Program cover for Asian Shakespeare Association event in New Delhi.
Program cover for Asian Shakespeare Association event in New Delhi.

Popular online English inspector Grammarly reaching market valuation of US$1 billion in October, according to TechCrunch quoting Grammarly’s chief executive officer Brad Hoover,  is confirmation of our life in a world of algorithmic “experts”  improving our writing and writing tone  – offered tones include  “confident,” “respectful”, “joyful” – in journalistic articles to letters pacifying the girlfriend, in business correspondence or maybe write a best-seller book.

I am not surprised at Grammarly’s Ukrainian co-founders Alex Shevchenko and Max Lytvyn hitting the billion-dollar league; the world has no shortage of people like me having a healthy wish to learn to communicate better.

Grammarly’s success joins the wondrous world of technological marvels and instant fixes, enabling access to “expertise” that in decades of yore needed a lifetime of career experience and excellence to gain.

But such instant “expertise” needs handling with caution. Grammarly and other English-upgrading tribals, such as PrePostSEO, ProWritingAid, Ginger, Hemingway Editor et al, are useful – but do not forget they are automated assistants, not grammar gurus. So preserve independent judgment about algorithmic assessments of our writing skills.

Independent creativity can be drowned in a world of clones submissively following uniform code of what constitutes good or correct or acceptable or clear or efficient writing.

Learning and upgrading writing skills need not include blind surrender to any online Government of Grammar.

I apply essential rules but am my own master. Maintaining individuality becomes important in this Internet world of instant fixes, including Google translations from Amharic to Cebuano (spoken in the southern Philippines) and 101 other languages. And now online English writing instant-fixers.

Grammar and language checkers compare our words and sentences against their database of English previously used. Even if Grammarly’s artificial-intelligence technology compares English usage in billions of sentences, in uncommon creative usage human common sense will beat AI – provided the human user does not blindly accept whatever algorithms deem is better English.

Yet the merchants of language-translation and writing-upgrading software have a happy future. In the global thirst for downloading applications, more than 5 billion mobile-phone users downloaded 2.6 million Android and 2.2 million Apple apps by this April.

In the “apps” age of quick “expert” fixes, Grammarly and cousins could be forerunners to “Trouserly” and “Shirterly” – possibly future genius apps giving tips on “good” clothes to wear for the day’s duties and festivities.

As with other aspects of life, what is “good” is also subjective and of personal taste. In determining “good” writing, the Grammarly tribe are algorithmic versions of the human tyranny of dogmatic dos and don’ts.

We need grammar for clarity, to avoid confusion, but we do not need too many commandments smothering free-spirited creativity.

We see that in sports. No official cricket treatise exists on exhilarating batting innovations such as the “scoop” shot; soccer coaches dare not teach Cristiano Ronaldo’s backflip goal in the 2018 Champions League quarter-final; the Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy in Mallorca does not offer the non-grammatical tennis skills of Iranian player Mansour Bahrami.

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Pupils and a parent at Eton school, England, watch a cricket match circa 1920. Schools, grammar-learning and cricket have all dramatically changed in 100 years.

Beware the submissive tendency of blind acceptance, the same unquestioning mindset that lets the mainstream media hoodwink millions through manipulated news coverage.

As with murdered journalistic credibility, passive submissiveness could kill the adventurous spirit of writing buccaneers.

To save individual creativity, apply basic rules, but no sacrificing uniqueness on the grammar altar of conformity.

My Grammarly use is pragmatic and rebellious since I write the way I wish to write – not according to grammar bibles of Reverso, SentenceCheckerPlus, After the Deadline, Jetpack, or WhiteSmoke in the burgeoning business of online English inspectors.

For instance, I recently received the weekly Grammarly “Insights” into my writing; it first doled out soap: “You were more productive than 99% of Grammarly users,” “You were more accurate than 43% of Grammarly users,” “You used more unique words than  99% of Grammarly users” –  I was working on a health and medical writing project, and so 99% of 20 million Grammarly users may not have needed words like “checkpoint inhibitors” and “brachytherapy” (both used in cancer treatment).

Then I got the diagnosis: besides other grammatical ailments, my writing suffered (according to Dr Grammarly) from often not using the article (“a” and “the”). That most used word “the” has its necessary uses but as it clutters up sentences, I use “the” like a miser spending money to buy his hated boss a Christmas gift.

After the soap and diagnosis came the sales: “Grammarly Premium” found “1,241 additional advanced issues” in my writing for the week. To fix those “advanced” grammar cancer cells, I have to kindly part with $29.95 a month or $139.95 a year, as necessary contribution no doubt to help me bag the Nobel Prize for literature in 2021, as well as perhaps contributing to grammar barons Alex Shevchenko and Max Lytvyn buying their next Porsche.

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A Porsche 918 Spyder on display (original price tag US$845,000). Those wanting similar set of wheels can try their luck setting up shop as online grammar checkers and plagiarism detectives.

With more tools and platforms, Grammarly plans to expand its user base of more than 20 million. Online English inspectors have happy days ahead.

Their booming market includes teachers and editors wanting to catch out naughty cheats – the Grammarly tribe have plagiarism tools that “compare billions of webpages to your document and alert you to passages that may need citations.” But to hire these plagiarism detectives, the aforementioned teachers and editors will have to contribute to the grammar barons’ next Porsche.

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