Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Blog Stuff: The Illiterati.

Thanks to the computer revolution, some pundits say, the lost arts of grammar are being borne back to our shores on a rising tide of electronic journals, letters, and bulletin boards. The thinkers who opine that obviously do not have internet connections, or they would grasp the fatuousness of their claim. The truth is this: Thanks to the computer revolution, keyboards have been plunked down in front of millions of people who, judging from the available evidence, have difficulty figuring out which end of the spoon goes in their mouth, let alone composing a grammatically proper and correctly spelled English sentence.

Marko has ably tackled the They're/Their/There conundrum that seems to daily stump tens of millions of my proto-simian countrymen, so allow me to offer another free lesson or two:

1)"It's" means "It Is", as in "It's going to use a good dictionary intead of some idiotic spellchecker, just to make sure it isn't making an ass of itself." Conversely, "Its" is the third-person neuter possessive pronoun, as seen here: "Its LiveJournal became the laughingstock of the internet because it couldn't be bothered to learn to write at a third grade level."

2) Ditch Spellchecker, buy Webster's. "Reek" is what your skivvies do if you don't change them for three days running; "wreak" is what you do with havoc. If I read one more professionally edited and published novel where someone "reeks havoc", I'm going to wreak havoc go on a killing spree.

Pass this along. There are some fantastically literate people out there. Don't let Marko and I be left shouldering this burden alone. Help us...

...spread a bit of ridicule, I guess. It ain't like we're actually going to change anything, so we might as well get a chuckle from the cretins.


Anonymous said...

Right on, Tam. Its/it's is a personal peeve of mine; these days I even see it misused in books and especially magazines.


WR Olsen said...

I can't help but agree with the conclusion that we are drowning in a sea of poor writing. One of my peeves is that the publishing industry does not hire/use/listen to editors and the results are glaringly obvious.

Jeff the Baptist said...

It's/Its is easier to remember once you realize that "its" is the possessive similar to "his" and "hers." No apostrophe with either of them so no apostrophe with "its" either.

Anonymous said...

Poeple who confuse "loose" with "lose".

I HATE that!!

Zendo Deb said...

A losing battle...

Grammar died when they stopped teaching kids how to diagram sentences.

Compound, complex sentences require people have complex thoughts. Public schools have pretty much eliminated that possibility.

Add in the fact that most reading material (newspapers and the like) is written at 6th grade level or so, and it is amazing anyone has a thought at all.

BobG said...

I spent some time doing tech support for a computer company, and worked in the email department; it was a strange experience.
I have seen 'dirt' spelled as 'durt' on more than one occasion, and 'dosent' for 'doesn't' was extremely common.
There were some letters that it took 2 or 3 of us to even read, they were written so badly. I could understand this in someone new to English, but when you get an illiterate letter from someone who is obviously born and raised in this country, it is very depressing. It is amazing when someone who cannot spell computer is trying to use one.

Anonymous said...

'Ditch Spellchecker, buy Webster's. "Reek" is what your skivvies do if you don't change them for three days running;'

Good advice. But:

'It's" means "It Is", as in "It's going to use a good dictionary intead of some idiotic spellchecker'



Tam said...

If they called them "typocheckers" I probably wouldn't have such a gut-level loathing of them. ;)

Porta's Cat said...

Muzzle BRAKE, dammit!

Anonymous said...

You're and your is the one that really bothers me.

Kevin said...

"Don't let Marko and I be left shouldering this burden alone."

I could be wrong (it's happened before), but I believe the proper grammar for that sentence should be "Don't let Marko and me be left...." If the proper word to use without "Marko" included is "me," it's the proper word to use with him.

It might not sound proper, but it is.

(My 2¢ from an amateur grammar nazi who never had to diagram a sentence.)

Art said...

Add your gripes to Walter Williams' disgust:

Hell would be if I were required to do a complete job of editing just one day's postings at L&P at The High Road.


pdb said...

Okay, I'll come clean.

I get stymied by it's/its every now and then. While I always get 'it is'/it's right, I can never remember when to sprinkle in extra apostrophies. Is it America's Army, or Americas Army? It's Army? Its Army?


I blame Canadas (Canada's) communist school system. In 12 years of schooling, I never attended a grammar lesson. Not that I purposely avoided it, but it was never offered! Oh sure, they found time to immerse us in a dying language (French), inform us that all cultures are equal except for the evil white men killing the earth, but instruction on using the world's commerce language was merely touched on.

I'll overcome my handicap and write purty some day.

