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The Dumbing Down of a Nation

Let’s call this a Wednesday rant, dear readers. Maybe I’ll make it a regular blog feature!

As a writer, I’m fairly picky about spelling and grammar. I’m not perfect–no one is–but at least I try my very best to avoid making simple mistakes.

My journalism instructor and mentor Donald Benham used to insist on perfect spelling for all assignments. If you spelled a single word wrong in an article, you flunked that particular assignment. If you misspelled the answer to an exam question, you were marked wrong, even if you had the right answer. Benham was tough, but there was a method to his madness. “If you spell a word wrong in a story, the reader will wonder what else you got wrong,” he said. So true.

When I was in college, my greatest pet peeve was people who didn’t know the difference between “their” and “they’re” or “its” and “it’s”. But today, forget about it! (Or should that be “fuhgeddaboudit”?) I’m not sure whether or not text messaging is solely to blame, but beyond “LOL” and “OMG”, don’t expect anything to be spelled correctly! (And I’ve even seen “lol” spelled incorrectly. I kid you not.)

It’s funny that, in this era of computer programs and gadgets with built-in spell checkers, we’re misspelling more words than ever before. How sad is it that there’s an actual website dedicated to “hilarious speaches” that spells the word speech incorrectly, even in the url? And how many times have you walked by a misspelled sign like the one above? At least the errors can have hilarious results, like an email I once received that misspelled “since” as “seance”.

The Brits used to despair that Americans took their beautiful language and “dumbed it down”, but what we’re seeing today is something far worse. Are we creating a generation that will think that “you” is spelled “u” and “cutie” is spelled “q-t”? A world where a pouch is something that should be pampered in a dog spa? I shudder to think!

How about you? Any spelling/grammar pet peeves? What is the most humorous spelling mistake you’ve seen?

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  1. Kim

    I’m a terrible speller, so I tend to be more forgiving but I do try… especially if it is something I am publishing or if I am writing a letter to a boss or someone I have to make an impression on (job cover letter or query). I also obsess over anything I write and read and re-read a hundred times…. finding mistakes I missed irks me. But I won’t spell check this comment, I tend to not worry so much about the informal as much.

  2. kungfusinger

    I am peeved about most textisms.

    “ur”, “h8”, “ne1″… etc. I have been known to refuse to text with friends because I figured that if they could not put in enough effort to spell “you are”, then they were not worth messaging with. Needless to say, these friends and I have since parted ways.

    I applaud websites which censor comments due to poor grammar and spelling. I have seen one or two. Usually they will let slide the occasional miscapitalization or obvious typo, but as soon as textisms are used, the comment is reprimanded by the mediator. Hooray for keeping the English language pure!

  3. Mark

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Holli.

  4. Story Teller

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! It’s good to know that there are at least a couple of like-minded souls out there. 🙂

  5. Wendy Matheson

    Hi Holli:

    I am happy to have found your blog through Laura Best…

    I am also a writer with a communications background (and no published books, yet).

    I totally agree with this post…I used to resent my dad for correcting my grammar growing up, but I corrected my children, and now they’re correcting their friends! It continues to amaze me that there are so many “educated” people who can’t spell!

    I’m wondering if I can add your blog to my Blogroll…

  6. Chris


    English by its nature is a language in continual flux, subsuming the tasty bits of other tongues in its ever-widening maw. Even its own body is Protean, waxing and waning as newborn slang rises from the ashes of the old, thumps its chest for a spell, then sinks back into the morass of discarded, rotting phrases.

    So much of our current ‘official’ lexicon is comprised of words that in earlier times were considered slang. The distaste many of us have for slang like “OMG” and “LOL” is by no means a new complaint, but we blithely use phrases today that were the textisms of previous generations.

    It’s worth noting as well that abbreviations have a very practical value in minimizing the time and space needed to convey a concept or idea. Though still a relative neologism, “LOL” has been granted offical status by the Oxford English Dictionary this year. In time, it may even become as socially accepted as “FYI.” Or those annoying Latin abbreviations like “P.S.,” “i.e.” and “e.g.” It’s a shame that no one wants to put in the effort to write “exempli gratia” any more, isn’t it?

    So hooray (a wonderful English word, which likely originated as a Mongolian war cry) for the flexibility of our language! English shall no doubt live on after a multitude of more stagnant languages have kicked the bucket.

  7. Story Teller

    @ Wendy, welcome, welcome to my blog! And of course you can add it to your Blogroll. I’d be honored. 🙂 It’s great that you’re teaching your kids to respect the English language. Abbreviations have their place, of course, but it’s great if the kids can still spell “laugh out loud”. And stick with your writing – if you can hang in there throughout the rejections, it will pay off, I promise.

    @ Chris – as I know you love to use OMG and LOL, your argument is slightly biased. 😉 But I love you anyway.


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