Andanar press ID and the grammar cops

WHY THE fuss over the grammatical errors in the press card the Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) issued to Malacañang reporters and foreign correspondents?

Malacañang took it seriously. PCOO chief Martin Andanar issued a press statement, mostly explaining why, as signatory, he couldn’t be blamed for the mistakes. He said four counts of “protocol” were violated which may be summed up thus: It didn’t go through him. Then he ordered the IDs recalled, making the press card typos a full-blown issue.

Taken for granted

Grammar is mostly taken for granted and lapses get attention only when they (1) become a source of public ridicule, (2) cause confusion or misunderstanding, or (3) set off legal dispute.

You can’t eat grammar, a student back in college said in an English class, annoyed by the teacher’s insistence that we cannot splurge on redundant words, most adjectives must be shot on sight, and the comma must be placed where they belong. (On the value of comma, the teacher cited the difference between “I love cooking my family and my dogs” and “I love cooking, my family, and my dogs.”)

Ridiculed

PCOO was criticized and ridiculed over the press card errors. Reaction was inevitable: while the ID circulation was limited, those who got each card are journalists fascinated with words, be they in a news story or a beer can.

And the errors were decidedly misplaced in an agency whose job is communication and whose mantra is “to make the message clear.”

The ID booboo must have delighted members of Malacañang Press Corps and Foreign Correspondents Association. It was also stuff for a feature, not the usual staple of bureaucratic p.r. news.

In ‘all caps’

Immediately noticed was that the card text is in “all caps,” all capital letters from first word to last. That, by itself, invites attention and scrutiny.

Homer of the iconic animated sitcom “The Simpsons” tells his wife Marge that one who writes in “all caps” must be correct. “You can’t argue with someone who writes in all capital letters,” Homer said. Why, asked Marge. “He took the time to shift the press key, Marge. I think he knows what he’s talking about.”

Grammar police see the “all caps” differently though. “Caps” are used to highlight or emphasize. Using them all over is to sound “agitated and excitable,” like using exclamation point after each sentence.

Question raised

But the matter of style might be the least problem of Andanar. The grammatical errors themselves grab the reader by the collar. Abetted by such naughty net writers as Santisteban of Rappler who reproduced and posted the ID online, with the copy editor’s handwritten marks, showcasing the errors in bold and blazing-red relief.

If you don’t ask why PCOO gave the job of drafting the card text to an employee who can’t survive without an editor looking over his shoulder, you must know that many government agencies do need people who can write plain, straight English.

More than laughs

It embarrassed White House staffers, such as when US President Trump wrote “council” instead of “counsel” (for lawyer) thrice in one tweet. And it drew laughs from readers, such as when a building equipped with a high-tech security system posted the sign: “This door is alarmed!”

Worse is when a grammatical mistake in a provision of law or ordinance sets off a controversy that may require the court to settle. Grammar, usually the fad of English teachers and grammar nerds, can become more than a laughing matter when it evolves into an affair of state, litigation issue, or public concern.
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