Christine Grahame: Grammar and spelling still matter

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Many moons ago – there was probably a red moon I missed – my education was in the robust and no-nonsense hands of one Miss Campbell. A thin lady who looked frail but certainly was not, with her grey hair tightly bound in a top bun, she scared the living daylights out of her cache of pupils

I have to take you back to when Clermiston was just being built and Fox Covert was a wondrous estate with a manor house overlooking it. That is where Miss Campbell reigned over the few children who had moved into the new development. I think we were about a dozen or so of all ages and all in the one class. Actually apart from Miss Campbell I thought I had landed in a magic place. We would play on that grand terrace, run about the walled garden and if you were really good you earned the privilege of putting coal on the classroom fire. Shades of The Secret Garden! But the days of Miss Campbell have left a much more indelible imprint on me: grammar, punctuation and spelling. Crumbs I can still parse (whit!) and do General Analysis (whit whit!). Now these two may be redundant but grammar, spelling and so on, certainly are not.

Now why bother telling you this? Frankly because I have become accustomed in my time as a politician to finding myself educating graduates of this and that in the niceties and necessities of these skills.

It seems in the computer age, when you can Google away and “cut and paste” to your heart’s content, e-mail and text, you don’t know what you have lost in these skills till you need them. In fact, you might not even recognise the need.

A lovely young man volunteered to do some work for me and I asked him to draft formal letters to chief executives of some major retailers. What I was given to review was eye-opening. He had no idea how to write the salutation, provided two dense pages of text with no awareness of selecting the essential elements to make the letter readable and the word “précis” was breaking news. But I must not be too hard on technology, you can Google “How to write a letter” and actually the instructions are not too bad.

I have other bugbears, for example, the use of “disinterested” for “uninterested”. I have been known to jump up from my seat in Parliament to correct a colleague (not to be recommended). Even the BBC is a culprit. There now, I have that one off my chest and shall leave it to you to determine the distinction if you were unaware there is one.

Then there is the phrase “new innovation”. Surely it is an innovation full stop. There is “I can do it quicker”. Should it not be “more quickly” that is as an adverb not an adjective. As for the wild and random use of the apostrophe, don’t get me going.

Now the danger inherent in this piece is that I will have undoubtedly put my own foot in it, grammatically speaking, more than once. At least I keep trying but I know, I just know that someone out there is ready with the red pen to put a “G” or a “SP” on this piece. Miss Campbell too will be birling in her grave.

Christine Grahame is the SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale