How not to write like an ignorant buffoon

Dear Daughter,

Today we’re going to talk about spelling and punctuation. Because I’m learning that more and more people can’t write. You’re doing fine in spelling at school, but it’s what happens in the real world—on phones, social media and even blogs—that is most concerning.

I’m not so much bothered by the fact that “you” is now more commonly seen as “u.” Or that “thanks” has been condensed to “thx.” At first, these things seemed like sacrilege, until I remembered that words evolve all the time. In college I took a course in linguistics, which is the study of language. (Yes, your mother is a tried and true Word Nerd.) In this course I learned about how language naturally changes over time. We all used to talk like they do in Pride and Prejudice, you know. We would say things like, “The emerald comestible before me is odious to the tongue” instead of saying, “I don’t like green beans.” It’s easy to think we’ve been dumbing ourselves down for years, but truly it’s just the nature of language to evolve with the rapid pace of this world. As our culture gets faster, so does our need to simplify our language. I get that.

What really irks me, however, is the carelessness. A very small percentage of the population, it would seem, knows the difference between “your” and “you’re.” The comma is either under- or over-used; no one understands its purpose, so they just throw it about willy nilly. People are ending sentences too early, or are trying to combine three or four sentences into one, without an ounce of punctuation to help guide the statement’s intent. This is not simplification, this is laziness. And it’s causing a lot of confusion. I shouldn’t have to read a paragraph three or four times to understand what it’s saying, unless what I’m reading is Shakespeare.

I’m not perfect myself; I’ve made lots of mistakes in my own writing. In fact, there may even be mistakes in this particular letter. I do, however, make a deliberate attempt to write as well as I can at each particular moment. I spend more time proofreading and revising what I write—even text messages!—than I do on the writing itself. I take that time because I want to appear somewhat intelligent. I want to offer my reader the courtesy of being able to decipher my words and intentions clearly. I don’t want to frustrate them by writing something that sounds like the stream of consciousness of a 5-year-old. Waking from slumber. At 2 a.m.

I don’t expect you or the rest of the world to be mastered wordsmiths, but I do expect a little effort. Don’t be lazy with the written word. Doing so could tarnish your reputation and could even get you into trouble. Or at the very least, it will be “revolting to the eye of your forebearer.” (That’s me.)



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Stan
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 12:36:17

    You’re right: it is a courtesy, and one too many people forgo. The carelessness you describe often seems to be allied with cluelessness. A lot of people don’t really know how to write; they throw their ideas down haphazardly and expect readers to interpret them in whatever form they land. I sometimes think a lack of reading is a factor in this, but that’s just a hunch. I haven’t done a systematic study or anything!


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