Let's Take a Break From Ageing Stuff Today
Three Generations Under One Roof

Old- and New-Fashioned Spelling

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


A few days ago, I received email from Zappos telling me that my order was delayed. They conveyed the information in a story about rogue Ninjas attacking their warehouse. I had no idea what they were talking about until my nephew told me: they were joking! Not about the delay... just the reason for it.

Don't get me started. Even more annoying to me is the way certain words are pronounced. No matter how the word is spelled, some people will pronounce the word the way they think it should sound. This is done either out of laziness or the inability to read an entire word. For example. Realtor is often pronounce "realator". Nuclear becomes "nucular" and my favorite is the most often mispronounced word in the English (or Japanese) language, karaoke which, for some reason has become "Carioke". The next time you speak to your children or grand children axst them how they say those words.

Yes, we British elders, like elders everywhere, tire easily and need our sleep.
As you said, the Internet has jumbled up a lot of US and UK spelling these days. Even more so for those of us who have lived both sides of the Pond. I tend to favour (note the UK spelling) the American use of z as in 'realize,' as I like the feel of it, whereas a lot of my compatriots prefer to stick with the s. But I can never remember whether to write 'licence' or 'license.' Punctuation doesn't present many problems except that we are not very keen on the so-called 'Oxford comma' over here.
As co-editor of a magazine, I get submissions from all over and our policy is always to publish them in the original spelling (after using whichever version of spellcheck applies).

I'm a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to text speak. I hate the mangling of the English language and if I do text, I do it as if I'm writing on my PC. I think this annoys the young 'uns.

I do wonder how original English words came to be changed in the USA. Especially intriguing to me are the changes in medical language - anesthesiologist for anaesthetist, pediatrics and gynecology for paediatrics and gynaecology. The Latin root has been changed completely.

Oh, and Ronni, to feel fatigued in British English is to feel tired. I think this is part of the reason that foreigners trying to learn English have such difficulty - so many words like tyre and tire that mean different things. And all those "ough" words like tough and rough (pronounced uf), slough (ow) and nought (aw). I could go on, but enough already.

Warning: a rant.

Time was, we [or at least I] used to count on seeing the correct way of spelling or the correct grammatical term in the printed sources I had, books, newspapers. Time was, I believed that proofreaders were diligently at work everywhere. Silly me. The spelling is one matter, but it is the grammatical mistakes that drive me bonkers. How can we expect anyone to spell correctly who does nothing but texting [I hate that word]? How can we expect people to understand that there is a difference between a subject and an object if the newspaper will print without a [sic] or anything "The ambassador attended the meeting with Mr. X and he." ?? It used to be that I could say to someone "would you ever say he went with I to the movies?" But I hear that in various forms all the time on NPR. And I even read it in the newspaper. aarrgghh. And yet you say, Ronni, we are the last generation that will shudder at such things. Or even notice them. Really? What is to become of us?

I feel as if I should go to England and join the Apostrophe Society, which diligently corrects misuses of the apostrophe all the time. Godspeed to them.

I agree with all of you. As Bruce said "Don't get me started."

In Canada, we generally follow the British spelling, but we've been influenced, naturally, by our neighbour to the South. Some words like "tyre" didn't made it across the Atlantic.

I learned that when you are licenSed (verb) you receive a licenCe (noun). That makes it easy.

My latest annoyance is when I see or hear "a couple days ago" vs. "a couple of days ago".

Text-speak (or whatever it's called) drives me nuts.

We are watching British TV series these days, and I both enjoy and scratch my head over the vernacular and pronunciations I hear. I mostly enjoy the different turns of phrase.

With regard to spelling, I am irritated whenever I encounter the word 'loose' used regarding loss. We lose weight; we don't loose wright.

Also, has anyone else noticed the disappearance of prepositions? A home is not a place to live; it is a place to live in.

Language changes though. Today's bad usage becomes standard tomorrow. I personally think that the major thing is clear communication. If readers or listeners understand the message, however it is delivered, then the language transaction is completed. If understanding does not take place, then the transaction is unsuccessful. For me the issue is not so much about grammar or spelling, it is about transmitting a clear message.

Text Speak? Since I don't text, I rarely encounter it. Neuvo-spell to me.

When I was growing up in Canada, I was taught to look down on Americans for their misspelling of colour, honour, neighbor, etc. (My computer has just tried to "correct" these words for me!) Now that I have spent the last 50 of my 77 years on this side of the border, American spelling has become "normal" for me. Only recently did I discover that leaving out "u"s is not just a lackadaisical habit, but yet another invention of the indefatigable Benjamin Franklin, who decided this, among other British ways of doing things, was wasteful of time and resources. Sorry I can't provide a reference for this…maybe another reader?

As a medical editor I had to use the American Medical Association stylebook and it specified no period with abbreviations (like Dr and MD). Tough for me because that wasn't the accepted style with any of my other stylebooks, and yet the typographer in me liked the clean look. So now I tend to drop a lot of periods.

I'm afraid the current decline in the use of proper grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. may be a result of declining standards and teaching methods in our schools. Sure, social media are driving all the "text speak," but those with a proper education know when and when not to resort to such things.

Another reason for the decline in grammar, spelling and other items in print is the speed at which the companies owning the newspapers and magazines are expecting it produced, and by fewer and fewer people. Our own daily newspaper has dramatically reduced the staff in recent years, and the ones left are assigned all kinds of articles, expected to also tweet, post on Facebook, blog and probably whistle Dixie at the same time. This may all be too much without a tradeoff in accuracy in content, style and grammar. To add insult to injury, these workers have not received a raise in pay in seven years. The parent company has, instead, diverted profits to paying dividends to investors.

