Monthly Archives: July 2014

Dangerous Delusion

Growing up in Regina, Saskatchewan—a city with the second-highest per capita library use in North America, by the way, after Saskatoon—I knew no one who could not spell properly and write grammatically. Everyone in my immediate family was a good speller, including Mom with her grade 8 education, and it was the same within my circle of school friends.

Sure, there might have been some bad writers who were majoring in shop, but they’d been streamed into the lower forms and so I never hung around with them much except in grade 9 and 10 PhysEd class (which was more than enough because they were mostly bullies). I can say for certain that I never read anything they wrote, if they wrote anything at all. So I was pretty well isolated from bad English.

This blessed isolation continued through university. Aside from foreign exchange students, whose lack of English was understandable, people I knew at the U of R tended to write comprehensibly, subtly, and correctly. Mind you, I was in liberal arts, music, and journalism, but even the science and engineering students I met at bridge club could express themselves pretty well in writing. And since Canadian universities don’t offer athletic scholarships, only academic ones—which is as it should be—I assumed that the student body was made up of literate people like my friends and me.

And throughout all this time, the stuff I read—newspapers, magazines, library books, textbooks—had all been edited by real live professional editors, because editing was actually important back then. Even a humour magazine like National Lampoon was devoid of typos in the 1970s and ’80s (though when it was rebooted more recently, I’d sometimes find five per page, which disappointed me no end). Basically, the only people who published were professional writers whose words had been carefully proofread and edited for style.

What the hell happened, then? Why are people such godawful writers now? Well, I’ll tell you what happened: the internet happened. Bookstores are closing, newspapers and magazines are going bankrupt, and there have been library closures (even in Regina) because our computers give us immediate access to almost every bit of information worth having, plus a lot of other chaff. Why even leave the house?

An unfortunate side-effect of this is that information too easily obtained becomes less precious to the consumer, and a lot less “sticky”. When, in the past, you had to put some physical effort into research—putting on your shoes and coat, travelling to the library, hunting down the right books amongst thousands (there was no search engine, just the card catalogue and some excellent librarians), either lugging said books home or, if they were reference books, lugging them over to a big table, reading them to find the facts you wanted (again, no search engine, just eyes and patience) and making notes in longhand—the information tended to remain with you and cement itself into your brain. Now you just google and the info pretty well offers itself up to you on a silver platter. And it’s free, like the library!… well, unless it’s behind a paywall.

But I digress.

Because of the democratization of information, the internet is essentially a big vanity publishing house, and anyone with the right technology and a few bucks to register a domain name can start a blog and be an “author”. We have at our fingertips the ability to write down and distribute our thoughts directly to the entire planet, but sadly we have taken that to mean that we have the aptitude to do so, and this is a dangerous delusion.

This includes people whose English is abysmal, but who can’t or won’t pay for the services of a professional editor, and that means that a good four-fifths of the digital content out there is more or less garbage, littered with broken sentences, horrible syntax, elementary spelling mistakes, and other affronts to the language. What a dump!

But it’s not a generational thing. I find that it’s not just young people who have substandard language skills, but people from my generation too. It has gradually dawned on me that I’ve been surrounded by illiterates all my life and didn’t realize it, because these people never had a forum in which to grunt their views.

It’s well documented that there has always been in our population a depressing and tiresome strain of anti-intellectualism—not just non-intellectualism, which is tolerable, but actual, active hatred of intellectuals—that confuses book learning with elitism. Now, the real elites in society are the rich and powerful, not the smart and creative, but the lumpen lunkheads will have none of that talk because it threatens their carefully cultivated world view that they are being oppressed by people who live in ivory towers. They don’t like education. They don’t trust education. They don’t want education.

The annoying thing is, they have been emboldened (and easily exploited and manipulated) over the last few decades by certain political movements, usually, but not always, of a conservative bent, and now they just won’t shut up. Since the internet has given them tongues to speak, they quite shamelessly and, yes, proudly flaunt their ignorance, parade their ignorance, shove their ignorance down everyone’s throats. And while doing so, they use grammar that makes one wonder whether they’re totally uneducated or just mentally challenged.

This state of affairs wouldn’t be so bad if only these unprofessional bloggers who believe they have so much to say would accept the occasional bit of instruction on how to say it, from people who have been writing and editing professionally for decades.

It also wouldn’t be so bad if they would read their posts out loud and fix the spelling and grammar before they hit Publish or comment on a message board.

Mostly, though, it wouldn’t be so bad if they, and everyone else, would realize that what they write is going to last indefinitely in the digisphere, unlike the stuff we used to read when words and images were published exclusively on dead trees. As Queen Eleanor says in The Lion in Winter, “Paper burns, and tears, and turns to pudding in the rain.” Pixels are forever.

So now I’ll address these new “authors”.

OK, you bozos who don’t know “its” from “it’s”, “your” from “you’re”, the various forms of “t(w)(o)o”, etc: I GET IT ALREADY! You don’t like to have your spelling corrected yadda yadda yadda, so you turn your offended and bumptious anger on the language “nazis”. And then the whole pack of illiterates pile onto the critics with messages like: “nobody cars / you no what he mean / she mak a litle mistake, so what? / this isnt scholl, ass hole / ur to pendantic / who mad u king shit of the turdpile?” and other more badly spelled and uncapitalized yadda yadda yaddas.

And yet, even though you and your bootless and unhorsed friends have been informed of the problems and you must know how to fix them by now, you persist in repeating the same stupid errors over and over and over, no matter how many times they’re—sorry, I mean “their”—pointed out. The recidivism rate for bad usage must be roughly 9 in 10.

Do you even hear the criticism? Are the lessons just not sticking for some reason, or… or… OR… and I sure hope this isn’t the case… is your non-improvement intentional? Are you wilfully refusing to do better out of sheer spite? Really? You’re acting out? So this is nothing more than your petulant little “fuck you, imma keep doing it” to anyone who dares to tell you when you’ve made a mistake? Are you really that pleased that you’ve been saddled with elementary school writing skills? How is it that you’re allowed near computers before you’ve mastered common three-letter words?

You know what? Don’t even bother answering. I’m done with you. Go eat your mom’s dick.