Snobs, Purists, and Texters

The Perpetrator: Peg Herring writes historical and contemporary mysteries. She loves everything about publishing, even editing (most days). Peg’s historical series, The Simon and Elizabeth Mysteries, debuted in 2010 to great reviews. The second in the series will be available in November from Five Star.

Back in the 1600s, Sir Walter Raleigh drafted a plan that would have standardized and simplified the spelling of English. Unfortunately, he ran afoul of James I before he reached his goal. Raleigh lost his head; we lost a shot at simpler spelling.

Spelling is undergoing a huge change, and no one seems to know what will result from the vast difference between what is “correct” and what is actually in use. Texters take a unique approach to spelling, leaving it up to the reader to figure out the message. Most teachers I know are horrified by the trend, but texters don’t care. Speed is their goal, and admittedly, the spelling we have now is every bit as ridiculous. (If you don’t believe me, look at the poems at http://www.englishspellingsociety.org/news/media/poems.php. They’re lots of fun.)

Advertisers don’t help, changing spellings to suit themselves: “lite”, “thru”, and “e-z”, for example. Businesses jump on the bandwagon, naming themselves in ways that mutilate spelling rules: Toys R Us, PlaySkool, Qwest, Krispy Kreme, etc.

So, will we all start spelling the second person pronoun “U”? Will the acronyms for favorite phrases become expected, even accepted words: “BFF”, “TMI”, “LOL”? Language snobs scream, “Nevah!” but language can’t stay the same just because some of us were taught the “correct” way in junior high. We already have words that were once acronyms like “laser” and “scuba”. The new ones seem weird because they aren’t word-like, but we could say “biff” and “teemee” and “lol”, one supposes. In our language, stranger things have happened, like “blimp” for example, which started out as “dirigible B, limp”.

So do we let the people decide how things should be spelled? If I say, “Best not to go that way,” does that make me a snob? As an English teacher, I saw the confusion students feel when we continually spout rules and then add exceptions: “i” before “e” except after “c”. Change the “y” to “i” and add “es” except in words like “monkeys” or “plays”. The answer, however, is not to let everyone spell everything any old way. That does not make things better.

Language, to be useful, has to be understood, and understood widely, not just by a few friends or an “in” group. The more spelling is individualized, the more misunderstanding is likely. The electronic world often demonstrates how easily written messages can go astray. If you haven’t had something in a text/email/blog taken wrongly by a reader yet, you are really, really lucky.

If we are going to fix English spelling, it should be done methodically. Not by teen-agers, not by people who don’t know the language, and not be people who are trying to be cute. We need another Sir Walter Raleigh, one who can keep his head until the job is done.

The Poser-Name three mysteries/series in which the protagonist has a seriously dysfunctional family.

The Prizes-Weekly prizes (your choice of The Dead Detective Agency in e- or print format) drawn from the names of those who comment on the blogs as we go. Comment once/day, but the first commenter each day gets entered twice in Saturday’s drawing!

The Pitch: The Dead Detective Agency, First in The Dead Detective Mysteries, paranormal mystery. Tori Van Camp wakes in a stateroom on a cruise ship with no memory of booking a cruise, but she does have a vivid recollection of being shot in the chest. Determined to find out what happened and why, Tori enlists the help of an odd detective named Seamus. Together they embark on an investigation like nothing she’s ever experienced. Death is all around her, and unless they act quickly, two people she cares about are prime candidates for murder. Read more about this book and the author at http://pegherring.com or buy the book at
http://www.ll-publications.com/deaddetectiveagency.html .

The Pathway: The next entry “Why Do We Say That, Part II” and the answers/comments to the Poser will be up tomorrow at http://www.jennymilchman.com/blog/ .

Thanks to Lelia of Creatures ‘n Crooks for hosting Peg’s Blog Crawl.  Last Friday’s post, “Inventing Words” can be found at http://chrisredddingauthor.blogspot.com/