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Speling and grammer: lost causes?

Our author, a spelling champ in her youth, tries to explain across the generational divide

I read with interest Knute Berger's Crosscut piece, Can writers get a federal bailout too? The teaser to it reads: "Some think the time is ripe to revive a New Deal program that put writers to work for the public good." Others say that's what bloggers are already doing.

As a freelance writer for the past two decades who added blogging to the mix about three years ago, I'm all for revival of this program. In fact, I have a specific job/title in mind: Sue Frause, Director of Spelling and Grammar.

I've always been a stickler for correct spelling and grammar. It's no surprise, since I grew up in the era of diagramming sentences on the blackboard to taking three years of Latin in high school — long before Dan Quayle thought Latin was the spoken language in Latin America. Plus, I was the fifth grade spelling champ at my school in Arlington, Washington. And to this day, I have an obsession with proofreading just about anything, from the billboard at a liquor store here on the island (who also had the chutzpah to list their "Customers of the Month") to restaurant menus clogged with bad spelling and/or typos (Caesar Salad is one of the biggest culprits.)

My current campaign is with the Internet. Not with emails, that's a lost cause, but online chatting and social networks. I recently had a lively discussion with several of my 389 FB (Facebook) friends. They happen to be high school students, and for whatever reason, they can't spell. Here's some of the conversation among us, conducted on the Facebook "wall" and online chat. It didn't start out as a conversation about spelling and grammar, but quickly morphed into such:

Student #1:Your misconseption could cause great harm and grief...how does that way on your consiconce?

Sue Frause: Oh dear, we have a spelling problem here: misconception, weigh, conscience. Sorry, but spelling/typos drive me nuts. It's the editor in me (and I was fifth grade spelling champ).

Student #1: In online chat, spelling doesn't matter.

Sue Frause: It totally matters! Why wouldn't you spell the same here as you do elsewhere? That makes absolutely NO sense. That's akin to switching your grammar because you're on the island, so you start talkin' like Sarah Palin, droppin' the G's from words. Which, by the way, the local TV weather babes are doin' and it's drivin' me nuts! All spelling all the time! All G's all the time!

Student #1: No, what Im saying is people write faster in chat so it doesn't matter.

Student #2: First of all, spelling only matters when you have an either formal conversation or an important audience.

Our conversation continued, with the students cutting me no slack. I could see that this was turning into a generational issue, not just a discussion about spelling and grammar. So as not to alienate my youthful FB friends, I bid them all adoo.

Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. You can reach her at sue@suefrause.com.


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