Friday, February 06, 2015

Does grammar matter at work? Depends!

"They don't told us where it's at" she said.

Grammar depends on the context.

If a teacher had said that, well, you know you never ever want to be in that educational setting.  The ungrammatical sentence didn't come from a teacher.  In fact, not from a student either.  If it had been a student, I would have suffered that obsessive compulsion to correct that person.

It was at a retail establishment.  A place that is not for the white-gloved.

I am happy that there are such places where people have jobs.  Not all of us have the capabilities or the interest to be investment bankers or teachers or politicians.  To quote from Caddyshack, the world needs ditch-diggers too.

But, even those jobs are evaporating.


There's something happening here.
You don't need a long explication to see what's going on here. Walmart brought ruthless efficiency to the business of selling stuff in stores, and Amazon brought more ruthless efficiency to the business of selling stuff anywhere, so that today, to be a retail salesperson or cashier—still the two most common jobs in America—is to compete with the convenience of a laptop and a couch (or, even worse, a smartphone search filling a spare moment of boredom). As Radio Shack's story shows, when companies go to war against price and convenience, they tend to lose—first go the jobs, then goes the company. ... There is little reason to think that the most important employment engine of the 20th century will continue to pump through the 21st. The future will be cheap, and it will be convenient, but much of it will lose the personal touch of, well, people.
Even as those jobs are evaporating, the chances are that the ones that remain don't pay well.
Though unemployment has finally dipped below six per cent, real wages for most have barely budged since 2007. Indeed, the whole century so far has been tough: wages haven’t grown much since 2000.
Sometimes, I wonder how people make the proverbial ends meet.  And every time I have such encounters, I can't but think it is crazy for the well-heeled like me to ask for raises and for more benefits.

But, of course, those in my earnings bracket aren't comparing themselves to that ungrammatical retail person but to the investment bankers and CEOs.
corporate America, if not the rest of the economy, has done just fine over the past five years. It’s that all the rewards went into profits and executive salaries, rather than wages.
I don't care about my raise.  But, I am pretty darn certain that executives can easily forego a few dollars in order to ensure that the ungrammatical retail person gets to go home with a few more dollars.  Is it possible?  Yes, at least in one company, apparently:
Aetna’s C.E.O., Mark Bertolini, announced that the company’s lowest-paid workers would get a substantial raise—from twelve to sixteen dollars an hour, in some cases—as well as improved medical coverage. Bertolini didn’t stop there. He said that it was not “fair” for employees of a Fortune 50 company to be struggling to make ends meet. He explicitly linked the decision to the broader debate about inequality, mentioning that he had given copies of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-first Century” to all his top executives. “Companies are not just money-making machines,” he told me last week. “For the good of the social order, these are the kinds of investments we should be willing to make.”
The lowest paid get raises and executives got copies of Piketty's book.  How fascinating!

Sometimes, an extra effort is needed to make sure that a rising tide will lift not only the yachts but also the rafts and the catamarans--wherever they are floating "at."



Anne in Salem said...

That sales person's grammar will keep him in entry level jobs his whole life. The vast majority of jobs above minimum wage require better writing and speaking skills (real intellectual skills, NOT a reliance on Spellcheck and Grammarcheck). Language has such ability to classify or categorize us. Those who speak and write well are considered more educated, more worthy of hiring, perhaps more worthy of responsibility or opportunity, than those who sound uneducated, and that classification will propel or dog each person forever.

Sriram Khé said...

Well ...
We are all not endowed with comparable abilities. Thus, some of us won't be able to move past that entry-level job. Should they, therefore, be condemned to a struggling existence just because they lack the abilities to learn the grammar and the math and the skills that will propel them to prosperity? To paraphrase Shakespeare, if we prick them do they not bleed?

Anne in Salem said...

We may not all be endowed with comparable abilities, but we all have the ability to learn. A grammar book - or paying attention in school - will teach all one needs to know to speak and write professionally. We all train for our jobs, whether learning the cash register or how to perform surgery. If someone is motivated to attain a better job, he must learn the skills necessary for that job, ranging from writing and speaking more professionally to advanced surgical techniques.

To paraphrase Shaw (because I can't find the precise line quickly enough): Her speaking will keep her in the gutter all her life.
To quote Shaw: You have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being by creating a new speech for her. It's filling up the deepest gulf that separates class from class and soul from soul.

Sriram Khé said...

Am guessing that we might go round after round on this one without either one of us budging from our positions ;)
Because, our point of departure is this: I think/believe that all humans are not born with comparable brains and brawn. In the old days, brawn worked relatively well to compensate for the lack of high level mental abilities. But, in the contemporary world where brainpower rules, well, the ones who have trouble even getting past high school will be left way behind. Even when they understand the importance of brainpower, what if they are simply unable to keep up with the changes that are required? When the routine jobs that paid decently enough have all vanished?
You write "to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being" ... there is one piece that you might to think through there--note the agency. It requires an external agent to help that person. But, when the political philosophy denies valid and important roles for structures to help individuals, then who will change her into a different human being? All we do then is condemn that person into the way of life that they live.

Anne in Salem said...

I will agree to disagree since I know I will lose the battle of citations. As always, I enjoy the thinking generated. Thank you.

Sriram Khé said...

I, too, enjoyed the discussions for which I owe you a huge thanks.

Truce on this topic ... for now ... because I am sure we will argue the same issues again when I blog on this topic again ;)

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