October 20, 2018

Textism: Does spelling even matter anymore?

f u cn rd ths, u cn bcm a sec & gt a gd jb w hi pa.

You can tell that’s not a text message.  When secretaries were getting good jobs for high pay, no one was texting.

Those School of Speedwriting “>Does Spelling Matter?,” who told an interviewer that “judging character or worth by how meticulous a speller a person [is] ‘is a way to say I’m better than you…. It’s a form of licensed prejudice.’”  No, my beef with spelling isn’t that it protects the ruling class.  It’s that it’s so irrelevant.

I mean, really:  Occurred has two c’s and two r’s.  Is getting that wrong really a slippery slope to barbarism?  The truth is that I always know what someone means by your welcome, and a misspelling never flummoxes me.  I may squirm inwardly when I hear “between you and I,” but I never misunderstand it.  It’s ridiculous that people now say “literally” when they mean “figuratively,” but it’s never so ridiculous that I fail to comprehend them. Dan Quayle was spit-roasted for spelling potatoe with that e at the end; it was seen as evidence that he was just a dumb blonde.  But not a single person laughing at him would ever mistake a potato for a turnip, which arguably should be what’s at stake here.             

It’s one thing for Professor Horobin, or me, to cut misspellers some slack.  In my case, the grammar that Mrs. Bustard drilled into my head served me well on standardized tests, in college and in my career, so it’s easy for me to go wobbly on rules now.  But what about today’s texting toddlers who grow up thinking that lol is a word?  Are we raising a generation of illiterates whose fuzzy spelling is the precursor of fuzzy thinking? 

It’s not as though we can stop them, no more than King Canute could stop the tide.  The coming universal penetration of smart phones, the Wild West vibe of the Internet, the bias of social media for brevity, instantaneity and comedy: these vectors are inexorably torqueing how we communicate.  But are they also dumbing us down?

A study sponsored by the “>Best Columnist award this year, holds the Norman Lear chair in “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him martyk@jewishjournal.com.