The Angry Grammarian

Reclaiming English from the English.

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Aug. 13, 2008

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Are you listening, England? We're taking English back from you. Sorry it had to come to this.

You did a bang-up job carrying it along for the last millennium or so (rounding up, anyway), and don't think we don't appreciate that. We really do.

But last week, in the Times Higher Education magazine, British criminology professor Ken Smith wrote a piece advocating the acceptance of the 20 most common misspellings he sees on students' papers. The list is an abomination.

"Febuary," "arguement," "opertunity," "speach," "truely," "thier"--all okay in his book. A book, one might imagine, that's damn near unreadable.

"Instead of complaining about the state of the education system," Smith writes, "university teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell."

His reasoning, an oversimplified descriptivist argument, sounds innocent enough: "The spelling of the word 'judgement,' for example, is now widely accepted as a variant of 'judgment,' so why can't 'truely' be accepted as a variant spelling of 'truly'?"

I'm all about language adaptation, but you won't find a descriptivist on the planet who says it's okay for the spelling of every word to change with the wind. Do that and it's chaos on a stick.

Remember, Britain? That's how you used to write. And it sucked. You standardized things for a reason.

Ever read an unedited Shakespeare folio? Godawful. "Whether 'tis Nobler in the minde to suffer/ The Slings and Arrowes of outragious Fortune ... " There's nothing noble about suffering the piss-poor spelling mistakes of undereducated university students.

British bloggers and commenters, to their credit, are up in arms about this. Smith, though he has some defenders, has been largely flayed.

But it's not enough. We're in charge now.

And boy, there are gonna be some changes.

First up: Get on the bus, "queue," "petrol" and "holiday." Yer outta here.

Now anybody got some extra Zs? These Brits are gonna have to recognise a new organisation around here.

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COMMENTS

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1. steven wells said... on Aug 12, 2008 at 06:36PM

“Bog off you total sodding chutney-munching seppo language mangler.”

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2. Kelly Wright said... on Aug 13, 2008 at 09:01AM

“I'm with you until the last four sentences. The British words for 'line', 'gas', and 'vacation' are far superior to our idiotic Yankee adaptations of same, and Ss are much more civilised than Zs. This is my opinion as a native Californian (and, no, I don't have British relatives. I just recognise greatness when I see it. ;-> )”

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3. James said... on Aug 17, 2008 at 03:48AM

“I for one cannot wait to see how much your great nation enriches the language with such contributions as "outta", "gonna", and "yer". Walt Whitman would have been so proud of you.”

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