Why do you misspell?
October 23, 2006 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Spelling Filter: Why do you do it?

Yes, I know that this has been done to death ( e.g. http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/22859 ) but I would like to take a somewhat different approach. Every day I see basic spelling/grammar errors on AskMeFi. Tonight, for example, one poster put My 20 year old son came out to my wife and I, while another wrote but still maintain it's original beauty. A search for accomodation produced 240 hits, for wierd 332 hits and so on. I am assuming that the average user of AskMeFi is a) English mother tongue and, if not, highly educated in English (i.e. learned the basic rules) and b) educated to at least high school level and therefore learned the basic rules. (I said average user - there will be many exceptions.)

My questions to you who make these errors, if you wouldn't mind replying, are as follows:

1. Do you really not know that it should be came out to my wife and me, its original beauty (no apostrophe), accommodation, weird and so on?
2. Or don't you care?
3. Do you make similar mistakes, for example, in a professional context?
4. Do you ever spell check (this obviously would not pick up the first two examples), read before you post or can't you be bothered/don't know how to?

This is a serious question,as I am baffled as to why this is so frequent on a site such as AskMeFi, where the users always seem to me to be so highly intelligent and educated.
posted by TheRaven to Writing & Language (67 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: post this to metatalk

 
"Intelligence" and "giving a shit about minutia" are two entirely different things.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 7:48 PM on October 23, 2006 [3 favorites]


Most people don't put too much thought in proofreading when posting comments.

The more important question I think is why people are such assholes regarding spelling in grammar, sometimes inciting flamewars and such. If you got the point, isn't that good enough?

BTW, you might want to answer your own survey, you missed the space after the comma in your last sentence.
posted by mphuie at 7:52 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


Isn't the whole "wife and I" vs. "wife and me" thing a case of hyper-correction? I wouldn't fault someone for not realising the difference... but then again, I wouldn't fault someone for their grammar in such a casual setting anyway.
posted by glip at 8:00 PM on October 23, 2006


As a professional writer I pride myself on getting these things right but even so things slip through. There are certain words I know I am unreliable on ('embarrassed', for example) and other words ('weird') I am now reliable on because I've taught myself the spelling.

(There is nothing like having a 120 page script spell-checked by a battalion of producers and execs to make you realize how many mistakes you make).

The single biggest factor for me in spelling well was studying latin and French at high school and Old English at uni. Most times I can deduce the spelling of a problematic word by decoding its origin. English is a language which carries its history in its spelling and inflections; without a knowledge of that history you are reduced to rote learning, which is rarely complete and entirely unintuitive.

I've tried to stop being a Nazi: I know see usages such as 'alot' ('a lot') and 'resiliencey' ('resilience') frequently enough to realize the language is probably evolving to include them.
posted by unSane at 8:01 PM on October 23, 2006


heh, 'know'.

One other thing this brings up is that if you are a fluent touch typist, words like 'now' and 'know' are easy to confuse.
posted by unSane at 8:03 PM on October 23, 2006


Given that there is no spell check currently operating on the site, spell check is not an easy option.

Given that this site is not, in fact, a professional context, many of us don't give our writing the same consideration we would give it in a professional context.

Many people can't write. Constructions like "The average user is English mother tonuge" are suprisingly frequent.
posted by occhiblu at 8:03 PM on October 23, 2006 [3 favorites]


I'm an editor and a stickler for such things in my work (naturally), and so it sometimes it baffles me, too. But for the two examples you've posed, I think there are some pretty common reasons why:

Misuse of the personal subject (I) vs. object (me) vs. reflexive pronoun (myself) is pretty common, even among the educated. It's usually due to hypercorrection -- that is, people fear that almost any use of "me" is wrong and ignorant, and so mistakenly substitute "I" or "myself."

Also, I think there's a difference between casual English (both spoken or written online, in emails, etc.) and more polished written or spoken English. I work with a woman who's a better editor than I, and she uses "me" for "I" in her casual speech all the time. Yet I know she'd never let it stand in something that she's editing, and I've never heard her make that mistake in a formal presentation, serious meeting, etc.

As for it's vs. its, it's (ha!) a pretty easy mistake to make unless you really know the rule -- after all, apostrophe + s indicates possession with a noun (Mary's dog, the dog's bone), so it seems to follow that it would indicate possession with a pronoun.

