Monday, 10 December 2007

Why HMV is selling a book on English grammar

Now why would they be selling an English grammar book in HMV?

Their customers are into music, movies and computer games. On the face of it, they are the very antithesis of the audience for a book called I Before E (Except After C) and subtitled Old School Ways to Remember Stuff.

And yet, there it is, stacked up by the dozen close to the tills and offered at the impressively knocked-down of price of £3. Clearly, HMV sees this as a book with mass appeal.

I think they are right. I certainly meet plenty of young professionals who realise their spelling, punctuation and grammar are poor, and who want to do something about it.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working with a large PR agency, covering just the ground in I Before E plus that in Lynne Truss’s, Eats Shoots and Leaves, her hugely entertaining, 3-million-selling treatise on good punctuation.

I was apprehensive when given the assignment. I suspected that only a proportion of delegates would see the point of this, when they have spellcheck and grammar check on their computers.

Infact, without exception, the delegates loved it. Learning how to use commas, semi-colons and colons; the difference between affect and effect; when to use less and when to use fewer; the difference between that and which; and when it is practice with a c and practise with an s all went down a storm.

The popularity of I before E and Eats Shoots and Leaves, and the market for courses such as mine, should give educationalists pause for thought.

Why do we tolerate a system that has failed at least two generations of bright young people by leaving them ill-equipped for work? Why should employers have to pay for basic education that ought to have been provided before their staff reached their teens?