Monday, December 12, 2005

I do know the difference between "its" and "it's". I try to pay attention when I write.

But often, rereading some of my posts, I'm shocked to find painful uses of "it's" for the possessive, sticking out like a proverbial sore thumb.

But not as shocked as I am in finding the rare mixups of "their" and "they're". I never make this mistake normally. It's something that happens only when I write way too fast. Like when I'm writing on the internet.

It just looks totally stupid.

But recently I've noticed I'm not alone. The incidents of "they're" / "their" (and to lesser extent "there") confusion on the web seem to be growing. "it's" / "its" confusion is out of control.

Of course, "it's" / "its" is a stupid convention anyway. When the apostrophe is generally used as a way of communicating the possessive, (as in "John's book"), the absense for the case of "it" looks like a historical mistake that got locked-in by pedantic grammaticians. It's time to be finished with it. We can easiliy disambiguate the meaning of "it's" from the context.

You could start some kind of campaign to persuade people of that. But I realize that campaigns are hardly the point. People have always made these mistakes in their personal writings. And generations of editors and proof-readers have diligently hunted them down and fixed them.

But now the editors and other gatekeepers are gone.

One side-effect of the freedom of online web-writing is that these constraints on spelling and grammatical correctness are gone. Their's now a werld ware people can write what they think is write. Becos ov how it sownds. And no won's gonna stopem.

R. unifide, universly held, speling convenshuns gonna go away?
Gramatical wuns too?

Not entirely. Search engines are a powerful incentive to keep to some kind of standards. If you want your page to be found, you need to make sure the important words at least, are spelled in the way other people expect them to be.

And there's obviously the need to be intelligable to the reader. But beyond this, might spelling and grammatical conventions return to the state of variation and flux they were in before printing, and the invention of the dictionary, imposed standardization?


Scribe said...

Manual Trackback...

John Powers said...

Spelling and grammar--ouch never my forte. I wonder why I can't see the errors when I look? For a brief time I was an elementary school teacher and correcting spelling tests was murder. I tried very hard, but still made mistakes.

Scribe makes some good points. I notice that the best writing on blogs generally encourages English teachers in the comments. At first I was irritated by such comments, but now see them as a measure of respect.

My work always will contain spelling and gramatical errors, unless I have somebody else proof read it. I'm sure if an English teacher were to comment on one of my posts, I'd correct the errors in a flash.

The standards of usage do correspond to thinking reasonably. Still there are different sets of rules and some of the rules of English usage will be resistant to change for no particular reason. For example I don't think British spellings will fall away quickly or that American spellings will follow British use. On the other hand I suspect that British norms for punctuation are in the advance of the general trends in English usage across the world.