Grammar police lash out with sharpened tongues

Steve Hirano, Editor
Posted on December 1, 2000

In my last editorial I discussed a traffic ticket and a sullen highway patrol officer. I’d like to talk about the police again, but in a different context. This time I want to discuss the grammar police on the Internet. They don’t carry guns or nightsticks, but their tongues are pretty sharp. They patrol The Forums at SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s Website ( with extraordinary vigor. These electronic vigilantes take great exception to every message or reply with misspellings, poor punctuation or usages at odds with Strunk and White. While I commend them for their defense of the English language, I think their energies are misplaced.

Let’s focus on the message
After all, is it really important if a message contains typos or sloppy grammar? As long as it’s reasonably clear and understandable, I think it should be left alone. The intent of The Forums is to give pupil transportation professionals a place to trade ideas, share opinions and gather information — not to show off their understanding of faulty construction and misplaced modifiers. Having said this, I do have a pet peeve — MESSAGES WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS! They’re difficult to read, especially when they span several lines. Having castigated the grammar police, I must now try to defend them. In many cases, they are not intending to belittle their comrades, but rather trying to improve the image of the profession. Their sniping is motivated by the fear that parents, teachers, school administrators, students or any other “civilians” who visit The Forums will look down upon the school transportation industry as a whole because its members cannot express themselves effectively. Well, I’ve seen other online discussion groups in which the spelling, grammar and syntax of the users are far worse than in The Forums. In addition, in many of these discussion groups the name-calling, insults and baiting go well beyond anything I’ve seen at the SBF Website. The vast majority of the communication in The Forums is well mannered, polite and helpful. Just like the vast majority of bus riders are well behaved. It’s that other 2 or 3 percent that make life so . . . interesting.

Yes, the censors are watching
As long as I’m addressing online discussions, I’d also like to take the opportunity to explain my policy on censorship. Although I occasionally remove messages from The Forums that I find offensive, obscene or defamatory, I’m not inclined to remove a message simply because it’s critical of something or someone (even if that something is SBF). Occasionally, this let-the-children-play policy results in flame wars, in which two or more people engage in an online hair-pulling contest. I discourage this type of activity, not only because it consumes bandwidth but also because it’s petty and non-productive. Again, having said that, I don’t necessarily remove the posts. Argument for the sake of argument is wasteful, but it’s not offensive. But more to the point, I ignore the quarrel so I can focus my attention on more important matters, like the weird gurgling noise emanating from our downstairs toilet. The point is, if you don’t want to subject yourself to these types of online “discussions,” for lack of a better word, don’t read them. If you don’t want to watch a ridiculous TV talk show orchestrated by the likes of Jerry Springer or Ricki Lake, apply controlled thumb pressure to the remote control and, voila, they go away. Reminds me of that old vaudeville joke — Patient: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” Doctor: “Don’t do that.”

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