Calling the 'grammar hot line'

There is good news for all those concerned scholars and others who regularly deplore the abuse of the English language in day-to-day business and government activities and the general lack of public attention to proper grammar usage. For one thing, the Associated Press reports that the "plain English" movement started a decade ago to reduce legal jargonese and make regulations and business contracts easier to understand is gaining momentum. A further sign that more Americans are starting to take their language seriously is the UPI report that professors and graduate students at the Illinois State University have established a "grammar hot line" to answer questions that come up in daily encounters with the English language.

While insurance companies in almost three-fourths of the states have introduced "plain English" in easier-to-understand, revised and shortened unsurance forms, the federal government has taken steps to simplify the language in tax forms and other regulations. At least four states now have laws requiring consumer contracts to use words with "common and everyday meanings".

But the public response to the "grammar hot line" may be the most encouraging indication of growing concern about language. English professors at the university say the hot line has attracted "an uncommon amount" of interest from insurance companies, newspapers secretaries, retail stores -- and even a few students. And why not? How man of us sitting at our typewriters or computer consoles would not welcome a ready answer to such questions as when to use "affect" or "effect," whether "impact" and "prioritize" are legitimate verbs, or where to put the apostrophe in the possessive plural.

Let us hope more such "hot lines" will be established to answer urgent cries for help in other grammar-deficient communities.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.