This appeared on a local message board recently:
I need help with my washing machine. Is there anyone who can repair it? It's licking water from the filter.
Immediately the image of a large red tongue, reminiscent of the logo on a Rolling Stones album, protruding from the open door of a front-loading machine, swam in front of my eyes, even though I realized it probably was only a typo.
Not so simple to understand was a certain newspaper column where the writer expressed the "furlong" hope that Bush's next term would bring some order to fiscal chaos. "Furlong" isn't a commonly used word, unless you're a patron of the Sport of Kings--it's rather up there with "sennight", a word I loved using for its shock value. "Say what?" (Interestingly, "fortnight" is not so obscure. Probably because one can say "week" instead of "sennight", but "two weeks" takes longer)
After a moment, I realized that the Tyranny of the Spell-Checker was to blame. No one knows how to spell any more, and everyone's got a spell-checker in their computer. Bah humbug.
Ever since I discovered that the "auto-correct" feature in Word was changing the name of a beloved literary character from Lymond to "lemonade" I have banished auto-correctness to the furthest circle of Hell, but since Baby, my 21 year-old daughter is sending me emails from New York, I've been thinking a lot about spelling. She's a native Hebrew-speaker; we don't speak English at home because my husband doesn't understand it; and she spells phonetically. She often gets quite simple words wrong, while succeeding admirably with rather difficult ones (she probably looks those up). Also, in contrast to native English-speakers, whom I encounter in my many lists literally in the hundreds every day, she rarely makes some of the most common errors, such as distinguishing between the three "to's".
Americans seem not to know whether something is lost or loosed, whether they are lying down or have laid something down (ditto confusion over "rise" and "raise"). The young generation of Israelis, I've noted, share an equal confusion over whether one has given birth (ללדת) or one has begotten (להוליד) which surprises me. One hears "hi holeeda" (she has begotten) all the time, when it should be "hi yalda" (she gave birth). Dunno why.
I won't even go into the Misuse of the Apostrophe, which is massive. It's bad enough no one seems capable of spelling correctly any more, but doesn't anyone study grammar? Following a particularly complicated explanation of an NFL rule being challenged in a recent Monday Night Football game, Al Michaels added "Parse that!" which sent John Madden into gales of laughter. At least he understood the phrase. Because the answer is no, grammar isn't fun, so it's been dropped from the curriculum.
In my day, we had spelling bees at school and they were occasions of terror for most of my classmates. But we not only learned to spell, we learned how to use a dictionary--the kind that you turned the pages of (Gosh! I've just ended a sentence with a preposition--two smacks on my palm with a ruler). I remember the amazed exclamations when I taught my kids how to use theirs--the teacher had never bothered. Nowadays of course, you have an electronic one, or use the internet. If it's not fun, it's not taught, these days, and no one really liked diagramming sentences, apart from a few obsessive-compulsives, any more than anyone liked reciting the multiplication tables or lists of State capitals. (Tell me how many you remember and I'll tell you approximately how old you are. According to the National Geographic, one-third of todays US high school students don't know that Washington, DC is the national capital)
Once, one's fluency in one's language was regarded as an essential asset. There was a plaintive message, from a cybercorrespondent on a list that helps potential immigrants to Israel, lamenting that he can't get a resume or CV written in decent English, without spelling and grammatical mistakes any more, from applicants with half a dozen degrees to their credit. My friend wondered why the applicants didn't think it detracted from the impression they were trying to make (would you hire a dyslexic to be a proofreader?) I replied that they probably would care, if they knew they were making mistakes. But today's world is so visual, they probably don't. What with emoticons and a whole phalanx of abbreviations like BTW, YMMV, IIRC, etc., even cybercommunication isn't contributing to better expression (quantity over quality? Hmmm...)
Spellers and grammarians of the world, unite! You are needed as never before, to rescue communication before it deteriorates into a series of cyber-grunts! (And yes, there are two "M's" in "communication")
|Your Brain is Green|