And the rule for casual written English holds here, too -- I mistakenly type "it's" for "its" all the time, even though I know exactly what the difference is. I'd never in let something be published with such a mistake (because, after all, I ultimately disagree with IdiotMittens in that I do not think such a distinctions are "minutia" [sic]), but on Mefi (or in email), such mistakes will happen.
posted by scody at 8:03 PM on October 23, 2006


[a few comments removed. knock it off, metatalk is available for you if you need it]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:04 PM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]


Isn't the whole "wife and I" vs. "wife and me" thing a case of hyper-correction?

What do you mean a hyper-correction? Either version will be understood by pretty much any English speaker, but one uses the correct pronoun and the other doesn't. But I think there are lots of people who wouldn't realize that was an error unless you really explained it.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:04 PM on October 23, 2006


Heh. Typo was not intended above.
posted by occhiblu at 8:04 PM on October 23, 2006


Just the other minute I was reading a comment where someone wrote "criminal reord." What the hell is a criminal reord?

Does no one care enough to run their posts through a spell checker? I know I don't, but I figured someone does.
posted by justkevin at 8:06 PM on October 23, 2006


hah! penultimate parenthetical should read "I do not think such distinctions are...." subject-verb agreement: good!
posted by scody at 8:07 PM on October 23, 2006


Also, there's no way to edit one's comments here. Since many of us want to get the things posted in a timely manner, we hit "post" possibly before we should, and then there's no way to go back and correct the mistakes you will see a half-second after doing so.
posted by occhiblu at 8:10 PM on October 23, 2006


glip: After not previewing, I see scody's comment and get what you meant by hyper-correction.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:11 PM on October 23, 2006


I'm sure that some of my posts have errors in them, usually of a typographical nature that I don't notice until after I post.
posted by tomble at 8:12 PM on October 23, 2006


Option 5: You proofread the hell out of everything you write and shit still slips by, like it's temporarily invisible. Fnord.


That said, in the past year, I've caught myself mistakenly typing more homophones than in my previous 10+ years of being online. I'm not sure what's up with that.
posted by kimota at 8:14 PM on October 23, 2006


The yews of it's as a possessive (for esses in that word? I would've guessed three) greats on me to, butt I no I was post-hi-school when I learned that distinction. Sew it really only bothers me when it reduces clarity or causes confusion. And spell-check on male clients has taut me that I consistently misspell sum words. My midwestern upbringing, or something, has left me deficient in distinguishing 'e' and 'i' vowel sounds - four example 'pin' and 'pen' are homophones two me.

Answering your question, if I misspell something it's because I didn't run a spell check. It's too much work to copy the text, put it into something that does that, then copy it back.
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:15 PM on October 23, 2006


I wouldn't know whether it's "wife and I" or "wife and me", and I'm a scholarship winning university student. I guess I done not get none good edjucatin'.
posted by stray at 8:20 PM on October 23, 2006


I'm a decent (but not great) speller, but spelling is increasingly difficult over the years. It's sort of like all of the stresses and data of my day-to-day life are starting to push out my ability to spell certain words. Also, I literally do not "see" errors even if I review my text. Similarly, I usually do not see the errors in other people's writing unless I am specifically dedicating myself to the task of proofreading.

I also find that my difficulties in these areas correspond to being on line and/or typing on the computer constantly. I think there's something about constantly touch-typing (as someone stated above) that lends itself to -- what are they called? homonyms? homophones?
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:25 PM on October 23, 2006


stray, here's the trick that I learned years ago to keep it straight when there's any doubt: remove the other person from the sentence, and see how you would say it; then simply insert the other person to go ahead of you (as if you are holding a door open for them -- yes, that's really how I learned it!). So "John told me" would become "John told my wife and me." "I went to the movie" --> "My wife and I went to the movie." "I did it myself" --> "My wife and I did it ourselves."
posted by scody at 8:27 PM on October 23, 2006


Well, let's start with your list.
  1. No, many people don't know.
  2. No, most people don't care.
  3. Yes, many people make these mistakes in professional correspondence.
  4. No, many people do not proofread.
With that established, maybe you can help me understand another dimension to this issue. Why is it that the people who don't make these errors — like myself, or Bugbread, or Ethereal Bligh, or a couple dozen other regular posters — are never the ones complaining? The complaints always come from people like you: You don't know how to script a hyperlink, you added extra spaces to your first parenthetical, you missed the commas after "e.g." and "i.e.", you used a hyphen instead of a dash, and you missed the space after that comma in your final sentence.

