May 10, 2011 11

“Creative” Misspellings and the Decline of the English Language

By in education, family matters, mom stuff

jmanew via Flickr

I know not everyone spells as well as I do, nor were most people raised by an aspiring author and an editor, nor granddaughter to a superintendent for a special-needs school. English mistakes weren’t tolerated while I grew up. My father carried around pens and even a marker to correct misspellings in public. When I filled out a complaint for animal control, I also corrected a misspelling on their form in red pen. It’s not a surprise to anyone in my family that I ended up writing for pay. I’m not perfect, but hey, no one is.

My son is quickly following the family trend — he’s reading way above grade level, enjoys it immensely, and even is having to have his time spent reading limited because he’s been trading in sleep for more reading time. I hope my daughter shares his love of books and reading, and I hope both of them excel in reading and writing naturally.

But man, when you look around at intentional misspellings of companies, and common writing styles accepted on the internet, it’s seeming like a much more difficult goal to accomplish. I kind of fear for the children right now and their future language development.

One look at Facebook, Craigslist, or many a teen’s text message is enough to make the Schoolhouse Rock generations cry… Conjunction Junction, do ANY of these kids know your function?!

One of the first groups I joined on CafeMom, almost 4 years ago, was Moms for Spell-Check. It was very, very refreshing to be in a group with women who utilized the feature and cared that their written word was actually comprehended by the people they were trying to communicate with… especially important when all people can see of you is what you write. It’s both hilarious and sad when someone is asking for help and types so badly that the replies all have to ask, “Um, can you fix that? I can’t tell what you’re asking,” and the OP gets upset… sorry folks, but people can’t answer if they can’t understand!

But worse than online communities is the large scale misspellings that are intentional… and often put in front of childrens’ faces every day.


Kidz Korner

Froot Loops

D.C.Addy via Flickr

Not to mention the many, many times that signs are put up in places of business with misspellings that even the most basic spell-check on the computer they obviously used would have caught, and even worse when they paid money for a permanent fixture with an easy-to-catch misspelling:

Aim low, play bass, via Flickr

dirvish via Flickr

That’s at a school, people!

Honestly, when it’s considered “cute” to intentionally misspell things, and more and more moms are giving names where traditional names are changed by putting a “Y” where an ‘ie’ was or a ‘K’ where a ‘C’ was, and the same moms often make substitutions in their daily writing as well, it’s not really any surprise that when I was searching for reviews of schools for my son, I found:

i love this school my child goes there
—Submitted by a parent

Not encouraging.

I do admit, though, that without these people, I’d never get to laugh calories away thanks to websites like Cake Wrecks and which rely heavily on people with a poor grasp of the English language (well, that and poor decorating skills)…

LaurenHolloway via Flickr

But in all seriousness, illiteracy is such a huge problem in this country that this turn towards lazy and intentional poor use of the English language is terrible.

A few facts:

  • 50 percent of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level.
  • 20 percent of Americans are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th grade level.
  • Approximately 50 percent of Americans read so poorly that they are unable to perform simple tasks such as balancing a checkbook and reading prescription drug labels.

As parents, that last one is the reason why acetaminophen medications are now limited to one single form of medication, why we lost children’s cough syrups, amongst other things… things like these sad and hilarious misspelled tattoos

People think that typing shorthand or “creatively” is no big deal, but let’s face it, it IS. Don’t take shortcuts in your own writing and don’t accept it from your children as well. Require text messages from teens to be fully written, including punctuation. Who cares if it takes longer? Which is more important — their future language skills or whether or not they can shave off 5 seconds from their texting?

If you own a business, find an intelligent way to do a play on words. No need to misspell things. It’s really not cute. In fact, when choosing between two businesses in a phone book, I’ll choose to avoid the one with “creative” spelling because to me, I don’t see the creativity, I just see the wrong, and that’s all children see as well. You can’t hold it against your child if you text your teen with “c u when u get home. grab milk cuz were out” and then they turn around and don’t do so hot in English. Make it a priority, make it standard, make real English the only acceptable English in your household. I’m totally serious when I say that if I find my kids using text speak, I will take away their cellphones or tell them I will proof-read all their private messages on Facebook until they get it right.

And yes, I understand that people with learning disabilities or dyslexia can struggle. Thankfully, the internet provides lots of resources. Oh, and considering half the time I’m typing one-handed while nursing a baby, as are half our readers, that’s not really a good excuse either. I write for a living and promise you I wrote about two months’ worth of posts with one hand. Of course, someone will insist I’m suggesting something excessive and ridiculous, and will point out all my grammatical or spelling errors, or call me a hypocrite. Go for it, I actually appreciate constructive criticism. If you choose to do so with the kind of English I’m ranting about, though, I’ll get a good chuckle out of it. Maybe I can even get some material to add to!

Oh, and while you’re at it? Check out The Oatmeal’s “10 Words You Need To Stop Misspelling.” Please. I beg you.

And spell-check? The ‘th’ at the end of the word ‘with’ is not a misspelling. That’s just scary.


