# Why we are so critical of people who can't spell and punctuate

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Fraggle Rocker, Jul 12, 2007.

1. ### NasorValued Senior Member

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Basic grammar and punctuation is something that people are supposed to learn in high school (at the latest). I have the same lack of respect for people who don't understand the basics of writing that I would have for someone who couldn’t do simple algebra, or who was lacking any of the other basic skills that people are supposed to be reasonably proficient at by the time they turn 16.

3. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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I'm not disputing that. I understand it and I consciously make allowances for it. But my point, and the reason I started this thread, is that not everyone performs that analysis consciously. Language is such a basic component of human nature--after all it's one of the things that makes us human--that a large part of our reaction to someone is based on the way they use the ancient technology of language.

People don't all have control over how they react to sloppy writing, but people do have control over whether they write sloppily.

As for laziness and whether it's "important," Pareto's Law is fine: just put in ten percent of the effort and eliminate ninety percent of the annoying errors. As I have said several times--in this thread alone--it only takes a fraction of a second to use the Shift key diligently, but it makes writing enormously easier to read. E.g., to write "MBA" instead of "mba", which I stumbled over and had to go back and read twice. My brain's first guess was to interpret it as a misspelled word, not an acronym.

Every tenth of a second you save by writing too fast and too sloppy probably wastes a full second of each reader's time. Multiply that by the number of people whom you hope will read your post. In a year of posting you've wasted so much of the membership's time that they never got around to reading some other poor guy's posts. So it's a discourtesy to everyone.

5. ### GrantywantyRegistered Senior Member

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If I understood them, I would focus much more on what they were saying and how they were relating to me. Those two areas and how they relate to people other than me are what my respect comes out of or doesn't.

7. ### Hip Hop SkepticRegistered Member

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Never thought of it that in depth. I agree with some of what you are saying. If the message is lost because of poor grammar and stuff then it is a problem.

But if it is still fully understandable I personally do not see a problem with it.

I do sometimes think the person is not too educated if their writing is terrible. Even though I am the one who said it may or may not be true.

So I do see your point. But I also think that it is a bigger deal to you than me, it's something you obviously see as very important.

Personal preference I guess.

8. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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I try to reserve my disrespect for people who are the way they are because of choices they've made, rather than being born that way and having no control over it. There are lots and lots of people who just flat do not have the cognitive ability to learn algebra. I encountered them when I was tutoring. Serious, determined people, they can do arithmetic but they just can't comprehend that next level. My mother was one. She tried hard and ended up crying. My father and I were both very articulate, patient explainers, and we had two much different styles, yet neither of us could get through, on top of all of her teachers.

But the percentage of the human race who are cognitively incapable of mastering the art of writing is much tinier than that. I used to work for a company that hired the mentally handicapped to work in the mail room--because they could read and write just fine. These are people whose IQs were so low that they couldn't get a U.S. driver's license, and if you've ever been on an American road you know what that means. My mother could write well and fast, and had a good vocabulary.

Many people who can't do algebra simply can't do algebra, and in my own personal value system they should be excused. But most people who can't write well just don't give a damn. They were too busy playing videogames or getting stoned when the rest of you were learning to spell.

9. ### Ripley⁠Valued Senior Member

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Alternative typography is really quite interesting—something that wouldn't have been appreciated before the digital age. http://www.i-dmagazine.com/previews/251/home.htm Suddenly, it's alright to be eccentric with one's delivery. In fact, it's interesting—and refreshing. But not for stuffy academia, right?

10. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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24,690
Hey, you're talking to an old hippie here. (Well except for the fact that I had a job and a home anyway.) I have always valued eccentricity. Eccentrics want to be noticed and appreciated, so they take care to ensure that they can be understood. Alternative typography is fine. It's crafted to strike a good balance between impact and reading difficulty. The insult, profundity or sheer entertainment value in the message entices us into patience with the font or the spelling. The eccentric is paying his respects to us in his own eccentric way, saying precociously, "Trust me, this is worth the trouble."

The SciForums poster who fails to hit the Shift key with the hand that isn't typing, because he's too frelling lazy to learn to use the keyboard that he'll spend 75% of the rest of his life huddled over, is disrespecting us. He's not offering us any inducement to put up with the inconvenence. He's not distinguishing the quality or content of his post from the "stuffy academic" ones that don't give us eyestrain. This is an error in typography, not an alternative typography. This is selfishness, not eccentricity.

I'm not talking about "How r u" or "Je$u$ sells." I'm talking about "whydid i Flunk out the mba Pogrom?"

11. ### OliHeute der Enteteich...Registered Senior Member

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Hmmm, there's an idea: MBA pogrom!

12. ### PandaemoniValued Senior Member

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I used to criticize people for their grammar, mostly because I was (and still am) an English language fanboy. It bothers me when I think I see people using the language poorly simply because they are too lazy to have learned the proper construction. It was very much the same indignation I felt when an article comparing Star Wars and Lord of the Rings on Salon.com referred to Luke Skywalker's "Uncle Otis."

