In the latest issue of Wired magazine, Anne Trubek, an associate professor at Oberlin College, makes a modest proposal to “loosen our idea of correct spelling.” Her argument is that “the notion that words can and should be spelled only one way is a fairly recent invention.” Furthermore, language follows technology; she notes that “OK” came into common use because it was quicker to send via telegraph. Ergo, we should all be okay with modern-day text-speak such as “1” for “won” and “l8r” for “later.” The person receiving the message understands it, so what’s the harm? “We need a new set of tools that recognize more variations instead of rigidly enforcing outdated dogma,” she concludes.
No. It’s not mere “snobbery,” as Trubek suggests, to demand proper spelling. It’s about creating a common language, so that we understand what the fuck someone else is trying to tell us. There’s already plenty of room for misinterpretation in written communication. How many intra-office wars have begun over a tone-deaf e-mail?
It’s fine if you and your online buddy comprehend your oh-so-clever l33t-speak. But believe me, when I look at your job application, you damned well better know whether it’s “your” or “you’re.” Because I can guarantee you that I’ve got a stack of resumes to get through and I’m looking for a reason to round-bin a few of them. Correct spelling isn’t just about proving that you are educated, it’s about proving that you give a shit.
Sure, if enough of us agree that “later” should be spelled “l8r,” our shared language will change to accommodate it. (We won’t do that, because “8” is not a fucking letter.) But you don’t get to decide to spell anything however you want and expect strangers to go along with your variant.
Thankfully, Wired‘s own staff provided a rebuttal to Trubek’s foolish essay. I’m going to blockquote this entire paragraph because it’s all worth repeating:
So let’s be clear: Are we saying that professional news sites should spell words in any way that strikes their mood or fancy? What exactly would be the benefit of that? Should government officials feel free to “play with language,” as she exhorts, when drafting safety regulations? How would contracts be enforced if anyone could say that what appeared to be a promise of “delivery” was actually a variant spelling of “devilry?”
Informality is fine for bullshitting with friends or giving your creative writing a bit of personality. But the rules of language were created for reasons beyond providing teachers an excuse to be pedantic. We don’t have to be dicks about correcting every mispelled word, but we need not encourage anarchy.