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Grammar in da House

Sorry about the spotty posting; I am now in the stage where I bounce between "pretty okay" and "death on toast". Hopefully by next week I'll be back to "normal".

(As the quotation marks suggest, normal is quite relative.)

 

I am not always perfect in my spelling or punctuation here (mostly because this diary is usually written on the fly with little to no revision), but I try very hard to keep it up to par because here, words are all I have. Crafting a good joke or an insane rant (or just an update on my state of mind) has a lot to do with the language I use and how I put it to work - I can dilute my message in a number of ways (way too many words being my perennial favourite), but I don't want weird spelling mistakes or confusing puctuation marks to get in the way of my ideas.

I admit it - I'm a language purist (which is partly why I find LOLcats so damn funny - you have to know the right way to do something to know why "fail" is giggle-worthy). One of my favourite blogs to while away an idle moment is the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, where language takes on hilarious meanings the original writers never intended. Now, such fun-poking is all par for the course - you goof up, someone is going to notice - but I'm less happy with something I see a lot on the intarwebs, where someone bluntly corrects someone else on their spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

Don't get me wrong, I do think correct usage is very important, but I don't think random strangers should be slamming people for their writing mistakes. Their correction is rarely kindly meant; more often, it's an opportunity to make themselves feel big by making someone else feel small. The author of the "BoUQM" was quoted in an MSNBC article that addresses this phenomenon; they posit that it's an opportunity for people to have some small amount of control in a largely uncontrollable world. I agree, but I also think that some people go looking for mistakes, and are meaner than necessary in their correction.

(And let's not even get started on people that use spelling mistakes in flame wars to somehow discredit the other person's thinking - talk about your straugh mann argument!)

I admit, however, that continual bad spelling really bothers me - it's very hard to get into the flow of someone's writing when your eyes are continually registering spelling anomalies. And it's hard to take someone terribly seriously when they are misspelling every third word. Writing is communication, and a poor communicator runs the risk of people turning off their message because it's too hard to wade through all the mistakes.

Now, blogs are different from magazine articles, and a blog that is a quick update on the blogger's life is different from an opinion piece by the same blogger. There are levels of writing that I am prepared for, and as long as it's understandable, a "state of the me" post with a bunch of random spelling mistakes isn't going to bother me or turn me off the person's blog. What saddens me is that I am seeing more frequently these days the idea that no writing needs to be properly spelled or constructed, which (as anyone who has had to wade through reams of badly-written resumes can tell you) is absolutely not the case.

I am frequently appalled at the atrocious writing and spelling skills of the students Bob teaches - and how offended they are at being told they need to re-write something so that it's even barely comprehensible. It amazes me how they seem to expect they'll get a great job when they can't write a simple e-mail.

However, I'd sooner die than correct someone's spelling if they haven't asked for it; I think it's incredibly demeaning to correct someone in public, and the internets count as "public" for me, even though most people will be alone when they read it. I cannot promise that I won't draw certain conclusions about people from the way they write, but that's a hazard of text-only communication. Words are what we have to show who we are, and the way those words are presented says a lot about the writer. However, I think it also says a lot about someone when their only communication is "you spelt [sic] that wrong". And certainly, I don't need to make someone's day a little worse by pointing out that they made a mistake.

Having said that, though, there are some commonly confused words that really do drive me up the wall when they're misused, and I'm going to throw them out to the Universe. Do what you will with them:

(No, I'm not going into the they're there, their definition again - if you haven't got it right by now, that's just too bad.)

One for the SCA - Populace/Populous. This one is really, really annoying, because it seems like people never get it right. PopuLACE is the one where the King and Queen go
"Dear Populace,
How are you today? We're doing very well, and we hope you are too.
Lots of love,
Us."
PopuLOUS means that there are a lot of you. London is populous. Calcutta is populous. Populous is a word that most people will never have need of in normal conversation, so let's all agree to stop using it, okay?

