“I even worry about messaging you on Facebook”, said a friend. “I imagine you going through it and checking my grammar.” Eh? When did I become a scary, proofreading fascist? Is this how everybody feels? Will I end up a Billy-no-Facebook-friends? “Well, you have set yourself up as some sort of grammar expert”, said my mum, helpfully.
Yes OK, I can be picky – and as a copywriter, I should be. However, we all need to kick back sometimes, and well, use phrases like “kick back”. Of course, I am merciless if I encounter mistakes in anything formal. Typos or dodgy apostrophes on anything to do with education are definitely worth an indignant howl. I have been known to whisper “The menu is really badly written! Can we find somewhere else to eat?” which is probably taking it too far, but it does suggest a certain lack of professionalism and attention to detail (and always makes me worry that they may also be slack in their food hygiene…). I have told insurance companies, NHS departments and on one really stupid occasion HMRC that their standard letters are awful, which believe me, never, ever helps.
But – in everyday, informal life, does it really matter? If your friend understands your text or email, surely that’s enough? (But, older relatives, please learn how to use the punctuation bits for texting. It’s like reading code sometimes.) Writing is just a way of communicating, like speech – and we all use very different language depending on who we’re talking to. Stick me in a GP’s surgery or a school parents’ evening and I mysteriously start talking like Lady Mary. At work, I probably speak a bit more formally than I would to my friends. The rest of the time, I just talk like me.
Is writing the same?
The style I get asked to write in the most by clients is “friendly yet professional” (rarely the other way round, curiously). There remains a need for accuracy and (sorry) good grammar, but in these less formal days, businesses don’t necessarily want to write the Queen’s English. Blogging for work is always an interesting exercise in style, as it walks the line between appearing professional and general chattiness. It is possible to be both appealingly informal and relaxed and write clearly and correctly.
But unless you’re posting for Grammarly, don’t stress about your Facebook posts. They’re just the writing equivalent of putting on your sweatpants and eating crisps in front of the telly.
“You put “lol” in a text”, said A Relative accusingly. “How could you?”
“Easily. It’s my day off.”