Spelling Out Intelligence

The world is a much wordier place than it was when I was a kid. As a writer, I can’t say that I’m entirely upset with the fact that people write more socially than they used to. I rarely got the chance to see my friends’ thoughts literally spelled out for me to read. But inevitably, with more writing comes more spelling and grammatical errors.  And the grammar police are not far behind.

I see the grammar gurus on Facebook, in blog comment sections, and sometimes on Twitter. They are armed with Strunk and White, possessed of a righteous indignation that would see every word spelled correctly and all subjects in tight agreement with their verbs. Some of them claim to spread the gospel of Good English in good will, but most grammarians correct their fellow internet dwellers with a hefty dose of snark.  I used to be one of them. Oh, I could dismiss the quality of a publication with the catching of one typo. Worthless. Bootleg. This author doesn’t know what they’re talking about…they can’t even spell!

It all falls down, the grammar policing

What made me stop being a nitpicker of other folks’ language? Well, nothing, really. I still do that when I take freelance jobs for editing. I just stopped being annoying at it.

When I taught freshman English, a friend of mine once looked at some papers I was grading. He remarked, “These kids don’t know anything! They can’t even spell!” But having spent four months with them, discussing issues, exploring ways to communicate, I knew my kids were intelligent.  My friend’s statement, “They can’t even spell,” made my students sound as if they did not know the first thing about anything.

That’s when the thaw started…when I started to extend a measure of kindness toward people whose spelling was less than stellar. I felt like the Grinch. My heart grew a few sizes larger, I think. No way I could laugh and teach and learn from these kids and minimize their intelligence to the difference between your and you’re. Many of them had learning gaps, or spelling just did not stick. But their brilliance shone through their essays, despite the typos and spelling errors, despite the mistakes.

Fast forward to present day. My colleague confessed to me the other day that she is dyslexic. Since I proofread her work daily, I admit to wondering more than a few times about the simple errors I’d catch. Some days I would groan or get frustrated, muttering for her to pay attention. But a curtain of shame fell on me at her disclosure. How many others had I cursorily judged, while they struggled silently to keep their b’s and d’s straight?

So, I see you, fellow grammar police. We love knowing we’re right, that we have something over the common idjits roaming the interwebs. Bra-vo. But, our need to be right aside, if we clearly understand a writer’s meaning, there is no unpardonable offense. By the way some of us act, you would think that the writer had cussed our mamas out. Is a misspelled word a personal affront?

Spelling is a fundamental element of writing. It is not a hallmark of intelligence. Sure, misspelled words may be the calling card of internet trolls worldwide. But it is the content of their tirade, rather than the correctness of their language, that reveals them as brutish.

I won’t lie; alarm bells still ring when I see ‘its’ switched with ‘it’s’. I can’t help it. And I do hold literary publications to a higher standard than the general populace. It annoys me to see sloppy copy. They should have grammar police…there are people like me ready, willing and able to put their nitpickiness to a good cause. But it is even more annoying to see the superiority complex of grammarians in peacock display across the internet, sarcastic, pompous, and ugly.

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