One bonehead grammatical error too many (I think it was "you're" for "your") sent me over the edge, and I was compelled to publish "10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid." And now I've become addicted to its discussion thread, which has taken off in about 50 directions.
There's something for everyone there. A forum for expressing your own peeves or ranting against someone else's. Lessons in linguistics and cultural history. A little badinage between proponents of the Queen's (or King's) English and that lazy Americanized version. The overzealous, the anti-zealous, the l33t busters, the "let's break all the rules" camp, the "language is going to hell" doomsayers.
A couple of times, I've been forced to drag down a dusty copy of Chicago Style Manual or Words into Type to check on something I sort of remembered as a rule that various publishers insisted I adhere to. To which they insisted I adhere. Mostly, I've been vindicated. Although, as one member pointed out to me, "grammar" is a noun not an adjective, so the title of my article is incorrect (and yeah, makes me look stupid!).
Anyway, I stand by the list of 10 things as mainstream mistakes that are commonly regarded as red flags signaling careless or ignorant usage. But of course, it doesn't stop there.
I also understand that our language is evolving, there are a million regional/cultural differences, there are plenty of good reasons to break the rules, and many editorial conventions are based merely on someone's preference or whim somewhere up the line.
I'm a big advocate of what I think of as "business casual" writing. Solid writing, but relaxed enough to let the writer's voice come through. I don't run my contributors' articles through some grammatical grinder so that it's neatly packaged according to stringent rules but homogenized and devoid of flavor. (No really I don't!)
It comes down to two things for me, whether I'm writing or editing: Is the information expressed clearly, concisely, and logically? And is it free of glaring mistakes that could confuse or distract the reader? Anything beyond that is a bonus: a clever lead; a subtle, ingenious subtext; a compelling story; humor (done well); the refreshing absence of worn-out pop culture references, cliches, and statements of the obvious.
I think good writing is better than correct writing. But the editor in me wants both.
Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior features editor for Tech Pro Research.