Tag Archives: grammar bigot

Are Spelling and Grammar Obsolete?

Am I being too critical? Do you react like I do to blatant spelling errors? Do they spoil messages for you?

Glaring grammar and spelling errors distract me. Yesterday I received an email from somebody asking me to help him find an “inverstor” because he’s had “alot” of interest and he “truely” believes he could go “worlwide.”  I notice when somebody uses “then” for “than” or “your” for “you’re.” I notice apostrophe errors like adding an apostrophe for every plural noun. I notice common spelling errors like “seperate,” and “definately.” Those errors interfere with the message. I was less likely to answer than I would have been if the message had been corrected.

What bothers me is:

  1. I deal with some genuinely smart, very well educated people who make lots of these glaring spelling errors, even in messages that are important and well thought out. If I get caught on grammar and spelling, with these people, then I lose. They don’t.
  2. Pots and kettles: I’m shocked at how often I commit these same mistakes myself, breaking easy rules I know well, by  typing too damned fast and then not reading what I wrote. I see your mistakes much more easily than my own. Is that the same for everybody?
  3. Grammar and spelling bigotry: the word prejudice comes from pre judging, as in judging in advance, based on superficial factors. Am I not giving poor spellers or sloppy keyboarders a fair chance? Are spelling and grammar superficial?
  4. And now with social media, the opportunities for errors are so much bigger. What we post in social media is publishing it, where all can see. That raises the stakes. I’m so glad Twitter lets me delete and retype.

Some suggestions:

  1. Two great links: 10 words you need to stop misspelling, and how to use an apostrophe.
  2. I wish I had an email editor that underlines questionable words and phrases, like Word and Windows Live Writer do; at least there’s spellcheck in most email editors. Of course spellcheck doesn’t catch the then-than and your-you’re or there-their-they’re errors.
  3. My wife says angels fly because they take themselves lightly. I do try. But what if she called them “angles” instead of “angels?”
  4. At the very least, when you email me asking a favor, spell my name right.
  5. It’s hard to publish this post because I’m so afraid I might have a spelling or grammatical error in it.

Accent and Grammar Bigotry

I heard a comedian the other day, on the radio, making fun of how the rest of the country looks down on a Southern accent. It was a funny routine. I wish I could quote from it, but I was driving, it was on the radio, so I can’t.

I dealt with a man once, PhD in Chemistry from Princeton, who called me out on that. He got me on the phone one day and challenged me to pay attention to his words instead of his accents. He said something like “everybody I talk to in California acts like I’m stupid, and nobody listens.” I’m impressed by degrees, though, so I listened. Only because he challenged me. And I was glad I did. He was a very smart guy, with a real talent for software. He spoke with a thick Louisiana accent. Our business never went anywhere, but for other reasons. And he taught me that I too could be a bigot. I didn’t like that lesson, but I learned.

I was reminded of that the other day with Seth Godin’s am I the only one distracted by apostrophes and weird “quoting”? He explains how grammar mistakes with apostrophes and quotes distract him. Me too. It clouds his judgment. Mine too. He says:

When I get a manuscript or see a sign that misuses its and it’s and quotes, I immediately assume that the person who created it is stupid.

And then he apologizes:

I understand that this is a mistake on my part. They’re not necessarily totally stupid, they’re just stupid about apostrophes. It’s a moral failing on my part to conflate the two, but I bet I’m not the only one.

I’m sorry. I go with Seth’s first instinct. Call me elitist. But I get distracted by mistakes on basic grammar such as confusing its and it’s. Use apostrophes for plural nouns having nothing to do with possessives distracts me too. Like spinach showing in the smiling teeth.

The difference, I think, is that accents are much harder to unlearn and aren’t fundamentally correct or incorrect. Grammar is relatively easy to learn, and there is such a thing as correct and incorrect. I think making assumptions for Southern accents is dumb, but making assumptions for bad grammar, is less dumb.

Despite the apology, Seth ends up pretty much in the same place he started on grammar:

What else are your customers judging you on?

It’s not just about being a grammar stickler. The fact is, we’re constantly looking for clues and telling ourselves stories based on limited information. It shouldn’t matter, but it does.

I completely agree. I don’t want to be bigoted against certain accents, which is dumb. But I’m not going to give up on grammar.