attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

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,
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?


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.
Tags: blah blah blah, words, writing
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