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With so many pressures to deal with in daily life it’s quite a relief to be told to relax about spelling. And those apostrophe’s – chill; it’s just cool, like whatever.

(I know that apostrophe is wrong but I am trying to be relaxed about it.)

The authority that instruckted, err sorry, instructed, us about this was a prof at Oxford; the place where they compile all the words in the language so it must be cool and right and stuff, or else he wouldn’t be allowed to say that kind of thing. Or would he?

While it’s easy to have a laugh about such lackadaisical spelling and punctuation, the vigilantism of grammar pedants can be quite extreme. At source, they all seem to have had the same teacher in junior school. This teacher gave them the same principles and then sent them forth in the world as guardians of rightful speech. And a bit like the smoothed over versions of history taught at the same time, there are few details that are left out for young impressionable minds to catch up on later.

What happened was they mixed up style and grammar which is a deadly combination because someone can insist one thing is right when in fact it’s a stylistic and temporal usage. This occurs often between UK and US English, where the former believe – err know – they are right and the cousins are wrong.

Here is a case in point: ‘enquiry’ or ‘inquiry’. The former is English, the latter US some assert. Err, no: they are equivalent. They are not even differentiated by verb or noun use. They are interchangeable yet I have had debates for several lost minutes of my life over the meaning and origin of these words. Likewise the s replacing z, as in organisation or apologise, is seen by many English as true to the language whereas it is not. The Oxford dictionary states otherwise and no less an authority then Inspector Morse ridicules the s-spelling as ignorant. When Morse is on the prosecution there is no rebuttal, its game over.

The professor may have helped everyone and most of all the sub-editors at newspapers who must deal with the email threat of spelling vigilante’s. See, easy. Once you put the apostrophe in the wrong place it gets easier and then, why not, you visit the fruit shop for apple’s and orange’s and then buy some CD’s or even a set of DVD’s. But, like, who cares?

The troubling thing is that MS Word hasn’t detected a problem. It hasn’t inserted a squiggly red line underneath those new and cool spellings and asked me: Would you like us to check on that? Let’s face it these spelling and grammar checkers are how most writing is done and they act as the new guide. If MS and Open Office and Google say its fine, then hit print.

Guy Cranswick
1st June 2013