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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Write and wrong: The tragic state of grammar in our nation today

For reasons I can’t begin to understand, there is a language crisis in this country, and I am not talking about people who don’t speak English. I am calling out the native speakers- people born in this country, into families who have lived here for generations. People with last names like Smith, Jones, Williams, and Thomas. There is an epidemic of epic proportions. It seems we are losing the war on poor grammar.
Even with more people using electronic devices which have spell checker, proper spelling has become a lost art. Grammar and usage are practically on the endangered species list and the spoken word is in such a sad state, it is almost at the failed state level. We are losing our ability to communicate properly even though more people are communicating in the world today than at any other time in history. What is going on?
I work in the communication field and I see examples of this constantly. Perhaps I am more attuned to the uses and abuses that seem to multiply each year. Sadly, many of the errors go unnoticed as more and more people are joining the ranks of Americans who can’t speak or write proper English. 
I suppose there is apathy towards proper communication which has carried over to all levels of society. There doesn’t seem to be any value on correct communication. I am very saddened by this development and I believe it has a terrible impact on our nation and culture.

I suppose regional idioms and expressions will always be with us, and that is somewhat understandable, even quaint. But the lack of pride or concern for one’s ability to communicate in a professional, educated or intelligent manner is one of the reasons that we are dumbing-down our workforce and lowering the standards because there are so many offenders doesn’t seem to be a valid solution.
Here are a few of the most common errors courtesy of Wikipedia:
Common misspellings
Error → Correction.
(Ordered by commonness.)
·         "alot" → "a lot". This error is so commonly made in internet forums that the blog Hyperbole and a Half wrote an extensive and satiric post on the topic.
·         "can not" → "cannot"
·         "it's"1 versus "its"
·         "who's"1 versus "whose"
·         "lets" (3rd person present simple active form of the verb "to let" as in: "Bill lets his son use his credit card") versus "let's" (contraction for "let us" as in: "Let's go to the store.")
·         "everyday" is only an adjective meaning common, ordinary, quotidian. But "every day" (two words) is the adverb (or to be precise, the adverbial phrase) meaning "daily." This mistake is found depressingly often in commercials and signs inside stores.
·         "todo" → "to do"
·         "upto" → "up to"
·         "ofcourse" → "of course"
·         "allright" or "alright"2 → "all right"
·         "allways" or "all ways"3 → "always"
·         "they're" versus "their"
·         "theirselves" → "themselves"
·         "affect" versus "effect"
·         "buisness" → "business"
·         "pronounciation" → "pronunciation"
·         "arguement" → "argument"
·         "definately", "definetely", … → "definitely"
·         "ressource" → "resource"
See Wikipedia:List_of_common_misspellings for countless others.
1 "It" and "who" are pronouns, not nouns. Therefore when they are used as possessives, they are not written like contractions "it's" ("it is") and "who's" ("who is").
2 "Alright" is a nonstandard spelling that has become heavily used due to its analogy with similar contractions such as "always" and "almighty". Wikipedia prefers standard writing.
3 "All ways" is only written "always" if you are not referring to "all possibilities." (E.g., "She is better than he in all ways" is correct, as is "She is always better than he.")
But even Wikipedia leaves off some of the most annoying errors. I’m referring  to the ones that make my ears bleed when I hear them. Here are three current top annoying errors that I encounter more than I should:
·         Nothing instead of Anything. Example: “I don’t know nothing about that.”- I know this seems impossible to believe, but I swear I hear this at least three times a week from someone.

·         Improperly using “I” instead of “me”. Example: “Please contact Mary or I if you have any questions.” – Some people think this sounds smarter and are absolutely sure they are correct.
·         Using the word “at” to end a sentence. Example: “Where are the car keys at?”- I know this one may seem picky, but it is one of my hugest annoyances. It simply sounds awful.
I could go on, but I am sure it is clear where this is going. I don’t claim to be “Grammar Girl” or an expert in the field of English, but I can’t help but notice when people with advanced degrees massacre sentences, pronunciation and usage of the language. Their primary language! It is disturbing and disconcerting, to say the least. Is it laziness, apathy or just a devil-may-care attitude? I don’t understand it at all.
It isn’t just the written word. It is the spoken word too. I sat in a meeting of about 20 people recently where one of the people giving their report to the group ACTUALLY used the word SUPPOSITORY instead of REPOSITORY.  And the worst part was how few people noticed. How is this possible?
Both my parents are English as a Second Language (ESL) people and THEY speak English better than many native speakers I know and work with. Which leads me to my main point-Is this laziness or stupidity? Why doesn’t shame have any impact on this issue?

Many years ago, people wanted to better themselves by improving their language skills. People were embarrassed by being uneducated and they worked hard to improve their speaking and writing abilities.  Now it seems that it is almost a badge of honor to speak with slang and improper grammar. Is it a rebellion or some other attempt to seem “cool”? It isn’t working. It’s actually sad and unsettling when a person who has had a chance at an education still can’t manage to speak or write correctly in a professional setting.
How is it that college- educated people are writing and speaking on the level of 12 year olds? If a professional person can’t convey a simple message without a grammatical error, something is broken in our education system that needs an emergency infusion of grammar and a back-to-basics overhaul of teaching proper speech.

Even in the electronic age where everyone is emailing and texting, we still need to be able to put down thought on paper or speak to people with intelligence and proper language. We need to bring pride and value back to the way we speak and write before we become a nation of writing and reading illiterates.


  1. I am disgusted by many of your examples as well! I see it every day at work and in personal written correspondence. My biggest pet peeve is "irregardless".


    One problem that seems to exacerbate this poor usage is that there are copywriters and journalists -especially online - who don't seem to get caught by their respective bosses/editors when it comes to making these kinds of mistakes. And people will assume, if they've seen it in an ad/read it on the internet, that it "must" be right. Sigh!

    Can we petition news outlets to hire people with real brains (please)?

  3. Thanks for the comments and feedback, ladies. I appreciate the support!

  4. "Suppository" instead of "repository"!!! (Holy cow...)

  5. I understand your perspective, but not everyone has literary strength. Dyslexic individuals can speak, but spelling is their weakness. ADD individuals have difficulty translating their thoughts into written words. In fact, up to 15% of the population have some variation of a learning disability and though the federal government and states provide funds to assist students with disabilities, the reality is that the funds are not used to properly help students with these issues. The result is that students who need intensive help usually never receive it, and they potentially end up dropping out of school. If they don't receive assistance while in school, the help they need is so specialized and the cost is so expensive that intensive help is unaffordable.

    We are approaching the day when the ability to spell is less important with the advent of software such as 'Word' that fixes many misspellings. There are all types of applications being created such as one that records and translates spoken words into any selected language. The advent of such an application allows individuals in foreign countries to communicate without knowing the language.

    We as a people are becoming so dependent on technology that the school systems are considering eliminating the need to learn cursive writing. Everything is typed or spoken, spoken words can be translated into text, and text can be translated into the spoken word. We are on the brink of the day when it will be more efficient to speak and have software translate verbal words into text and vice versa.

    There are already 'Semantic Web' applications that use morphological analysis to produce search results based on related terms, synonyms and root word analysis. By the same token, it may be a good idea to develop an application to apply similar language rules to written text and provide editorial corrections to help resolve spelling, grammar, and context issues. There is an obvious need for such an application. Let's go into business!