On Dating Sites, Good Writing Matters

An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal by Georgia Wells (“What’s Really Hot on Dating Sites? Proper Grammar”) reinforces what many people have suggested for some time: that on dating sites nonstandard usage can handicap men wanting to get acquainted with women. There is a lot of evidence for this, not all of it merely anecdotal.

The obvious lesson for suitors would be: work on your writing and improve your chances.

But the article also contains a predictably disparaging comment from a linguist:
“Grammar snobbery is one of the last permissible prejudices,” says John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University. “The energy that used to go into open classism and racism now goes into disparaging people’s grammar.”
So the women involved need to ease up and give sloppy writers a chance? Not going to happen.

Scholars like McWhorter frequently compare those who judge other people by their writing to racists.


There are huge differences.

 It's almost impossible to change your race. It’s quite possible to learn how to compose a sentence that won't annoy most readers. If you’re not too embarrassed to share your amorous prose you could ask someone with better writing skills to proofread your work and make suggestions.

Not knowing the difference between “their” and “there” is not an innate characteristic like skin color. It displays at the very least an indifference to polished writing.

“Classism” of course is a very different matter from racism. If you think the folks in the run-down trailer park must be worthless simply because of where they live you may be depriving yourself of valuable experiences, but social attitudes against class prejudice are nowhere near as widespread and powerful as those against racism.

Note the slippery way McWhorter manages to associate “grammar snobbery” with racism by saying both are products of the same “energy.”

What other characteristics in a man’s writing might arouse the same antagonistic “energy” in some women?

• The man talks only about himself and doesn’t ask any questions of the woman.
• The man is interested only in sports.
• The man loves guns.
• The man is focused only on sex.

Women on dating sites are usually overwhelmed with far more potential suitors than they want or need, and it’s only natural that many of them ignore those with what they consider to be substandard writing skills.

It may be “politically correct” to disparage women with a preference for grammatical correctness, but it’s out of line to compare them to racists.

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