I Find Your Lack Of Grammar Disturbing…

grammarBad spelling and grammar on the internet irritate me, but I’m not a grammar nazi. I just think our superior race should make the ultimate sacrifice for the language of the fatherland.

No, seriously. I do get annoyed, by sloppy, careless use of English, in the same way as I get annoyed by bad driving, or badly-designed products. Communicating in English is a skill, but a simple one that’s within the capabilities of almost everyone to carry out accurately. People who do it badly just aren’t trying.

Perhaps the most abused speck on your computer screen is the apostrophe. The main rules for using it are basic and simple, but many people still get it wrong. Two purposes: (1) to show possession and (2) to indicate omitted letters. And that’s it.

In fact, although I haven’t looked this up and could be wrong, I suspect that the two uses have the same origin. If you look at 16th century music, you might see, in the language of the time, titles such as “Mr. Brown, His Galliard”, which isn’t far from “Mr. Brown’s Galliard”.

I admit that there is one minor trap in the possessive pronouns, “his” and “its” (but not “her”) which are words in themselves and don’t need apostrophes. Because we also have “it is” contracted to “it’s”, the simple-minded can get confused, although it takes real determination to write “hi’s car” (but I have seen it done).

Sometimes I suggest that if you aren’t sure when to use an apostrophe, then don’t. You’ll be wrong some of the time, of course; but less often than if you pepper them in willy-nilly.

The other day I saw some internet English creep into the BBC’s news ticker at the bottom of their News 24 programme. It said that the Greek mainstream parties would “loose” support in the election. Given that “to loose” actually can be a verb, but means something like “to set free”, a strict interpretation of the statement leaves the mind-boggling. But some people would probably read “loose the dogs!” and wonder about finding them again.

It’s true that “lose” is an anomaly in English, since other words spelled similarly, “hose” or “pose”, say, don’t rhyme with it. But then, on that basis, you should know that “loose” rhymes with “noose” and “goose”. Really, for phonetic accuracy, “lose” should be spelled “looze” or “luze”, but I suppose there’s a kind of conservatism in English spelling that keeps “lose” consistent with “loss” and “lost”.

Of course, some people don’t bother to spell at all. Do you remember “text-speak”? I think it was an early 1990s fad, when SMS was first introduced and entering text was slow and cumbersome. I do think that the first person to think of using “M8”, derived from “m-eight” to mean “mate”, was creative and original. But now that our phones often have full keyboards, and in any case, automatically complete English words*, there’s no place for text-speak in phone messaging. It just makes the message harder to type and harder to read.

It’s that latter fact that makes it so objectionable in other contexts. When you learn to read, you soon get past the stage of assembling individual letters into a word — “SEE AH TEE: CAT!” — and perceive words as a unit. Experienced readers then progress to recognising entire phrases all at once. Certainly, when I find a construction like “2mro” (for “tomorrow”) in a piece of text, I get the sensation of stumbling, and the smooth flow of reading is disrupted.

It’s really all about good manners. Putting someone else to unnecessary trouble isn’t polite, so be nice. Write nice.

* although with the iPhone, often not the one you meant. See http://www.damnyouautocorrect.com/


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