The people who write properly never complain. Do you think GrammarNazism might be specific to people who prickle when they see their own flaws reflected in others?
posted by cribcage at 8:27 PM on October 23, 2006 [4 favorites]


i imagine it is a combination of many factors. here are the first few i can think of that apply to me.
1 – i often rush to get the first correct response, or get back to what they are supposed to be doing
2 – there is no way to edit a post. see the first bulleted item
3 – this is a casual setting, we are on the interweb after all
4 – a lot of people, even educated people don’t really care about grammar. all they are trying to do is get their point across. i know more than a few brilliant mathematicians/physics that could not spell there way out of the 5th grade, it does not seem to be a problem for them.
5 – on and on …

if everyone was a grammar wiz what would all the poor copy editors do?
posted by phil at 8:28 PM on October 23, 2006


It seems to me that the Internet is to blame. I mean that seriously - everything Internet/email/IM based is so instant, so stream-of-consciousness, and so visceral for so many people that they don't bother to take that step back and proofread, spellcheck, or grammar check their writing before they throw it up to the world.

After all, people want to know what everyone thinks about everything RIGHT NOW, and not after it's been proofread.
posted by pdb at 8:29 PM on October 23, 2006


my first and second factors applied to the above post
posted by phil at 8:29 PM on October 23, 2006


Why do I misspell? Simply, hooked on phonics didn't work for me. I don't know why my spelling skills are so poor, where was I when they were teaching basic spelling rules?

I am a native english speaker and college educated (degree in English, no less), but spelling is a constant thorn in my side. I spell check stuff when I have time, but for casual things like a metafilter comment, my editing and proofing is pretty sloppy.

On any given day, I would probably find a couple spelling and grammar errors to be less embarassing than wasting my weekly askme question to out myself as an uber-picky pedant. But that's just me.
posted by necessitas at 8:30 PM on October 23, 2006


I think you'll find that most people just don't bother checking what they've written before they post. In the vast majority of cases it doesn't lead to much confusion, so it doesn't really matter.

Personally, I only find two common misspellings confuse me:

1. it's vs its - I always have to do a double-take if the wrong form is used.

2. fiance vs fiancee - for some bizarre reason, almost every AskMe question I see that refers to a wife-to-be uses the masculine form fiance, and the ones referring to a husband-to-be use the feminine form fiancee.

So, yeah, pretty small problem in the scheme of things.
posted by nomis at 8:30 PM on October 23, 2006


I am a native english speaker and college educated (degree in English, no less), but spelling is a constant thorn in my side.

If it's any consolation, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a notoriously bad speller! I think that's one of the reasons I don't particularly privilege it -- I'm a naturally good speller and it's one of the things that makes me a good editor, but that fact says nothing about my talents as a writer, for example, or my intelligence overall.
posted by scody at 8:35 PM on October 23, 2006


Funny about "My Wife and Me" - the Queen - she of The Queen's English" - famously says "My Husband and I" in her speeches. I (in the UK) don't think I've ever heard "My Wife and Me" said except as an indication of lower class speech. Certainly is not regarded as obviously correct over here.

And guess what? "Ask Oxford" (as in OED) says this (feel free to substitute your wife for a friend)

Me and my friend went to a party last night. [Wrong]
I and my friend went to a party last night.

My friend and me went to a party last night. [Wrong]
My friend and I went to a party last night.

Hmmmm...
posted by A189Nut at 8:35 PM on October 23, 2006


My internal spelling method, which I cannot explain in any way, works for nearly all words. Yet it fails for those with doubled letters, like 'recommend' and 'accommodate'. I can only spell them right if I memorize them individually, and if it's a word I don't use often -- like accommodate -- I might get it wrong and have no idea. No malice intended.

