Dumming Down of American Writers
I know what you’re thinking, or at least some of you are. Where’s the ‘b’ and why the extra ‘m’ in your headline in the word “dumbing.” Sure, I saw the red squiggly line Microsoft Word automatically placed under that word that’s supposedly misspelled. I just ignored it. But honestly, is it really misspelled? Who says? Merriam-Webster? Cambridge? Oxford?
Did you know that there were 315 misspelled words in the 1996 Webster’s dictionary?
Back to my word dumming. You understood the message, right? I basically used my journalistic license and spelled the word phonetically. Remember when you were learning how to spell way back in the second grade and you stumbled upon a word you had no clue how to spell? What did your mom or very old and gray-haired teacher tell you. That’s right … “sound it out.”
I’m told the English language is one of the most difficult languages to learn. If the ‘b’ is silent in the word ‘dumbing,’ then why is it needed in the first place? Take for example the word there. It has three different meanings and spelled three different ways depending on word usage.
Their words were spelled their way, because they’re the ones who wrote them and there is no wrong or right way to spell them. Explain that to your second grader without getting a WTF look on their face. And just for this article, ‘WTF stands for why-the-face?
Now enter (stage left) texting on cell phones.
Many parents, educators and just pissed off peeps hate to see those condensed words from texting teens and texting adults. They call it a form of dumbing down too. But is it really dumbing down or speeding up?
In the following text message, “i wil b ther 2morow bcuz im bizy 2day,” is the message ambiguous, vague or abstruse?
Let’s visit Gregg’s Shorthand, remember that? It’s what your mom did when she was a secretary back in the sixties. Named after John Robert Gregg (1867 – 1948), he was an Irishman who invented a form of stenography in 1888. He created a style of writing similar to cursive longhand, completely based on elliptical figures and lines that bisect them. It was used extensively in the business and reporting world, mostly for speed. Really? People needed to speed things up in the writing and business world back then?
Maybe texting in abridged words is more about saving cellular (billable) minutes, unless you have an unlimited plan, but it’s also about speed and communication. Does that make it bad or wrong? Does that make Gregg a dumbing-down guy for teaching us how to condense words?
Let’s travel back in time a little further to the scribblings of American Indians. Check out the birch bark scroll pieces of the Ojibwa (yah this is a tough one … sound it out … “oh-jib-way”) Indians of North America who wrote complex geometrical patterns and shapes. Their writings allowed for memorization of complex ideas in order to pass along history and stories to succeeding generations.
I wonder if they had spell-check back then? Did they have a dictionary to look up words or symbols they needed to communicate?
Okay, let’s get back to Mr. Dictionary Man himself. Noah Webster (1758 – 1843), notably known for his creation of the dictionary in 1806. He was a lexicographer (yah, another tough one here, pronounced “lek-s-kä-gr-fr”). But who died and made him Sir King Word Speller?
Did you know that the word “misspell” wasn’t introduced into our vocabulary until 1655? Before then, I’m sure they simply wrote … that just don’t look right!
My point is this. Texting with butchered English words is not so bad after all. Lighten up all you who have master’s degrees in English, who won every spelling bee contest from grades K through 12, and who never got an essay marked up so bad, the red markings could not be deciphered between ink or blood.
Now before you judge me, know this. I’m a high school and college journalism teacher and a freelance writer for daily newspapers and magazines – for the last 22 years. Spelling correctly is my job. Okay, maybe the burden falls more on my copy editor’s electronic pen than mine before it goes to press, but let’s just say if I turned in copies riddled with spelling boo-boos, my editors would not be so inclined to give me more work. They’d probably call on the writer who has a big fat Webster’s dictionary sitting on his or her desk.
I believe spelling is important, especially when you’re trying to reach the masses. But the next time your fifth-grade son shows you his essay, before you speed dial the Sylvan Learning Center, just be proud he sounded it out and spelled it foneticly.