Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Beautiful penmanship, but the grammar leaves much to be desired

On April 4, 1884, George B. Parr of Hanover, Pennsylvania, sent this postcard to Daniel Swartzbaugh of nearby Gettysburg, inquiring about a potential job.

Showing initiative? Check.
Ability to use the U.S. postal system? Check.
Penmanship? Check.
Spelling and grammar? Not so much.

With regard to George's note on the back of postcard, I don't mean to poke fun. But, hey, 130 years have passed and I'm looking at this more from a historian's perspective.

Here is George's note, verbatim (the actual image is below):
Hanover April th 4 1884
Mr Swartzbaugh
Dear Sir hove you a hirelen yet or not uncle george was teling me you would like to have won i would hire my Self to you Pleas let me know what wages you would pay me a monts good bye
Mr george B Parr to Mr D Swartzbaugh

I wonder if George was hired? If not, I wonder if his prospects would have been improved with some punctuation, spelling and proper use of capitalization?

Or perhaps Daniel Swartzbaugh didn't care. The message (mostly) is conveyed by this postcard. And he probably wasn't hiring someone to be his secretary or accountant. So maybe this worked out just fine for George.

This is also interesting, because a former boss of mine and I were just discussing an situation in which the New York Post mocks a group of teenagers for sending error-filled letters in response to a story about some serious problems at Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers. States the Post:
"Red-faced administrators encouraged a student letter-writing campaign to attack The Post and defend its “blended learning” program. Eighteen kids e-mailed to argue that their alma mater got a bad rap. Almost every letter was filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors."
Is it bad that those students have trouble putting a solid sentence together? Absolutely.

Does it help support the Post's stance that the high school is a "fail factory"? Absolutely.

Should the students get some credit for at least speaking up and trying to defend their school? Absolutely.

And should they be mocked for their efforts at making their voices heard? Excellent and difficult ethical question.

My former boss adds: "It is hard to communicate, even to bright kids, that you aren't going to be successful if you write everything the way you would send a text [message]."

He's probably right. My thought, though, is that the young people who spend all their time texting in 2010s will eventually be the ones doing all the hiring. So they might have some different expectations than I do about the notion of resumes, cover letters and the appropriate ways to communicate. Language and grammar are not set in stone. They evolve (like it or not).

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