Where do the prescript/descript wings stand on spelling?

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Where do the prescript/descript wings stand on spelling?

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Editado: Set 20, 2009, 1:15 am

Dear group,
I haven't posted since a "descriptivist" told me off mighetily (sic) when, in discussion, I mentioned that I hate the usage of "very unique". I slunk away, nose out of joint.

Where then is the divide on "correct" spelling? Thus, I imagine you all understood what I meant by my "mighetily". I use a word check when I am unsure, but why bother. I do not mean typos or, USA/UK spellings or mistakes which make a word unrecognisable, but rather when I use, say, an I rather than an E in an ending or ...able rather than ...ible.

Call me a fuddy-duddy/a running dog of.../an old fart but I still prefer "correct" spelling.

Thanks youz all, Guido.

Edited to correct grammar/spelling.

Set 20, 2009, 1:27 am

guido47, that reminds me of a telephone survey which I was foolish enough to agree to take part in.

The person doing the survey would make a statement and then ask me to say if it was "very wrong, wrong, correct or very correct."

I pointed out to her that it was impossible to be more correct than correct and that very correct was not an option.

Eventually she got really annoyed with me and hung up after telling me that she hadn't designed the survey and that she was only doing what she had been asked to do. I referred her back to the people who authorised the survey in the hope that they would perhaps think twice before organising another such silly questionaire. But I'm not holding my breath ...

Set 20, 2009, 2:31 am

"Very unique" is one of my pet peeves too (along with the overuse of "basically". I remember in the old days I used to get annoyed when those signs that have letters inserted were modified to allow for missing letters - the poster might use an "m" upside down to represent a "w" and so on. This seems supremely petty now when everyone is communicating electronically with atrocious spelling and grammar. It's so difficult to take anyone seriously when the message is absurd. What really surprises me is that it is so widespread. Do you think this is the beginning of a spelling revolution?

pinkozcat - I laughed out loud at your response! Good for you!

Set 20, 2009, 6:58 am

There are signs that txtspk is gaining in popularity, even for completing school examination questions, I've heard somewhere, so maybe we could fight back using phonetically reasonable spellings - 'My Tilly' springs to 'mined' - that will irritate the participles off the txtspkrs.

In my O'Pinny-on the perpetators of inadequate keyboards needing multiple clicks should be prosecuted for crimes against pedantry. It's not even possible to detect whether users are txting misspellings, so we can tut-tut at their ignorance!

Set 20, 2009, 7:21 am

I'm sure I've said this elsewhere, but if I'm reading some text and see something misspelled then I have to stop a second to think what the word should be. This happens with US spellings as well, with words like 'color'. My concentration is broken, so I have to go back to the beginning of the sentence and read it again with my 'filter' off in order to get the meaning of the sentence. Very annoying. However, poor grammar is worse. I have to reconstruct the whole sentence in order to divine the meaning!

Set 20, 2009, 9:04 am

There's a very good reason why words should be spelled "correctly": It's easier for us to read, and we can read faster. People don't read every letter of a word while reading, it's more about the general impression or finding the right letters and making an educated guess from there. So a mistake there means we have to spend more time deciphering the words. Not to mention that they're very irritating if you're not a native speaker.

I'm very much in favor of regularily updating the spelling conventions. Even though many of my fellow Germans don't agree, I love the new rules.

Set 20, 2009, 1:04 pm

Updating the spelling conventions can be done in Germany(where spelling is already so much neater than in English), but English is sprawled across too many cultures and countries to realistically attempt reform. Spellcheckers are as likely to offer the wrong word as the right spelling for the intended word, it seems 8-) I use one to catch typos, which it sometimes does. It has a fit if I type anything in another language and has a limited glossary I can't seem to amend, either.
Some spellings slow me down more than others. Moderately phonetic things like "nite" bother me less, perhaps in part because as a teacher for many years I got used to some of them. Misuse of words bothers me more than it probably should, and dastardly attacks on grammar are even worse, I agree. All of these interfere not only with reading generally, but can kick me right out of a story I'm reading.

Set 20, 2009, 1:08 pm

When I come across txtspk I usually give up after a short time – it is just too much work. My exasperation comes about when I read comments attached to a news story to try and get an idea of general opinion on the topic. The pathetic grammar and spelling makes it difficult to understand the actual text. These are not the typical errors of a “hunt and peck” typist, and not the usual minor errors of grammar. Have education standards slipped? If so, it must have been going on for a while because the comments I read are from adults.

Set 20, 2009, 1:16 pm

The descriptivist would start by looking at why you want to ignore differences between the US and UK (and by UK, I presume you mean every other English speaking nation).

