I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the mere existence of blogs seems to be killing written English. Lack of appropriate capitalization, lack of references and incorrect spelling have become my new pet peeves. There are a number of reasons for this and, while it might be particularly distracting for me, why should you care?
We all rely on communication more than we think in the internet age. While it may seem counter-intuitive, blogging (especially tech blogging) is becoming a young-people’s sport. How many of you who are reading this have children whose class projects include maintaining a blog, when you don’t even have one yourself? Don’t worry, it is pretty common. The best instructions I got for installing Ubuntu on my MacBook was from a YouTube poster who couldn’t have been older than twelve.
My second daughter (now leaving her undergraduate career and launching herself into the competitive illustration field) initiated her first blog when she was in high school. Educationally, her high-school allowed her to focus on art. She now has three blogs (one art-focused, one personal, and one shared with another writer). Like many her age, she viewed English as a hill to climb and not a golden ticket to greater opportunities. She complains about the necessity of writing classes in her art degree, yet writes new public material nearly every week.
Now I worry for her. How will she present herself to her prospective clients? Will it be from the standpoint of someone who has not yet mastered basic written grammar, or will it be an excellent first impression? Because, really, those are her choices.
Much of her art-based work will be reviewed online. Her art blog is public and will reflect on her publicly. Spelling (contextual or otherwise) could reflect badly on her. Would an ad agency be interested in excellent art from an artist who can’t spell or distill an essay down to a sentence or key phrase? All anyone has to do is read a few of her posts to get a first impression of her. The same will go for you and/or your children. Pandora’s box is open. Whether you’re looking for more hits or paying clients, your online writing could be the only impression anyone will ever get of you.
So, beyond the arbitrary daughter examples, what makes me think the written English word is dying?
Spelling doesn’t count – remember that guy who always asked in science class if spelling counted? Well, it does. But check any blog, YouTube video (especially the comments) or forum post. Unless it’s an English-centric post, the spelling will be atrocious. Especially the contextual spelling (words that are spelled correctly, but used in the wrong context. Think “your” and “you’re”). Spell-check doesn’t cut it. You have to be sure the word belongs there, even if it is spelled correctly.
Disgust with corrections – I have often tried to let people know that they spelled something wrong or used the wrong word in a response that could have led to confusion. Tried to be nice. Tried not to be a nudge. Normally the response goes something like this: “Who the (expletive) cares? This isn’t English class.” And I am not the only one who seems frustrated by this linguistic indifference – I see others out there offering helpful suggestions and they get shot down nearly all the time. We’re not butt-hurt. We’re trying to help you.
Writers are damn young these days – Like my daughter, a huge number of bloggers are starting off young. They are not getting their cues from their English teacher, they are getting them from other bloggers they follow. Now everyone is a role model. My daughter is inspiring other art writers just by existing on the blogospehere. Don’t be a bad role model.
Editing is a skill – one of the best things an English teacher ever told me was to let my writing go. Sound a little too Zen-Buddhist? Let me explain. The worst time to finish a paper is when your ideas are flowing. That’s the time to write, certainly. But not the time to publish. When you’ve gotten everything out, take a break. Hide your written words somewhere and go fishing. Come back two days later and say to yourself “WTF did I just write? I wrote that?” That’s when good editing can happen. The first draft is usually not the best draft, but it is the one most frequently published online. Remember someone, maybe many someones, is going to read your work.
Am I the best writer in the world, or the most expert in English? Do I always produce a written English opus? Certainly not. But, if I do have two areas of expertise, they would be English and PC repair. Heck, I got my English degree from a pretty good school known for producing excellent writers. Spelling does matter. Using the correct “your” or “you’re” in context is a very good idea. I still have my copy of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” So should you, friend blogger.