Opinion: social media spelling the end of grammar?

Is social media spelling the end of grammar?

September 26, 2013

It was the keyboard button that no-one used. The hash-tag.

Even now, some would still have to pore over their keyboard to find it.

But – thanks to the arrival of social media giant Twitter – the hash-tag has never been so popular, writes Martin Smith.

Indeed, if these four opening lines had been a tweet, the accompanying hash-tag would inevitably be along the lines of #kindaobvious or something of that ilk.

Of course, it’s part of the appeal of Twitter. Wannabe wordsmiths adore the challenge of being able to express themselves succinctly in a mere 140 characters – particularly on a challenging topic.

Speed, relevancy, a dollop of wit and strictly no excess words are the key elements for a successful Twitter posting. In fact, the same formula could be applied to Facebook users or anyone looking to be engaging on a social media platform.

But such factors, in turn, bring their own problems, especially for the bastion of good, old-fashioned grammar.

As one may quite rightly point out, grammar can be a matter of taste and basic education as much as a simple right or wrong.

For instance, these words bear all the hallmarks of traditional tabloid writing rather than the standard essay structure formula, with frequent use of dashes instead of the text-book comma approach being an obvious example.

And more than one lip will no doubt be curled by the decision to begin the fourth sentence with the word ‘but’.

However, there can be no doubt that the pace and immediacy of social media does not bode well for the long-standing values of grammar.

A brief glimpse at your own newsfeed will swiftly reveal that punctuation seems to be the first thing that’s disposed with. In the rush to get their thoughts into the social media hemisphere, users seem to disregard the basics of compiling a well-written sentence.

Commas are a rarity and apostrophes deemed to be frivolous in many postings.

In addition, straightforward rules governing the use of capital letters seem to have gone completely by the wayside – although, perhaps, the mischievous among us may suggest that such an affliction already exists within many public and private sector organisations.

Theoretically, social media should be the platform for a rise in standards of English. No-one wants to look foolish – or illiterate – in front of their peers, friends or others by producing nonsensical updates.

Tellingly, it seems it’s not quite working out like that.

Those who adhere to grammatical guidelines tend to continue to apply those principles on social networks.

But, should they dare to suggest a grammatical deficiency in another person’s posting, they are often greeted with hostility, catcalls and all-too-familiar accusations of being the ‘grammar police’.

Social media should be helping raise the bar across when it comes to literacy.

Unfortunately, in our super-charged digital world, it seems few actually are willing to take the time to simply get things right.

Follow Martin Smith on Twitter via @icanorak