From the strong responses to my past posts (well, mostly rants), about the general decline of writing skills, I am assuming today that a lot of TGB readers care about proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, etc.
It seems to me to become more evident every day that such concerns will die out with us, that a growing number of people who make their living with words no longer care and that includes some of the most prestigious publications - for example, The New York Times.
There was a time not so long ago that even simple typos were rarities in newspapers and magazines and hardly ever appeared in books. Of course, we all know that money-saving cutbacks account for many of those typos, misspellings and other language errors now that there are hardly any copy editors left.
The worst part of poor writing for you and me is how it mangles the information. Does that misplaced modifier refer to the subject or the object? It shouldn't be my job as a reader to stop my flow of information gathering to try to work that out but these days, that's how it it goes, apparently without concern on the parts of the writers and publications.
There are more dramatic language mistakes – nay, insults – that are becoming more acceptable. My personal bugaboo has been turning up way too frequently in the past couple of years.
Publicists regularly send me queries regarding books, movies, infographics, etc. along with scientific, medical, political and other kinds of reports that are relevant (well, sometimes) to growing old that they would like me to write about.
The most common problem for me is that the publicist is not familiar enough with the material to cogently explain it in the email message so that my choice is to root around online to see if I can find more information or just hit delete. Usually, it is the latter.
But that irritation has been almost routine for a long time. Now I am getting pitches, often from big-time public relations firms, that include some sentences that look like this:
"wud u b intrstd in intrvuing this writr?”
Text speak is becoming business speak and as my father and Jack Paar were each fond of saying, I kid you not.
Now and then I have been tempted to forward such messages to an officer of the company. But then I remind myself that, offended as I may be, it's not my job to police the language and it would be futile to try.
However, even with all this quacking of mine about lowered standards, I enjoy how the internet - where it's easy now to be on speaking terms, as it were, with website publications from around the world - is changing the English language and I how we relate to it.
As George Bernard Shaw (or Oscar Wilde or Winston Churchill – take your pick, no one knows) once said, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.”
Here are examples that demonstrate some of the types of differences between English and American spelling (and Australia which most often sides with England) – Brit first, then American:
Spelling differences came to mind when I was preparing yesterday's post quoting Norma, who lives in Australia and used the spelling tyre that in the U.S. would be tire.
(Now here's a question for Norma or other British/Australians reading this: If you are talking about being fatigued instead of a wheel, is it still spelt(!) tyre?)
American punctuation, too, is often different from British/Australian which leaves the period off abbreviated titles so that although there is Mr., Mrs. and Dr. in the U.S., there is Mr, Mrs and Dr in England and Australia.
When Peter Tibbles first started writing the Sunday Elder Music column a few years ago, I had to decide whether to “correct” his Australian spelling and other usage. It was a no brainer: anyone in any country in the world can read this blog so of course, what is correct language use in Australia would remain in his columns.
What I like after 20-odd years of getting most of my information from the internet is that I am no longer surprised by alternate spellings. There was a time when “gaol” intrigued me in British writing.
When I encountered it, I often stopped for a moment to savor such a interesting configuration of letters to mean what I believe “jail” does. Now my eyes skip past it as quickly as if it were my native spelling.
Due to the internet, I suspect we will all become accustomed to differing spellings and other usages, and that English-speaking countries' language idiosyncrasies will gradually meld together. I've already begun to adopt a few British/Australian ways of language.
Awhile back, a reader (obviously American) took me to task for using the spelling “ageing” instead of “aging.” It was purposeful on my part that day. I have never liked “aging” - it looks to me like it has something to do with agriculture. The British “ageing" seems the better choice.
British spelling often keeps the final “e” when adding “ing” to words that American spelling does not. But the more I see that “e,” in British/Australian writing, the more it makes sense to me. So I've been using “ageing” lately – at least when I remember to do so.
Of course, it's perfectly all right for me to be creative with spelling that is correct in a couple of other well-known countries of the world. It's just not okay for young PR people to use text speak in business communications. Right?
(Wikipedia has a well-done article on the differences between U.S. and British/Australian spelling.)
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Antonia Albany: Love in Paris