They say people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but I’ve got my tin hat, so there you go.
Have you noticed that attitudes towards written English have slipped (understatement)?
Yes, I know logs aren’t immune to making mistakes (perhaps another understatement), but the incredibly fast speed at which they have to be put together has a lot to do with it, and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t make mistakes under pressure.
I know this, because I’ve been there, and I still get cold sweats when I remember some of the mistakes I made in a hurry and ended up in print, even if one or two mistakes are inevitable when you produce millions of words in your career.
And here’s the real problem: I can say, hand on heart, that virtually every journalist I’ve worked with cares – and cares passionately – about English and the way it’s written.
Believe me: a little piece of our soul dies, every time we see it badly written.
And nowadays there is more abuse of our language than ever, thanks to social media.
Please be clear that I am not targeting people with dyslexia or people who find spelling a real challenge.
After all, I’ve been married for 35 years to a woman who asks me how to spell the simplest words and can’t seem to remember how any of them are spelled.
You see, it’s not about spelling ability.
Mistakes often happen because people have forgotten the basics they learned in grade school (e.g. the difference between “your” and “you”), while other common mistakes are more forgivable, like thinking that the seasons of the year require capital letters. (they don’t).
But now is the winter of my discontent because the main reason for the state of our language is “Why should I care?” some people’s attitude towards it, and nothing says it more than not being bothered enough to check your social media post, email, letter or whatever before sending it.
I’m not saying these things matter as much as runaway inflation, soaring energy bills and droughts, but they still do.
After all, if you believe a language is part of your identity and therefore worth protecting, then surely it’s worth the little extra time and effort required to master your native language, especially since we have lucky to have such a beautiful one.
But I’ve noticed that those who use social media to spread extreme nationalist views, often bending over backwards to prove their patriotism, are the most likely to make unforced errors.
So the great irony is that these self-proclaimed guardians of national identity (as they see it) are most guilty of ignoring language, which is a key part of that identity.
Like most things in modern life, it’s not how right or wrong you are, but how much you really care.