Monday, August 29, 2011

Oh, Spellcheck!

This post from my internet friend Christine has an interesting discussion on language. It's a thoughtful piece that shows a love of language but avoids a ramble into snobbery.

People who love language can become purists of the highest order.

In the eight years I taught grammar and composition, I shared lots of laughs with my students. I remember studying pronouns and highlighting the mother of all agreement errors -- themself. "Them don't have a self," I'd inform my students. "The correct ending is selves."  As a transplanted Northerner, I learned that second person plural is y'all.  I now utter the occasional y'all but stop short of saying all of ya'll or, worse, all y'all's.  That's second person possessive in case you are wondering.

During the year I lived in England, my English and Irish friends regularly teased me about this or that expression. They loved to say "It was a blast!" with an affected American accent. When it comes to language, snobbery abounds North and South, East and West, here and across the pond. After twenty-five years in the Deep South, I like my tea sweet, but if I ever say fixin', please shoot me.

I love the English language and its diverse dialects. I love grammar. I love looking up words in a dictionary or a thesaurus. I love diagramming sentences!

Over time I have come to accept that this puts me in a minority with odd but passionate company. For those who fall into this unique camp, I'll mention four of my favorite books on language and writing: The Writer's Art by the late James Kilpatrick; The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got that Way by Bill Bryson; In Love with Norma Loquendi by William Safire, and  Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.

(In the above paragraph, I originally had written "this puts me in a very small minority." Mr. Kilpatrick would have rolled over in his grave. Of course, he's now rolled over in his grave because I just typed "rolled over in his grave" not once but twice. Avoid redundancies and cliches, he tells his readers. Although I've never read his position on all of y'all, I'm confident he would declare that redundant as well.)

James Kilpatrick advises that, above all, writers should write. So I blog. I stew again and again over the length of time this simple blog sucks out of my life, but I continue to bang away at the keyboard (broken or not) because I really do love to write. (And because, once in a while, a mother will tell me that sharing about real life -- and not a glossy, picture-perfect version of that life -- consoles her that she is not alone in her struggles).

When writers write, two things happen: They make mistakes, and they become better writers. Two of my dear friends and favorite bloggers are Amy and Rachel. They are both first-rate writers and skilled editors, which, I have found, are not necessarily one and the same animal. Both of them have encouraged me in this small endeavor.

After two years of blogging, here are a few lessons learned:

1. Words I now know how to spell: whit (as opposed to wit), ad nauseam (not ad nauseum).

2. Words I bungle every time: license, refrigerator (I always think there's a D), privilege (again, isn't there a D?), niece (even with that handy I before E rule). I was excited when I nailed reminisce on the first try the other day.

3. Spelling problems that scare me: the day I debated between Aisle and Isle for a frightening length of time. Lack of caffeine, maybe? Then there was the post that referred to pop singer, Justine Bieber. I have to point out that both of these examples occurred around the time I discovered I had been drinking -- brace yourselves, please -- fat-free half and half in my coffee and had been doing so for days. Clearly, something was slipping, and I'm pretty sure it was my mind.

4. Is it hare-brained or hair-brained? Harebrained or hairbrainedBlond or blonde? Earlier I planned to write dictionaries or thesauruses, but (aside from being an earful), I wasn't sure spellcheck would catch a misspelling of the plural of thesaurus. And how do you spell misspelling? It never looks quite right to me.

5. Here's another question: Is is spellcheck or spell check? And someone please tell me why Blogger's spellcheck, however its spelled, sometimes just doesn't work.

6. Every now and then, Blogger eats a  paragraph or two. I typed and saved the same paragraph three or four times one morning -- the same morning I dumped a cup of coffee over our former keyboard. All of this brings back a memory from the years I taught basic typing. Students would make a mistake and mutter "oh, spellcheck!" or (a little more quietly) "oh, shift!" Too funny.

When I was an English teacher, I would offer my students extra credit for every error of mine they caught. Needless to say, they loved this. To readers and fellow lovers of English: Feel free to correct my grammar, punctuation, or spelling. Writers need to write, and they need the feedback of other writers.

Their are three errors in this post. Or, I should say, three errors that I intentionally left here for you to discover. Happy hunting. (In honor of James Kilpatrick, I really should end on a high note and not with a cliche.) C'est la vie!

9 comments:

kviz said...

Kelly,
You are so awesome! I would love to hunt for your mistakes if I had more time, but I am definitely going to put those books on my reading list!
Maybe I will make you post the first assignment for my AmLit class!! Love ya'll!

Kelly said...

Love ya, Kath!

Sarah said...

THERE are three errors! That one was painful to read, so I can't imagine how painful it was for you to write.

I concur with fuzziness, niece, refrigerator, placement of -s in general, blogger spellcheck (spell check? spell-check?) not working, and randomly deleting content. In fact, I used to obsess over the spell check/spellcheck/spell-check until I decided that my peace was better and that God would get the message through the annoyances.

Also, I've been posting through Josh's Ipad lately, and it had this nice little function called auto-correct. I HATE IT! It doesn't like the word 'couponing' and will change it three or four times in a row until I correct it so many times that I want to throw the ipad across the room and then it finally allows my fake word to exist. It also 'fixed' an email saying the name 'Trish' to 'trash'. I decided that one was spiritual!

I love your blog and your posts frequently speak to and encourage me, so thank you for doing it!

Sarah said...

I was also taught to never write 'there are', but often reworking the wordage to avoid that phrase is so frustrating that I let it go!

Kelly said...

Auto-correct, especially with margins and bullet points, is an express train to bad language for me. in fact I blame it for the Justin/Justine mess up.

Humilty is the name of the game!

Dianne said...

Good morning from a true Southern Heart now living in the Pacific Northwest! I was born in Mississippi and grew up in Tennessee. Sometimes, I admit to getting truly homesick for the South. I want sweet tea and I'm fixin' to make it! ;-) I long to hear the lilting cadence and drawn-out vowels of those Southern accents. My sisters tell me I'm losing mine, and so I schedule a flight South (October 16) for a ten day stay.

I posted a little video of my birthday granddaughter yesterday and rewatching it, I discovered that I had misspelled a word at the end of it! Grrr....

Dianne said...

It's supposed to be www.mysouthernheart.com - that one was a typo! And, of course, no coffee yet...

Kelly said...

Thanks for your comment, Dianne. For the record, sweet tea isn't the only thing I love about the South.

I hope my "fixin'" comment was funny and not offensive!

Thanks for visiting. I'll go check out your post.

christinelaennec said...

Hi Kelly - I'm just getting some time to blog after an unexpectedly complex week. Thanks very much for your link! I'm glad you liked the post. I couldn't agree more with what you say in yours. I did flinch reading "its"/"it's" but the other four mistakes didn't jump out at me! Is that good or bad? Hmmmm....