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11 Responses to ““Creative” Misspellings and the Decline of the English Language”

  1. You know what I love? That Firefox has a spell check feature. So, when my brain has flashbacks of my stoner days and I can’t remember how to spell a word, I just misspell it the best I can, highlight it, hit right click, and choose the correct spelling from the nifty list of suggestions that Firefox has laid out for me. But I know some people don’t even care enough to take the time to do that, and that makes me weepy.

    Fun Fact: Firefox doesn’t think I spelled “Stoner” correctly. Clearly Firefox has no idea how much weed I did in high school.

    However, having said that, I’m not above a typo while feverishly pounding out a comment before my kids come screeching in to destroy my online fun, or truncating a word to fit into a tweet. That’s the world we live in. But when my dad texts me “U round? Want 2 pick up kids 2night – C U Soon” I cringe at the spelling, even though he’s offering to babysit, which makes me an ungrateful daughter. An ungrateful daughter who prefers words spelled correctly.

  2. Keri says:

    Also being a member of Moms for Spell-check, I just love your post. It is really sad when my child, at age 8, could write better than most adults. His punctuation leaves a little to be desired, but he is still learning. He has definitely improved a lot in the last 3 years. Like you, I know I am not perfect and I do use spell check, not because I can’t spell, but because I can’t type. It really is a sad state of affairs when 90% of programs offer a spell check feature and at least 50% of people don’t use it.

  3. I honestly HATE spell check. Sure, it’s a great tool, but it irritates me to no end and I would rather take an extra minute or two and just re-read what I wrote and correct it myself. (I don’t think I’m “better” than spell check, I just don’t care for it myself!)

    And I totally judge people by their spelling/grammar skills when they type things online. I’m hoping most people who are able to access and use a computer have gone to school (or were home schooled) at some point in their lives, so they “should” have been taught proper English and punctuation and whatnot. But when they type with every other letter cApItAl or try to purposely misspell things (lyke fo realz I kno dis aint rite but I dun care!) it actually hurts my brain to try to purposely type that way AND read it… rawr!

    I can certainly forgive the occasional typo or punctuation error, we all do it… but horrendously obvious errors bug me to no end!

    • Christie

      I hear you! What I prefer to do, since my time when writing is tight, is hit spell-check and look for the red squiggle… but then I rewrite the word myself, and hit spell-check again, just to make sure I fixed it. I prefer to do it myself, because having the browser correct it neither teaches me anything nor will it always put in the right word if your spelling was off just enough.

  4. DRHeltzell says:

    I agree typos can be understandable. My typing skills are not perfect. My family texts in full words, too. Like Amanda said, funky text-speak makes my brain hurt also. I do use spell check when I do my professional reports and on occasion when my brain is too tired to think. It really isn’t that hard to learn. But newspapers don’t help, either, when they have a lazy copy editor that allows common errors in their stories. You don’t “run people over.” You run over people…well, hopefully, not intentionally.

  5. VTChris says:

    If you want to post a rant about the flaws of others, you should be sure it doesn’t contain a mistake of the type about which you are complaining. Since “children” is already plural, the possessive is “children’s”, not “childrens'”, as used in the first line of the sixth paragraph.

  6. Kelly says:

    As a fellow spelling nerd and editor, I still think there is a time and a place – I will shorten texts to save time and I find myself forced to be creative on Twitter on occasion. I guess if I knew my daughter could do it the right way (maybe an occasional pop quiz?) it would not be that big of an issue for me to see her taking a shortcut now and then.

    I do think it is particularly important to spell check your website – especially if you are trying to sell something – if I find a misspelling on a site it instantly loses credibility and I often will not purchase because of it (depending on the severity).

    On your statistic regarding 50% of adults not being able to read a book above 8th grade level – that is pretty crazy – I find it a bit hard to believe! I am wondering if it is taking the immigrant population into account or just native English speakers…

    Oh – and thanks for the Oatmeal link – I am totally buying that poster for my high school English teacher mom. :)

  7. Yeah, this bothers me too. I’ve always tried to type correctly, no matter where I was — IMs, texts, random internet locations…. Punctuation especially gets me, for some reason. People seem to have no idea how to use it, even people who otherwise write decently well.

    We correct our 3-year-old’s grammar. Yes, really. My husband is adamant about this. We expose them to lots of reading early on and expect them to read and spell correctly.

    I will say, though, that a lot of people will do BETTER at least on reading, because they’re forced to read when they’re on the internet all the time. At least it’s a written communication form; some people DON’T write if they don’t use the internet! I think we’ll see more people rising to a mid-level of reading…and more people falling to it, too.

  8. jh says:

    I like your premise. I got annoyed today and that’s how I found this site. Looking at Craigslist and reading other articles today (even in the New Yorker!), I got fed up with grammar or typo errors and had to vent by reading something on the topic. You do, however, use too many commas…another peeve of mine. I’m starting to learn, though, that punctuation is a bit flexible. Some people probably don’t like ellipses. I tend to use them a lot in casual writing.


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