Grammar and Social Media

Let’s face it.  In some way, social media is a part of all our lives.  Whether you Post, Insta, Tweet, Snapchat, or Pin you probably use social media tens if not hundreds of times a day.  An entire industry has been created around it and, arguably, an entire new culture as well. And in this brave new world of communication, a wholly new aspect of our language has been created. Don’t be scared of it; look at it as the next step in the evolution of our lexicon!  I’m not here to comment on the societal impact of social media or its effect on our children and I pass no judgement on its merits or faults.  The plain truth is that people use it.  I use it.  So let’s use it well.

Grammar on social media is much more relaxed than in traditional writing or even email.  We must make every character count.  This offers wonderful opportunities in the world of editing, but I’ll touch on that later.  For now, the first piece of advice I offer is this: know your audience.

Chatting with friends is probably where grammar on social media is most relaxed.  Basic communication is the prime objective.  If you skip commas, use acronyms or jargon, or pepper it with emojis, your friends will understand what you are getting at.  It’s a veritable free for all.  However, please, please don’t forget those periods!  There is nothing worse (okay, there are worse things but this one is pretty bad) than having to read and re-read a post multiple times to glean its meaning because somebody put 4 thoughts into one huge run-on sentence.  It’s annoying. Don’t do it.  If you are expressing one quick thought, no period is required. ( I use them anyway because I’m old-school.) If you are expressing multiple ideas or your initial thought needs further comment, use them!  So say we all.

If you are posting with colleagues, acquaintances, or elders (I’m referring here to your parents, grandparents, and generally people older than you- not the head of your Jedi order or Hogwarts House), relaxed grammar is still okay.  You may want to cool it with the acronyms or jargon, depending on how social media savvy the recipient is. For example, I may decide not to use LMFAO in a post to my Nana (if she were still alive).  Maybe your Nana is cool with it.  The point is to ask the question before posting.  Will this person know what I mean?  Is it appropriate?  Make sure what you are saying is speaking louder than how you are saying it.  Know your audience…and please don’t forget the periods.

Lastly, if you are communicating with superiors, (Relax!  I merely mean your boss, professor, or the aforementioned head of your Jedi order or Hogwarts House) all weapons in your grammar arsenal are now in play.  Be absolutely sure you are using the correct word (see future posts on homonyms), double-check your spelling.  Do not trust spellcheck; it is an imperfect construct and does not differentiate between those aforementioned homonyms.  Proofread the crap out of it.  Do not use acronyms, jargon, or emojis.  Be succinct.  For the love of all that is sacred and good, don’t forget the periods.

“Proofread the crap out of it.”  I realized while writing this that I mean this both as the well-known colloquialism and somewhat literally.  Not that there is actual crap in your writing, but in the sense of weeding out all the unnecessary bits.  These are the wonderful opportunities in editing I mentioned before. I’m reminded of a scene in one of my favorite movies…

In “A River Runs Through It”, young Norman (played adorably by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is being home-schooled by his father (love me some Tom Skerritt).  He completes a writing assignment and gives it to his father for proofreading.  Inevitably, the red pencil comes out and his work is brutally hacked to bits.  Dad gives it back and says, “Do it again.  Half as long”.  Three more times this goes on, each time Dad says, “Again, half as long”.   By the time he is satisfied, the page-long piece is one short paragraph.

This very verbose example is, ironically, meant to illustrate my point on editing: be succinct.  Be brief, to the point, and clear.  Oftentimes, especially when I am character-limited, I find it a cool challenge to see how well I can edit my thoughts.  Try re-wording your thought.  Break out your trusty thesaurus.  Avoid filler words such as ‘like’ or ‘um’.  (Those are fine when speaking, but should mostly be left out of your writing.) Sentences can be more dense, as long as they can still be understood.  Occasionally, I find this exercise helps me to clarify my own thought and has even given me new insights.

In closing, I will say that in my countless hours on social media and in real life, the quickest way to be disregarded or discounted is to write something that has a grammar error or is poorly crafted.  There are entire threads dedicated to picking apart people’s grammar mistakes.  Don’t let a great argument, comment, or idea get ignored because you used the wrong “there” or “you’re” or because you didn’t use those blasted periods and readers didn’t want to take the time to decipher your point.  I’ve seen some great posts be ridiculed because of mistakes like these.  I’ve seen solid ideas get dismissed because they were either poorly written or hard to understand.  I’ve seen decent resumes get chucked into the trash due to a typo.  Don’t let this happen to you!  I avoid the word ‘uneducated’ because I don’t believe it takes a lot of education to use grammar well.  But you could risk sounding uninformed or worse – ignorant.

So Post, Snap, Ista, and Tweet away!  But do it in a way that would make Captain Picard proud.  Make it so!

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