Okay.

Baited/Bated - this one gets a bit of mis-usage because of the inexplicably popular expression "I am waiting with bated breath!". But, because the term "bated" is not in common usage any more (it means (roughly) held in, capped, or caged), people look at it, go "wait, that can't be right", and re-spell it with an i, because that's more familiar-looking. Unfortunately, you have now gone from having breath that is held in, to having breath that is fish-scented. Blades and breath are bated, fish hooks and lobster pots are baited.

Brooch/Broach - This one gets mis-used one way - people rarely misspell "broach" when they're talking about "broaching the subject" (probably because people rarely, if ever, use the word any more). But you know the little jewelled thing that gets pinned on your sweater or lapel? It's a brooch. Yes, it's pronounced the same as the other word, but it's not spelled the same, trust me (and don't pronounce it "brooooootch").

Most of the other misspellings I see these days are phonetic. The problem with spelling something phonetically is that if you were trying to sound edumacated, misspelling the word is a big fail. If you want to use a big or fancy-sounding word, learn how to spell it, and you'll look much more impressive. I see this most often with Latin or French words - per se is a big offender (do not spell it like it's pronounced - "per say". It looks silly).

Words are so important - that we can communicate incredibly subtle nuances of mood and tone with simple letters on a page is nothing short of miraculous. However, the way those words are presented does matter; no matter how much more work it is to spell-check the masterpiece of wit and wisdom you have just penned, it's worth it. I have a hard time believing in the dazzling intelligence of someone who cannot write in a coherent (or understandable) manner. I'm not talking typos here - everyone makes those - but the kind of spelling that makes it very clear that someone doesn't know the spelling of the word they're using. Or worse, doesn't care.

And if they don't care about their writing, they are sending me the message that I shouldn't care, either. Which seems a shame.

Words are windows into the soul, the differential equations of abstract emotion. They matter.

But if someone doesn't feel they need to bother, I won't correct them. I'll just click my little "back" button, and find something else to read.
 

Comments

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(Deleted comment)
my_stitching
Feb. 24th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
There is only one context in which I could think a misspelling of the word coming would be embarrassing... and it isn't spelled with two Ms. So no worries there. It does look wrong to US eyes though. However, living in England, I come across lots of things which are spelled differently in the US than here. The ones ending in -our most commonly. Sometimes I remember to spell it that way and sometimes I don't. I guess it depends where and to whom I am writing. It hadn't occurred to me that someone might think I am misspelling it. Hmm...
(no subject) - _medb_ - Feb. 24th, 2009 01:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - my_stitching - Feb. 24th, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hugh_mannity - Feb. 24th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mistressrhi - Feb. 24th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
maricelt
Feb. 24th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
One thing I have noticed more and more of these days is people confusing than/then. I'll admit in situations where it is frequent or cannot be dismissed as a spelling error it rankles. That is often when I stop reading and move on. Discretion is often the better part of valor.
czina
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC)
*nod* This one seems to be on the rise. Unfortunately - the last place I read it (3 times in about 2 inches of text) - in the Kingdom A&S newsletter! This was a peer reviewed (I know - he was a Peer, grin) article: and so at least 2 people missed it! In the same issue, I think the 'auto-correct' thought that 'and' worked better than 'an' in talking about 'AN' A&S competition. Again - a new pair of eyes should have caught the error.
_medb_
Feb. 24th, 2009 01:29 pm (UTC)
I have friends who are wonderfully intelligent....and then I read their emails. There have been times when I've had to re-read them at least once or twice to make sure I get what it is they're trying to get across, sigh. I'm far from perfect with spelling and grammar, but it's very annoying when I can barely understand someone's writing!
perilousknits
Feb. 24th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)
Recently, I misspelled 'bated' in a blog post. My friends waited to tell me privately that I'd done so. I could go back and edit that post now, but I kinda want to leave it up, because the misspelling bothers my Dona. ;-)
soldiergrrrl
Feb. 24th, 2009 03:43 pm (UTC)
Wait...does she or Avery have an LJ??
duchesspadr
Feb. 24th, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
You might enjoy this
http://www.amazon.com/Snark-David-Denby/dp/1416599452