Another factor is that if I don't pay too much attention to typing, sometimes homophones slip in. I actually think this is incredibly cool, because it implies some interesting things about the path from thought to fingers, but I do try to delete it if I notice. Sometimes I read it back and it seems fine, which is also rather neat.

Looking at the large picture, there's also the connection between formality and spelling. My work e-mails are always perfectly spelled. My comments here are usually pretty good. Yet I leave typing mistakes like transpositions in IMs, even at work. The imperfection makes it less formal, which suits the nature of the conversation.
posted by smackfu at 8:37 PM on October 23, 2006


I love the new beta of Firefox 2.0; it includes spell checking. (Hm; it tells me that "spellchecking" is incorrect.) Since I'm pretty anal about spelling myself (and have wondered the same thing the parent post wonders), it's a nice way to catch those quick-fingered typos.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 8:39 PM on October 23, 2006


A189Nut, you're talking about a different construction. Here's how to tell what's correct: take out the "my wife and..." part and see whether you'd use "I" or "me".

So, "I went to a party last night" --> "My wife and I went to a party last night"

Vs.

"My son came out to me" --> "My son came out to my wife and me"

See? No native English speaker would say "My son came out to I".
posted by nomis at 8:39 PM on October 23, 2006


Hypercorrection, as people have said, is regressive. Let me pose you a question.

While the errors might have been irksome, did you understand the sentences and questions?

If yes, that means communication occurred.

Which means it really, in the end, doesn't matter.

With "and me" vs. "I," I think the attitude you're taking is fading into obsolescence. When it becomes more of a burden to construct a sentence, actually hindering communication, that grammar should and will be phased out: re, whom.

Some errors, while minor, are still important: it's vs. its, for example, which actually serves a very convenient purpose. While it was a "minor offense" in this case, confusion of the two can lead to undesirable results. "Wierd" is pretty irksome, too, but English spelling isn't exactly regular.

Newsflash, people! Language isn't absolute. It's living. Take rules as guidelines, not as commandments. Break it as often as you can. I wouldn't harp on it. I used to be quite the Grammar-Hitler Youth until I realized it was a waste of time and nobody actually gives a shit. "Proper" language has a place, but by and large it's bona-fide bullshit.

Wanna know where 90% of massive turns in language have historically taken place? Newspapers and magazines! That's right--the media which is such a durn stickler for 'educated' formatting is constantly spinning neologisms, odd constructions and creative uses of words.

Oh shit. Now I'm ranting.

Point is, I don't really think you're "utterly baffled." I think you realize that most people make these mistakes because they quite frankly, never payed attention in class--or at least not during those parts.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 8:40 PM on October 23, 2006


A189Nut:

The original poster's compaint was about the phrase "came out to my wife and me." It should be "came out to my wife and I." If you're confused about which to use, remove the other party:

Would it be "came out to me" / "came out to I".

vs.

Me went to a party last night / I went to a party last night.
posted by justkevin at 8:41 PM on October 23, 2006


A lot of us play AskMe with shotguns, not rifles. So, if it didn't slow down Shakespeare, it doesn't bother us. We won't laugh at your punctuation problems, TheRaven, if you'll chill on the prescriptive spelling bit. Otherwise, "They that live in glass houses..."
posted by paulsc at 8:41 PM on October 23, 2006


I see nomis posted while I was writing, ignore my duplicate comments.
posted by justkevin at 8:43 PM on October 23, 2006


If you're confused about which to use, remove the other party

Or just realize that I is a subject and me is an object.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:48 PM on October 23, 2006


Ah, the OP's arrogance led me to misread it.
posted by A189Nut at 8:49 PM on October 23, 2006


im in ur minuta killin ur r00lz
posted by flabdablet at 9:08 PM on October 23, 2006


I've brought this up with people before, and the general answer is that they just don't care and that I'm a jerk or a pedant. Between having always been careful about writing and having OCD, misspellings and the like tend to jump out at me. (To me, having a 'relaxed' online writing style and a proper English writing style is senselessly complicated.)

I've always thought that it's very important, though, to write properly. First of all, errors can completely distract me. I'll be in a great 'flow' of reading and processing what you're saying, but then I come to a screeching halt as I try to make sense of what you were trying to get across. Another thing is that, while I certainly don't try to, I—and many others I know—subconsciously judge people on their writing abilities.

