You do think grammar and spelling are important? Do you believe your words define you and frame your intelligence? If you agree, how then do you explain the steep decline in definition and brightness in written exchanges via electronic communication?

Is self-publication on the internet a subset of what is happening on a wider and deeper field of personal communication and professional expression? I’m not talking about typos — everyone makes those — I’m talking about the purposeful, unwitting and continued use of bad grammar and repeated poor spelling when you visit a website or a blog or hold a chat or receive email and you, as the reader, have to struggle — not to interpret the grander meaning of the writing — but you must first try to comprehend what the person is trying to tell you.

Why does the writer force you to sift through a bird’s nest tangle of dangling metaphors, disjointed word order, improper agreement and even uneven interjection injections? The larger question is why do those people choose to communicate in what is not really even English?

There are a lot of “writers” on the web that are proud of their lack of basic writing skills because they call rapt attention to their keyboard vomit by telling us upfront they cannot spell, they do not care about grammar and they will happily use the wrong words to convey what then becomes incorrect meaning and a skewed context. So why do those self-confessed poor writers “write” when they care not about improving or even being basically understood?

The thing I find most interesting about the illegible blogs I stumble upon throughout my day is that a few of them have comments! How, I wonder, do those sites get comments when the post makes no sense? Then I read the comments. Then I see the comments are just as incomprehensible as the article so those article authors are not reaching anyone beyond the small illiterate circle in which they spin.

Do you spell check what you write before you send it or post it online? Do you practice any kind of basic grammar rules? What do you do when you are required to interact in writing with an illiterate with a keyboard? After wiping off their vomit, do you maintain your practice of spelling and grammar or do you modify your expression downward to match the level of the illiterate?

50 Comments

  1. I notice that I catch about 95% of typos as I am writing any given Go Inside article. (One of which I should be submitting shortly). Of those that I don’t catch about 80% are words that for some reason I can never remember the proper spelling. Can’t remember any off the top of my head (or the bottom?) but there are a few – I used to always spell refrigerator with a d.
    I never modify my expression to match the illiterate because that would make me just as illiterate as them. I would hate to be illiterate. 😮

  2. Hi Gordon —
    Do you type your articles in Word to catch the typos and then paste them into a template for publication?
    I understand you will not lower yourself to the level of the illiterate — but are the illiterate able to understand what you are writing to them?
    Is there any disconnect between understanding and comprehension if you don’t use their level of communication?
    How do you know if they understand you — by what they illiterately write back?

  3. It’s a sign that people aren’t learning anything in school and aren’t reading for pleasure.
    It’s too easy to plop down in front of the television for entertainment. Reading a book takes too long and is sometimes seen as being hard work.
    I just read Kurt Vonnegut‘s A Man Without a Country and he speculates that television makes it impossible for people in today’s society to exercise their imagination.
    In the days of past, people had to use their minds to decode the 26 letters of the alphabet and transform them into mental images. Vonnegut writes that television images dull this ability because the work is already done for us.
    To write well requires reading other people’s works to develop that inner voice that helps guide ones writing.
    Unfortunately, many people don’t take time to read well-written books, or any books for that matter.

  4. Hi Chris!
    I agree with Kurt. Images dull mental sharpness.
    I had hoped the explosion of blogging and web publishing would force people back to the page to make sure what they were putting out there was clear and made sense. It would be, I thought, a return to a Writing Renaissance. It didn’t happen.
    Now with PodCasting and VideoCasting we’re back to the ear and the image and text will once again slowly die away.

  5. For the majority of works, I’d rather read something, than listen to or watch it.
    Listening to a podcast seems too time consuming and promises too little reward. The same thing applies to news videos on the web — I’d rather just read the transcript unless the images are truly spectacular or interesting.
    With words, I can skim to see if I really want to spend my time continuing to read the work.

  6. I do believe that spelling and grammar are important. I know that I am not the best at grammar but I am working on that.
    Everyone makes spelling and grammar mistakes at some point, it is expected with all the rules in the English language. What I can’t tolerate is when people purposely make these mistakes – what is the point?
    My biggest pet peeve of all is the people that don’t bother to type out sentences. I am so sick of BRB, BRT, OMW, etc. and trying to figure out what they mean.
    I always spell check before I post online. I compose my post or comments in Word, spell check and then post the message. In addition, I save every post and comment that I write so I have copy in case anything ever happens to my posts.

  7. Hi Chris!
    You’re right as time and space compress you can read at your own speed of light. If you are forced to listen or watch something pre-recorded you are giving over your control over space and time to someone else and rarely is that gift worth the sacrifice.

