Those pesky little words we get mixed up, are they the scourge of humanity or just one of those things?
I, yes people even I, occasionally make a mistake and tweet the wrong word (not very often mind you, ok, yes… more often than I’d care to admit).
Now there are grammar police who will berate you, but in the fast and furious world of social media it’s often best to let it slip. And have you ever thought about WHY you do it in your tweets and your other short communications but not in your “proper” writing? I personally believe that one of the main reasons is because our minds are going so fast our fingers try to keep up and sometimes end up “auto-correcting”…an becomes and, who’s becomes whose because your brain thinks that the word needs an extra letter, and in the same way letters are dropped off, transposed or duplicated. When you are typing quickly the brain isn’t engaged on what you are actually doing and plays tricks on you. If you slowed down and actually read what you are typing, you probably wouldn’t make the silly mistakes in the first place.
Unless you actually sit down and compose your writing, take time over it, spell check and re-read it there will be typos and mistakes… unless you are a robot.
So what are the most often misspelled words? Well, this isn’t science, but the ones I see most often are:
whose / who’s
your / you’re
their / they’re / there
lose / loose
it’s / its
stationary / stationery
compliment / complement
And there are loads more. Yes, I could go through what the differences are, but quite frankly I’m not here to berate people for not knowing the difference, not everyone is good at spelling. Besides there are loads of places on the web that will tell you that apostrophes are there to indicate possession or missing letters.
Back to the tweeting and the facebooking and the emails and the texting. One of the reasons that we need editors and proofreaders is the fact that the closer you are to your writing, and the more you look at it, the less likely you are to pick up errors. The brain lets you see what you expect to see. You’ll see examples all over, from those silly mashed up words that tell you that you are smart if you can read the gobbledegook (where if the first and last letters are in the correct place you can read the mishmash) to the sentences with two words repeated (can you spot the the mistake?) etc.
These two examples are deceptive though, and lead me to my point (yup, there is one), and it may be pretty controversial for an editor to say.
As long as you read the message in context, you will get the meaning, and so will everyone else. Yes, there may be spelling mistakes, but the recipient will know what you mean, and as you are quickly typing out your message, your brain makes you see what you expect to see, in context the word “sounds” right, and the error is left to fly free throughout the intertubes.
As long as you don’t sent errors in messages to prospective bosses, your actual bosses or in formal communication, does it really matter if the odd error slides through? As long as it doesn’t happen all the time where is the harm? Everyone’s doing it, it doesn’t make it ok, but it happens and in a world where communication is fast and furious something’s got to give. I know, you’re shocked… a wordy professional saying that mistakes are ok. But hey, in the long run is anyone being hurt?
There are those who are saddened by the loss of perfect grammar and spelling. But language is evolving all the time, many slang words enter common useage and words once spelled in a certain way evolve into something new. As long as we don’t get too complacent, as long as we acknowledge that social media communication can be the bubblegum to the fine dining of the carefully written word, we should be ok.
The important thing is that you get your message out there; the brain, and hopefully the recipients of your message, will forgive the errors.
*Just as this post was about to be scheduled a fellow editor tweeted about a fabulous blog on the Guardian website, which addresses exactly the same issue. Written by Yuka Igarashi, managing editor of Granta magazine, I recommend you pop on over there to read it too!