I can forgive "wierd" to some extent because it's somewhat, well, weird, in that it doesn't follow the "I before E except after C" rule. Spell-checking, or practicing, could fix it, but it is a really irregular word.

I can't help but think that you're being a little too picky, though. I understand why both examples you cited are wrong, but I understood what they meant without issue.

And, as a college student, I can tell you that some peoples' writing abilities in an academic setting really are as bad as you've come to think.
posted by fogster at 9:11 PM on October 23, 2006


Because I'm a shit disturber. That's why.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 9:19 PM on October 23, 2006


AskMeFi is highly informal. When you take notes you're not trying to be gramatically correct. When I write on AskMeFi I'm just trying to get my post accross. Often times my fingers can't keep up with my brain and I'll skip XXX, XXXX, what have you. If I'm really in a hurry I won't even bother with the correct punctuation, apostrophes, capitalization, etc.

In the context of AskMeFi I can't be bothered to go back and proofread.
posted by ASM at 9:39 PM on October 23, 2006


Spelling always struck me as pretty simple. Take "wierd" vs. "weird." You get a sense of wrongness by looking at one, while you do not get a sense of wrongness by looking at the other. The one that doesn't give you that sense of wrongness? That's the right spelling. If you don't know how a word is spelled, move the letters around until the sense of wrongness goes away.

It took me a while to learn that many people simply don't have a word-sense that tingles when they see a word that's not spelled correctly. They need rules like "i before e except after c (except when not)." I was mystified by these rules. Memorizing rules to help you reconstruct the spelling seemed like a lot more work than just remembering the spelling!

So the answer to the question is that for most people, English spelling actually is pretty hard, and so they're going to make mistakes pretty regularly. Because it's work for them, most people don't do it much more than they need to, so they don't get the practice they need to become good at it.

I try not to judge bad spellers as bad thinkers, but it's hard to convince me of something if your writing literally feels wrong to me. My feeling of "wrongness" inevitably taints the ideas you're trying to express, and the worse a speller you are, the harder it is for me to fight it. In the worst cases I'd liken it to arguing with someone who has bad breath.
posted by kindall at 9:47 PM on October 23, 2006


Language is about conveying meaning, not rules. The rules change. Hell, if they didn't we wouldn't have English.

If you can clearly understand my meaning without too much trouble, then my communication has succeeded.

Is there any ambiguity between "my wife and I" and "my wife and me"?

No.

I still try to capitalize and spell correctly because mistakes in those two areas tend to make it hard to easily scan a message. But the rest, I don't have time or energy to devote to it. At least in a casual, essentially anonymous environment like MeFi.
posted by Ookseer at 9:55 PM on October 23, 2006


Hell, I won my county spelling bee in third grade. Here, I regularly write in lower case and run-on sentences and leave out apostrophes. I'm usually trying to get a point across and if I can communicate then the writing is successful.

This isn't a harvard expository writing class (which I took and passed with praise and those metaphorical flying colors) this is ask metafilter, a conversational web board.
posted by vacapinta at 10:01 PM on October 23, 2006


I made a lot of stuff-ups in this post but I didn't correct because, Great Scot, I'd already spent a stupid amount of time typing something out of a book for someone I've never who probably doesn't even care about what I had to say. I figured that the people who were interested would be able to tell that I meant brown for brwon. I stopped (or tried to) being an intellectual snob years ago, when I realised that following grammatical and spelling rules really demonstrates your ability to follow grammar and spelling rules and not much else, certainly not an ability to communicate or intelligence or compassion.

My mother (who is an evil bitch troll who I haven't spoken to in 8 years) has some lovely neighbours who run errands for her and check up on her wellbeing and mow her lawn. When one of them was planning to on a holiday and mistakenly spoke of her artillery rather than itinerary, my mother spoke slightingly and mockingly of this for years. Seriously. I don't want to be like my mother.
posted by b33j at 10:46 PM on October 23, 2006


As someone who has made the apostrophe mistake in an FPP, I can tell you that sometimes accidents happen--even to those of us with college degrees.
posted by dead_ at 6:49 AM on October 24, 2006


2. fiance vs fiancee - for some bizarre reason, almost every AskMe question I see that refers to a wife-to-be uses the masculine form fiance, and the ones referring to a husband-to-be use the feminine form fiancee.

