More and more in my position as editor of an online newsmagazine I come across what I’m calling e-mail English and spelling. Grammar mistakes are rampant, words are mangled, and punctuation is non-existent. In a recent letter to the editor, I chastised the writer for his use of our language and his retort was, “who cares if it’s spelled right, you know what I mean.”
Do I really know what you mean? The purpose of language is communication; written, spoken, pecked into stone, etched on marble, it is designed to convey a meaning, a thought, and an idea. Words, when they are connected properly into sentences, phrases, paragraphs, even outlines, are more stimulating to the imagination than a picture could ever hope to be. It’s through grammar, spelling, and punctuation that a thought can be understood by others.
I’ve found the problem of our language being short-changed isn’t limited to those who use strange spelling and grammar in their e-mail offerings. As an editor of a newsmagazine, I deal with people who want to have articles published. In other words, I receive query letters from those who purport to be professional writers.
Some say it’s the future, that our language needs to be updated, that e-mail isn’t formal writing anyway. I’m not willing to accept any of those arguments. Language does evolve, there is no doubt, just read Shakespeare if you don’t believe, but even with “olde English” rules of grammar existed. And e-mail isn’t formal? Have you queried an editor lately by e-mail?
I’ve actually been told by writers querying me on an article that they really don’t have time to worry about whether or not their offering is spelled correctly, whether or not proper grammar is employed, whether or not punctuation meets the standards of the language. And they want me to publish them?
It has been mentioned that it is the young people who are mostly at fault. Not so. Men and women with years of journalism behind them have fallen into the practice. When a formal query comes to an editor and it ends something like, “RU Intrstd?” I am not. And then after the name and address of the sender is the cutesy little :-). Not interested.
I called attention to a simple misspelled word by an intern recently. It was one of those words that isn’t caught by spell-check. Her response to me was if I can’t spell a word, how could I find it in a dictionary? This person was a recent high school graduate and had never been taught how to use a dictionary. She actually told me she wanted to be a writer, and what is worse, she didn’t understand the difference between a dictionary and a thesaurus.
What does this say for her future earning capacity? People who can’t spell, don’t have the basics of our language, and in most cases, don’t seem to care are not going far in today’s commercial world. It would behoove teachers to point out that the correct use of our language is directly proportional to our earning capacity.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are more than just words to a rhyme; they are a means to a good life. There is nothing we use more in our daily lives than communication with other people whether it be for business, family, or recreation. Getting the point across in a manner that is understood by anyone is the concept of language. Getting that point across as a writer can only be accomplished through the use of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and good manners. If you want me to look at what you’ve written, come to me as a professional that respects his language.
Johnny Gunn is editor-in-chief of the on-line newsmagazine The Nevada Observer. His essays have appeared in Front Porch News Syndicate, Laissez Faire Electronic Times, and Dana Literary Journal. During his long journalism career, he has published and edited The Virginia City Legend, a weekly newspaper and The Rhythm of Reno, a monthly entertainment magazine. For several years he was senior editor at the regional monthly magazine AdNews serving the advertising gurus, marketing mavens, and other creative souls in Nevada.