I have, however, come to realize that it is silly for a person as prone to typos as I am to react so strongly to the "incorrect" grammar of others. I've also come to appreciate more fully that the grammar and spelling I love is somewhat artificial. The greatness of the English language comes in part from the fluidity it has had throughout its history and the rigid rules that have cropped up (mostly since the 19th century) that I perceive as "proper" are often the enemy of that fluidity.

In my more wistful moments, though, I still wish that more people would learn to use the subjunctive mood.

13. ### OphioliteValued Senior Member

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Yet that fluidity is based upon adherence to a set of meta-rules, so that the neologisms and novel grammatical structures are still comprehensible. The objections that many of us have (including, I think, yourself) is that some writers introduce random, inconsistent, incoherent, undirected, incomprehensible novelty that is not original, merely different.

Last edited: Jul 21, 2007
14. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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24,690
But it's a broken paradigm. It only exists for the verb "to be." The past subjunctive only has a distinct form in the singular, "were," and the present subjunctive only has a distinctive form in the second and third person, "be." That's more of a relic than a useful tool, one of those things we hang onto just to confound foreign students.

Portuguese has complete inflected conjugations of present, imperfect and future subjunctive, for all verbs, for all six persons. Now that's a tool.

15. ### Ripley⁠Valued Senior Member

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No, that's not quite how I meant it.

Designers are in the vanguard of keenly understanding symbolic functions, thereby taking things a step further outside their conventional limits by applying optional potentials—not by applying ad hoc arrangements within limits.

And it is with this same understanding of symbolic functions outside their limits that these functions must also, by right, adhere to their purpose: this is basic and taken for granted—not for the wish to be "understood" by the masses.

To be "understood" is a different matter altogether, derived from a challenge being waged between purpose and abstract content—that is, if the designer understands what he's doing, then so should an audience.

And each designer has his own method of approach, his own limits, his own understanding of penetrating the conventional. That's what I meant by alternative typography being interesting and refreshing: it stimulates participation.

Inotherwords, good writing doesn't necessarily go by the book.

16. ### OliHeute der Enteteich...Registered Senior Member

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Exactly what Fraggle was saying:
The point being that someone who knows exactly what they're writing CAN afford to use unfamiliar syntax/ grammar/ spelling - it can reinforce the message.
But do you believe the majority of writers here on SF (or anywhere else for that matter) are mis-spelling words/ using bad grammar out of stylistic considerations or laziness/ lack of knowledge?

17. ### Ripley⁠Valued Senior Member

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I think not. Fraggle was emphasizing, or at least that was the impression I got, a relationship between the designer/typographer and the public. I attempted to ignore the public completely. I mean, whenever the public's inclination comes into play, everything turns dull. Duuuuhll. Even the best dialogues turn duuuuhll.

That's not exactly the point I was emphasizing, though; although you're right too. Just as certain forms of freestyle poetry can take it upon themselves to intimidate the rules, modern writing can also deviate—not merely by the person behind the typography, as though it were a whimsical act perpetrated by eccentricity alone, but because typography allows for it. That's the point I'm making; that there's a potential for the written word, something that can be exploited beyond the standards. Hence the typographer/designer exploring the potential of letter forms, sentence structure, function and effect.

I wasn't so much interested in that point because Grantywanty already addressed that quite adequately I thought, thank you very much. I merely hopped on board when everything else had already been more or less discussed.

However, note that whenever I played around with form and effect and sentence structure here at Sciforums, I no sooner got spat on for being illiterate.

18. ### OliHeute der Enteteich...Registered Senior Member

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Have you read "Le Ton Beau de Marot" by Hofstadter - he goes into a lot of this.
He typeset the entire book himself, while writing it.

19. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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By me? I hope I'm more sophisticated than that.

But if you get that a lot, it just means you're practicing your art for the wrong crowd. Some people don't have much of a sense of humor, some (like me) don't catch sarcasm, and others don't see the subtlety in writing style. Remember, half the people here, no matter how smart they are, are still children.

20. ### PandaemoniValued Senior Member

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Another post has just reminded me of an additional pet peeve of mine, people confusing "then" and "than" in constructions like "I'd rather go fishing then go camping."

If you prefer to fish instead of camp, use "than." If you want to go camping after fishing, use "then."

I save my mini-rant for this thread, as I'm sure the posters who make such mistakes do not care.

21. ### OrleanderOH JOY!!!!Valued Senior Member

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than its a good thing this thread was here, because you get to feel less stressed than you used to by ranting.

22. ### GrantywantyRegistered Senior Member

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I find the use of the present simple here rather strange.

Past simple: I saved my mini-rant...
Future with plural: I'll save my minirants...

Both of these seem clearer to me.

23. ### PandaemoniValued Senior Member

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It should have been "saved." It was a typo.