Tuesday, 28 March 2017

My edumacation wern’t to good.

“Ya i have the seats to took them off so I wouldn't loose them on their way to there new home in my attic for restore”

Okay, I know I’m a pedant when it comes to basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation but recently it seems that the race to the bottom is accelerating. Either that or internet bloggers and commenters have, of recent, become emulators of James Joyce’s Ulysses in style and structure. Then again, perhaps not; Joyce could at least spell. (Modern variant: “Joyce cud at leest spel.”)

I can appreciate that English can be difficult for newcomers to learn and master, but when your name is Joe Smith and you hail from Pittsburgh (or Tampa, or Toronto), I expect it’s your first language that you are butchering, not your second.

Now some would argue that if “people understand what I mean” anyway why does it matter? Or the claim is made that languages evolve over time, new words get added, old words get dropped, and punctuation standards change (vis current discussions over the use of the Oxford comma) so this is just a natural evolution, possibly hastened by the need to compress ideas into 140 characters or less, entered on a very tiny smartphone keyboard/pad. That’s true, to a degree, but the proper use of any language offers a precision to our communications that is too easily lost when it strays too far from its normative path.

There is no shortage of internet memes that use humour to illustrate the misunderstandings that are possible when basic linguistic rules aren’t followed, but there are also more serious consequences.

Julia Layton expresses the importance of spelling in How Stuff Works: “As adults, our spelling affects the perception of our intelligence and credibility (emphasis mine). Fair or not, many people in the professional world are going to toss that resume aside without even finding out what your child's "job experiance" entails. To people looking to hire someone smart and detail-oriented, to people reading and grading college essays, to people deciding whether or not to take a serious blog post seriously, spelling counts.

And nowhere is the precision of language more critical than in the law, a perfect example being this case where millions of dollars hinge on a single comma. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/comma-lawsuit-dairy-truckers-1.4034234

Finally there is simply the matter of pride. Why would you want to present yourself to the world as a person who is barely literate?

Unless, of course, you are.

The Huffington Post reports, “According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.”

And according to some surveys, Canada offers no beacon of hope when it comes to basic literacy either, with “Four out of ten Canadian adults have[ing] literacy skills too low to be fully competent in most jobs in our modern economy.”

When graduates of the education systems of two of the richest countries in the world produce rubbish like the lead-in quote it’s no wonder the west is losing its global competitive advantage at such a stunning rate. It is depressing in the extreme.


  1. You're right, Dave. Today, it's not uncommon to find spelling errors in newspaper articles. Years ago, you could rely on perfect spelling and grammar in them.

    1. Gary - And it can't always be blamed on spell checkers. More and more often I see "amount" creeping in where the correct word is "number" (a special peeve of mine) and minor errors like "to" instead of "too" are very common as well.

  2. I joined a Facebook group recently and was surprised to notice the LACK of spelling or grammatical errors in this group of over 200,000 people who comment regularly.
    That was a sad moment when I realized that the proper spelling of words impressed me.

  3. I remember how incredulous I was when I learned (some time in the late seventies or early 80s) that the US Army was revising many of its manuals into comic book format. Rather than trying to raise the capability of its recruits as readers, they decided that getting the content across quickly to barely literate recruits was more important. In the end I had to agree with their decision, but I felt it was a sad day. That was forty years ago.

    1. Pat - I guess when understanding is more important then you use whatever tools you have. But I agree, it would be nice if the effort was made to improve reading skills instead of catering to the lowest denominator, as impractical as that would be.

  4. David,
    Sadly, the same all over the world and like another poster, I've noticed the increase in poor grammar and spelling in the press too. However, there is one bright spot..... our 3 adult kids are complete grammar Nazis, which pleases us immensely!

    1. Geoff - My daughter is as well, so it may not be as bleak as I fear.

  5. David there is a popular notion, likely correct, that the behaviour of organizations is determined by the tone at the top.

    It's just possible (like really very possible) that the new President of our southern neighbour is himself illiterate.

    I mean, you'd think that it's crazy, right? How do you get an MBA from Wharton without, like you know, being able to read at a high level of understanding, like a grad school level, right?

    Well click that link (or this one), and prepare to scratch your head in disbelief.

    1. David - First of all, sorry for the late response. Somehow your post got flagged as spam. Perhaps Blogger is getting a bit too discerning?
      But you are right. It does come top down. If the boss doesn't care why should the peon. If the teacher doesn't care, why should the student. And if the President doesn't care, well..... he's the smartest guy on earth dontcha know?
      All very depressing.


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