I find myself getting irritated at the careless spelling mistakes that litter the emails, social media posts and letters that I read on a daily basis. I believe it’s getting worse, as the acronyms and abbreviations we use in our informal chats have crept into business communication. But, it feels like I’m alone – like everyone else thinks that spelling and grammar are old-fashioned, now that we have all this technology to communicate.
Maybe people feel free from the formality of committing their words to paper and don’t consider that spelling is essential for getting their point across. Maybe they’re right. It’s possible that I’m just too fussy and a tad out of touch. I mean, who cares if a letter or two is missing or in the wrong place? What’s important is that we all understand what the writer is trying to say, right?
Blame it all on my grandmother. Enid was a legend in her lifetime – a stickler for grammar and spelling. She was the grammar gramma – or should that be grammar grandma? See, there I go again – I just couldn’t leave it! Hours spent with her in the kitchen after school, honed my love of the English language and the seeming importance of getting it right. The sheer beauty of how she spoke, even in those casual conversations, was inspiring to a young boy trying to be the best he could be.
Anyway, that was then and this is now. Then, there were personal letters in her beautiful, flowing handwriting and formal letters crafted on her typewriter. Now, we send our messages from mobile devices, while on the bus, train, plane and, according to a recent survey, the toilet. Ah, the freedom! Hence, we are free also from the shackles of correct spelling and grammar – free to create our own versions of words, soon to be copied by our contacts worldwide.
It’s a brave new world, much like Donald Trump’s ‘post-truth’ universe, where you can create ‘alternative facts’ and when faced with your own quotes, you can deny you ever said or tweeted them. Speaking of the US president, Obama’s Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, once sent an email headed ‘memorandom’ that misspelled ‘consistant’, ‘personel’ and ‘contine’. No wonder Americans cherish their First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
I’m so tired of swimming against the tide that I’ve decided to go with the flow. Instead of railing against poor spelling in the unforgiving confines of my mind, I’ve decided to embrace it and have as much fun as possible. If I’m going to live in this world of alternative facts and spelling, I might as well enjoy it!
So, when I see a man’s second-choice girlfriend or mistress referred to on social media as a ‘side chic’, I will imagine her to be quite fashionable in her dressing – a sort of ‘chic (adjective) chic (noun)’. I will forget that ‘chic’ is pronounced ‘sheek’ and not ‘chick’, which is what was meant in the first place. Or, when I see someone profiled as being ‘formally’ the governor of a state, I shall ask to be formally introduced – just for the fun of it. And, my personal favourite – when neighbouring countries are said to be ‘bothering’ each other. No, not like North and South Korea that have been in a state of tension for decades, but because they share a common border. You see, in Nigeria, ‘bothering’ and ‘bordering’ are frequently confused in writing because they are pronounced the same – ‘boddering’. Having fun yet?
One group of people not laughing is employers, who are checking out Facebook and other social media feeds of potential employees. For some reason, they still care about the integrity of the written word. Lawyers are another stubborn set, knowing that the difference between two words can mean guilt or innocence, or millions of dollars to their clients. How boring! However, I hear that medical professionals are considering joining the trend of modern expression; so look forward to clinical reports and prescriptions with a variety of spellings. Hopefully, you won’t mind the variety of treatments that result – with your life hanging in the balance.
So, does spelling always matter? No, not always. Texting has taken on its own codified language, understood by perfectly literate people as a means of shortening conversations and saving time. So, we know what it means to ‘c u soon’, ‘LOL’ and be ‘OK’. But sometimes, it goes too far and ‘OK’ becomes simply ‘K’, as we begin to abbreviate the abbreviations. I don’t mind when Chef’s grocery list is misspelled because I know what he means most of the time, but sometimes it takes a quick phone call from a supermarket aisle to decipher whether ‘peper’ means kitchen paper or fresh chillis.
Spelling does matter – maybe not as much as I think, but enough that we should care about having a shared grasp of what words mean. Language is constantly evolving and always has. Thanks to Microsoft, American spelling is overtaking the British standard and can be more practical sometimes. However, let’s agree to keep standards for the written word, so that we can continue to enjoy reading without puzzling over every other word and to trust our prescriptions, legal documents and official communication without fear for our lives, liberty or rights as citizens.
The evolution of language will continue but our common understanding should not be compromised.
“Even though being a good speller has lost its ranking in school, we can hope there is one group of artisans that still finds spelling important…the tattoo artist” – Nanette L. Avery