Sunday, January 07, 2007

Two Issues Before The Storm

Posted by olvlzl.

A Typist’s Query

hat is the reason for having the “Insert” key? The only thing it’s ever done for me is to force me to do a lot of editing and retyping when it’s accidentally hit and I continue to type without looking at the screen. What is its function?

The Insert function has always seemed to me to point to some long ago computer programmer coming up with what was thought to be a clever piece of code. For the user of a word processor it has the aroma of some ancient engineer showing off, it geeks of it, you might say. If the idea is to keep typists on their toes, it isn’t working. If the idea was to irritate them, that one is a total success.

An Answer, (Perhaps To Be Read In The Voice Of Horace Rumpole)

t’s been mentioned before that yours truly has very poor eyesight. I regularly rely on expanding the letter size on my monitor to very high numbers. Even at that magnification I sometimes have a hard time telling the difference between a period and a comma, sometimes I don’t notice if they are missing. Apostrophes* are even worse. Blogger, on my computer, doesn’t exactly make this any easier.

Added to this, I am an indifferent speller out of deeply held principles of equality and justice. Standard English spelling, the subject of my most controversial posts to date**, is a nightmare that the majority of native speakers have never and will never master. It has been my experience that people who don’t master it can be either very stupid or brilliantly, well, brilliant. The same is true of people who do master this rather minor skill. It doesn’t seem to be a matter of intelligence or diligence but of having the knack of a good visual memory. Many of us do not have such a faculty and attempts to attain one are, in the main, futile.

After decades of looking up the irregular and forgotten spellings of words which I knew perfectly well how to use in a sentence, I decided that life was too short to spend precious minutes making up for the idiocy of those in control of the standard spelling of my language. I, my friends, am a complete anarchist when it comes to the written form of the English language. Give us rules that work and I might consider converting to those, the present ones are so absurd as to invite ridicule.

This point was brought into perfect clarity the day that I discovered that I could spell better in Spanish, a language I speak with all the fluency of a slow three-year-old, than I can in English, in which I can discuss a number of complicated ideas. Spanish spelling was reformed rationally and made phonetic, the standard spelling of English was given over to show-offs and would-be etymologists. The results are as could be expected.

As life grows more complex and it is necessary for children and adults to deal with sophisticated areas of science, math, history and a myriad of other subjects, the absurd, non-phonetic standard spelling of the English language will break down. There simply won’t be the time or resources to teach or enforce the standard non-system and society will not be able to afford to have large numbers of its citizens stunted by assigning them to the sort of official half-life of those excluded from what is deemed correct use of the written form of the language. Practicality and necessity will win out over official morality.

The rule of standard English spelling is breaking down now. You can see it everywhere, on the internet, in magazines and newspapers, even in printed books which had the leisure of no deadline except a commercial one. The logical ways to approach this truth are to come up with a more nearly phonetic spelling or to get used to the reestablishment of non-standard spelling***. English got along for most of its existence without standardized spelling and the complex rules of punctuation that have ruled for most of the past two-hundred years. The social, political and economic conditions that allowed the leisure for those to reign are fast disappearing.

I never judge anyone on their incomplete acquisition of the official standards of written English nor on those who are fussy about them. I do not accept those standards and claim my right, as a speaker of the language, to own the language and to use it in all its forms. You, my friends who use English, have exactly the same right, to use it as you see fit and as fits how you see.

* By the way, look up the history of the apostrophe as used in the genitive case in written English. It is based on the most absurd and unscholarly folk etymology with no basis in reason, history or grammar. Apostrophes should only be used in contractions for words that actually existed outside the imaginations of lazy, sloppy, self-appointed, 18th century language experts and those unfortunate enough to have fallen for their slop.

**The controversies over standard English spelling were many times more heated and emotional than those I accidentally set off over religion.

*** Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, George Bernard Shaw,... I’ll stand with them over Johnson and Webster any day.

Note: Much as I would like to entertain you with the story of the future small-time gangster who was the spelling champion of my school district, he just might possibly recognize me and he knows where I live. If he should happen to pass on before I do, the story is quite funny.

I should also explain that I have no fewer than four elementary school teachers in my immediate family, I've had this argument before.