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The future of bad writing

Following up on yesterday's post -- I would've tacked it on as another comment, but it kind of grew in my brain to be bigger....

So a lot of people can no longer write. By this, I mean they don't use correct words, grammer, or style to convey their thoughts. Maybe they're just going so fast they have no time to edit. More likely, they've either forgotten what they learned in school or they've become convinced that it's not important. However it has happened, there is now a lot of speech and especially writing that says nothing or is embarassingly illiterate.

But, the little voice in my head says, we still usually figure out what they said, right? I mean, I knew the SUV driver meant to support the U.S. Marine Corps, and Altivo figured out that the store had socks on sale. Humans are amazingly able to figure out what is meant from minimal cues. There's that famous meme that shows you can leave out all the vowels in a paragraph and we know what the words are. Right?

Well, when the possible choices are unambiguous and basically simple, yes. When the communication is trying to do more than announce a sale, things might be a bit dicier. That's the big thing that concerns me. What if someone needs to convey a complicated thought such as, I dunno, how to assemble a lawn mower from out of the box? Or why we should support candidate Jane Smith for city council? Badly spelled words and wrong word choices sink a message.

I'm not too concerned that our "big leaders" will be too illiterate to lead, yet.* First, what will happen is, the people we have to interact with on a daily basis will be too illiterate. Retail store clerks, office assistants drafting ad hoc letters, functionaries in the Social Security office -- those people, who may be unable to get their thoughts across. My big fear is that, in twenty years, my slowly ossifying brain will have to try to wrap itself around senseless communications. What good will it be that our President might be a Rhodes Scholar, when I can't get help when I apply for Social Security?

Then again, I wonder if people decades ago complained like I am now, when "thee" and "thou" were being replaced in the language. The complaining didn't change things, and the English language didn't die.

P.S.: The title of the previous entry was two lines from John Prine's "Come Back To Us, Barbara Lewis Hare Krishna Beauregard." They're followed by my favorite lyric of all time: "Cuz if heartaches were commercials / we'd all be on TV."

* It is too easy to say it has already happened. Besides, George W. Bush isn't the only leader-type around, and most of the others can write and communicate.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 13th, 2007 07:35 am (UTC)
A few quick comments:

- No one who stays at their job is completely incompetent. The complete incompetents get fired.
- Communication is more than reading and writing. A sales person might not know how to read and write, but she may give you a DVD that demonstrates how to assemble your lawn mower. Or whatnot.
- I think that literacy is increasing, not decreasing. We're seeing more poor spelling and bad grammar, not because of worsening education, but because we're interacting with vastly more people than we once did. Remember that sixty years ago, very few people had college educations.
May. 13th, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
- I think that literacy is increasing, not decreasing. We're seeing more poor spelling and bad grammar, not because of worsening education, but because we're interacting with vastly more people than we once did.

There's probably some truth there. It's much easier to write to people now than it used to be, both personally and publicly. 20 years ago, there weren't any blogs or personal homepages, and few people outside of the science and technical professions had email.

Then too, I'm reading a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the excerpts from Lewis's letters and journals (and, to a lesser extent, Jefferson's letters) are full of the kinds of spelling errors I make all the time (and usually correct), plus plenty more errors that I know I'd make if I'd lived 200 years ago. In particular, Lewis uses "it's" when he means "its" all the time, and it's driving me nuts! :-)

On the other hand, I think homonym errors (especially there/their/they're, your/you're, and its/it's) -- and other errors that are still words (he instead of the, "away" instead of "a way") -- may be more common, from spell check combined with lack of proofreading. And I hate when someone sends an email or leaves a post as an unclear, unbroken block of text. (Someone once sent one of these to a Yahoo group I'm in -- I think they were asking for help with something, but it was too much of a pure stream-of-consciousness to understand. Had it been a spoken message, I might've understood it, but as text...)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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