I once ditched a boyfriend on account of his poor grammar. (Before you call me shallow there were other reasons, but it was this that finally confirmed to me our general incompatibility.) My present husband doesn’t put his pants in the laundry basket but does at least know how to use an apostrophe. You can’t win them all.
It appears that I’m not alone in judging people by their use of apostrophes. The arrival of the new grammar and spelling test in primary schools in England has given rise to all sorts of opinion articles in the press on the subject of why adults get cross when other adults break grammatical rules. I was particularly satisfied to read that research carried out by dating site OkCupid concluded that bad grammar and spelling were turn-offs while correct use of apostrophes was appealing. (Someone should have told my ex-boyfriend that.)
On the one side of the fence sit the staunch grammarians, who go so far as to link secure syntax with ‘moral excellence’. Woah! One of my colleagues blogged a few weeks back on the Idler Academy Bad Grammar Awards, which berated a group of academics for muddling their adverbs and adjectives in the phrase ‘too much too young’. Sacrilege. (To be honest, a comma after ‘much’ would probably have done the trick here.)
On the other side are the grammatical pragmatists, who argue that it’s OK for language – and the rules that govern it – to move with the times and to adapt to the way in which we communicate with each other, innit.
I’m somewhere in the middle. David Crystal talks a lot of sense when he suggests that context and appropriateness are what matter. (The Accuracy Matters team are longtime supporters of his common-sense views.) My suggestion would be to think about what’s appropriate for your readers. If you want to use ‘ur’, ‘luv’ and ‘wat’ in a text or on your Facebook page, fine; I wouldn’t recommend using them when you’re writing a brochure for prospective clients, or some new copy about your latest product to put on your website. Similarly, while you’d probably be forgiven for a typo on a wall post, you might turn a potential customer off with a misplaced apostrophe in a sales leaflet. Poor spelling really can affect your bottom line.
So, my mantra is ‘horses for courses’. Something to bear in mind when you’re next updating your profile on that dating site.