"Denby has fun snarking the snarkers, expelling the bums and promoting the true wits, but he is also making a serious point: the Internet has put snark on steroids. In politics, snark means the lowest, most insinuating and insulting side can win. For the young, a savage piece of gossip could ruin a reputation and possibly a future career. And for all of us, snark just sucks the humor out of life. Denby defends the right of any of us to be cruel, but shows us how the real pros pull it off. Snark, he says, is for the amateurs."

And thanks for introducing me to a new blog. I hate me some unnecessary quotation marks!
tacnukesoul
Feb. 24th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
Like the cat that ate the cheese and waited by the mousehole with baited breath?

(As opposed to my icon, who is bagging rodents at 300 meters)
attack_laurel
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
*groan*
hsifeng
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
You may get a giggle out of this: During a recent search for more information on an item housed in a museum in Ingolstadt, I was writing to someone Kass introduced me to in Britain. Only instead of writing the word "housed", I wrote "haused"...because for some reason my brain was thinking 1/2 in English and 1/2 in German.

*head desk*

I caught it before I hit send.
virginiadear
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
May we also address "peak/peek/pique?" That one drives me batty.
E.g., he did not "peek" my curiosity, although there may have been a point at which it *peaked* after having been *piqued* and because I was weak-willed I gave in to it [not "into it"], and took a *peek* through the crack in the door of his secret laboratory so I could see what he is working on and steal his idea.
I've never been sure with this one whether what I'm seeing is incorrect spelling or incorrect usage. Or both.
raventhourne
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)
Modernly I'm an engineer,who apparently has taken way more English writing courses than most who got a degree. I'm constantly marking up reports for peer reviews and I get lots of long stares but goodness,you're report is going to our customer and our suppliers. we don't want blatant mistakes do we? Of course I also put in notes about what I really liked so I guess I try to balance the edits.
nq3x
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC)
Preach it, sistah! Testify!

:D

I confess I'm in the minority here, for I find poor grammar, word mix-ups and erratic spelling in electronic writing absolutely inexcusable. If one has the luxury of time to edit, the wise writer uses every second, especially if one wishes to be taken seriously.

It really grinds my gears when an otherwise knowledgeable person writes good information so poorly that it can barely be deciphered. I immediately leap to the conclusion that, if they lack the intelligence to express themselves through proper use of language, it follows that they can't possibly have the intelligence to hold forth on any subject.

Now, please keep in mind I do not refer to random misspellings like 'teh' or an extra 'e' in something that ends in 'able'. I refer to posts that lack punctuation, where more than 25% of the words are misspelled, etc. If I have to perform a considerable amount of work merely to decipher your scribbling, you haven't done me the courtesy of communicating; it's the written equivalent of mumbling while your mouth is full.

It's simply rude and thoughtless to mangle a perfectly good language. It only shows one can't be arsed to care about other people's comprehension. I don't think it rude at all to point this out, on the Internet or anywhere; after all, the first stone was cast by the poor writer.

All I can think is, "If you care enough to put finger to keyboard, you should care enough to use the language properly. If you don't, what's the point of writing at all?"

Maybe that's just me.
nq3x
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
Edit: It's simply rude and thoughtless to mangle a perfectly good language and expect other people to deal with it without complaint.
(Deleted comment)
czina
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
Heh - how about seeing the cite/sight/site error on a Kingdom A&S page, referring to documentation? 'Sighting your sources' made me blink and wonder how to accomplish that.