Huh! I never knew that these were two different words until now. I think that I've always just used the masculine form and assumed that the two "e" form was a variant spelling.
posted by octothorpe at 6:56 AM on October 24, 2006


It's a community weblog, not a dissertation.
We're here for fun (well, I presume everyone else is, too...) - not to ensure that everything is a shining paragon of English-language virtue.
There's no built-in spell checker (until Firefox 2.0) or thesaurus - and I'd probably get seriously ticked off with false-positives in this web context anyway.
My fingers frequently operate slower than my brain, and my fingers often seem fatter than my keys - they're my excuses, and I'm sticking to them! I usually fire off stuff quickly, and don't proofread throughly (unless it's a question that I need people to understand, or an answer where I'm trying to get a point across). I pick up obvious mistakes... most of the time!

To be quite honest, it used to bug me a bit too (especially back in the days of Usenet - my first foray into the world of global communications, where I realised that there's an awful lot of sloppy people out there) but over time I've come to realise the futility of worrying about it.
posted by Chunder at 7:08 AM on October 24, 2006


I've a BA in English, but I got a D in Advanced Grammar. I am well aware I make loads of comma splices and run-ons, but I'm not really so concerned with them because not many people really know enough about them to make a fuss.

I edit my sentences as I am typing, usually looking at the word or couple of words prior to the cursor as I'm going along (pretty much only for spelling, I'm a bit of a word nerd), and also usually re-read the entire posts -- inserting line breaks to seperate ideas and adding junk to clarify certain bits -- before hitting submit. I also read the post again after it's submitted, because I just do ;-P

I think the double post of correcting one's own spelling immediately after is a waste of a post, though (artificially inflating one's "answers given" number in your profile). Chances are if I misspell something, I already caught it but didn't think it was especially necessary to correct it unless it changed the meaning of the sentence.

For instance if I were quoting Jesus' remark to the thief on the cross next to him and erroneously placed the comma, the whole idea might change:

"I say unto you, today you shall be with me in paradise."
"I say unto you today, you shall be with me in paradise."

In this case, I might make make a second post to correct myself.
posted by vanoakenfold at 7:09 AM on October 24, 2006


Like phil said, I think a lot of us who wouldn't make these mistakes do because we rush to be the first to answer something, or post a link or something like that.

In my case, if it's any indication, I typed a stupid little mistake yesterday when I posted a song in Metafilter Music. The thing is I was dying to post it because it was a collaboration with another guy from here and I was too excited about it to notice the mistake. It looks awful and I should have taken an extra 6 seconds to check it in detail, but I was too excited at the moment.
posted by micayetoca at 7:12 AM on October 24, 2006


Nobody's perfect. Professional writers and editors employ copyeditors who read every word at least three times (for each pass--and there's going to be at least three passes) and then have their supervisor check their work. They catch lots of stuff, even in pretty clean copy, and books and magazines still get published all the time with typos. This is after spellcheck and grammar check, obviously, which is more or less crap anyway.

I never fail to be astounded by the importance people put on spelling and grammar on the internet, as if it means something. It means nothing other than that the writer is human.

Wierd is weird, though. I think it's more than a typo. I think there's a small but significant percentage of English speakers who actually think it's spelled wierd. That's just a theory I've developed based on personal experience.
posted by lampoil at 7:14 AM on October 24, 2006


To address the original poster, Mefi has some of the best writers on the web. If the spelling, grammar and punctuation here bothers you, go read forums on cars or computers or really almost anything. The use of English in some of those places can be astounding in it's badness.

P.S. Spell check fixed half-a-dozen errors in my one paragraph above.
posted by octothorpe at 7:16 AM on October 24, 2006


While we're at it - about 98% of the times I see the word "whoa" on Mefi/Ask/Meta, it's spelled "woah". Is this an internet "thing" I just don't get (like "im in ur pc killin yr spelchek", "orly?" or "teh hawt"), or simply really that the vast majority of peple who use it unintentionally spell it wrong? I've always wondered about this.
posted by tristeza at 7:26 AM on October 24, 2006


English seems to be a crappy language for spelling to some people (and I'm one of them). The spelling rules seem kinda wacky and sounding out words doesn't work for me always (though I can hear music just fine). Literally, I can sound out a word and attempt to spell it, but I often still spell it wrong. However, once I VISUALLY see the word, correctly spelled, after sounding it out, it all makes perfect sense.

