The British are comma-ing

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Kids in English elementary schools will start taking a new nationwide grammar and spelling test this week. You ship your language all over the world, you want to make sure the young people stay familiar with the brand.

Most of us, even on this side of the pond, like to think we know where to stick a period or a comma. But many of us would actually apply them erroneously. And don't get me started on dependent vs. independent clauses or stealth adverbs that don't end in -ly, because I will begin to stammer and you may actually pull the fire alarm.

Incredibly, they are attempting to teach grammar and punctuation in schools over there. In this day and age! Next they'll be making the kids do long division by hand or cross-stitch samplers.

It's so pointless, right? Nobody knows that stuff anymore. Kids here don't learn it in school, because it just gums up the free expression of their innate awesomesauciness or whatever, yeah?

Except that that's not exactly true. And I'm not just talking about how fusty old suit-wearing employers may fail to appreciate the genius of your Harlem Shake resume video (their loss). I'm talking about a fundamental evolutionary need: online dating.

OKCupid analyzed the text content of more than half a million first-contact messages on its dating site and tallied how the presence of certain keywords and phrases affected reply rates. The result?

"Netspeak = fail."

"Stupid slang," as the OKCupid OKtrends blog calls it, turns out to be a huge turnoff, as does poor grammar and simply leaving the apostrophes out of "won't" or "can't."

That's right. Apostrophes. That gorgeous girl or dreamy guy is interested in your apostrophes. Laugh if you want, but apostrophes can get you ... a date.

As it says in the blog, "keep [...] your message grammatical and punctuated."

It's disappointing that this even needs to be explained. This advice reminds me of those hilarious personal hygiene and grooming films from the '50s where the hopeful young teens have to be gently instructed to wash their faces and bathe regularly if they want the objects of their affection to smile bashfully at them and invite them to the tapioca social.

You don't have to be poet laureate to send a potential love interest a message, but making a token effort to do a little better than "imho ur pritty!!!!!!!" qualifies as a hygiene issue. In the event of a gentleman caller, I don't go to the door in my ratty bathrobe. Not on the first date, anyway.

Proofreading -- stay with me here, I'm in a dangerous place and I don't have my phone -- is like checking your teeth in the mirror or grabbing the fast-food bags out of your car. It shows you care what you look like.

Unfortunately, that's hard to do if you've never been taught how colons work.

So hooray for the teaching of proper English. If it can be done in English schools, maybe our schools could try it. We don't have to adopt a curriculum of dry, prescriptive rules -- there could be fun debates about what parts of speech it's OK to end a sentence with! (See what I did there? I have a master's degree, but it's neither necessary nor a good investment.)

And in the end, our children would be able to boldly break rules in the interest of punchy writing, but never just because they don't know what the rules are.

When they cast the Internet for a mate, they will experience less disappointment and fewer rejections.

Good thing no one's reproductive success depends on doing long division.


Samantha Bennett, freelance writer:


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