Nik's Bleeps

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Oh, you know what I mean!

I love reading Matt Gemmell’s words. He has this no-nonsense, look-I-don’t-mean-to-be-rude-but-this-is-how-it-is approach to communication that I really appreciate. This piece expands on Brent Simmons’s article, “Commas for Developers,” in which Brent talks about how your crappily punctuated sentences cause my trust in you to plummet.

If your writing — in tweets and especially on your blog and product pages — is full of misspellings and improper capitalization and other errors, I will lose trust in you and your product. If you’re careless with language, are you also careless with software development?

I like how Matt expands on this. It’s not something that applies just to software developers, it’s something that applies to human beings; that is, all of us. Communication is a fundamental building block of our relationships. If you can’t be bothered to communicate properly, don’t blame me for not being bothered to listen.

“You know what I mean”

Probably, yes (but not definitely). The issue usually isn’t that you’re failing to convey meaning; it’s the other things you’re conveying alongside. You’re giving an impression of either laziness, lack of education or intelligence, or (in the most generous case) having a learning disability.

Sure, being called a grammar nazi all the time gets old. Setting aside the inappropriateness of so flippantly using the other n-word, it’s irksome that adults are mocked for behaviour that’s encouraged in children. I don’t remember ever being punished for being good when I was little. But worse than the derision is the expectation that I’m a mind reader. Hey, guess what? If you don’t express yourself properly, no, I don’t know what you mean. And I think it’s pretty logical for me to assume that you mean what you say; if you mean something different, then say something different.

You’ve probably been alive for at least a decade or two, reading, writing and speaking all the while. Now imagine that, after all that time and exposure, you’ve failed to quite grasp where commas go, or which version of “there” is appropriate for a given sentence. Others can’t help but make assumptions about you in that context.

And there it is. It’s along the lines of what Brent was saying, but with a more “Really? Really‽” tone to it. I laughed aloud that this particular perspective hadn’t occurred to me before. I mean, really. Like Matt says later on, the occasional mistake is one thing, but if you remain wilfully ignorant of fundamentals after years of practice, if you have so little regard for one of the only ways we have of communicating with each other, how is anyone supposed to take you seriously?