Most good spellers I know were taught Latin in grade school, which they say helps a lot.

As several have pointed out and which I've found to be quite true, good spelling does not make a good writer. For instance, you typed this "Spelling Filter: Why do you do it?", which makes no real sense.

And then there's the actual questions:

1. Um, only one person typed these errors, so why are you addressing it to everyone?

2. See above.

3. There's that reference to you again, as if you're talking to me, but I didn't make those errors. Christ, what are you, a boss?

4. Look, just go away.

Yeah, I can figure out what you MEANT of course, but it doesn't change the fact that it's pretty badly written. But to answer your badly written questions: I'm a terrible speller and proofread and spellcheck when writing professionally. For metafilter, which is ANYTHING but professional (despite some peoples lofty beliefs), I'm more relaxed with that stuff. Since we no longer have a spell check on the site and Matt's only advice was to download FireFox 2 (which I'm using NOW, but it hasn't caught the bad spelling I've made in writing this AND there's no way to manually spellcheck your page), I don't worry about it to much.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:39 AM on October 24, 2006


Do you guys honestly not understand how "with my wife and I" is a case of hypercorrection? That doesn't mean it's right. That means that there's a case where English as it used differs from prescriptivist grammar. We grow up saying "Me and Sally went to the park" because that's what people say, but because we're kids, every adult has to point out "No, the correct thing to say is 'Sally and I went to the park'" so the "x and I" phrase is pounded into our heads as the right phrase, even when it's not.

It's the same thing as using whom incorrectly. Most English speakers, who naturally say "who" and get corrected at times, have a poor concept of tense and just get it their heads that whom is more correct than who, even when it isn't.

As for your word sense, that is something that only people with innate talent in linguistics have. Most people need rules, and unfortunately, not only are the rules of English insanely confusing and often contradictory, they're also frequently not taught.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:54 AM on October 24, 2006


Honestly, it seems to me that your idea of the state of English language education is completely wrong. It is perfectly possible to get a PhD and still have a weak grasp of rules such as the ones you mention.

Personally, I think my normal writing style is good enough for the Metafilter sites, and I'm comfortable with the fact that I may make the occasional mistake.
posted by teleskiving at 7:55 AM on October 24, 2006


Also, I suspect that a lot of writers actually recast sentences to avoid using "to my wife and me" because although it's correct it sounds faintly childish due to the hypercorrection phenomenon described above. This means that people receive very little exposure to the proper construction.
posted by teleskiving at 8:01 AM on October 24, 2006


I don't. When I had a secretary to format things for me I told her she'd get $100 for every typo or misspelled word she found.

She never collected. She missed the one typo I made in four years.
posted by jet_silver at 8:11 AM on October 24, 2006


I tend to be a stickler myself for grammar and spelling. I generally read over my comments a few times in preview before I post them. It takes a conscious effort of will for me not to correct other people when they make spelling or grammar errors. (Especially when people use "populous" where "populace" belongs, or "athiest" or "Diety." These particularly gall me; I'm not sure why.) If I'm not sure whether it's "accomodate" or "accommodate" or some other variation, I'll look it up before I post. And yet, I've made such errors in my comments. In other words, 1) I know the difference between "its" and "it's;" 2) I care very much about the difference between "its" and "it's," and their proper use; but yet I still occasionally (very rarely) use one where the other belongs. 3) Yes, I make similar (albeit rare, just as they are rare on MeFi) mistakes in a professional context. 4) I don't use spellcheck because there's too much that it can miss. I trust my own judgment and spelling and grammar ability more than I trust spellcheck. Yes, I could use spellcheck in addition to my own proofreading, but I fear that would make me lazy and I wouldn't proofread as carefully as I currently do.

As for correcting my errors when I catch them, I don't unless the error is so egregious as to make my meaning unclear. If I see that I've posted a comment with "its" where "it's" belongs, I cringe, but I don't post a second comment correcting my error because I figure my meaning was clear, and a corrective comment would only distract from the topic at hand.

