One of my favorite websites always succeeds in adding to my awareness of the spoken and written word and increases my knowledge and understanding of the way English challenges speakers and writers. I refer to Richard Nordquist’s About.com Grammar and Composition at http://grammar.about.com.
Relevant to the focus of past columns about spelling problems, Nordquist has a link to an article titled, “Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in lost online sales” by Sean Coughlan, reporter with the BBC news agency. One online businessman, Charles Duncombe, tracked sales increases for one website after an error was corrected: “Revenue was twice as high.” Also, Duncombe saw correct spelling as essential to a website’s credibility given concerns about fraud and safety. Duncombe sees “poor spelling as a serious problem for the online economy because when you sell or communicate on the Internet, 99 percent of the time it is done by the written word.” Duncombe also found that when he was reading job applications, too many contained spelling and grammar errors.
What can be done? The head of the Confederation of British Industry said that 42 percent of employers are so dissatisfied with the basic reading and writing skills of college graduates that companies must invest in remedial training to raise workers’ skills to a level of competency.
Nordquist offers another link to an article in the New York Times by Virginia Heffernan, “The Price of Typos.” Heffernan observes that bad spellers differ from good spellers, who see language as a system. She says that good spellers are “drawn to poetry and wordplay, while bad spellers, for whom language is a conduit and not an end in itself, can excel at representation and reportage.” Bad spellers, she contends, see through words to the things words conjure.
Heffernan cites several reasons that typos, some of which are spelling errors, occur rampantly in the publishing world today. For one thing, publishers no longer pay full-time copy editors and proofreaders to correct an author’s mistakes. With digital technology, the routines of the past in book publishing have changed greatly. A second reason — the pressure to publish books faster than ever to meet the demands of the reading public — means that publishers skip steps. In the past, a manuscript would become a galley proof and a revised proof with changes marked at each stage. Today, authors can email last-minute changes which may miss a thorough editing.
One editor at Little, Brown publishing company says that writers bear some of the responsibility, too, because with the use of word processors, there is “substantial decline in author discipline and attention.” He observes that manuscripts are longer than in the past, “more casually assembled,” and only superficially reviewed before the text is sent to the editor.” He said, “Seriously, you have no idea how sloppy some of these [manuscripts] are.”
A mystery writer I enjoy, Karin Slaughter, must have listened to this reader’s complaints about grammar and spelling errors in a previous novel. In her new mystery, “Fallen,” I found no errors that distracted me from the plot and characters. True, maybe it’s only English teachers who find errors disruptive to smooth reading, but I contend that all people who read regularly expect correct writing and spelling. At the least, spelling errors slow us down, whether we are searching on the Web or writing a letter to friends. One tech site, Geekosystem, warns that we will not get as many hits as we deserve if we misspell.
Another feature Nordquist offers at the website is a 60-second quiz based on the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. Answers to these questions follow in parentheses:
1. Which is correct, e-mail or email? (In years past, this word was always hyphenated, but now the hyphen has been omitted, making email correct.)
2. Which eight U.S. states are never abbreviated in datelines or text? (Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, and Utah.)
3. Which is correct, daylight saving time or daylight savings time? (Write this phrase without the –s. It is always lowercase and written as daylight time when it stands alone.)
4. Which is correct, web site or website? (According to the 2010 edition of the AP Stylebook, this word is always one word in lowercase, website.)
Last, purely for fun, Nordquist presents “words and phrases that ticked you off.” Some of these occur because people rely on the way words sound rather than on a familiarity with the way the word looks in print. Examples of these include “axe” instead of “ask”; “cold slaw” instead of “cole slaw”; “exscape” instead of “escape”; “ice tea” instead of “iced tea”; “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes”; “wax paper” instead of “waxed paper”; “vice a versa” instead of “vice versa”; “undoubtably” instead of “undoubtedly”; “refudiate” instead of “repudiate”; and “flustrated” instead of “frustrated.”
Other peeves result when words and phrases are used to excess, as in “there you go,” “that being said,” “veggies,” “so over it,” “state of the art,” “absolutely,” “anywho,” “ginormous,” “no brainer,” “no problem” (used as a response to “thank you” instead of “you’re welcome”), “come on board,” “teachable moment,” “touch base,” and many others.
Visitors to Nordquist’s website can add their own pet peeves at what he calls the Department of Misused and Overworked Words and Phrases. Those of us who suffer from logomisia (word aversion) can rid ourselves of our frustrations and join a family of people who acknowledge the sanctity of the correctly and freshly rendered word and phrase.