I spent a lot of time browsing web forums in the early 2000s, before the genesis of social media. I was a stickler for proper grammar in everything I posted, spending an inordinate amount of time correcting typos and grammar issues I deemed unacceptable in others’ posts. When texting became the norm, I painstakingly typed out each character and punctuation mark as correctly as possible. I looked down on others who bypassed grammar in favor of speed.
Now, as social media has become mainstream, I have long forsaken that old ideal that communication relies on impeccable grammar, and any decline in grammatical writing was a sure sign that society was about to slip into chaos.
There is undoubtedly a place for grammar rules. In fact, prescribing to a set of rules in editing is important for consistency and readability. However, there still needs to be an openness to the fact that language does change, and that messages littered with emojis and new slang phrases do not signify a drop in the intelligence of our youth.
In the 1960s, words such a “funky” and “cool” were deemed slang that would never catch on. Yet, sixty years later, those words have ingrained themselves in the zeitgeist of our language. Just because a word or usage is new does not mean it is inherently incorrect. Language marks shifts in culture, and often, when a cultural shift is different than what we were used to growing up, we react negatively.
English spoken a thousand years ago is no longer intelligible to a modern English speaker. Shakespeare’s English of five hundred years ago is difficult for our modern ears to decipher. We have words and phrases in frequent use today that didn’t exist twenty years ago.
So, while grammatical correctness, word choice, syntax, and punctuation are important parts of formal communication, informal communication is littered with fascinating new structures, words, and abbreviations that may one day be accepted in formal writing. As a writer or editor, it is important to pay attention to changes in language, to understand cultural dynamics, so you can write and respond to your audience appropriately.