Spell rite, spell lite,
The first noose I see 2nyt;
I wish I may, I wish I mite,
Hang myself from there tonite.
(with apologies to Alfred Bester)
My sister, bless her heart, often appears Greek-like at our door, bearing bags of doughnuts from Woolworths. On Sunday, though, I was horrified when one gluttonous child, on reaching for a second one, declared that Woolies can’t spell because ‘everyone knows you spell it ‘do-nut.’’ Shocked silence broken by an audible gasp of dismay (mainly me) ensued. My offspring’s ignorance was ameliorated briefly by the belief that the others seemed to at least know the shamed one was wrong. Well that’s the straw I was clinging to. Desperately. And then I saw the relief in the face of the offender’s older sister – that I had not asked her – and my heart sank.
But it had me thinking about the errors that abound in public signage and advertising. Many articles have been written about this scourge which is reaching its tentacles even into copy editors’ proofreading, yet how does one stanch the bleeding of our spelling standard before the good folk of the Oxford Dictionary are made redundant? Simple answer: one cannot. There is simply too much ignorance. Sms speak and twits on twitter have taken over the internet in a subtle coup, undermining the Queen’s English.
I was lucky: I was taught by nuns who drilled grammar rules and exercises into our not-always-eager minds; yet we can all spell and I can certainly hold my own in a debate on usage . My peers in state schools in the eighties were not so fortunate however: they were victims of the incidental approach to teaching language, which sounded progressive in theory, but resulted in an avoidance of the study of rules and usage, and wishful thinking that the intricacies of syntax would be understood via osmosis. So when we all became teachers of language, few of us could properly teach grammar. And didn’t. And now our students are teachers…
Which explains the puzzlement of the staff in Mr Price one day when I tried to explain to them that their cute slogan, ‘Everyday clothing for everyday.’ isn’t saying quite what they wanted it to say. (Okay so I am that kind of customer. My children have become immune to the embarrassment.) It’s a bit like the supposedly powerful words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped on the moon (if you believe he did) ‘One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.’ His big moment; his big line and he fluffed it.
I will not buy a Coke Lite or have my film processed at shops which take ‘photo’s.’ And no matter how sexy the Iranian carpets on sale at our local carpet shop may appear, I just cannot bring myself to visit their store ‘by’ the old Nedbank (the directions printed on their flyer). Mr Karrim has the excuse that he is not a native English speaker. Others do not have this out. I remember with amusement a lad who splashed out on a tattoo on a school tour to Thailand and came back with ‘Young, wild and bree’ etched on his arm. So one should be careful around second language speakers too, especially those with needles.
Facebook is full of poorly structured comments, but these are private individuals so they can be forgiven for mixing up their ‘theys’ ‘theirs’and ‘there’s’. Corporates and even small businesses have no such excuse for not checking their grammar and spelling. Especially when we grammar police-persons are so willing to be helpful.
I do not know what will become of the lexicon of this country, but at least I challenge ignorance every day.
Someday hopes for some day?