I’ve been ranting this past month or so about how important it is for professional communicators to use proper language and grammar, and how vital it is for story-tellers especially to be wary of falling into the trap of pop culture fads in our written language. Why? Because anything that forces the reader to do a mental calculation, or mental rewording, forces that reader from your wonderful story. That includes spelling, and as you might know, school districts across the country have at least toyed with the idea of removing the instruction and testing of spelling from their curriculum. The theory, I believe, is that the spell-check function that’s available on virtually every software application has come to replace the need for knowledge.
I suppose that would be fine if our society weren’t continually inundated with examples of “alternate” spellings. They’re everywhere, from texts and tweets to television ads. I understand the necessity for brevity in tweeting, and even texting – although I generally refuse to use abbreviations in my own text messages. It’s true! Ask my kids! I also understand an advertiser’s need to draw attention to its products, so it changes “light” to “lite,” for example. Not only will that word visually “pop” to the viewer or reader, but maybe lightening the word itself sends a subliminal message. And let’s face it, there are no grammar or punctuation rules in advertising!
Just last night I saw a PSA commercial featuring a popular singer. It delivers an important message about breast cancer awareness, and the final shot shows the singer with the slogan: ROCK UR PINK. While I applaud the intent, I wonder, was it really necessary to use the text version of “your” in the slogan? Would the message have been diluted by using the real word? I don’t know. Obviously it’s directed at the younger viewer, but I’m beginning to worry that soon kids aren’t going to know that “your” is a word!
Spelling is hard enough in the English language. Just look at the light/lite above example. You can’t phonetically pronounce “light,” so you must be taught that the “gh” is silent. And even with today’s super-duper software and apps, you need to at least have an inkling of the correct spelling of a word to make the technology work.
Combine the inherent difficulties of our language with the current fad toward made-up spellings, and you have a recipe for disaster! I mean, these spell-checkers are going to have to become translators before long. I dare you to pop “ur” into a Word doc (like I just did) and have it correctly changed to “your.” For the record, my choices of correction are: or, urn, up, us and our. A user can add “ur” to the dictionary, of course, but why?
This is an extreme example, I know. My point is that we can’t force-feed the world with gobbledygook and rely on technology to always fix it. There are some basic rules and facts we need to know. We at least need to know what pitfalls to watch for.
So, dear writers, I urge you to stay vigilant against this invasion, to eradicate these nouveau “words” from your everyday usage. You want to write a scene where one person is texting another? That’s fine, use “ur”; “your” wouldn’t be believable in that case, would it – unless you’re writing a scene where your mother , who refuses to use abbreviations, is texting… but you know what I mean.