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The importance of spelling and grammar

I received an email from a valued reader (ok, fine, it was my mother.) asking what my opinion on the importance of spell ing and grammar are. This was my response to her:

While I believe correct grammar and spelling is generally beneficial, and are desirable (I like commas before ands :) the important thing is that the idea being expressed is communicated effectively. If u cn do ths by missspeling wurds 'n using shorter forms thats gr8 even rule's like wear apos'trophes' go dont matter as lng as da meaning is clear curtainly spell n grammar r useful, but the massage is impotent

As with everything else, the truth is to be found somewhere in the middle ground (says the extermist moderate). Spelling and grammar aren't absolutely essential. If they were, I would use a spell checker occassionally. Or possibly even proof read what I write. (I was so tempted to write rite). Or even fix up the mistakes others point out.

But, basically, if you know the word I was trying to write, then it doesn't matter that I have mis-spelt it. There are times, however, when spelling should be checked carefully.

I was reading a blog-essay about Jewish customs becoming written down as law and becoming part of the "communal cannon" To me, it evoked images of firing law books at enemies. It made me smile. But, if everything was written correctly, we wouldn't get those opportunities, would we?

And, sometimes, even when there is nothing wrong with the way something is written, meanings can still be unclear or ambiguous. I was waiting upon a file to be sent to me. I'd been waiting a while. It had been sent once but lost in the ether, and I was waiting for it to be sent again. When it finally arrived, it was accompanied by the tag "Just resent it" I'm assuming that there was supposed to be a hyphen between the e and s, and it was a comment, not an instruction, but you never know.

Just in case it was an instruction, I followed it. There are times when I will follow instructions...

So, to sum up, spelling and grammar are useful, but not essential, but the meaning of the message is what makes communication worthwhile. Empty poetry is a waste of time, but so is an incomprehensible, rambling statement, no matter how grammatically correct.

Comment from Raymond Lubansky 9/7/2005

Spelling and grammar are not important, it is true. However, they should be. If people actually thought about what they were saying then it would make a difference. The sloppy and impatient modern society, with the wondrous advance of the 'SMS', leads us to get the closest approximation of our meaning using as few characters as possible. Many subtle shades of meaning may be conveyed by correct use of spelling and grammar. In time, this will revert to the domain of the monastery.

Grammar is a wonderful thing which tells you how the ideas are structured; the colon and semicolon have very specific roles that prepare you for the type of thought you should have next. All grammar guides the ideas so that they may be absorbed most effectively. Spelling guides us to the correct potion of our vocabulary. Wich: wich is wich? tHer pootyng, ther bukes, ovr theR?

I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. . . . It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn't get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer./ - Lewis Thomas /


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