In my previous post, I was talking about the importance of proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling—trying to recognize the great value of good command of these conventions that help facilitate communication, while also trying to keep focus on the ideas, not the formalities. Basically the argument was that errors in convention don’t matter if they don’t interfere with the communication of ideas (and that people who complain about errors in punctuation and grammar are often annoying when they over-emphasize attention on minor grammatical points at the expense of the ideas being communicated).
Language is, or at least can be, extremely subtle in expressing significant difference, and the attention of the reader would be well spent exploring the subtleties, where the important difficulties lie, rather than attending to conventions.
To reiterate the importance of punctuation, grammar, and spelling, it should be noted that the conventions themselves contribute to the subtlety—presence or absence of a comma can often have a significant influence on the meaning of a sentence, for example.
But there are also times that the crucial questions are not problems with grammar, but rather small linguistic differences that are crucial to differences in ideas. The Roman Catholic Church has recently moved to alter the Lord’s Prayer. The change is linguistically minor, from one phrase that is grammatically sound to another phrase that is also grammatically sound.
The traditional English phrasing was “lead us not into temptation,” and the new recommended phrasing is “do not let us fall into temptation.” The conceptual difference of interest to the Catholic Church is the difference, roughly, between the Pied Piper and a lifeguard—the difference between actively luring people and aiding only when people go too deep (metaphorically).
For me, such linguistic differences and their influence on the concepts being described are harder to notice when I’m focusing my attention on grammatical issues. And I definitely notice that people who are spending their time correcting grammar, and proving how well they know grammar, often miss the point of what is written. I remember once seeing a professional writer make a comment about the difference between US and UK conventions regarding use of the words “that” and “which,” and someone responding “the rule is easy: here’s how you use ‘that’ and ‘which’…” Yup, you’re real proud that you know that grammatical "rule," but you totally missed the point about how that “rule” isn’t actually a rule, but rather is specific to the US context. (Actually, even in the US context, that "rule" is often viewed as a suggestion--see what The Elements of Style has to say about "that" and "which.")
In short, the important stuff in writing isn’t the grammar. The ideas are what matter; grammar is only important as a tool to help communicate. And people who focus on grammar and miss the actual ideas are annoying.