As a laid-off copy editor, I certainly can relate to the dismal fact that newspapers, magazines, etc. are filled with typos, mispelled names, unchecked and therefore incorrect facts, unclear sentences ... all those things that a copy editor would have caught and corrected if only they had been retained on staff. It is a sad state of affairs for the publishing business.

When I ws on a tour in England our guide informed that we were not riding in a 'bus', but in a 'coach'. I prefer the Enclish name. Words change in time and when you read a novel written 100 years ago you might agree with me that today's version is much easier to understand.

My pet peeve is the "cutesy" way that business enterprises have mangled spelling to make it stand out. We used to have a store named "The Wherehouse" and one of the young Real Estate people in the office where I worked wrote an ad asking me to send it in which he talked about Wherehousing a business. I corrected it to warehouse.

I absolutely hate text speak and the lack of punctuation young people feel is too much trouble to use. Why should the reader have to spend so much time figuring out what someone is trying to say? It might save them a few seconds but it wastes minutes of mine.

I agree with the commenters here today. One thing has become more and more common, I've noticed, and that is the word "gonna" instead of "going to." It's used not only in rather casual ways, but also in more formal publications, etc., that I find amazing. Is that a recognized word now? It always takes me by surprise--don't think I like it.

Anyone else get upset when they hear "graduated high school or college", rather than "graduated from"? It irritates me no end. When did the from disappear?

The regularly used (even in the NYTimes) their was a singlar pronoun, as in "when someone takes their dog for a walk..." I understand the clumsiness of "his or her" but most sentences using this their inappropriately could be rephrased to avoid the problem. I'm afraid it's so prevalent we can say their has become either plural or singular.

Usually when I text my kids I use formal English but on the rare occasion that I use text speak my kids are shocked as if it is the property of the young and I've committed some social solecism. I'm glad they understand the difference anyway. Why is the expectation of language usage different for different ages? Is this part of the evolution of language? Or ageism?

When we're tuckered out we're tired, the things on the care are tyres.
To us, license is a verb and licence is a noun, we use both, obviously. Ditto practise/practice
With abbreviated titles the rule is (well, my rule), if the last letter of the abbreviation is the same as the last of the full word, we leave off the full stop (that's period to you, another difference). If the letters are different, a full stop is used.
Oh incidentally, I use two words for a while, maybe that's just me.

I tend to favor the American spelling of things like color, neighbor and so on, as it's the original spelling. Some pretentious English folks introduced the u in the nineteenth century to make the words seem more French. For some reason it stuck.
I still prefer theatre, centre and so on though.

Oh dear, a booboo in this topic. It's the things on the car, of course.

Totally enjoyed today's post and all of the great comments.

The rule on abbreviations here in the UK is as stated above. If the last letter of the abbreviation is the same as in the full word, then no full stop.

The Oxford comma tends to divide opinion in the UK. When I was taught English Grammar (late 50s to early 60s) it was as a distinct subject from English Literature. The rule then (if I'm remembering it correctly) was NOT to include it unless necessary for clarity - as for example in a list including paired items.

a and b, c and d, and e.

Without that crucial last comma you cannot be sure of the list components. This is still my practice, but I believe many periodicals now have absolute rules against it.

1. Texting as we know it today was forced upon us by the telecommunications industry. Short Messaging System (SMS) was introduced to the cell phone business in the late 90s. Customers were given the option of typing a brief 140 character message - then sending it onward. The small character set in effect sparked the imagination of the grownup cellphone users.

2. I, too, edited material for mass publication. I often took copy from others and condensed it down for two reasons: In had to be in a text that was easily readable and understandable by the 'target audience' (typical reader) - typical today is 8th grade grammar and spelling (used to be newspapers were written in 10th grade.) Secondly, all newspapers and magazines were cutting down on expenses and were being measured by the quantity of paper and ink they were using. Typeface (font) was smaller and sans serif.

3. When in a Chicago Manual of Style Guide seminar it was explained to us that the now misplacement of prepositions was acceptable because: less ink used and it was 'common speak'.

I wrote many books and manuals that were published and distributed throughout 18 European countries and a few in South America. Many, many very funny stories how the words and sentences were reinterpreted in the wrong way. (As one example; I wrote in American English. The work was then interpreted into German. I was limited 2/3rds of a page of ink. Seems German required another third just to further explain simple terms we Americans use. The French? Ah, that was an entirely different situation.)

Thirty years of experiences in the telephone industry would help to explain some of the concerns your readers have written. But it cannot be explained why proper English grammar, punctuation, and spelling are no longer taught or enforced by those who call themselves responsible Editors. Perhaps they should try using their programmable "Grammar Checkers".

I spend much of my volunteer time in a high school English classroom. Believe me, the teachers (and volunteers) really enforce proper English grammar. What the students do with it after they graduate is up to them.

It was a sad day for grammarians when copy editors were rendered obsolete by relentless layoffs. My brain doesn't even hiccup when it encounters British terms or spelling variations---they came first, so obviously they have the "right" of way. But I am mortally (not literally, but figuratively---two terms that practically no one differentiates any more) wounded when I encounter grammatical errors in presumably reputable publications or hear them (horrors!) on NPR.

I, too, text in real English, and sometimes am completely bewildered by the text-speakisms I encounter. But I have been known to use the very convenient OMG and WTF on occasion. -Meg

We must never forget that language is dynamic. Otherwise we would all still be speaking Chaucerian English.

u gis r so funy!

But seriously, grammar checkers don't catch everything either. Loose and lose are a case in point, as are a and an.

Twenty-five years ago, I worked briefly at an anti-apartheid newspaper in Cape Town. The staff quickly realized I was useless for most copy editing and proof reading: even if I got the spelling right (in their British terms) I had no clue about proper capitalization and punctuation.

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