Category Archives: Academia

I’m not a grammarian, but…

funny pictures of cats with captions

I have always been passionate about language. As a kid, I memorized big fancy words not to make myself seem smarter, but to actually use them in my daily vocabulary. My parents went from correcting my fiction to being corrected on everything they wrote. (I am the sole reason my mother stopped writing the family Christmas letter.) In high school, I dreamed of taking foreign languages simply so I could learn more about English and its linguistic roots.  And then in grad school, I taught first-year English – half for the tuition breaks, and half to wage my own little war on freshman ignorance.

Yes, I am that much of a nerd.

Good news is, those three years of teaching successfully beat my grammar-nazi tendencies into submission, and I learned to pick my battles. The average person might not care of the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom,’ but so long as he/she doesn’t commit any egregious crimes against linguistic humanity, can use the correct form of ‘your,’ and can make the message heard without causing too much trauma, I can bite my tongue. Language evolves, and those who use it have to let it evolve, lest it die entirely.

And then I read this article: Proper Spelling? Its Tyme to Let Luce!

And I had a mental aneurysm.

What starts out as a writer’s rant against autocorrect quickly devolves into a hissy fit over grammatical rules and the apparently haphazard nature of English construction. (Note: I mean the construction of the English language, not a slam against British-built buildings.) So let’s take this ‘argument’ apart a bit…

“Consistent spelling was a great way to ensure clarity in the print era. But with new technologies, the way that we write and read (and search and data-mine) is changing, and so much spelling.”

Pardon me, but when did we move out of the print era? Just because we are moving away from the ink-on-paper tech and into the digital realm does not mean that print is passé, or that clarity in written language is no longer necessary. If anything, it’s even more crucial now than before, because unless you’re using nothing but audio and podcasts on the internet, everything is written. Everything.

Also, what does the writer propose that we allow English to ‘evolve’ into? LOLcat speak? There is a reason that is an entertainment site, and not a place where you publish a medical case study, an academic paper, or even where you attempt to carry on intelligent discourse (trolls, there are many). It is fluff, it is fluffery, it is not serious. LOLcat is a non-language!

(Sorry, been watching Monty Python lately. Couldn’t resist.)

“The notion that words can and should be spelled only one way is a fairly recent invention…”

Here the author does have a point, but there is a reason that standardization was developed – it makes reading easier. Try taking a look at Chaucer in the original Middle English, and try reading through that mess of extraneous letters and inconsistent spellings. I first read Chaucer as a college junior, and though I was not a stupid student by any stretch, I had to read that thing out loud to myself, carefully pronouncing each word until I’d acquired a mongrel Scottish accent and drove my roommate screaming from the room. Hamlet took me less time and I remembered more.

(I remember farts. There was something about farts. And Reeve Tuesti. But I was also playing FFVII at the time so things might’ve gotten jumbled…)

Anyways, the entire point of a standardized system of spellings is to make reading faster and easier, so that the reader can spend more brainpower on the meaning of the message instead of deciphering it. And at this point in time, so many generations have been trained in the use of that standardized system that it’s practically ingrained in us. As a society, we search for a specific structure in our written documentation, and if it’s not there, or if it’s off by a noticeable amount, we automatically look down upon the writer.

There’s a reason there’s a couple Facebook groups named, “I judge you when you use poor grammar.”

“Standardized spelling enables readers to understand writing, to aid communication and ensure clarity. Period. There is no additional reason, other than snobbery, for spelling rules.”

Oh yes, because we only use communication for trivial things like posting on teh internets. Not for emailing your boss, or constructing a resume, or writing laws, or protesting said laws, or overthrowing governments, or…You get the drift.

“We need a new set of tools that recognize more variations instead of rigidly enforcing outdated dogma. Let’s make our own rules. It’s not like the English language has many good ones anyway.”

Tell me this doesn’t sound like a child stamping his/her foot, then grabbing the toy from the sandbox and going home because Timmy and Sally wouldn’t play the game he/she wanted to play. Because that’s what it sounds like to me.

Here’s the kicker: This article came from an English professor. Who should know better than to rant like this. Unless, of course, the entire article was satire, in which case it fell short of the point it was trying to make. (Which would have been…?)

I’m sorry, but when I encounter that kind of attitude, be it from a student or another professional-type individual, my answer is the same: Laziness is not an excuse for ignoring the rules, or for throwing a hissy fit about them.

And If you don’t like the autocorrect for your tweets, then here’s an idea: TURN IT OFF.

What do you think – satire or legit grievance? What is your response to poor grammar and spelling? Is this the future of the English language?


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