People don't know their own freakin' language!

Yes, it's true; we don't know how to speak, write, or read. Well, I like to think I'm not included in that "we," but I've witnessed an awful lot of people who can't spell or routinely misuse words, and honestly have the nerve to think it doesn't matter. Now, some people have learning disabilities, or they're "just not good at" English stuff the way I'm not particularly good at math, and all that stuff I don't mind. I don't really care if people have typos while I'm talking to them online, or if people say "who" in an instance where they should use "whom," or if people just make a mistake once in a while in a personal letter. I only get mad when these errors are permitted in highly public places, like published books, very visible signs, or in professional online areas. Would you believe I found THIS on the Welcome Screen of AOL one day?

[Think my smart what?]

Um . . . think my smart what? Excuse me, but . . . did you guys just confuse "you're" and "your" in front of an audience of 21 million? This got by a proofreader? Excuse me??? This was not the last time they did it either. . . .

See my other screencap examples

Here is an essay I wrote summer semester A 1999 for my language arts methods class. I could write a thousand words on anything I had an opinion on. This was my choice.

Just this last semester, I read an article that was supposed to give me some ideas about teaching. It was written by an intern, a male teacher-to-be who, as it turned out, had some excellent teaching strategies, backed up with wonderful new educational philosophies. I completely missed the point of this article. It wasn't because I am a bad reader, and it also wasn't because I'm thickheaded. I couldn't understand the article's point because I was too distracted by all the errors in it. Instead of paying attention to this budding teacher's great ideas, I was keeping a tally sheet of every mistake I found. It was a twenty-two-page article with thirty-three blatant, glaring mistakes. That's an average of exactly one and a half per page. And these were not stylistic errors, either, though there were plenty of re-wordings I would have suggested had I been this man's teacher. Nor were these picky blunders, like sentence fragments or slightly unclear sentences. These were flat out wrong; either they were typos, punctuation errors, or even homophone confusion. And yes, these things made this paper very difficult for me to read! How can I be expected to learn anything from this man's article about how to teach third grade if the guy needs to go back to second grade to learn his grammar?

There are times when incorrect grammar, typos, and word misuse are perfectly acceptable, annoying at worst. One of these is when children are first learning to write. Just as invented spellings help children learn the "right" spellings later on and aid vocabulary, so different styles and voices should be exercised when beginning to write for the first time. At this stage, mistakes are tolerable. If they are always expected to write flawlessly from day one, these fledgling writers will never try out their wings on complex sentences.

Another time that the occasional mistake is forgivable is during very informal communication. Of course I would never edit a friend's e-mail or personal letter, nor would I correct a person's speech during a conversation. The main purpose of these friendly exchanges is to share thoughts, and if this can be done without following any "rules," so be it. I would probably notice and be slightly annoyed by any mistakes in communication; however, that is only because I am an English geek and people's misuse of language is my pet peeve.

These errors become a major problem in formal writing. I am angered and annoyed that any person who is becoming a teacher of our children could write such a ridiculously incorrect article . . . and not only have it published to learn from, but go on to teach the same mistakes. Shouldn't our teachers be literate? The mistakes in this article are the kind we would expect a third-grader to make, but only in a first draft. No one is going to send this man back to third grade or test his grammar before he becomes a teacher; actually, he probably is teaching right now, blissfully unaware that his article has an error and a half on every page. Something about this just strikes me as wrong. Why was this article allowed to be published with so many blemishes on it, anyway? Who edited it? Probably no one, or maybe it was the spell-checker. That is not sufficient. I am appalled not only because the article was written this way by a supposedly literate man, but also because someone (possibly lots of someones) allowed it to be published as a learning tool for me.

Perhaps there are those who will read this and think, "Who cares?" Indeed, who cares about correct word usage? We all know what they mean to say, right? Wrong. I admit to being an English geek, so maybe I am bothered more than other people by mistakes in writing; nonetheless, when the sentence can't flow because some yutz has forgotten his comma, I lose it, and many others probably do too. How often do we all have to read over sentences, say them out loud to ourselves, then try to extrapolate the meaning? If this sort of process has to occur . . . folks, that indicates that the sentence is too complicated. The purpose of writing is to communicate, and words, punctuation, and grammar are tools to help us do just that. If they're used incorrectly we are not getting the right message!

