SAY IT AIN'T SO [with not-so-abject apologies]

Sometimes, it’s just tough to think of a compelling headline

We toyed with “Loose lips sink businesses.”    Or:  “Parse the ones you want to keep.”

We’ll spare you (and us).   We’re talking the decline of grammar, at work and at home, a subject that’s engaged (and often enraged) more than quite a few writers, journalists, and columnists in a literal war of words.  

The reasons for misusing affect-effect, I and me, dangling modifiers and the like are multifarious:   Little educational emphasis on writing principles, the domination of social media, even the informality of our world today.   The rise of OMG, LOL, pictorial emoticons and 140 characters, by themselves, negate elegant phrasing and paragraphs.

No one agrees on one overriding cause.  Nor, unfortunately, about the solutions.   Nearly 50 percent of the 400-something employers surveyed in 2012 by SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) and AARP (we hope you know the acronym) indicated they were increasing training, and offering more printed and online guidelines, coaches, and templates.  Again, no single panacea.

Generally, those most alarmed by the trend underscore its negative outcomes, from mistakes in marketing materials that have to be corrected to not-so-great client/customer perceptions.  The conclusion by most?   Good grammar, which shouldn’t be an oxymoron, is the architecture of good writing and, by extension, good thinking and clear understanding.

Which brings us to a remedy.  How about reviving the antique art of sentence diagramming? Created in the mid 1800s by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg, it’s an illustrated map, also called a parse tree, of the logic behind a sentence.  It combines visuals with the appeal of a puzzle, showing how each word fits into the structure of a sentence.  Think building blocks, with easy-to-use lines and diagonals.

No doubt, this elementary school module had its foes.  After all, parsing a sentence is akin to eating canned non-gourmet peas that have been cooked to mush (thanks to my Mom).  But then I hear her voice:  “Do it; it’ll be good for you.”