It's all about convention. The US and the UK developed separate conventions. Cell phone users and publishing houses developed separate conventions. No one's wright or wrong, but no one's going to move up the ranks at the Times writing txtspeak or 1337speak any more than they would writing like Robert Burns. Some conventions simply don't translate well.

#4 : Re txtspeak on exams: reputable citations with the relevant numbers or it didn't happen.

Also, there are a number of txt lexical items based on common T9 mistakes, so it is in fact possible to deduce the right word. It's a bit like doing anagrams, really.

Editado: Set 20, 2009, 1:56 pm

>8 VivienneR: Have education standards slipped? I think sometimes, yes.

It's going to be a long slog uphill, since many young teachers failed to learn much themselves. I knew an elementary vice principal who was notoriously bad at spelling, but didn't "have the time" to correct her own writing when communicating with the staff, on the grounds that we all knew what she meant, afterall. She was using an email program that had a built-in spellchecker, but for some reason I cannot imagine, never bothered to use it.

So how can we expect more from our students, when they have such poor role models?

Edited, since I hate to leave mistakes. (I forgot to "shut off" the italics!)

Editado: Set 21, 2009, 8:55 am

Dear biza,

Please expand your ideas. And by the way, what is 1337speak and what are T9 mistakes?

And why would you/descpitionists want to know about my separation of US/the rest of the world in terms of the spelling of words. I imagine that the "colour/color" etc. thing, is as you said, just a convention that I mainly ignore, or even happily glide over.

Edited to get the spacing right.

Editado: Set 21, 2009, 10:56 am

I think that it is geek speak for 'elite'. (1337)

Set 21, 2009, 11:58 am

When an explanation of some arcane code, such as the meaning of '1337speak', is as puzzling to me as the original is, I have this horrible intimation of my own mortality!


Set 21, 2009, 12:12 pm

1337: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leet

T9: the software and keypad layout for mobiles without mini keyboards or touch screens. A few of the non-phonetic spelling mistakes this enables have been adopted into some text message varieties.

The reason a descriptivist would want to know about cross-national spelling differences is that, quite simply, they demonstrate how spelling conventions are formed. (And in the US/UK case, how recent the idea of spelling standards even is.) The differences between generational or medium-influenced spelling conventions form in much the same way. It's just that the spelling conventions about which all this outcry exists are the ones with less social standing and/or the ones perceived as having an association with social or intellectual faults (such as being lazy, illiterate, etc).

Set 21, 2009, 1:47 pm

When considering the roles of descriptivism and prescriptivism, the big difference between spoken and written language is that spoken language in all its aspects, including grammar, can be acquired effortlessly during the language-learning phase of our childhood, whereas writing and reading are unnatural skills which must be learned with effort.

Set 21, 2009, 1:59 pm

Spoken language is, however, NOT learned in all its aspects in childhood. What is learned is the dialect(s) spoken in the home and neighborhood, which can be and often are quite limited.

Set 21, 2009, 2:03 pm

If you mean that learning a second language after the natural childhood learning phase is difficult, then as a person who learned the language of his country of residence as an adult, I can only agree.

Set 21, 2009, 2:52 pm

Thanks bjza! I think I can now even see a logical basis there.

Out 1, 2009, 5:11 pm

I read a book (The Princes of the Golden Cage) recently, which drove me nuts with homonyms. Sword of fine steal, the shear fabric of her dress...ghahh. Speaking of being thrown out of the story - every time it almost made sense and I had to stop and think whether it was intentional or not (basically, not). Very clearly heavily spellchecked and not read thereafter.

Misspellings and typos in general do the same thing for me - I can't not see them, though some (many) books are good enough that I'll glide over them and get back to the story. I think the trick where you only have to have the right letters for the first and last letters of the words - this stuff - is neat, but I'd really rather have the word spelled right...

Editado: Out 1, 2009, 6:49 pm


To me, the biggest difference between descriptivists and prescriptivists is not whether they believe in correctness or not, it's how things are determined to be correct. If you use an analysis of language--as used currently and through history--to demonstrate why something is correct, then you're a descriptivist. If you state baldly that something is wrong, without any backing evidence, then you're a prescriptivist.

A key point is that descriptivists are willing to accept change in a language, even when it "feels wrong" or "is stupid". What matters is whether the change is prevalent, not whether it's good or bad. Thus, if some txtspk words gets used consistently enough and start to be easily recognized by the population at large, well, then they've become part of the language.