And the worst part: one assumes (dangerous to do, I know) that more than one person has read that same website, and hasn't figured out there's a problem, or hasn't attempted a correction.
(no subject) - aeliakirith - Feb. 24th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - redsquirrel - Feb. 24th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
czina
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
Spelling errors really bother me when someone is presenting something to the public. Internal emails? Poor spelling hurts the head, but if the meaning is clear, it's okay.

But when you are submitting documentation, or an article for publication - you want to be clear, and poor spelling is one of the easy ways to do it. Beautiful work can be overlooked if the judge can't understand what you're saying.

I finally got the courage to ASK if I could edit a person's documentation for them. That way - they understand that the criticism is FOR them, not AGAINST them. And I made it clear which corrections were typos, and which were 'say it this way to make it clearer'.

For myself - if I can't spell the word right on the first try, I usually pick a synonym for it (the beauty of an extensive vocabulary). I also have 3 dictionaries of different types - and will even let Word try to help spell things for me. Although I think I had to 'teach' it that I prefer some British spellings - theatre (for live work, theater for movies) and grey (which just strikes me as better than gray). But anytime I get the 'red line', I check the words/sentences to see if I'm smarter than the machine (usually am, but not always).
attack_laurel
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
I have huge respect for the people whose documentation I check who *ask* for the copy I've marked up for my own notes. I've had it happen more than once, and each person has expressed their appreciation for letting them see it. On more than one occasion, I've been afraid to give it - it's usually makred in red (I work in red pen for my job, so it's a habit), and I know the red is scary!

I really love it when people are more interested in being their best instead of just wanting pats on the back. Nevertheless, I never proffer it unless asked! :)

Technical writing and research writing are two places when clear communication is paramount - you have an idea, and you need to hand it on to someone else. Self-esteem is not a useful trait when it gets in the way of learning how to express yourself clearly, y'know?

I'm overly verbose in my postings, but that's because I like to chew my language in big meaty chunks. I would not write instructions in the same "voice".
(no subject) - czina - Feb. 24th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fiadnata - Feb. 25th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - florentinescot - Feb. 25th, 2009 04:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - florentinescot - Feb. 25th, 2009 03:58 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hugh_mannity - Feb. 24th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
zihuatanejo
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
My favorite is ad nauseAm.

Makes me crazy. Lynn Truss is required reading in my house.
aeliakirith
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you for that. Most of those I knew (and letters addressed to "the populous of Atlantia" make me twitch), but the pronunciation of "brooch" was a new one for me. One of the hazards of being an inveterate bookworm is knowing more words than you've ever heard spoken.

I don't mind that people have trouble with spelling and grammar--if everyone could write clearly and spell flawlessly, I'd be unemployed. I'd just like to see people *care.* At work, I shudder at misspelled posters and signs, especially when it would've taken me or another writer thirty seconds to read them over, if someone had just asked.

It is rude to correct someone publicly, especially if there's sarcasm or derision involved. If a spelling error is really going to make them look like an idiot, a politely worded private e-mail might be in order.

Feel free to correct my spelling if it's clearly something I didn't know, rather than a finger-slip. Or, more likely, take me aside and correct my pronunciation if I botch a word that I could spell.
attack_laurel
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
Heh - I read much more than I talked as a child - for years, I thought "ethereal" was pronounced "eReetheal". :)

I had a really funny incident in my old diary where some teenagers *begged* to be allowed to review my diary - their review was unflattering, but hilarious, since they didn't understand half the words I used, and accused me of not having enough "poetry". As if anyone wants to read my poetry! :)

They did not take kindly to my clarfifcations on their mistakes. Hee.
Haa? - yzzy - Feb. 25th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
thornbury
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC)
I recall years ago, a coworker wrote in an e-mail distribution, "We'll just reconfigure the routes, restart the peering session and -- walla!"
luciab
Feb. 24th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
Oh, my. Julia Child totally ruined that one for our whole family-- a couple of times, at least, she proudly displayed something and said "Viola!" and it has stuck. Firmly.
(no subject) - hugh_mannity - Feb. 24th, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
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