Billy Beck said...

"An apostrophe does not mean, 'Look out! There's an S coming!'"

(Dave Barry)

Have you ever looked at the comments on YouTube videos? I don't know if there is another online experience so appalling in its concentration of strutting incompetence. If I could light up ten thousand chat windows all at once, I might gather enough morons to equal it, but I'm not sure.

"zendo deb" -- you wrote a mouthful. "Complex thoughts": I would commend you all to Leonard Peikoff's 1984 lecture, "The American School: Why Johnny Can't Think", published as an essay in Ayn Rand's 1989 anthology, "The Voice Of Reason -- Essays In Objectivist Thought". The short version: integration from principles is a lost craft.

The Eloi are now among us.

Onward, through The Endarkenment.

Ben said...


To funny!!!!


Tennessee Budd said...

The apostrophe junkies kill me. Folks, an apostrophe indicates a contraction, or possession. Nobody but a moron advertises "free kitten's". I see it all the time, though.
As far as I vs. me: break the sentence into its component parts, people. Nowadays it seems many people think "and I" sounds classier, & is therefore correct. If you're tempted to say "Joe took Bob & I fishing", you are incapable of passing fourth-grade English. "Joe took Bob fishing"; OK so far. "Joe took I fishing"; see a problem there? (If you don't there is no hope for you, or maybe you're Rastafarian.)

Dr. StrangeGun said...

My typography is suspect at times, but I pride myself on generally appropriate grammar.

Unfortunately, I can wade through the rotting mire of most people's texts but to find that the general premise of the story makes my eyes bleed just as severely.

Kevin said...

Tennessee budd wrote:

"'Joe took I fishing'; see a problem there? (If you don't there is no hope for you, or maybe you're Rastafarian.)"

I have to disagree with you on that one, budd. Everyone has (almost wrote "everyone's got," but I know that's poor grammar) blind spots, but there's hope for all but the organically damaged. Tam's level of writing is far above that of the general public, and yet she made that very error. I'm sure I've done worse, and I pride myself on my grammar (though my ability to type sometimes bites me on the ass...)

BryanP said...

Thank you.

If I see one more person referring to a "mute" point I think I'll scream.

B&N said...

To vs. Too

Ask this question to yourself the next time it presents itself, can it be substituted with "also" or "excessively"? If so, then it's TOO, not to, which is a preposition.

Makes me grind my teeth.

El Capitan said...

I wrote a post a while back that covered the following:

sheer vs shear
grisly vs grizzly vs gristly
shoot vs chute
affect vs effect
hoard vs horde vs whored
duel vs dual
phase vs faze
gauge vs gage
reek vs wreak
udder vs utter

I used each one in sentence where the subject (hippies, usually) died a horrible death. I like to think it's amusing, but I'm easily amused. YMMV.

LawDog said...

I hereby admit that apostrophes kick my ever-loving butt.

And my spelling can be a wee bit wonky at times.

I try, though.

mikey43 said...

Thank you Anonymous, I loose it every time I see someone mix them up! Oops!

Tennessee Budd said...

Point taken, Kevin. I was just showing the best way to avoid error, when one is in doubt.

Fathairybastard said...

Ok, obviously some people have an anal obsession with making everyone else do the right thing. As a person who is functionally illiterate when it comes to spelling and grammar (dislexia is a huge bummer), but who makes a damn good living teaching other subjects to adults every day, I'd say that the concept of enforcing rules with these things is a form of creeping fascism. People slobber all over Shakespeare for being a geious, but he couln't spell his ass out of a wet paper bag, and made up new words all the time.

Having said all that, your observatin is spot on. As we evolve into a more technological society, with people able to rely on spell checks and grammar checks on their PCs, they are going to lose the need to remember these sorts of things. Very fiew people today could use a printing press, a horse drawn plow, or even a sewing macine. Things change.

Billy Beck said...

"...a form of creeping fascism."

Look: you don't have to pay attention to what anyone here is saying. You can write any dopey thing that you want to and nobody can do a thing in the world about it except avoid dealing with you. Get it? Everybody's free.

Only a fucking asshole would call that "fascism", asshole. Don't be an asshole. It's unnecessary, unbecoming, and extremely tempting to people who really know how to do it and who enjoy taking amateurs straight to the wall on their own premises.

Get it?

B&N said...


I disagree. The reason is that the word is an expression of thought. If your words are clear, the thought will be clear. If one can not spell, it is probably because they don't understand the difference between the meanings of the words. These people are the masses that are easily manipulated and are lead about by their nose ring with empathetic words like, "I feel your pain."

