Clamor for Grammar: Lightning Talk

Jill Weaver of Brown University’s lightning talk opened with a question: Who cares?

Is it only uptight people who care about commas and those common questions of who/whom, that/which?

In her 10-minute talk, she highlighted why we all should care, focusing on two main points: consistency and inclusion.

Brown celebrates Indigenous People’s Day (instead of Columbus Day), but across the campus website, you will find this holiday listed in many different ways, such as on news items or academic calendars:

  • People’s
  • Peoples’
  • Peoples

This illustrates why internal style guides are so useful. Most are based on the AP Stylebook, but often with institutional caveats.

Moving along to inclusion, gone is the preferred use of “he” or “she” or “he/she” or “he or she” — the singular “they” is now acceptable, although AP encourages writers to first try to rewrite the sentence to not have to use a pronoun. While use of “they” provides a way to introduce gender-neutral pronouns into our copy, it also updates a grammar rules that often made for clunky sentences.

Along with this, Brown chose to not use a hyphen when using compound nationalities. So, African American vs. African-American. And when it comes to intersection, Latinx is now acceptable over using either Latino or Latina in content. Finally, people-first language is important to adopt. For example, “using a wheelchair” vs. “confined to a wheelchair.”

Hyphens. Apostrophes. Pronouns. These seem like small choices, but establishing an internal style guide, adopting a new way of saying things, also keeps up with cultural changes; language evolves. And Weaver points out that the choices we make with our internal style guides also reflect on who we are as institutions, they impact our identity, too.

So when Jill Weaver asks again, “who cares” — we now know that grammar matters indeed.


Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Adam Koford