Do You Rite Good?

I saw this posted (as written) on Facebook a while ago:

ok this may be a little harsh but I really don’t care….why do foriners look at us with a dumb ass look on thier face when we don’t understand what they are saying….hello you are in America at least make an effort to learn our language I mean come on your welcome here but don’t make us feel like ass’ becuase your to F$%king lazy to learn english. Sorry everyone just had to get that off my chest.

waist-511Hmmm. My first thought was that this person is being a bit hypocritical—clearly they haven’t learned English either! And in my experience, usually the situation is reversed, with American tourists rude and frustrated that English isn’t spoken in other countries.

While this is (hopefully) an extreme case, it seems that grammar and spelling no longer matter very much to our culture. In the last week or so, I’ve come across:

  • A newspaper article full of mistakes that was written by the paper’s editor,
  • Numerous signs on buildings and billboards around town with apostrophes inserted where they have no business appearing,
  • More signs missing an apostrophe they should have had,
  • Glaring grammatical mistakes by television newscasters,
  • Misspellings on prominent placards,
  • Complete confusion over the difference between “to” and “too,” “you’re” and “your,” and “there,” “their,” and “they’re”…

for-all-your-carpentry-needs-681And don’t even get me started about online comments by quasi-literate ranters.

I’m not counting the mistakes made by those attempting to learn English as a new language. Our language is complicated enough to stymie native speakers, and I applaud the perseverance of all ESL students. No, it’s professionals—writers, editors, printers, even teachers—who are failing miserably at their mother tongue.

your-tax-dallors-at-work.-500Every time I come across an egregious error in either spelling or grammar, I cringe and complain to Pete who, being much more tolerant than I am, points out that until the mid-1800s, these were non-issues in our society. One could spell pretty much however one wished, as long as readers could understand what was being said. English became standardized only when the first dictionaries were published, and soon schoolchildren across the nation were being quizzed on proper punctuation and spelling.

Of course, language evolves. We don’t speak the same way our ancestors did. With the advent of texting (and then twitter), spelling became subservient to the need to conserve keystrokes. Words and phrases have been abbreviated, generally in a consistent manner. Everyone knows what LOL or IMHO means.

bk wash hands-1But what I’m noticing is something else. It takes the same number of letters to spell “their” as it does “there.” Mixing them up is more a matter of ignorance or apathy.

Given that most jobs require decent writing (and speaking) skills, especially if you aspire to a position of leadership (a certain former president notwithstanding), I would expect that more people would care about writing and speaking correctly. Employers equate poor grammar skills with incompetence. I don’t know if the schools are no longer teaching these subjects, or if the students are just failing to learn, but we are producing a generation of workers who sound uneducated, at best.

EatsShootsLeavesIf you realize that you could use a few lessons in this area, I’d like to recommend a book. Eats, Shoots and Leaves is the most amazing book on grammar you are likely to find. It’s actually fun to read. Author Lynne Truss takes what is normally a painfully dry topic and, with her sardonic British humor, turns it into a fascinating, and at times hilarious, series of lessons. Each chapter focuses on the use of particular punctuation mark, from commas to hyphens. Even the title is a play on punctuation, with its accompanying illustration. How many books on punctuation turn into best sellers?

My only regret is that Truss stopped with punctuation. Where can I get help with sorting out the proper usage of “who” and “whom”?

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2 thoughts on “Do You Rite Good?

  1. I highly recommend The Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin. It may not be as fun a read as the book you mentioned (that I would love to read), but I have fun reading it. I’ve got the tenth edition, and it looks like it’s about time for the next one. With all of the lax grammar and spelling, my work as a proofreader-editor is either about to go boom or bust.

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