I find myself increasingly challenged to keep silent when I hear (not here), apparently educated, people ‘mis-speak’. The majority of these linguistic errors go un-noticed because there is no verbal or audible difference – it is only context that clarifies the meaning. For example ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ all sound the same, but are completely different in written usage and meaning. Yet, worryingly, these words seem to be interchangeable in there (ha ha) written expression; even more worrying is that these errors go un-noticed in published documents, advertising, or on web-sites, that ought to be, and probably are, proof read by somebody who clearly doesn’t know either.
Common errors are confusing complimentary with complementary: that tie will compliment, i.e. pay respect to, your suit or complimentary (i.e. free / without cost – I wish) therapy, are both wrong. How about sight and site (he was a pitiful site – wrong) , slither and sliver (I’ll have a slither of cake’ – wrong), home and hone (I’ll hone in on a solution – wrong). I know english is littered with opportunities for confusion when the words sound identical, such as cache and cash, but there is no excuse for not knowing the difference in writing.
I’m not apologetic for blaming educationalists who decided that it was better to encourage expression at the expense of correctness or correction. It is almost as if English is now being taught (or should that be tort) to our school children as if it were a foreign language. I don’t believe it really serves the long-term interests of the educationally challenged (whether for reasons of age, opportunity, ethnicity or intellectual capacity) to abandon correct grammar or English usage. Don’t they realise that, eventually, these mistakes will mark people out as poorly educated and, consequently, limit they’re (ha ha) opportunities anyway?
The rise of abbreviated “text-speak” in more general written communication, and acceptance of American, or advertising gimmick, language as correct usage, is part of the problem. Why, for example, when we mean ‘light’ is it clearer / better / more acceptable to use ‘lite’?
Recently (19 January) I saw a short TV discussion, about an English council’s decision to drop apostrophes from road signs. The protagonists were well selected, perhaps subliminally signalling the BBC editor’s position: a crusty old academic representing the case for retention and a thrusting young educationalist arguing for the general irrelevance of apostrophes. I’d like to know how he would feel if the terms and conditions of his next internet purchase (or his contract of employment) were ambiguous? Of course, that’s a bit simplistic – presumably nobody would seriously argue for less than clear grammar, vocabulary, or punctuation in communication of legal significance – but the foundation of being able to safely relax or ‘play with’ our language is knowing what the rools are and being abel to ewes them. BAA