It is pretty clear to me that most persons don't care enough to even try these days. They are far more concerned with their government entitlements and getting their way. We are living in a dark age of slovenly behaviour and thinking, and it is becoming a huge problem for those of us who are productive.

It has nothing to do with being a form of "creeping fascism" as you say, but is endemic of a society that has gotten too fat and lazy to care about doing anything the right way.

BTW, I am dyslexic too, though mildly, and I never had any help with overcoming it as a child. I don't buy that excuse. You can either think clearly and convey your message, whether in verbal or written form, or you can't...or won't.

Fathairybastard said...

No, I'd say it IS a form of creeping fascism when everywhere you go in this fucking country you're having other peoples rules or restrictions foisted off on you. Everyone feels free to tell everyone else how to live and noone has much of a sence of humor any more. There's lots of different forms of fascism out there. Obviously this comments page is a very minor example, but the volume of comments here and elsewhere in which people assume a level of moral superiority simply because they have the ability to remember the proper place to put a comma is nausiating. people need to get a life.

Fathairybastard said...

How many of these comments have made the insinuation that people who can't spell or put a comma in the right place are welfare slobs? Tell me there isn't a huge level of arrogance there. Why do CEOs or other people with position have secretaries? Because some people have the natural ability to remember these things and some of us don't. There are LOTS of different forms of intellagence.

Fathairybastard said...

...and verbal communication and written communication are two completely different things. No correlation.

cpb said...

Look! Look! More comments than the bikini post!

See, we don't just like you for your body.

pignock said...

This is why I read WAY more then I write on the internet. I'm much more casual in my communications than y'all. When there is a need for precise or formal communication, I can usually manage to avoid pissing off all but the most fervent grammar nazis, but it takes a hell of a lot more effort to do so.

I've noticed that many of the gun bloggers I read frequently are very particular both with their choices in firearms and their use of the english language. I'll bet there is some neural predisposition towards precision hardwired into these folks. I also think my brain might be wired in a slightly non-standard way.

ColtCCO said...

Pignock - I think we all have Aspergers. if that's what you mean.



Billy Beck said...

I've been at this a long time, and I've got about two nerves left.

All it takes to get on 'em is that ridiculous "fascist" horseshit.

"SLOWLY, I turned...
STEP by step..."

Dr. StrangeGun said...

It's not "fascism" when what we're saying is if you want to be taken as seriously as you'd probably like to be, you'll follow the standardized rules of English. If you don't you reflect negatively on your own intelligence.

If you don't like the way it is, "tough shit". You don't have to watch your grammar or spelling, but don't expect everyone who reads what you write to think well of it.

Fascism (n) 2. Opressive, dictatorial control.

Well, I'm not going to rap your knuckles with a ruler if you drop a typo here and there. This word "fascism", I do not think it means what you think it means.

Fathairybastard said...

Ok, now that I've calmed down...

I guess it was a bit over the top to use the term "fascist." It just hit me on a very personal level to read what seemed to be a very condescending tone from many of the commenters here, beginning with the blogger. I can completely understand why people who are very good at recognizing bad spelling and punctuation would go nuts reading a lot of comments from guys like me who still have a hard time now and then knowing where to put the comma. I even agree with you when you say that in this medium, the ability to communicate your ideas successfully is gonna rest on your ability to spell the kings English in a recognizable way.

I don't see why that gives you the freedom to set your particular skills up as the acme of intellectual sophistication, or describe those of us who still struggle from time to time as the equivalent of welfare queens and trash. If you don't think that is an accurate characterization of some of the commenter, read them again. That's what set me off, and that sort of differentiation of one group over another, with one as superior and the other as inferior is the first step in the process of dehumanization, and that is what all fascist groups do when they are ginning themselves up to do what they do best. it speaks to the fact that those ugly instincts are in all of us.

How would it sound if a math teacher told you that if you can't learn to do algebra, then you're an idiot, or someone else said that if you haven't read "Moby Dick" or Chaucer that you're illiterate. I teach history for a living, and I have people coming through my classes all the time who tell me that they hate history, but they're really good at math. Does that give me permission to go off with the other history teachers and make jokes about them being stupid because they can't tell me the difference between George Washington and Booker T. Washington, or explain to me in detail why the South lost the Civil War? If I did that it would reveal only one thing. It would show me to be an arrogant asshole, and anyone else who does that sort of thing should be considered a shit head for behaving that way.

