“I don’t see any use in having a uniform and arbitrary way of spelling words. We might as well make all clothes alike and cook all dishes alike. Sameness is tiresome; variety is pleasing. I have a correspondent whose letters are always a refreshment to me, there is such a breezy unfettered originality about his orthography. He always spells Kow with a large K. Now that is just as good as to spell it with a small one. It is better. It gives the imagination a broader field, a wider scope. It suggests to the mind a grand, vague, impressive new kind of a cow.” – Mark Twain
I will preface this post with a little about myself. Despite what my writing (and speech patterns) would suggest (alas, you can’t hear my rich cadence on this blog, so you’ll just have to imagine it), English is not my first language, a fact that I have only recently come to realize. “Quoi,” you say? Well, my first language is Spanish, English is my second. I never truly gave much thought as to which language I learned first because I have no memories in which I did not know either language. The idea that I had always known both languages was shattered when I discovered that I had been placed in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in grade school. My English-as-a-second-language status should have been painfully apparent to me because both of my parents had been learning English at approximately the same time as I had. As I mentioned, I had never given it much thought, so I would understand not only if you were vexed, but if you also slapped your own forehead. I suppose my ignorance of this simple fact could also be attributed to two factors; first, I was never told that I was actually in an ESL class, and; second, the teachers I had had done an exceptional job making me feel normal.
I believe my placement in ESL classes, coupled with my insatiable hunger for knowledge, are responsible for the meticulous nature with which I treat the English language. I have been told by many people, from acquaintances to friends, that I am a great writer with an admirably strong command of the English language. Although I am inclined to accept praise (quite gratefully so) from wherever it should come, I am truthfully much too modest and self-deprecating to make such grand claims about myself. I would consider myself somewhat normal, mediocre at best.
Undoubtedly, I have encountered wretchedly abysmal spellers throughout my life—perhaps not as many as a school teacher or university professor—but my studies and jobs have not deprived me of such lovely words as, “bcuz,” “asparine,” and “raseat.” (Translation: because, aspirin, and receipt, respectively). As for grammar, one has to look no further than YouTube where countless videos are dedicated to exposing, and often ridiculing, poor grammar. Under normal circumstances, I take up no quarrel with anyone for poor spelling or grammar—we all make mistakes. I often use misspellings and jumbled grammar for comedic effect. I, however, must admit that there are two exceptions, in my opinion, where spelling and grammar are sacrosanct: professional correspondences and consumer products.
If this is beginning to sound like a tirade, that’s because it might be. I can already hear people asking why I would take the time to attack spelling and grammatical blunders. Surely, why would I waste precious seconds on such a benign and innocuous indiscretion? The answer is simply because I would greatly enjoy it, perhaps a little too much.
In the days of yore, professional correspondences often came as handwritten messages, scribbled on parchment, enclosed within an envelope bearing a wax seal, and delivered by a gallant rider and his steed…
In the modern world, professional correspondences are often exchanged via email, wherein a strict policy for “decent conversation” is maintained and enforced. Typically, correspondences are terse and convey vital pieces of information whilst showing deference to a colleague or superior—propitiation of a kind. Such correspondences are often banal, devoid of character.
Nonetheless, I understand that correspondences must be bland. Jobs often favor brevity and clarity instead of circumlocution and thought-provoking metaphor. Liability risk is also a huge concern for companies in our age of electronic communication and they will tend to stress proper grammar and spelling. I feel that a prescriptivist view of language is required in the workplace. One ought to conform to the policies outlined by the workplace lest colleagues misinterpret casual language, as an invitation to befriend or as a form of disrespect; the same applies to one’s superiors. Keeping to this prescriptivist view can help maintain a professional atmosphere and also garner respect from those keen on language; a plus for those who require that type of validation.
The second arena, the more important one, is consumer products—from food to gadgets, from furniture to sex toys. Proper spelling and grammar are arguably more essential for the latter two. How many times have you strained your mind over incomplete sentences and unintelligible words after coming home with new furniture? I could only imagine the frustration when it comes to sex toys. I may perhaps be correct in saying that more and more consumers are meticulously and assiduously informing themselves to the manufacture, processing, packaging, and distribution of all goods they buy. And for plenty of good reasons. Most of the goods purchased contain chemicals (good, harmful, or otherwise) or emit energy and are associated with considerable health implications, whether positive or negative. Clear and effective communication on the part of manufacturers and marketing companies can help answer and address, at least in part, some of the questions and concerns that may arise. In some ways, the effort put into proper spelling and grammar could be indicative of the quality of product purchased. However, I am certain this isn’t always the case.
Save for my two exceptions, I believe there should be no limitations placed, either linguistically imposed or self-imposed, on spelling and language. I wholeheartedly agree with Mark Twain when he says: “sameness is tiresome; variety is pleasing.” Normal everyday language ought not be hindered and constrained by dogmatic prescriptivism. Spelling words incorrectly will not vitiate the moral fabric of our society, nor will such indiscretions make the terrorists win. Spelling words incorrectly or formulating sentences outside of the accepted norms, unintentionally or otherwise, adds depth and richness to the language which should indeed refresh the eyes and the mind. The purpose of language is to communicate thoughts and ideas—if you are understood and you have tickled a brain, then you have communicated effectively. I can see that this view of effective communication could be disheartening and profoundly disconcerting to the friendly neighborhood grammar Nazi. But I stress again, this type of intransigence, often accompanied by arrogance, should not serve to hinder those whom would wield the instruments of communication. So if you, like Twain, believe that the mind needs to be broadened to see a “grand, vague, impressive new kind of cow,” then start writing differently and leave your readers with a precious nugget for their imaginations.