White House: Retired teacher fixed Trump’s letter about gun policy and sent it back. – The Washington Post

“If I had received this from one of my students,” Yvonne Mason said, “I would have handed it back without a grade on it and said, ‘I hope you left the real one at home.’ ”

Source: White House: Retired teacher fixed Trump’s an letter about gun policy and sent it back. – The Washington Post

This isn’t another political statement, but rather an amusing story that I can relate to easily.  I keep hearing arguments from some that language is always evolving, and while it’s true, good grammar doesn’t change as quickly. After at least a thousand years of English evolution, grammar is pretty much stable, I’d say, these days. And you would think that those at the highest echelons of the U.S. government would understand the basics, at least.

Nope.

So, to see this English teacher not only send the letter back with corrections, but also the reference to a government plain-language site just thrills me.

I found out that I will be teaching another class in the fall at NJIT’s MSPTC program, and it touches on this topic–proper grammar and editing. So you can guess that lately, I’ve been digging into grammar texts and such with a little more vigor than I have in a while, and enjoying the process.  So to see this example–well, it might be used in class in the fall. 🙂

What do you think? Should the government–especially high offices–be held accountable for their use of grammar and how they use language? Include your comments below.

–TechCommGeekMom

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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2 Responses to White House: Retired teacher fixed Trump’s letter about gun policy and sent it back. – The Washington Post

  1. Al Brown says:

    I agree that formal government documents should meet high standards, since they represent the country as much as the flag does. Isn’t there an official style guide, and someone like an editor-in-chief to enforce it? This goes to the importance of audience and purpose. And, of course, the primary concern for clarity (although that might not always be a priority these days).
    However I respectfully disagree that English grammar is “pretty much stable…these days.” It seems we’ve entered a period of grammatical upheaval, and changes are happening more rapidly than ever. The erosion of the objective case–“I” vs “me”–is a case in point. Beginning a sentence with a conjunction would have enraged my 8th grade teacher, but I did it a few sentences ago with nary a qualm. The key is always clarity, and grammar, by and large, provides the framework for it.

    • We’ll have to agree to disagree. Your use of a conjunction in a sentence is not quite valid, as it’s in the form of a question, not a statement. It’s not uncommon in many languages to put the verb (even if it’s a conjunction) first when asking a questions. The “I” versus “me” battle continues to rage on, as does the Oxford comma. I was recently editing a document where many commas were left out, and it made me crazy! There’s a large movement to remove commas, too, but I’ll be damned if things don’t get confusing if you leave them out. It’s the old, “Let’s eat Grandma” versus “Let’s eat, Grandma” and then some. If I didn’t put some commas in, it would be as if I didn’t take a pause to breathe! So, I think there are still some hard and fast rules that are there, but some of the supposed changes in the last five to ten years (social media, people?) are due to just plain laziness, if you ask me. I remember a job I had (one that prompted me to look into technical communications in the first place) whereby my boss was amazed that I still held onto “old school” grammar rules when editing–which she liked. Heck, I must be doing something right. I got an A at a graduate level technical editing course years ago for my Master’s class (which was at least 90% about grammar rules), and now I’m about to teach the same class in the fall (provided enough people register). This is not to say that I’m an expert not to be crossed, but rather, that I think I have a pretty good idea, even after examining other languages, that rules are not changed as fast as that in almost any language, including English.

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