Fathairybastard said...

Damn, I think my spleen has been fully vented for this month, and it's only the 3rd.

Anonymous said...

Fathairybastard, it seems to me that you're not realizing that we don't expect the same level of correctness from one who is dyslexic as from those who are not. As far as I'm concerned, a dyslexic basically gets a free ride on this particular issue.

We're griping about those who are too lazy to learn how to spell correctly; not caring about knowing the precise meaning of words. And I don't have a lot of use for those who complain about their lack of proper teaching during their school years. If one can buy a computer and the accompanying "how to" books, one can also buy a dictionary--and use the damned thing!


Dr. StrangeGun said...

Well, here's your chance to vent some more. I *know* I'm an arrogant asshole when it comes to language.

My entire point basically relies on the fact that I do not know you personally, and the only method you have of representing yourself is your grasp and understanding of the language. Sometimes the source of a rift is as obvious as the common errors made by someone who has English as a second language... but that's tangential here. On the internet, your words are your face until a social situation exists to allow interaction to transcend text. It's the same situation in forums, you cannot reasonably expect to be taken seriously if you misspell every other word and form flawed sentences and phrases, in essence failing to get your message across because your message also includes the methods in which you claim your veracity on the subject at hand; that method is the technical matter of English.

Theirs, theres, there's. Three homophones with three seperate definitions. It's something that can easily be picked up by rote and yet we see hundreds of abuses of those three little words every day. It's not stupidity we're railing against, it's sheer unadulterated carelessness and dare I say laziness.

See, I don't hate stupid people Mr. BFH; they actually don't know any better and are hence excused. It's the lazy writers that get stuck in my craw.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Hah! Look, "seperate". I'm not immune either, but I'm also not so arrogant as to not recognize my own failings.

However, if blogger would let me edit that post I surely would...

pax said...

"How would it sound if a math teacher told you that if you can't learn to do algebra, then you're an idiot, or someone else said that if you haven't read "Moby Dick" or Chaucer that you're illiterate." (fhb)

Actually, I have had teachers say both things to me -- and they were right.

Come to think of it, one of my favorite authors repeatedly opined that anyone who cannot handle mathematics is, at best, an ignorant savage who has learned to wear clothes and not make messes in the house. He further opined that anyone who cannot cope with all three of the basics -- history, languages, and mathematics -- is just another ignorant peasant with dung on your boots. At the time, I was an ignorant peasant with dung on my boots by his exact definition ... but rather than defending my ignorant status, I slowly began filling in where I was lacking.

On the other hand, two of my children are severely dyslexic. One of them very literally could not read until he was nearly 11 years old. This didn't mean he got a free pass. It meant he had to work harder (poor kid ...), and that we as his parents worked even harder to keep him trying. Now age 14, he's an avid reader and has progressed rapidly with his reading skills, but he still has a terrible time with spelling and nearly as hard a time with the physical task of writing. This still does not mean he gets a free pass. It means he'll have to keep working harder. And he will, because he understands that without being able to use the written language, he'll be handicapped throughout his life.

I wouldn't expect someone with one wooden leg to compete on equal terms with two-legged people in the 100 yard dash. But neither would I advise the man to give up and get a wheelchair. I'd urge him to keep trying.

Billy Beck said...

Yo, FHB -- if you actually teach history for a living, then you have far less excuse than anyone else for reaching for that "fascism" crap.

You ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

Tennessee Budd said...

After reading FHB's comments, I had to go back & take a look at the earlier ones, mine included. I didn't see any examples of any of us implying that if someone can't spell that makes him/her a welfare queen, or trash. For what it's worth, I live in a 40-year-old trailer in the hills.
I've seen quite a few college graduates, who should ostensibly know better, committing the most egregious grammar & spelling errors. As Pignock said, some of us are just wired so that we spot such things instinctively.

Anonymous said...

A couple years ago, on some forgotten forum I frequented at the time, this issue caused quite a heated debate. When someone posted a message commenting on the generally disgraceful level of grammatical and spelling competence found on the internet, the dissenting replies were fairly well summarized by a post which read something like, "you people snobs it dosnt matter as long as can uderstand what you are sayng."



Igor said...

I entirely agree with the thought behind the post, but your point is weakened when you say "Don't let Marko and I" instead of, correctly, "Marko and ME."

Tam said...

Yeah, we covered that one about fifteen comments back.

Here I am poking fun at the illiterati, and I are one.