Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Internet Posters Don't Spell Too Good

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published April 7, 2011]  © 2011

There’s probably nothing I enjoy more than misspelled moral outrage. 

Years ago, before the Internet, I used to walk on WindanSea beach where surfers had spray painted “Turist Go Home!” on a sea wall.  They might have succeeded in ways they never envisioned.  That sign was a terrific incentive for visitors not to consider staying here and raising their kids in the same public school system that produced the writers. 

The Internet has brought moral outrage to a whole new level.  Now you don’t even need the spray paint.  Or even the literacy level of a third grader.  Reading the commentary on an article about protests being banned in Saudi Arabia (a place my engineer husband goes often), a reader had posted:  “I dont see Obama and Hilery criticising the Saudi gov like they did with the Iranain gov. HOPOCRISY IS OUR MATTO.”  Um, OK.  Phonetically, it’s not bad.  But I don’t think even Spell Check is going to save this guy on a job application.

During their careers in La Jolla’s public schools, my sons had some terrific and inspiring English teachers but also a few who pretty much abdicated the position.  Rory’s eighth grade English teacher at Muirlands, for example, never corrected spelling or grammar on assignments, maintaining the important thing was to “get your message across”.  One day I looked at a paper Rory was about to hand in and observed, “Unfortunately, the message here is that you’re illiterate.”  I tried to convey to both kids that poor grammar, spelling and punctuation totally distract from the message, never mind undermine your credibility.  Unfortunately, by the end of the year, the teacher was allowing – nay, encouraging - students to do a video or art project in lieu of writing.

Obviously, Twitter, texting, and Internet comment posts have changed the entire scope of the English language, eliminating that pesky punctuation and reducing spelling to a modern day Morse code.  And where once those public comments had to pass through the filter of a newspaper editor, misspelled vitriol goes straight from brain to public post without passing through reflection and/or on-line thesaurus (which would probably throw up its digital hands in despair anyway).  One can’t help but notice that there is an inverse correlation between vehemence and grammatical skills. 

In my worst nightmares, my grandchildren are getting foreign language credit for Late 20th Century English.

It isn’t so far-fetched.  When my kids were growing up here, virtually all of their teachers –elementary, middle school, high school - would say, "You did good”.  It made me crazy – especially when the kids said it themselves. 

“Kids,” I said, “while I’m alive you have to say, ‘I did well.’  You did not ‘do good’.  Once I’m dead, you can say anything you want, although I promise to rise up out of my grave and haunt you.”

Henri looked at his brother.  “Sounds like we better have her cremated.”

Endlessly I went over about ‘good’ being an adjective which had to modify a noun, as in ‘the good boy’.  Actually, their eyes had usually glazed over by the word “adjective”, already in their era a charmingly antiquated concept. Not long ago, one of them sent me an article on evolving language (and I admit, it IS always evolving) noting that ‘you did good’ is in such popular usage that it can be considered ‘correct’.  The attached note read: “Mom - sorry this had to happen in your life time.”

So given that, maybe the Turist Go Home message wasn’t so bad.  Two out of the three words were correctly spelled.  Pretty good percentage by today’s standards. 

Still, it  made my heart sink even if my lips smiled to read a recent Internet post:  “Yuo peepl ar so igmorent yuo down no ENNYTHIN!!!!!!”  I should ask Rory if he remembers this guy from eighth grade English.


  1. makes me laugh as always, inga. because it's so true, of course! how does my no-caps stye grab you? i know you don't approve. but i'm using apostrophes here just for you.

  2. Hi Susan (er, susan)- You want to post nice comments about my column, you can do anything you want! Thanks!

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