Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kyle Wiens, stickler?

At the HBR Blog Network, CEO Kyle Wiens, self-styled “stickler,” explains why he won’t hire people who use poor grammar. I see three problems in what he’s written:

1. Every example of what Wiens calls “poor grammar” is a matter of punctuation or usage, not grammar.

2. Wiens allies himself with self-styled stickler Lynne Truss. But as Bryan Garner says in a review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (2003), “The true sticklers of the world are uniting against Lynne Truss.” Her book is a mess. Look at its title: notice the missing serial comma? And the missing hyphen?

3. Wiens needs to take more care with his writing. Consider this sentence:

And just like good writing and good grammar, when it comes to programming, the devil’s in the details.
Indeed. The comparison that this sentence aims to make never gets made: just like writing and grammar . . . what? A possible revision:
With programming, as with writing, the devil’s in the details.
Why, by the way, did I remove grammar? Because writing and grammar aren’t equal elements; one subsumes the other.

Wiens’s post still makes a useful exhibit for a teacher trying to convince students that in the world beyond college, writing counts. By any means necessary: that’s my motto in these things.

A related post
Garner, Menand, and Truss

[Omitting the serial comma isn’t an error, but as Garner points out, “In opposing the serial comma, [Truss] puts herself at odds with the vast multitude of punctuation authorities, who favor it.” Zero-tolerance, a phrasal adjective, requires a hyphen. The expression is originally “The devil is in the detail,” but the plural is widely used and hardly counts as a mistake.]

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