  8. With these types of discussions, I find that I jinx myself and make more typos. I misspelled truly.
    Maybe I should type in a word processor and use spell check. Of course, spell checking doesn’t catch all of the typos.
    When I’m commenting on a blog, I usually have dictionary.com open in a window so I check to see if I’m spelling correctly.

  9. Hi Allison!
    Right! The BRB stuff is just lazy. Either write it or don’t but don’t invent your own abbreviations and expect the rest of the world to read your mind.
    I, too, always try to spell check just to make sure it all fits together. If something slips by someone usually tells me so I can fix it and I always appreciate that extra critical eye.
    I find a lot of the grammar and spelling mistakes are made because people don’t care and don’t care to know. Good, clear, writing isn’t important to them. I counter that if it isn’t important to them then why put it out in public in the first place?

    1. Hi David,

      The issue showing with grammar and spelling mistakes is just the tip of the iceberg, I am afraid. In terms of evolution, we’ve being going down the drain over the past 30+ years – and that phenomenon has gained momentum with the wide-spread use of Internet which fosters “more” and “faster” to anyone – no strings/structure attached.

      There is a lack of crystal-clear thinking for a start and that transpires through the wording and spelling. Korzybski defined that phenomena as disturbances of the semantic reactions (psycho-logical responses to words and other stimuli in connection with their meaning) and states that establishing structure as the only possible content of knowledge [I highly recommend Alfred Korzybski’s “Science and Sanity” (http://esgs.free.fr/uk/art/sands.htm) ]

  10. Chris —
    I fixed your typo.
    I, too, use a dictionary. I consult the online version of Merriam-Webster more than I consult Google in a day! I love learning the meanings of words beyond the ordinary first and second definitions.

  11. All of my articles are first typed into a lovely program called TSWWebCoder – it used to pride itself on being completely free, but then the creator realized that he could actually make a living if even part of the downloads started paying him so now, thanks to my hard drive failure, I have an ‘unregistered’ version which is waiting for me to insert my serial key. The serial key used to be freely distributed to any who requested. I think I will eventually pony up because it’s just that good. I like using it because it lets me write in real html and I like to put in my new paragraphs with my less than, p, greater than. 🙂
    I then run it through either an online spelling program or, if word is open, through that. I go back and correct my typos and errors.
    The thing with the illiteracy is that I am sure that people, given the opportunity, would write a lot better. I think most of the illiteracy you see on blogs is a result of people wanting to just get it done as quickly as possible because, G-d forbid, they might miss the new episode of Cagney & Lacey. (I just double checked imdb.com to make sure I spelled that vintage gem correctly)
    Based on that I would have to assume that 95% of those to whom I leave understand what I write perfectly well.

  12. What do you think about using symbols and numbers to create words, such as “!337$p34k” a/k/a “Leetspeek.”
    According to Microsoft:

    Rules of standard English style are rarely obeyed. Some leetspeakers capitalize every letter except for vowels (LiKe THiS), or drop vowels from words (such as converting “very” to “vry”). Leetspeakers might also reject conventional writing style and grammar.
    Mistakes are often left uncorrected. Common typing errors such as “teh” instead of “the” are left uncorrected or sometimes deliberately adopted to replace the correct spelling.

  13. Blogging is a form of communication.
    All forms of communication require a solid grasp of the language being used to communicate with.
    Therefore, blogging requires good use of language.
    I don’t see the disconnection point with people that simply refuse to use correct language in their blogs. Blogs are meant to be read, not decoded, right? Sure, I can forgive the occasional OMG or WTF abbreviation, and even ‘leet’ has its place, but deliberate misuse of language just makes the “writer” look silly. I’m sure no writer has that intention.
    As for me, I’m completely anal about my spelling and grammar. I was the kid at school who would freak out on the rare occasion that I got 19 out of 20 in a spelling test. I have to edit and correct any typos I spot after posting. I just have to.

  14. Hi Gordon!
    Thanks for the detail on how you get your life published online.
    I don’t think people care enough to check their work before publication. “Good enough” is good enough for them while “Getting It Right” is too much effort for too much trouble.

  15. Chris —
    Ugh!
    “Leetspeak” is unbearably awful and inert. Slang has its place but not in a piece where you are trying to communicate beyond your narrow circle of friends. The fact that Microsoft is giving “Leetspeak” recognition on their website provides a validation that is undeserving.

