All your burning grammar questions answered

In our interview with Lisa Kitteringham of Lexica Communications, we talk gendered pronouns, emoticons, and Danish comedians!

Kendra: Let’s start easy! What are your thoughts on the singular “their”?

Lisa: I’m into it! “His or hers” is clunky and everyone knows exactly what you mean when you’re using “their” – assuming, of course, that the rest of the sentence is put together grammatically. Using “he” or “she” without knowing the gender of the person being spoken of is awkward and politically loaded, but I think “they” does the job nicely.

Random fact: the Finnish language doesn’t use a gendered third-person pronoun at all; their pronoun includes anyone and everyone. How awesome and inclusive is that?!

Kendra: What about Oxford commas?

Lisa: Useful sometimes, useless other times. In our own style guide, I encourage my editors to use it if it increases clarity but let it go if necessary. Clarity over grammatical policing!

Kendra: What’s your biggest grammar-related pet peeve?

Lisa: Overuse of commas, especially after the word “and.” If you wouldn’t pause there while speaking, a comma doesn’t belong!

Kendra: I definitely have the tendency to be comma-happy! So, why do you believe grammar is important?

Lisa: Proper grammar clarifies the message. That being said, “proper” grammar is a creation of a specific time, place, and class of people that are able to dictate the “standard” of a language. Without diving into the entire issue, there are many “grammars” that make complete internal sense but aren’t codified into an Oxford English Dictionary and so are considered “improper.” The decisions on what is proper and improper are often dictated by demographics: those who are lucky enough to be born into and educated within a certain system get to decide what enters the mainstream and becomes “proper English.” The singular “they” as an option for people who do not identify with traditional gender binaries is actually a symptom of a massive societal shift towards inclusivity that has not been reflected in the English language before now – standard English has traditionally favoured the straight, white male.

Of course, proper grammar not only clarifies the message but reflects the writer in a very specific way. We judge people by their words in every interaction, and ungrammatical writing makes the writer look unprofessional. The written word is a gateway to the mind of the reader, and proper grammar allows the gates to stay open for the ideas to filter through.

Also, proper punctuation gives the message colour and emotion (you didn’t ask, but you get a 2-for-1 here). Punctuation provides a level of nuance that enhances the words that it surrounds. Victor Borge was an amazing Danish comedian who read text and vocalized the pronunciation: check it out here because it is hilarious and will make you think of punctuation in an entirely new way.

Kendra: That might be my new favourite video! Speaking of emotion, how do you feel about emoticons and pop culture short forms like ‘c u’?

Lisa: Emoticons: yes. Tone is occasionally hard to convey in texting and emoticons can ensure the proper message comes across and nobody gets offended. Personally, I know I can be blunt, but the proper emoticon gives some context.

Short forms: awful no never. Never will I ever use “u” instead of “you” or (the WORST offender) “ur” instead of “your.” If someone I dated used that awful, ugly word, I would consider it a deal-breaker. No word of a lie.

Kendra: When you text your friends, do you use punctuation?

Lisa: Generally, yes. I agonize at times over the proper ending to a sentence. Hey! Hey? Hey. Hey… the nuances are endless.

Kendra: What’s your favourite grammar joke?

Lisa: This.