Tuesday, 25 June 2013

I'm Far Nicer Than You Think

I know, I drive some of you quite nuts with my aims to teach people better English. My motivation is misunderstood. No, really it is. I am trying to help.

Currently I'm on a mission to teach people the difference between then and than. They mean different things, and when the wrong one is used it has the same effect on me as if I were running along and came to a patch of mud. Those of you who aren't affected by these sort of errors probably don't understand this, but there it is.

Anyway, I was told yesterday to consider the possibility that it was a pronunciation issue. I hadn't thought of that. I was aware, obviously, that in many cases North American speakers do not differentiate between e and a, for example, the well-known merry, marry, Mary issue. Then and than could fall into the same trap.

There are many errors which result from how we speak. The common "could of" error definitely results from people saying "could have" quickly. The correct written contraction is "could've", but it seems to get missed, and people create their own version.

Despite what is said about us pedants, we are far nicer, far more understanding, and far more forgiving than generally recognized.

Here's an example. The word grammar. I often see it written as grammer by Americans. I never complain, because whoever decided to spell it grammar was really very unhelpful, because in natural speech (in English) the endings er and ar on unstressed syllables sound the same. But, to a rhotic American, with the er ending being more common, that's his default.

To the non-rhotic (most English, plus Boston and Georgia) this word sounds like gramma. So we have no problem spelling it. In fact there are a lot of other words we COULD spell that way, and in fact if you look at slang, mutha is a perfect example.

For this reason, spelling errors vary by location.

Another example. I only see ridiculous spelled as rediculous by Americans. I see that a lot. I never flinch at it, because it follows the ULP rule of spelling errors. Let me tell you about ULP.

U stands for uncommon. Not actually rare words, but something you don't write or read in every few sentences.

L stands for long. It has 4 syllables, and these are tougher words for those with spelling issues.

P stands for phonetic. In its incorrect form, it is spelled phonetically, so there is zero risk of misunderstanding.

Given all three of these situations, I utterly forgive a spelling error. See, I'm FAR nicer than you think.

I forgive for other reasons too. If it is obvious that an error is not actually to do with spelling, but to do with typing (it's the key right next to the correct one) I also overlook it. (Unless it's on a sign, a publication, or a letter from an educational establishment, there is no wiggle room then).

In fact I overlook MANY spelling errors. Names (can be tricky), food words, and "technical" words, for example. Plus, obviously, I overlook differences between Britsh and American spelling. I even use that to my advantage, choosing the alternative I prefer (Canadians do that a lot).

You may be surprised to learn I even overlook switches, when letters are reversed, because I know dyslexics and fast typists (including myself) slip too easily there.

But let's TRY to get then and than right, shall we? They are absolutely not alike. They are just as different as ten and tan, for example. These words are even shorter, but otherwise similar to look at, but I've never once seen anyone confuse them. I've never seen anyone say they were on the beach getting a ten, or that they needed eleven, but only had tan. So, if people can keep those two words organized, what's the issue here?


  1. Keep it up. If we cannot communicate our meaning with clarity (clarety?) how shall we communicate? And if we cannot communicate, how shall we co-operate?

    Thinks of a certain construction project rumored to have come unstuck in Babel... (not Babble, people)

    1. LOL, yes! If I woz to rite the way things sound, yood soon get fed up with it. It gets anoiing, duzznt it?

      Regular spelling makes both writing and reading faster, as well as avoiding misunderstanding. And phoentic spelling isn't possible, no matter what anyone says. It is not "logical" as they claim. Not until the day we all speak the same way.

    2. And...... I think...... klarrity, yes. That would be my choice. Think it'll catch on? :)