And if I may offer my own counter-survey...
1. Do you really not know how to make a proper hyperlink?
2. Or do you just not care?
3. Do you put URLs without hyperlinking them in professional documents?
URLs that are in posts or comments without being hyperlinked are a peeve of mine. I'll make an exception for the rare case of "this is a hateful site and I refuse to drive traffic to it by linking to it," but over the past year or so there seems to have been a large increase in the number of users who are either ignorant of how to make a hyperlink, or too lazy to make one.

posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:17 AM on October 24, 2006


Huh! I never knew that these were two different words until now. I think that I've always just used the masculine form and assumed that the two "e" form was a variant spelling. - octothorpe

They're french words, so those are rules from french.
posted by raedyn at 8:27 AM on October 24, 2006


[a few comments removed. knock it off, metatalk is available for you if you need it]

ok!
posted by mendel at 8:30 AM on October 24, 2006


When I proofread things I've written, whether they're comments, emails, whatever, I tend to insert words I've forgotten or correct typos in my head. Major pain!

As far as words looking wrong (as an above poster mentioned) I constantly get confused with field/feild view/veiw. I can't always remember which one is supposed to look right! I've gotten better, but there are words that I always get wrong. And obviously, there are times I don't care: IMs, casual emails, notes to myself.

I don't know when to use its & it's. I try to reason it out in my head, like the "and I" vs "and me", but I'm hopeless.
posted by good for you! at 8:34 AM on October 24, 2006


I don't know what "baffled" means
posted by matteo at 8:36 AM on October 24, 2006


This is not a question; it's a callout. The whole thing should be in MeTa.
posted by Doohickie at 8:42 AM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


Grammar is no longer a subject in school.

This might not apply in every school system, but where I grew up we did not talk about conjugating verbs or subject/object or tenses or comma splices or dangling participles unless you happened to get an english teacher with a particular pet peeve. Then you'd learn all about the particular construction that bothered your teacher, but there was no comprehensive approach to teaching the rules.

The concept is called the whole language approach. The general gist of it is an emphasis on meaning and learning through useage & flow rather than through rules and breaking it down into component parts. In my experience with it, the approach works well if a student is surrounded by influences that use language that follow the rules: if they read a lot, if they have an educated family, etc. If their exposure to 'proper' english is very limited, then it's less successful. But that's just anecdotal, and I'm not a teacher, so take that as you will.

One of my high school english teachers pointed out to me that she had students come from other countries that could kick her ass in a grammar exam, but that couldn't write an english paragraph that made any sense. She was a proponent of the whole language approach.
posted by raedyn at 8:59 AM on October 24, 2006


I don't know when to use its & it's.

it's always and only equals "it is" or "it has." If you can subsitute either one in the sentence, then use it's. If you can't -- its it is. e.g.: It's [it is] a great movie. It's [it has] got a great script. Its [can't subsitute "it is" or "it has"] chances for an Oscar are good.

posted by scody at 8:59 AM on October 24, 2006


My spelling crosses the threshold to 'fair,' anyway, but I fail to catch most spelling errors as I read. I suspect those who do are reading a lot more slowly than they comfortably could; I believe I generally look at a word only long enough to recognize its shape when I'm reading. When I'm proofreading my own work this problem redoubles itself-- I have to make a concentrated effort not to simply see what I intended to write instead of what I did.

I have heard many people who have lots of contact with bad spelling, such as teachers who grade papers, say that bad spelling drives out the good, and that over time their students errors creep into their mentors own writing. There must be some kind of moral there, but it's beyond my strength to draw.

I wouldn't mind having a spellcheck feature on my browser which I could apply to any arbitrary webpage, such as this one. It would also be amusing to have a spelling utility which would evaluate text according to period and location, such as 'London at the moment of Samuel Johnson's death,' or New York City in the 50's.'

I think it's worth reflecting on how a concern with spelling and grammar ever could have become such a central passion--such a central moral passion-- in the minds of so many of us. I don't see how that can possibly be truly healthy; in these times, it can certainly never be truly comfortable.
posted by jamjam at 9:17 AM on October 24, 2006


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