I side with Ken Smith on this occasion though. I hate spelling mistakes and love to point them out. Only yesterday I saw a greengrocers’ apostrophe and instinctively growled. But that is only because I am a cheeky wee pedant. Deep down, I know that the rules of the English language are strange and, ultimately, pointless.
What is the purpose of language? I would say language is what allows people to communicate with each other. Accordingly, rules should develop naturally, and as long as the two parties communicating understand each other all is well. However, for grammar fascists, language rules are just an opportunity to crack the whip.
It is worth remembering that a strict one-size-fits-all suite of language rules is a very modern concept. Standardised spellings only came in when some smart fellow decided to become the first lexicographer and hoodwink people into believing his services were vital.
William Shakespeare did not even have a standardised spelling for his own name. Was he wrong? If we follow the joke that the easiest mark in an exam is for spelling your name correctly, it looks like Shakespeare himself would have failed his English GCSE.
Now, hopefully you have noticed that I like to take care over my spelling and suchlike. But this is a personal choice that I took because I believe that adhering to these rules allows me to reach the widest audience possible. That, and it means I don’t get bombarded by complaints from snobs.
If someone else is content to spell things incorrectly but can still convey their message to its intended recipient then that is their personal choice. There is nothing wrong with people deciding how they can speak and write for themselves.
Language has always evolved naturally, and I see no reason why that should stop now. The purpose of a dictionary is to record language as it is written, not to tell people how to write it. If different people spell things in different ways, then that is just part of life’s rich tapestry.
After all, we tolerate and even celebrate — and rightly so — variations in pronunciation in the English language. Only the snobbiest of snobs would demand that everyone speaks RP. In this age where regional accents are celebrated, we usually find we have no trouble understanding people. So why should people also be expected to write in the same bland, standardised, colourless RP all the time?
What gets me is the sheer snobbery of some people who insist on “correct” spellings. Who is to say that you are right and they are wrong? Closing your ears and stomping your feet complaining about how thick the other person is does not get anyone anywhere. Is there not room for some give and take, just as there is when having a conversation with people who have a different accent?
Ideas of Civilisation attempted to show how ludicrous Ken Smith’s suggestion is by filling his post with a myriad of misspellings. Of course, were Ken Smith’s idea to take hold and language was allowed to evolve naturally, we almost certainly would not face a wholesale dumping of the dictionary, with standards completely replaced by arbitrariness. Instead, new standards would emerge while the most common misspellings would be tolerated.
Txt spk is the perfect example. Snobs may turn their nose up at it, but there is no denying that this development which emerged naturally has had an important influence in simplifying the language and removing barriers to communication. In fact, it is an ingenious solution to the problem we all face, stuck with the QWERTY system which was originally designed to slow typists down. What is wrong with people using their initiative to speed things up again?
Then there is the text message itself, where brevity is key. Messages are limited to 160 characters which means you have to keep it short if you want to avoid being charged double or even triple your normal rate. The new standard of abbreviations is a clever and natural way to evade this restriction.
That is not to mention instant messaging, where speed is as important as clarity. When you are having a fast-paced IM conversation, it is only sensible to take the odd short cut. It should be no surprise that in an age where we rely more heavily than ever on inefficient keyboards and restrictive technologies that new standards should emerge.
Moreover, what is wrong with “embarassing”, “beleive” or “pleasent”? Or even the odd “there” instead of “their” or vice-versa? You would still know exactly what I meant were I to use those spellings. Any exam marker with two brain cells to rub together would know that as well. If he were to mark down someone for putting one ‘r’ instead of two even though the meaning is still perfectly clear, then that would make him a petulant, authoritarian shit.