“Arguments over grammar and style are often as fierce as those over IBM versus Mac, and as fruitless as Coke versus Pepsi and boxers versus briefs.”
– Jack Lynch
For a long time I tried not to use grammatical contractions on this blog.
Don’t, Won’t, Shouldn’t, I’ll, They’ll, I’m, You’re were all “verboten” words. Whenever I typed one, I would stop my train of thought, backup, and removing the offending piece of “bad grammar.”
But why? I do not know why that was important to me. Somewhere along the line I heard that contractions in writing were bad. That was probably reinforced by people I do not remember. Now, after copious hours of internet research (or was that seconds?) and consultations with thousands of published works (or was that two?) I have learned that contractions are not wrong, they are just less formal. It is ok to use contractions.
Yet, for the longest time I thought I was writing better without them. I thought I was making my communication more effective. But I wasn’t. In fact, my writing was probably worse because of the hoops I jumped through to “de-contract” everything. I also wasted a lot of time trying to write without them because I’d have to restart my train of thought after fixing them.
The point here is not that I want everyone to start writing with contractions. The point is that I took a perfectly good formal writing tool, used it in a different type of writing, and ended up being less effective and less efficient. I didn’t stop to look at what was most important. I didn’t stop to re-evaluate my assumptions.
It reminds me of how misplaced our time can be.
Sasha Dichter posted a wonderful story this morning from one of his readers. It’s a beautiful tale of generosity and compassion for a fellow person. Then it was followed by the line “To this day I wish I could have done more.”
After reading it, I asked myself, Would I have done more? Or would I have also failed to come up with a way to help the gentleman in the story because I spent my time on something trivial, like trying to shoe horn non-contracted words into my writing?
Probably. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t do better in future.
We all waste our time, but we don’t have to keep wasting our time. Take a look at something you do everyday. The way you drive to work, what you listen to on the radio, etc. Identify that habit or assumption and see if it is still valid or useful. If not, change it. It’ll give you a little more free time to think of better ways to help the people in your life.
I may not have any great new ideas today, but at least I’m not going to waste any more time thinking about contractions.
I played freerice and skipped a lunchtime run to join my co-workers at a farewell lunch for one of our interns. We used a lot of contractions while we talked.