, “I’d like to introduce some new people.”

Not all employers are bothered by nonstandard usage. The v-p of a software company in Seattle values “sincerity and clarity” more than “the king’s grammar.” According to this businessman, “Those who can be sincere, and still text and Twitter and communicate on Facebook are the ones who are going to succeed.”

According to Tammy Erickson, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, younger speakers aren’t necessarily ignorant of correct usage; they just don’t think it matters as much as “sincerity in communication.”

So, when a young employee says, “Me and my colleagues want to meet with she and Mr. Singh about the the new design,” is he merely being sincere? Or is he kissing his chances for promotion good-bye?

Erickson says that younger speakers don’t see correct speech as an emblem of intelligence or education. I suppose that’s not a problem if they go to work for someone like the man in Seattle, but I suspect that the attitude of the v-p in Florida is going to prevail in the work place for a long time yet.

Youthful job seekers may not regard correct speech as an emblem of education or intelligence, but they’d be wise to look upon it as a mark of professionalism.

Every occupation has professional standards. One of the skills required of any white collar worker is–or should be–the ability to speak and write a standard form of English.

As long as English remains a medium of global communication, native speakers who can’t be bothered to master a standard form of it for professional purposes are inflicting an unnecessary economic disadvantage on themselves.

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13 Responses to “Ignorance or Sincerity?”

  • Vicki Boyd

    Very insightful information. Before I retired, I found the lack of communication skills among IT professionals disturbing. Of course, thier lack of ability to document thier own programs, provided me with a lot of work!

  • John

    “They just don’t think it matters as much as “sincerity in communication”.

    However, how can I figure out how much of (your) “communication” is really “sincere” if your English is not clear and correct at all?

  • Shawn Hartwell

    Very informative post. I will have to watch my speech next time I send out a batch of resumes.

    Does anyone have stories regarding situations such as these? I’d love to hear them!

  • Lissa Johnston

    Ugh I hope this doesn’t mean proper grammar is going the way of the dodo and cursive handwriting . . .

  • Bill

    A software company v-p doesn’t require precision from his staff? That kind of thinking may explain why healthcare.gov is such an embarrassment to the White House. Saying “there is some new people” and similar things leaves other interpretations. Was she referring to a group but dropping the word? The lack of subject-verb agreement has gotten much worse over the past two decades. Why? Are we all getting dumber? I hear non-native speakers speaking better English than we do. That shouldn’t be the case.

  • Michael Tevlin

    “God does not much mind bad grammar, but He does not take any particular pleasure in it.” — Erasmus, as quoted in “Style, Ten Lessons in Clarity & Grace,” by Joseph M. Williams. That software company executive would do well to get a copy and work through the ten lessons with his staff.

  • Miss. D’arcy

    I think its kind of rude, to blame youth for bad grammar. Whenever grammar becomes a topic of debate, I would say it’s all about demographics and education, however, just because someone doesn’t speak accurately, does not make them less educated either, and vice versa, I’ve met people who appear to smart, but are truly dumb.

    Everyone makes a glitch here, and there, its truly not a big deal. I met many people older than me, with terrible grammar. Everyone is to blame, not just Generation Y.

  • AinOakPark

    We were interviewing for a position in our company. At first we assumed one applicant was a non-native English speaker. When she informed us that, in fact, she was born in the USA and had spoken English all through school, she fell out of favor and did not get the job. While I know little about grammar rules, I am lucky to come from a well-spoken family (I am a second generation American), so my spoken and written language is good. I still have a lot to learn, and I enjoy this site.

  • Terry Mitchell

    Re: Ignorance or sincerity?

    I must side with those who prefer proper grammar and spelling. After all, how else can we identify those sincere messages from the 419 crowd in Nigeria?

  • Dale A. Wood

    Note: “We were interviewing for a position in our company.”

    The verb “to interview” is a transitive verb. In other words, it always requires a direct object – or else it is used in the passive voice.

    Thus, what was left out was “We were interviewing whom?”
    Were they interviewing candidates, applicants, people chosen randomly on the sidewalk, prisoners being released on parole, etc.
    D.A.W.

  • thebluebird11

    Where is DAW when you need him?
    @Miss. D’arcy: It’s people who write as you do who give Gen Y its bad rap. I assume, from your post, that you’re on the young side, and maybe that’s why posters here didn’t swat you. Like them, I’m not going to correct the many errors in your post; copy and paste it into Word and do a spellcheck, AND, since some of your errors may not be caught that way, run it by an older person who knows grammar and punctuation and can do a good proofreading job. Then come back here and apologize for whining. Not everyone is to blame, and only YOU are to blame for your own deficiencies.

  • AinOakPark

    @ Dale A. Wood

    Thank you for your instruction. It was very helpful. Now my language skills are a bit better.

  • AinOakPark

    @ thebluebird11: I am not young, but I appreciate not being swatted. Wink, wink.

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