Spelling is Ded

Give it another twenty, thirty years. Let those of us who care, who do the job interviews and hiring, who decide what gets published – give us time to die. Then you can declare spelling dead.

People complain, “Spelling / grammar / punctuation – I’m no good at it.” The implication is that we should overlook their mistakes since they admit that they make them. It’s like saying, “I’m a jerk. But since I recognize it, it’s okay!”

Spelling and grammar are not genetic traits; they are habits. I can hear you sighing. Habits are not popular things. They are 1) something you don’t want to do but feel like you should; or 2) things you do and feel guilty about. The amount of fun is limited in either case.

If you’re writing, you should care about spelling / grammar / punctuation. Wouldn’t you speak more clearly if someone said they couldn’t understand you? If you are expressing yourself, you should care about how others receive that expression.

I admit that English spelling is illogical, stupid, not based on phonetics, as the spelling of most languages is. It’s a bear. Kids graduate from high school unable to spell ‘immediately’ and ‘definitely.’ If they put spelling on the graduation test, we’d have to fail a lot of people.

Small commercial: this is why people should learn Latin. I have yet to meet a Latin student who hasn’t improved their spelling of English. Once you know what conjugation a verb belongs to, you will never again wonder, “Is it -ite or -ate?”

To be honest, I have little love for English spelling. But I do love the language, and accept the quirky spelling the way I put up with a lover’s annoying traits. It’s not worth arguing about there, their and they’re. Why get all bent out of shape over misapplied apostrophes?

When I was much younger, I thought it would be a good idea to divorce traditional spelling and learn the Shavian phonetic alphabet. With some practice, I got pretty good at it. The problem was that nobody was as enthusiastic as I was. Though everyone complained about spelling, nobody seemed willing to make an effort to change. Books and magazines were printed in standard English, so there wasn’t even anything to read except for my own notes.

That is life. Once you realize that people don’t change unless forced, you will be much happier. Spelling isn’t going to change, and people aren’t going to suddenly improve their spelling, so I might as well just accept it. Or except it.

Owed to the Spell Checker: More

Caveat Scriptor

Writer, beware.

One of the things I love most about writing fantasy is world creation, exploring a world where anything can happen — as long as it follows your rules. Fantasy writer Orson Scott Card has explained world-building better than I can, so I will limit my thoughts to word-building — the invention of names.

It was word-building that first dragged me into the messy world of fantasy. Before I ever read Tolkien, I was making up languages and drawing maps. Reading Lord of the Rings was a confirmation of what I already knew: there were other worlds to explore. All I had to do was stick my flag in the ground and start naming things.

In the advertising world, people are paid to make up new words. What they realize (most of the time) is that we are all neck-deep in words these days — slang, product names, new terms for things that didn’t exist an hour ago. On an average day of reading, I may run into half a dozen words I’ve never seen before — because they are so new they haven’t made it into the dictionary.

Usually I just Google unfamiliar words, and most of the time figure out what they mean in the context I’m reading. I also see a lot of things they might mean. When I Google dax, I learn that it may refer to the German stock index (Deutscher Aktien Index), a hair-care company, a character on Star Trek, a company that makes eco-friendly products, a singer, an actor, a really funny guy, and (apparently) a transsexual prostitute.

More

Edaxicon Makes Bid to Acquire Dutch

Nobody’s been using Latin much — at least not for a couple hundred years — so the British have taken possession of it.

Americans could never own Latin. For one thing, the Romans never even visited New York. And the Brits had already beaten them to it. By the time America was breaking free of England, Latin was already a wholly-owned subsidiary of English. This is ironic, because if the Romans had kept their empire intact a bit longer, English would have been an obscure Germanic dialect.

The Brits own Latin. They write all the textbooks. The definitive texts of Roman authors are the Oxford editions. In movies, Romans almost always speak with a British accent. Even Russell Crowe, who is Australian, followed this rule.

If America wants to take over any language, it should be Dutch. After all, New York used to be called Nieuw Amsterdam. It was the capital of Nieuw Nederland, which took up a good part of what is now New England. There are all sorts of Dutch names on maps of New York: Brooklyn, the Bronx, Coney Island, the Bowery, Yonkers. Like the Romans, the Dutch once ruled a mighty empire. And they make great chocolate, something the Romans never mastered, since they never got around to conquering Mexico. More

More Rules to Ignore

Grammar is important. Dax would never advocate ignoring rules, but even he notices all sorts of new writing laws popping up. Is there a committee that votes on these? How can he get elected to this committee?

gears_Elsie_esqEven now, the cogs of this impressive grammar/style machine are turning. The Committee on Grammar and Style (COGS) is most likely scrutinizing this post and pointing out its errors to one another. They are enjoying themselves, he knows. He would too.

But (never begin a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘and’) he also knows that there is a difference between grammar and style. Maybe not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless (fragment). Grammatical errors are heard in everyday speech (passive voice), and can be used (more passive voice) to create a narrative voice or to make dialog realistic. Nobody says, “Go back from whence you came!” Characters need to should talk the way normal people talk. (Hmm. ‘need to’ vs. ‘should.’ There ought to be a rule about that.) More

Greek Class

This box of silent books troubles me.
Its sides are caved in, disappointed
by my worn out excuses.
If I bend the flaps open,
mustiness closes my nose
and I am in Greek class again.

You taught us Greek as if it were math;
every particle fit an order so crisp, so elegant
like lines of geometry, profoundly simple.
Real life never fit into those neat declensions,
but slipped between, untidy fallacies:
love, death, anger, time.

Honest words
I groped towards meaning
through the clutter of English
our language too soft, too dull
to reflect their many facets.
My mind, a sieve, tried to catch
small particles that orbited
around a larger meaning.

In later years words became mere tools
to pry apart life’s meaning.
But experience did not yield
like sentences we chalked on your board,
took apart, reconstructed, proved,
disproved by theorems of grammar.
What is the grammar of love?
How shall we construe death?
Where is the paradigm for despair?

Sitting on the desk you smoked cigarette
after cigarette lighting up every seven minutes
hands trembling from nicotine your body
no longer felt.  Inspired, we inhaled.
We had no choice — Greek and smoke
together, filtering meaning through haze.

You could not teach us poetry:
you were never a doer or a maker.
But as we sang the rising/falling accents of ancient words
Ancient music came to life, long-dead people
talking, arguing, loving, dying to that music.
English makes a science of these sounds:
they do not play on our ears
or dance on a stage.

But cigarettes and alcohol
and all the things you (being no poet)
could not do or make
broke your paradigm.
Like a Pythagorean discovering the impossible proof
You had to die, or change your religion.
You could not change, so you died.

I have kept my books:
Plato, Xenophon, Herodotus.
Like friends I have not written to in years
they needle my conscience,
draw my guilt like blood.
Sometimes
I open the box,
lift a volume out, feel
its weight, gently
turn fragile pages, run my eyes
over words that have faded.
That slow ache
is one more untidy detail.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 14 other followers