You Know Better Than That

In grade six, everyone thought I was smart.

I’m not smart. Anyone who watched me struggle through university can tell you that. Smart kids get scholarships. Smart kids ace exams. Smart kids get good grades. I’m not smart.

But in grade six, I was still doing alright in school, and people still thought I was smart. Especially my teacher, Mrs. Mainwood.

Every time I would hand in an assignment, or show her my homework, or answer a question, she would compliment me on how well I did. It was nice. When I gave a speech in front of the whole class one time, she asked if I would come back next year and present it again so that future students could see how it’s done. Nice.

Finally one day, something strange happened.

Mrs. Mainwood came to my desk to talk about some written assignment I’d handed in. She pointed at a bulleted list I had written. It looked like this:

  • some sentence about the assignment
  • another sentence
  • and another

The content was fine, and the rest of the assignment was fine, but she was really upset about this bulleted list. Why?

Because it had no capitalization or punctuation.

That was it. And apparently it was very important. She was furious! She went on a rant that I’m sure the rest of the class could easily hear. I still remember the exact words that ended her tirade: “You know better than that.”

I didn’t understand what she meant at the time; I probably just apologized and fixed my mistake. (I’m an apologetically easy-going guy). But I understand now. It was a big deal.

It looked stupid.

It was an eyesore on an otherwise flawless page. And you know what? Mrs. Mainwood was right. I did know better. My list looked careless, but I cared about what I was saying. See the problem?

I’m sick of seeing tweets and Facebook posts written in all lower-case letters. Questions that don’t end with question marks. Paragraphs where every thought is laid out between mangled ellipsis instead of real sentences.

I’m not talking about imperfect grammar. English is a messy language, I get that. Plurals and spelling are often non-obvious, especially for non-native speakers, and even native speakers break the rules sometimes. We’re forgiven.

But everyone — everyone — knows that sentences start with a capital letter, and end with some sort of symbol. No fancy rules, no special cases. It’s one of the first things we learn while becoming literate.

So if you’re one of those people who’s social network feed is devoid of periods, capital letters, and apostrophes, please do better. I know you have it in you. Your lack of basic grammar is distracting from your message, and it’s driving people like me and Mrs. Mainwood crazy.

You don’t have to be smart to get this right.

You know better than that.