The Idiot's Guide to Being an Idiot -

The Idiot’s Guide to Being an Idiot


This email showed up this morning: 

 “ah 2/3 from the world Champions in thier park ah yes the Phila are back and today its the twins Meanwhile the stopper can he stop the nat spo slide tonight the tigers just teed off on the hapless spos

The fightens are back and so is sec 119”

That is quoted in its entirety, and is from someone born and raised in the United States. He went to the same high school I attended in Washington, DC. The Jesuits failed him. The author is clearly an idiot. Or, someone who chooses to present himself as one.

Language matters. Email, texting, Twitter and Facebook are swell technologies, but none of them redefine the rules of grammar, all evidence to the contrary. Too many people miss the fact that when the medium is the written word, for better or worse one is judged on the use of the written word. Electronic communications doesn’t have to be particularly literate, but must be grammatical and spell-checked.

Everything we create on-line lives forever. Privacy is dead. Tweet out some meaningless blather and it may come back to haunt you years from now. Employers routinely google (and, gads, I hate “verbizing” what should be a proper noun ) job candidates. Create an on-line identity that shrieks “moron” and you’re likely to be categorized as one.

We make choices in life, and one of those choices is how much care and pride we take in how we present ourselves. Men prefer ties to stained T-shirts in interviews, even though a tie is a hideous anachronism that should have gone the way of the fedora.

Conversely, a stained T-shirt is the expected attire for an engine rebuild session. (As an ex-hippy freak this pains me to write this, but it’s the truth ). When we converse we reserve the word “ain’t” for rare emphasis and skip the double negatives – unless one wants to be viewed as an uneducated product of the slums.

The fact is we’re being judged all the time, even when your best friend asks “are you alright? You look tired” with concern. When the parent sees chocolate smeared on the guilty youngster’s face, that’s a judgment that may lead to a time-out, a judgment that will be hard to dismiss even if the kid tries to explain how he had to swim through a river of Hershey’s best to save western civilization.

And when your incomprehensible email arrives in a co-worker’s inbox, be sure that will subtly bias the recipient’s view of your expertise and education.

At the very least, poorly-written communication like the email above screams “I don’t care enough to get this right.” If it’s an email to your child, you’re teaching the unimportance of the written word, which is akin to dismissing the importance of education and erudition.

If it’s too much trouble to get the spelling or grammar right, remember Abe Lincoln’s admonishment: “It is better to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and resolve all doubt.”

 What’s your take? Is grammar “like, oh so two minutes ago?”

(Editor’s Note: Jack’s Embedded Poll Question this week is ”How important is grammar?” . To vote, go to the Home Page.)


 Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .

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