  16. Hi Joey!
    Welcome to this blog and I appreciate your comment.
    I am with you all the way. If you choose to communicate on the web where strangers find you and read you — the base expectation is that you will use correct English to communicate your thoughts and feelings.
    To do otherwise is to be selfish and wasting.

  17. Actually, dropping vowels from words is not really a new thing at all, I think.
    If we are to believe that Thomas Pynchon’s monumental work Mason & Dixon is completely accurate in keeping to grammatical and spelling style of the period in which it took place, vowel dropping seemed to happen a lot – specifically it seemed like when people signed their letters.
    Instead of writing ‘your humble servant’ (I’d like to see someone write that in an e-mail today) people would write y’r humble s’rv’t.
    I wonder how this new world of grammar and spelling translates over to hebrew. In hebrew writing vowels are almost always omitted. 🙂

  18. Hi Gordon —
    Pig Latin is popular in some circles but that doesn’t mean I want to read it on the web.
    There needs to be a basic agreement — a covenant if you will — between author and reader that will create common ground for imagining and understanding. Misting that agreement with proprietary speech patterns and unconventional spelling doesn’t serve a larger interest of human understanding or an evergreen ability to be read and understood beyond the end of your life.

  19. D03$ 9r4/\/\/\/\4r /\/\4773r \/\/|-|3|\| |\|0B0D’/ (4|\| U|\|D3r$74|\|D \/\/|-|@ j00Z R \/\/r171|\|9?
    If I saw a blog written like that, I’d never take the time to read it.
    I used a translator to change “Does grammar matter when nobody can understand what you are writing?” into Leet.
    One of these days, when our language devolves, we’ll pull up to our ATM and find Leet as a language selection.
    \/\/3L(0/\/\3 70 /\/\394B4|\||

  20. All of this Leet makes me want to type a memo using the translator, then distribute it, and see if anyone notices anything strange about it. It might be a way to see if people are actually reading office documents!

  21. Doesn’t “facockta” sound like something obscene?
    I ran a Google search and it pointed back to your discussion on DRM.
    I checked Yahoo and a couple of entries down –Urbansemiotic was in the top position again — was an entry about a Jewish hip hop group with the same name.

    The new and hilarious Jewish comedy/hip-hop group Facockta will be making their debut at Mist on Wednesday, October 5th. Come party with MC Ethel the Kosher Kitty, Jewish Dave, and DJ Michael Toast, aka Avi the OG (Orthodox Gangsta).

    Same thing for MSN. This blog is in the top position.
    Facockta is a big keyword in relation to DRM on this blog.
    All my research on the meaning of “facockta” points back to Urbansemiotic!

  22. Hey Chris!
    Thanks for doing all that Facockta research for us – w00t!! — ! There may be variations in the spelling of the idea of “Facockta” — but we maintain the meaning is universal.
    I’m thrilled to see so many pointers back here to the Chosen Spelling.
    I’ve been thinking about your memo, and I think something with a title like this:
    “Leet is the New Facockta Language of this Law Firm” would be a brilliant and stunning way to kick off the experiment.
    Then Leet the rest of the memo – with appropriate website links for translation — and see who responds and how many seek to immediately have you committed to the wacko bin.
    I think it would be one of the most highly read blog entries here ever!

  23. Dave —
    You got that Facockta right!
    The problem is spoken English and written English are different beasts.
    When I was growing up in Nebraska I had a neighbor my age that came from a powerful and well-to-do family. Her entire family used “ain’t” in every sentence. They said “aint’s in the dictionary” as an excuse for using it in their speech. “Ain’t” made them sound like the shallow, uneducated, inbred-kinfolk they were not.
    As you said – correcting someone’s spoken English without their asking for you to do it is never well-received and always ends in hurt feelings.
    Even if you are not highly education, the proper use of English in spoken and written communication can take you a long, long way because that kind of ability is so rare in the business world.

  24. One problem is that people don’t take the internet seriously. If I were talking with a good friend on the phone, I would use different language than if I were talking to my boss. The same is true for me on the internet. If I’m instant messaging with my friends, we may have some abbrieviations we mutually know and we will use them. However, I always use correct grammar, punctuation, etc. when emailing or blogging. There is a larger audience there and, as with most blogs, the more intelligent you sound the more clout you will receive. People aren’t going to listen to a ninny. At least, not the people I want to converse with.

  25. Dave —
    We’re still waiting for the rain to break here. My leg has been killing me since last night at 11pm so the rain should be falling in another couple of hours or so if my predicting calf is correct.