If you've got a piece of really great writing and you're planning on showing it to the world, there are some things you should consider. Your ideas will not be recognized as clearly if the language you use is faulty. Before you put your paper (or article, or editorial, et cetera) in front of anyone whose opinion you value, remember the following things:

  • Homophones DO matter. Your is not the same thing as you're. Your computer is not going to catch these for you, so learn them now.
  • Close your quotes. Close your parentheses. Close your brackets. There is nothing more annoying than reading along, waiting for the quote to end, only to find out it was only one sentence long and the author has just neglected to include a closing quotation mark.
  • PROOFREAD YOUR WORK, and get someone else to proofread it too. Your computer's spell-checker does not count as a proofreader.
  • Learn your punctuation rules. And if this is too much for you, grammar books are not that expensive. Or you can e-mail me, I don't care, just for God's sake don't put the period outside the quotes, it simply doesn't belong there no matter how correct you think it is. . . .
  • Don't fall Victim to Random Capitalization. There just aren't very many proper nouns. Social Studies is not a proper noun, and it sure wasn't a person the last time I checked.
  • Be consistent. Do you use toward and towards in the same article? They're both correct, but pick one and stick with it.
  • Learn the difference between possessive and plural! Yes, there's a difference! Contrary to popular belief, adding an apostrophe and the letter s to something does not make it plural!
  • Don't assume no one will notice or care if your grammar is not up to par. We do notice. And we most certainly do care.

As you can see, I haven't said a word about this student teacher's actual message. In all honesty I don't remember what the guy was trying to say. All I remember is how miserably he failed in getting his message across. I remember my thirty-three tally marks. I remember my frustration and disappointment as I read the article; my struggling to re-word the article's sentences so I could understand them; my recurring thought of "Why can't this man spell?" I'd like to take this opportunity to give some advice to the author of this article. Hello, there, sir. I'm sure you have really great ideas. But it was a chore to read your article. The purpose of writing it was to communicate with me, correct? You didn't succeed. Read your article out loud to yourself. Get an English teacher to correct it. Take a writing course, I don't care. Just word your ideas so that I can understand them. If you haven't learned this most basic skill of communication, how can you expect to tell me how to be a good teacher? Please consider this before any more of your articles get further than your hands.

This goes for everyone else, too. Your writing doesn't have to be as revolting as this example to still be ineffective. If you can't edit your own work, you should seriously get yourself an editor. Yes, it is that important. Otherwise, you are bound to have your target audience totally miss your point, and you will also fall victim to the criticism of my fellow English geeks. Do yourself a favor and learn your mother tongue.

[Note: In the essay above, I mentioned putting punctuation inside the quotes instead of outside; that's only true in American conventions, and I just wanted to make that clear. Also: "Social Studies" isn't a proper noun UNLESS it's a specific class's name. Used generally, it's lowercase.]

Oh wait . . . I guess they fired the illiterate person and got someone who could spell. . . .


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Comments from others:

Mikey: I am not touching this one. No,no,no,no,no,no.

Gabie: I think its funny when big companys mispell words like that it makes me warm inside you know i can spell as good as them

Sarah: Ha! The IQ ad was priceless. I'm glad you provided a link to the common errors in English site. It's cool being able to find out whether or not I've been writing things incorrectly. Do you happen to know of a detailed comma usage site?

Mari: I have to agree with you. ^^* You're definitely not the only person who starts pulling their hair out because people can't write. Or when something isn't edited well. ^^*

To throw in something that will make everyone stare, they had some kind of national huge tournament thing for basketball (I don't like sports) on tv last year. Throughout the entire game they had a little logo at the bottom. "Something National Tournament".

They spelled "national" natinal, on live tv. I still wonder.

And I swear, if I see one more person say 'u' instead of 'you' when trying to make a point, or using 'freind' 3 times in a paragraph, I'm going to thoroughly bite them. ~.~

Nyasu: Being an avid fanfiction writer, this is one that gets me. >< I swear I get a brain spasm whenever I see "its" used wrong. And unfortunately, it's been cropping up a lot in my recent chapters, forcing me to bang my head against the keyboard anytime I catch one.

I also find myself rather obsessive on message boards. I swear, sometimes I edit a certain post at least ten times out of fear that someone will spot a typo and think I'm a moron forever because it.


Sikosm: Ah, yes. i totally agree with you. (and i realise that i am writing in lowercase letters, but im being lazy. sorry i forgot the apostrophe on "i'm")

Misplacing the apostrophe on words like "its" gets on my nerves whether it is done formally or informally. In informal writing i don't mind so much if the apostrophe is left out in contractions, but it is a definite no-no in formal writing. I agree that if something is published professionally for the whole world to see, then they should make a good job of it.

i think the grammar rules for putting the period (or, being australian, "full-stop") before the closing quotations is different in australia and britain. we put it after.

Christie: I hear you, sister, and agree completely with everything you wrote. This is a great essay.

You know what's my biggest pet peeve? Otherwise literate people getting verb tenses wrong. I cannot count the number of times I've read something like "should have drank" or "should have ran". Gah. No. No, no, no. You don't say "should have did", do you? Because past tense modals need a finite verb complement in the past participle tense, not the simple past.

Like you, Ivy, I won't yell grammar lessons at people who have a learning disability or are not privileged enough to be literate - of course not. However, I have seen people who mock others' bad writing make this (frankly horrible) grammar mistake continuously, and it just baffles me because it's so obviously wrong. People with university degrees shouldn't go around saying stuff like "I would have sang that song". That is not the past participle. "I would have sung that song", "I should have drunk that water" etc.

Tl;dr: I'm an English teacher. XD