What’s happened to correct English spelling and grammar?

In the week that the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee took place in the USA, it seems faintly ironic that I’m posting on the decline in spelling and grammar.

I regularly spot awful typos and grammatical howlers in both online and offline media and enjoy posting them on Twitter or Facebook, but there’s always a part of me that does so with a heavy heart.

Yes, know I may sound a bit like an old fart, but I’m not quite that rigid that I’m bemoaning the demise of the Queen’s English Society that officially admitted defeat earlier this month.

Superdrug Facebook ad
Can you spot the deliberate mistakes?
You see, we all make mistakes and things slip through the net occasionally, especially when publishing at speed online, but there’s no excuse for some things.

As I hope you can see from the terrible Facebook ad on the right, it’s clear that things are going awry when a brand such as Superdrug will let something pass without anyone spotting it.

What’s going wrong?

What’s sad is that this has only happened in the last few years and, as I see it, there are a few key reasons why.

1) Cost cutting: in order to maximise profit, successive CEOs have justified slashing staff costs and, in the print industry especially, this has led to outsourcing of key services, such as subbing, or ditching them altogether.

2) Print first, change later: the web is partly to blame – it’s so easy to go and update something after publication in seconds. This means that many people don’t consider it important to read through copy or look closely at a page before hitting the ‘Publish’ button any more.

3) Spellcheck: within the last month, new research has shown that many people don’t even use spellcheck and those that do now find themselves unable to spell everyday (note: correct usage) words, such as ‘definitely’, ‘separate’ or ‘necessary’.

4) Txtspk: This is a bit of an old chestnut and I accept that language needs to evolve, otherwise we’d all still be reading books written in the style of Chaucer. However, it has now reached a point at which textspeak has become the norm in everyday written communication.

While major linguistic change often comes from the ground up, that’s not a reason for it to accelerate because major companies can’t be bothered.

Spelling and grammar may not matter as much in the modern world as they used to, but, for me, it’s all about comprehension.

Sure, people change the way they write and speak, but that doesn’t mean everyone should completely ignore rules. In my humble opinion (IMHO) brands who produce mass-market communication are those who ought to, at least, promote some semblance of correctness.

Doubtless in 10 years time, this sort of argument may seem quaint and charmingly outdated, but it’s important that some of us try to stick up for some sort of consistency. Otherwise, all we’ll be left with is what I like to term ‘Grammanarchy’.

Remember, you read it here first.

9 thoughts on “What’s happened to correct English spelling and grammar?”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with what you have written. My bugbear is badly written English, bad grammar, spelling, punctuation and above all else, those rogue apostrophes!

    At present I am “banging my head against a brick wall” trying to impart knowledge and advice about correct grammar, etc. to no avail.

    Yes, language does evolve. The other day I saw something old “to-morrow” which is now “tomorrow”. That is acceptable, but txtspk is for mobile phones sending texts to friends, not in the business world and especially not in exams!

    1. My biggest bugbear is the incorrect use of “I” and “me”. I hear and read errors everyday, often errors being made by journalists who surely should know better.

  2. It’s good to hear I’m not a lone voice in the wilderness, Gillian.

    I actually think the argument over apostrophes is largely lost and they’ll disappear over the next 50 years.

    However, correct use of grammar and spelling are still really important. It’s a quest I won’t give up on.


    FYI, The PRIMARY purpose of a language, any language, is to successfully relay information from one to one, or more, others. And IF this information has been successfully communicated, LOGICALLY and FACTUALLY such things as incorrect spelling, grammer, and/or punctuation are totally UN-IMPORTANT!

    1. Hi Neil. I should have responded to this point earlier…

      The aim of a language is to communicate ‘effectively’, as much as logically and factually.

      If you can’t spell or write correctly, then your ability to communicate is pretty much useless. If you misspell a word and it changes the meaning of the sentence, then then you can’t communicate factually.

    2. I know this is an old post, but I have to respond to this.

      When the rules of grammar go out the window and language becomes a random, anything-goes, slapdash situation, then understanding one another becomes more difficult. Poor communication will not help humans to get along better.

  4. I am becoming increasingly frustrated at the seemingly purposeful disregard of the basic rules of grammar and punctuation in the United States. It seems to me that over seventy percent of the population are either too lazy to use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation, or they were never properly taught the most basic rules of grammar and sentence structure in the first place. I hate to sound like an old prude, but I’ve seen posts on Facebook (and other online social networks) that were constructed so poorly that I could barely gather what the person was trying to say. I constantly see run-on sentences, completely incorrect punctuation, a lack of proper capitalization, and a total inability to properly use commas. I have seen “sentences” that completely lacked all punctuation and capitalization. If this were an isolated incident I wouldn’t take the time to fuss about the issue, however it seems to be an epidemic which is growing at a phenomenal rate. I don’t have a degree in English, and I consider myself to be a mediocre writer. I have a high school degree, and I studied Computer Information Sciences in college. I considered myself to be a very average student, yet when I compare my writings to the writings of people who are more educated than myself, I cringe at their lack of ability to properly communicate through the writing of the English language. I make my share of mistakes just like anyone else, but I simply cannot stand it when I see the complete disregard of basic grammatical rules, which seems to be the “in” thing these days. It is truly sad that people who speak English as a second language can write a grammatically accurate sentence while a high percentage of native English speakers write on a fifth grade level. In closing, I will say that I believe this lack of ability to properly write, or laziness, whichever the problem is, reflects very poorly on the United States as a country, and it’s indicative of a much larger underlying problem in our society. People need to take more pride in what they do, and that begins with communication, both written and spoken.

    1. Some will argue that many people don’t have a college education, or didn’t graduate high school, and that’s why they have such a poor grasp of basic English rules. I say this to that: I learned most of my English skills in the second and third grades.

  5. I’m an average high school that feels a great displeasure for this generation’s use of grammar, punctuation, etc. I would also like you all to know that I typed this whole thing without the use of spellcheck. I don’t like it even the slightest. Sure txtspk is fine and all, but when it starts seeping into every day life to the point it becomes a habit, it gets annoying. Your friends say words in this txt form and after a while you start doing the same thing, It’s like a disease. Definitely it’s mostly Americans that do this, but I’m an American and I dislike the fact that we are mocked for it, but who wouldn’t. Thanks for reading and have a nice rest of your hopefully intellectual day.

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