Editado: Out 1, 2009, 8:43 pm

I'm on both sides on this one.
Spelling - I'm convinced that people have or do not have an aptitude for spelling, and while I understand some words being misspelled, I'm old enough to remember when we had to memorize spelling words and multiplication tables.
But I'll accept "understandable(sp?)" mistakes, especially from international folks.
As for grammar, I grew up with the cadences of King James English, and learned the "sound" of good English, so I never learned the rules as well as I should. Though I do remember being taught "Never end a sentence with a preposition."
Favorite story -
During WWII, Winston Churchill had a number of secretaries to keep up with his speeches, etc. One sentence ended with a preposition.
The newest secretary took it upon herself to rewrite the sentence. The result was less than stellar.
The next day, the bulletin board had the "corrected" speech, with a note from Churchill.
"This is the sort of didactic nonsense up with which I will not put."

Out 1, 2009, 8:14 pm

Ok, let's get real for a second here. Abstract ideas of "correctness" or "incorrectness" notwithstanding, spelling (as well as grammar) is used as a social cue.

Spelling mistakes that don't matter in an email will indicate sloppiness when they appear on a resume. Grammar mistakes that don't matter in a facebook status update will imply a lack of education in a business letter. Conversely, in a formal invitation it might be most natural to say "...the people with whom I have spoken...." while it might seem weird and unnatural in an email (where it would be more expected to say "....the people I spoke to....").

Hell, some people deliberately misspell things online in order to seem "cool", and pedophiles will deliberately use bad grammar to convince the children they chat with that they are children themselves.

Ultimately, "correct" vs "incorrect" and "acceptable" vs "unacceptable" don't matter. What matters is this: What does my usage convey about me, in this context, to the person I'm communicating with? Will the person I'm talking to think I sound uneducated? Will he think I sound "cool"? Will he think I sound stuffy?

It varies. It depends on context.

Out 1, 2009, 8:44 pm

This article might interest people, and especially the comments posted after it.


Out 1, 2009, 8:50 pm

There are times when incorrect spelling or grammar are important.
Consider the story on the back cover of Eats shoots & leaves. In the story, that had been written as "Eats, shoots & leaves."
(I don't know if it's too long to quote.)
More importantly, there have been cases of prescriptions with very similar spellings being confused by an inexperienced pharmacy technician, causing serious medical complications.

Out 1, 2009, 8:59 pm

#24: There are times when ambiguity appears in language even when spelling and grammar are correct.

My cousins lie about the family tree. I don't approve of annoying cousins.

But an overwhelming majority of the time, people can figure out from context what a sentence means, even with ambiguity-introducing or meaning-changing errors.

Out 2, 2009, 3:39 am

>22 gregstevenstx:

"Hell, some people deliberately misspell things online in order to seem "cool", and pedophiles will deliberately use bad grammar to convince the children they chat with that they are children themselves."

What I don't understand is this constant American fixation on foot-fetishists.

Out 2, 2009, 4:54 am

Wouldn't that be podophiles?

Out 2, 2009, 5:42 am

Well, I'll pedal along to my pedicurist to see if she can tell me. (Of course, I'll switch to being a pedestrian for the final bit of the journey.)

Out 2, 2009, 11:49 am

Both "prescriptivist" and "descriptivist" apply to discussions of grammar, but this discussion began with spelling, which is another matter. If you diverge very far from usually-accepted spelling when you're writing, you simply won't be understood at all. There are spellings that have become common, like "nite" and "lite", but they diverge toward a more phonetic spelling and follow the regular English spelling tendencies(I do not use "rule" in regard to English spelling).

Out 2, 2009, 4:03 pm

#22: Linguistic relativism at its finest! Granted, the most important consideration is indeed what message gets conveyed to the reader. And the form often has as much to do with that as the function.

With that in mind, a potential word or construct can be analyzed by asking the question, "will this detract from my message in the target context?" If not, then it can be called correct or acceptable. Sure, not everybody will get all that subtlety, but I believe most people will get the important point. Then again, maybe I'm being optimistic...

Jun 29, 2010, 8:02 am

Here's the Oatmeal's stand on 10 words we need to spell correctly. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/misspelling

Jun 29, 2010, 5:38 pm

>31 varielle:: That covers my pettest spelling peeves, if you'll forgive the neologism. (Of course 'alot' is a perfectly good English word, just not one that means ' a great quantity'.)

Jun 30, 2010, 6:01 pm

#32: midikiman
Aren't you thinking of "allot"?

Jun 30, 2010, 6:12 pm

#32, 33

So, what's a spelling mistake among friends? ;)

Jul 1, 2010, 12:11 am

>33 jimroberts:: Bah! You're right. That's why I should never post corrections.