  26. AG —
    I agree people don’t take the internet seriously and that’s a serious problem!
    I understand what you’re saying about code switching — but sometimes it’s best to stay with a basic code that can be universally understood and appreciated.
    I fear if we have too much breaking of a common language into proprietary cultural and situational codes no one will be able to understand each other when the vital, urgent, need presents itself!

  27. I can read and write three languages, and interestingly, it is easy for me to catch a typo when I am writing instead of typing – if I write something wrong I would automatically stop –try the alternative, see which one looks familiar/ better and go for it. But that doesn’t happen when I type so I depend on spell check.
    I just don’t understand the logic behind any broken language, but I guess it’s just ‘kool’!!!
    Unfortunately (?), it goes way over my head.

  28. Hi Katha!
    It’s interesting how the hand and mind are better connected for you than the mind and hand and keyboard alternative!
    I guess the quick simplicity of saying something with a keyboard is too tempting for some to slow down…
    I, too, don’t understand the enticement of playing around with breaking convention in spelling and grammar — though I do hope one day the idea will self-heal and then go away forever.

  29. David,
    You are a person after my own heart. I’m completely appalled by the lack of interest in proper spelling, let alone proper grammar. What’s that? (Adverbs are my particular hot button. Nobody seems to know how to use them, let alone use them properly. And oh heavens, semicolons!)
    I’m particularly upset because I’m a professional writer and when I see spelling and grammar out of whack, it irks me. I’ve had 10 books published by traditional, hardcover publishers. And I edit. Wow! You should see some of the stuff that crosses my desk.
    So, where does this downfall in proper English begin?
    I taught writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature for more than 5 years. Want to know who my worst students were?
    Elementary school teachers, from all over the world. At least in the U.S., that’s where kids learn the fundamentals of English. Scary, huh?
    Here’s the thing: If parents don’t supplement their kids’ education at home by regularly checking up on things like spelling and grammar, kids are doomed to a life of ignorance in many cases. I mean, if their teachers don’t understand English, how can they be expected to?
    Sheesh.
    Then, you have all these people writing blogs and whatnot, but their light is hidden under the proverbial bushel because the mis-use of the language is impenetrable.
    Some good grammar books for anyone who’d like to bone up:
    Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor
    Punctuation Plain & Simple by Edgar & Jean Alward
    And of course, Strunk & White, The Elements of Style
    If people are serious about being good writers, they need to refresh their studies. For many of us, it’s been a loooong time since 3rd grade. 🙂
    You go, David!

  30. Hi Pat!
    It is super to meet you and I am honored you took a moment to post such a warm and insightful comment. Thank you!
    I’m with you all the way!
    I had no idea elementary school teachers had such poor language writing skills. How did they earn their jobs if they cannot write?
    Your books recommendations are wonderful!

  31. Hi David,
    I haven’t had a chance to work on my Leet memo, but I’m curious to see what might happen. I know there are a couple of people in my office who might get a kick out of it.

  32. Excellent post. A big “WHOOP! WHOOP!” for you. This topic is near and dear to my heart. I actually was in a fight with my father over the holidays about this exact subject.
    I’m sorry, if you can’t spell a word correctly in correspondence, (regardless of the form the correspondence takes), I perceive you to be inattentive and ignorant; not a rebel. Such attitudes do our children no good when the expectation in school is that they learn to spell.
    The dictionary is your friend. Use it well my friends.

  33. I agree with what someone mentioned above about sexually obscene blogs popping up in front of my face without warning. I’m very very careful what I click on these days. Some people put links to such stuff without labelling them “NSFW” or “Adult content”; they simply assume that everyone is ok with viewing it. Now that, I feel, is unforgivable! Never assume!!!

  34. Hi David!
    You’re quite welcome for the recommendations. Anything to further the language! 🙂
    I’m trying. Just finished an ebook: 7 Secrets to Writing Killer Articles. And there will be more in the future.
    I feel that the Web has made writing so accessible to so many. Like never before, we’re able to spew forth whatever comes into our minds and actually FIND our audience without having to depend on publishers. Though I think there will always be print publishing, the potential for Internet writers is still enormous.
    And so, I’d like to see everyone writing cogent, well-planned articles as you’re doing here. Among much dross, real writers are coming to the fore because people are getting a chance to decide what they want to read. It’s not the publishers’ choice anymore. How cool is that?
    Those who have the ability will come to the fore. Keep on spelling and using proper grammar and writing! Good breeding and good writing always shows. 🙂