Tag Archives: Spelling

Friday Fiction – Testing Spelling

Maybe it’s the grammarian in me, but one thing jumped out of this week’s FF prompt, copyright to and courtesy of Randy Mazie. And it gave me a chance to reprise three of my recurring characters. If you like them, check out their previous exploits here, here and here. However, this story is designed to stand entirely alone. I welcome your honest feedback.

trespass_randy_mazie-1

Testing Spelling

“Next one: Trespassing.”

Matty chewed his lip. “T…R…E…S…S?”

“No!” Luke shouted through the wall. “One S, then two!”

“Shut up, Shrimp!”

“Boys,” I warned.

“I’m helping,” Luke said from the doorway.

“You’re not. I can do it.” Matty is sharp as a tack, but he’s not as academic as his little brother. It drives him nuts.

“Luke, back to bed.”

“Think of trees, passing,” Luke whispered. “Then take out the extra e.”

Matty glared at the door as I pushed it closed. “T…R…E,” A longer pause for the e, “S…P…A…SS…ING!”

The muffled sound of proud applause came through the door.

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It’s Alive!

Believe it or not, I like new developments in English. That might come as a surprise to those who enjoy my Grammar posts, but it’s true. I post about grammar because I believe (and your feedback supports this belief) that many people want to know the “right” way of doing things and I was blessed with an education that taught me a lot about that.

But just for a change, here are some of the wonderful “wrong” bits of English that pepper our lives, and that I love just as much as their anatomically correct siblings.

Goodbye

The blessing, God be with you has been morphed by centuries of use until the original words are as forgotten as the meaning. In a hugely secular society, it’s probably safer that way and goodbye now has a host of meanings and connotations which make it a valuable part of our lives. There are many other examples of this too – which should make us more welcoming to the newest ones, like “imma” for “I’m going to”.

Ey up, mi duck?

Local dialects have been dying out ever since the invention of the horse and cart, but they remain in the details and add to the richness of our culture. Just look at the different terms of endearment used across Britain (mi duck, my lover, darlin’, chuck…).

My friends and I enjoy trying out different dialects for fun – we mean nothing by it, and certainly don’t want to offend anyone. On a boating holiday in Yorkshire, one of them once bumped into a local who asked how the previous lock had been. “Eee, it were right grand,” said my friend, before realising his mistake and quickly ducking into the boat out of sight!

Woof to the Fictioneers

Like any group of people who spend long enough in close quarters, my friends have also developed our own subset of slang. And a load of the boys in our group went to a British public school together, so they came with a ready-made language too. And then there are in-jokes and made-up words like Fictioneers or InMonsters. If you use these words out of context, people might look at you strangely, and like talking in your own language in front of foreign guests, there are plenty of times when it’s inappropriate, but shared language binds us.

LOL

There’s a place for shorthand when you’re typing, and for showing those things that could be seen or heard in ordinary conversation but are missed in the written word. Until someone invents a sarcasm font and a few for other tones of voice too, the smiley will also remain a useful part of our written repertoire.

And TTFN is really no different from Goodbye.

 

What’s your favourite piece of “wrong” English?

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Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

Using your judgment

Another grammar point today, and this time a word with particular importance to me as a former lawyer: Judg(e)ment.

It’s another place those pesky Yankees* have messed with, but this blog is about British English, so use Judgement in all circumstances EXCEPT in the legal sense, where it is definitely Judgment.

The Judge used her best judgement when preparing her judgment

The Americans, being lazy*, never bother with a silent e when they have the opportunity to spell words wrong (wrongly?) and use “judgment” for all circumstances. I even found a “Writing Tips” website, which reads “I suppose it’s because I’m an American, but I can’t see any reason to keep the e before a consonant if it’s not needed to soften the g.”

Well, my friend, how about this for a reason: Because that’s how it’s spelt. You can’t just change the spelling of a word because you feel like it.

 

*Yes, Janet & others, I’m deliberately goading you – it’s a highlight of my week these days!

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Spelling Matters

Language is based on agreed interpretations; nothing else. If we all agree that “aarple” means “to nod one’s head vigourously in agreement,” then that is what it will mean to us. Which is why language is always evolving, with text-speak, modern catchphrases, and foreign words changing the landscape all the time.

In addition, we’ve all seen those email / facebook forwards which demonstrate the brain’s ability to read words that are basically nonsense: Can you udresntnad tihs, for emxpale? Oar evan this won? The brain is clever, which is why the odd spelling or grammar mistake won’t prevent comprehension.

