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Is the Internet Killing the Written Word?

Yuri turned me on to this band Emanuel and The Fear. (Caution – MySpace link) Apparently his roommate Jeff plays with them, and I have to say they are unabashedly kick-ass. Sort of a Polyphonic Spree meets John Mayer thing, but then again what do I know about music?

Anyway, they have a track called “We’re All Alright Tonight”, which is the sort of thing that, even online, makes my eyes stop scanning across the page. I checked M-W, which is about as authoritative a source as there can be on (American) English, and they have this to say:

The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing.

… which I love, if only for the phrase “alright is wrong”. So they take the (probably sensible) position that if people use it, it’s a word, which is about all you can say for English. As opposed to, for example, French, where there’s a governing body that regulates the language and if they don’t call it a word, then it isn’t, no matter how often people use it. (Is it spelled “blog” or “blogue”? We don’t know yet.)

So this one is probably more or less harmless, but there is some downright terrible spelling floating around on the webotubes. A lot of it is the run-of-the-mill stuff that’s been bothering teachers (they don’t call it “grammar school” for nothing) for decades. Their/there/they’re, accept/except, affect/effect, that sort of thing. But now that almost everyone has a spellchecker running in the background (finally) there are some words that just plain get misused. Probably the one that bothers me the most, just because it’s so prevalent, is “defiantly” in place of1 “definitely”. Misspellings of “definitely” are nothing new on the blagoblog; there’s even a website dedicated to it. No, this is the result of someone making a typo, accepting the spellchecker’s change, and then not realizing he’s used the wrong word. It is, in some ways, worse than a simple misspelling. The other one I’ve seen more than a few times is “acutely” where people mean “actually”. Come on, that isn’t even close.

So please people, when using your spellcheck (and again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for that), don’t blindly accept its revisions. Take a second to make sure it’s the word you actually meant to use. If you right-click on it, I bet you’ll find out you even have a dictionary to help. Better yet, you could stop using words you don’t know, but I know that’s a lot to ask.

Grammar Nazi out.

1. I had actually typed “instead of”, which is a good example of two words becoming one over time, and one of the reasons that “alright” doesn’t get my goat as much as it used to. But I realized that using “stead” in this context implies a replacement of function, which is clearly not the case – the words being used are simply incorrect. Hence “in place of”. I just thought you might like to know.

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