Its an Outrage?

My friend recently sent me this astounding news alert, which she had received from BREAKING NEWS from

A federal appeals court has rejected Microsoft’s bid to delay it’s anti-trust case, according to The Associated Press. Details to come. Shocking, isn’t it? No, I’m not referring to Bill Gates’s legal debacle. I’m stunned by CNN not getting its “its” correct! Granted, it was probably an innocent slip on the keyboard, but, frankly, I expect more from the respected news agency. I expect good reporting, and I expect correct grammar.

Now, I am not a grammar maven. In fact, my mother reads my articles and points out every darn split infinitive. (Thanks, Mom, I will remember to go boldly next time!) However, spelling errors and shoddy grammar can diminish your credibility and turn away users from your site (especially if you pull a blooper such as the CNN example or promote your site with error-riddled emails).

Those who rely on spell checkers or grammar checkers may be unpleasantly surprised. Your “checker” utilities won’t catch misspelled or misused foreign phrases or recently coined techie terms. The same goes for words spelled correctly but glaringly out of context (anyone ever type in “sad” for “said”?). And don’t forget that those checkers skip over titles on graphics, illustrations with text, and so on.

The best way to make sure that your copy is free of errors is the old-fashioned way. That is, take the time to sit down and re-read what you write. I try to have at least two other pairs of eyes peruse my text. And I almost always print a hard copy of the draft, marking the piece as I take a long, hard look. When I go back to input my changes, I indicate on my hard copy that I’ve made the corrections — it’s just one more way to make sure everything’s kosher by the time I can declare that I’ve got a finished piece.

Of course, there are times when we just can’t remember the lessons from grammar school (where, I’ve since discovered, grammar is no longer a hot topic). Fortunately, the Net is filled with sites set up by grammar lovers ready to help shed some light. I don’t recommend these sites for leisurely reading, but it’s good to know people out there are carrying the torch of Strunk and White.

  • Guide to Grammar and Style. Rutgers University Professor Jack Lynch has a utilitarian guide providing articles on usage and style. Lynch offers a refreshing perspective, advocating clear and effective writing as opposed to by-the-book rules.
  • Wired Style. You’ll have to buy this classic book to get the full story (and the answer to the “email” versus “email” question). However, the site has some interesting updates that are clearly cataloged. (Note to self: “Webmaster” is one word.)
  • The Slot. Written by Bill Walsh, a Washington Post copy editor clearly obsessed with improving 21st century writing styles, this site is at its best in the “Sharp Points” section. Walsh takes no mercy on language abusers.
  • 11 Rules of Writing. I like this small but interesting site because it goes beyond the basics and points out mistakes made by experienced writers.
  • The Vocabula Review. Perhaps editor Robert Hartwell Fiske has the right to approach grammar-killers with a certain attitude. The “Grumbling About Grammar” section is particularly acerbic, taking shots at “idiots” who use “as per” and the “dull-wits” mistaking “tortuous” for “torturous.”

Those who need a daily infusion of grammar can sign up for Daily Grammar emails. For the rest of us, my advice is to simply watch your p’s and q’s and your “its” and “it’s.”

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