I had a chat on Facebook not long ago where my friend was enthusiastically explaining a new school he had started. His writing was atrocious. He never capitalized anything. Punctuation seemed entirely random.
Faced with homonyms (words that sound similar but are spelled differently), he used the wrong one more often than not. He took great offense when I expressed the hope that he was more careful in corresponding with parents.
I think I know why he misused words with so little concern.
Listening to radio news about 30 years ago, I heard about someone who had just gotten a Ph.D. in English for writing a dissertation that basically claimed that it is not necessary to teach students about proper grammar, proper spelling, parts of speech, or anything of the kind.
If I recall correctly, the author believed that advertising copy and other common writing forms did not observe such niceties, and no one had any trouble understanding them. Besides, people speak much more than they read or write.
The announcer was quite amused and gleefully said that the dissertation had to display proper command of spelling, grammar, and complete sentences in order to pass.
I wondered why any English department would even accept a proposal for a topic like that.
Our eyes aren’t the same as our ears. They do not and cannot experience language the same way.
Unfortunately, reason and common sense seem to have been driven from the fields of English and education. Does anyone stress basic spelling, vocabulary, grammar, etc. any more?
It appears that the ideas expressed in that dissertation have since gone mainstream. Careless writing is rampant, and at least online, there seems too little concern for quality control.
Lately I have been keeping a list of misused pairs of words that I encounter in my on-line reading. Most of the examples come from sales copy, ebooks that I bought, blog posts, etc. Here is the first batch of what I expect will be at least a few posts about fun with homonyms and careless choices.
1. weekly vs weakly
Week (noun) means seven days. Weak (adjective) means not strong. So weekly means once every seven days; weakly means in a weak rather than strong matter.
The masthead of a local newspaper proclaims, “. . . published weakly by . . .”
The editor is a humorous fellow who delights in the number of people who tell him about the typo from time to time. It’s deliberate. And the joke depends on readers understanding the difference. I wonder if any of the other perps in this post would get it.
2. then vs than
Then (adverb) often refers to time, but can also mean “as a consequence.” Than (conjunction) used in comparisons between two unequal things or to express preference.
From a product description: “If the boost charge does not help the battery than you need to replace it.”
3. hear vs here
Hear (verb) perceive sound with the ear. Here (adverb) at this place or time, not that one.
From an email urging me to watch a free video about some must have product: “I won’t go into detail hear.”
4. along vs a long
Along (adverb)means parallel to. A long (adjective, with indefinite article) means that whatever noun follows is not short.
From someone’s ebook: “It has lasted along time.”
5. magnet vs magnate
Magnet (noun) refers to a device that attracts something. Magnate (noun) means a powerful, influential person.
From an invitation to learn how to make and market webinars: “We’re using the live webinars as a new client magnate.” (!!)
Perhaps some of these errors result from not proof reading instead of not knowing any better. But that possibility cannot account for all the mistakes that get published, and certainly not number 5!