Sunday, September 20, 2009

Not So Smart People?

When I grow up, I'm going to get a job spelling. ~ Linus Van Pelt, quoted by Charles M. Schulz

I stumbled across an article entitled "Eight Spelling Mistakes Even Smart People Make", but, frankly, it wasn't exactly what I expected. I had anticipated something about tricky words like "foreign" (which I've been misspelling since the fifth grade) or "judgment" (shouldn't there be an "e" after the "g"?). Instead, the author dwells on the sort of mistakes "smart" people shouldn't even think about making.

Now, I don't want you to get the impression I'm getting all snooty here by pretending to be smart or intellectual or something like that. I got disabused of that opinion a long time ago, when I attended Case Institute of Technology. I think the Case admissions people used to let people like me in only to provide amusement to the real geniuses who they were actually looking for and to provide the lower portion of the grade curve.

However, I did learn that guys who are geniuses in physics or math or engineering may be absolutely useless when it came to writing simple English sentences. Some of the most atrocious grammar I have ever seen was written by guys who could do matrix algebra in their sleep. On many occasions, I did some editing of an English essay for one of these Einsteins, which was another reason I think the admissions people let folks like me in.

That being said, on their worst days, most of these guys would not have made the errors in the article. Oh, they might make one as a typo. In fact, I've had my moments. I'll type "youre" (omitting the apostrophe) which the spell-check will correct to "your". And if I'm in a hurry, I might skip an "o" and type "to" instead of "too".

I just don't buy the author's assertion that "smart people" don't actually know the difference between "your" and "you're", "its" and "it's", "they're", "their", and "there". And I really don't think there's too many smart people who think "alot" is a word.

In fact, the Smart Person who wrote the article did not think "ahold" is considered a word. Well, Merriam-Webster begs to differ. It even cites a Norman Mailer quote as an example. Take that, Smart Person!

Of course, one issue here is what constitutes a "smart person." If it means "a person with a high school education", then I'd say that a great many so-called smart people have bigger problems with their spelling and grammar than the examples given in the essay. If, on the other hand, it means "a person who actually leaned something in school", then I say that smart people don't make these mistakes, except when they're being lazy -- or typing too fast.

I think the author is yet another to fail to realize the impact of e-mail, texting, and, most recently, tweeting. People today are in such a hurry to spit out text that they seldom check what they write. They are also so taken with abbreviating that worrying about an apostrophe (its, it's) or an extra "o" (to, too) is simply not something they do.

I will grant the author one of her complaints: The use of "irregardless" instead of "regardless". The former simply is not a word. Well, it has weaseled it's way into some dictionaries, but it is listed as "nonstandard." I suspect, though, that it's very existence is due to smart people, because it sounds very high-brow, and, possibly, because they confuse it with "irrespective." To once again invoke Charles Schulz, people are generally never quite so stupid as when they are being smart.

Nonetheless, if the Smart Person authoring the essay is going to complain about the copy she's given by people whom she thinks should know better, she may want to reassess her definition of "smart" to exclude those who were actually paying attention back in the sixth grade.

And she should look up "ahold".

No comments:

Post a Comment