But I’m sorry, I can’t help it. I was raised to be a perfectionist on language, and these things matter to me. When I read something with spelling errors or laziness, it pulls me up short. It distracts me from the story, it makes me question the person who wrote it or the publication which let it go by. I don’t mean the odd typo; we all make those and however meticulously you proofread, they are elusive little fellows which sneak under the radar. I also don’t mean the UK/US English niggles I’ve grumbled about here before – once I recognise the origin of the writing, I would no more correct someone’s US English to UK than I would “correct” their French to English spellings. And I am aware that these things come more easily to some people than others.

I’m refering to things which make it clear that the writer never bothered to learn the nuts and bolts of their own language, couldn’t care less where an apostrophe goes or that “there” and “their” mean totally different things.

When I was in school, all exams including a “SPAG” mark, even in non-language subjects. If your spelling, punctuation and grammar were less than perfect, you could lose up to maybe 5% of the total mark, even if you had made yourself understood. These days, some education systems and educators are leaning in favour of “understanding” being all that matters, and certainly that is the principal purpose of language. But our use of language also says a lot about us, and people are listening to that too.

Now, if it were just me who thought like this, spelling wouldn’t matter. I could justifiably be ignored. But it’s not just me. There is a great body of us, and many of the nitpickers are in positions of power and influence. Between us, we could make the difference between a newspaper being a best-seller and a flop, we can elect or defeat politicians and, on a more personal level, we can reject job applicants on the basis of mistakes in their covering letter and novel submissions because we scanned the first page and found it too frustrating to continue.

Like so many things, the details of language are easiest to learn in school, and stick best when learnt at a young age. Even if they don’t really matter at that stage, we need to make them appear to, so that when they really do, they come as second nature.

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Divided by a common language

They say that English is one of the most difficult languages in the word to learn, just ask the Americans! My linguistic skills have never been much good and I am in awe of anyone who can pick up new languages with ease, because for me it’s an uphill struggle and one I’ve never truly mastered. If the theory is true, thank heavens I was born English!

One of the hardest things about English is not the language itself, but the idiom. We’ve got so many metaphors inherent in our speech, so many curious ways of saying simple things and so many rules-with-exceptions to trip up an EFL learner. And although that first line is an old joke, it’s one based in reality. Just ask me when I’m trying to translate my writing into North American English*. Same language, but the details, and the idiom are very very different.

It’s quite easy to go through my stories changing s’s to z’s (recognise, standardise…) and deleting u’s (colour, flavour…). I can also use the find/replace function on things like “I’ve got” to make it “I have” and to turn “different from” into “different than” (although even my US spellchecker doesn’t like that). These are the sorts of things that I’ve learned (never learnt) to ignore in the writing I critique over here, along with the fact that practise/practice is always spelt with a c. (An Aside: Facebook followers will be aware that the Canadians don’t always afford me the same courtesy, much to my annoyance.)

On top of spelling differences, I’m developing a lexicon of synonyms. It includes the obvious ones like trunk for boot, fries for chips and chips for crisps, but also the less well-known, like game for match (one wonders how they handle tennis, maybe I should ask) and cart for trolley.

But it’s a slow process learning all the idiom, and much of it is still beyond me. There’s a “feel” to the language which is hard to pinpoint but makes my writing often seem staid or old-fashioned to a North American reader. If I want to submit to a North American publication with a North American character / narrative, I still have to run the piece past a North American friend or editor with a request to winkle out all the Britishisms (winkle out almost certainly would be the first to go!). And the same is true in reverse – how many times has the British press or public torn apart an American film trying to depict British life and characters?

This is before we even consider writing further afield. I’ve recently been working on a piece featuring Tibetan monks. I have based their English on that of the ones I spent a few weeks with, but if one of them read the story, he would probably pick up something he would never say, or do.

In my more challenging moods, I think I should just throw in the towel; the rest of the time I wonder if we really are better to “write what we know” when it comes to language.

* Footnote: I’ve lumped together North American English here, but the truth, of course, is that it isn’t one beast. Canadians mix US and UK English at will in a way I have given up trying to follow, and that’s without getting into the question of regional differences. Mind you, on that front, I’ve lumped together British English too, and the regional, generational and class differences there are equally powerful. Maybe throwing in the towel would be the best option after all…

 

 

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Filed under British Expat in Canada, Writing