Sunday, October 14, 2007

Words and Rules

In a conversation today, something that I said was corrected. Nothing unusual there. I had accidentally dropped in an incorrect word while saying something. Again, nothing unusual there. We all have the odd slip of the tongue, and I'm happy to clarify anything misleading.

But then my corrector got it completely wrong. He said that I was a stickler for accuracy with words. Absolutely yes in published research. Absolutely no in conversation. I know he reads the blog. I guess he misreads the blog.

Because there is a broad spectrum of people who comment on English usage, from the language mavens who truss the speaker to the language liberals who trust the speaker, and I thought it was perfectly clear that I am firmly on the Pinker side.

I can still think that incorrect spellings or extra apostrophes are ugly. I can still think it is the duty of all writers to check their work before publishing. But I keep saying - what really matters is the message not the medium.


Faisal said...

Your second paragraph...oh dear!

As for your third paragraph, the message ceases to be the message when a mistake changes its meaning. Inadvertent or not. So it is ok to be a stickler for the details when they do matter, even in informal settings. For instance, I hate it when people say they could care less when they clearly mean they couldn't. Or when they use the wrong spelling or contraction and end up with another word which still makes sense, but alters the meaning from what they intended to convey to something else, or to something completely nonsensical.

What I really hate is the rejoinder "You know what I mean". I might, but it still hurts my eyes/ears.

RNB said...

I completely agree with you, even minor grammatical slips are completely unacceptable if they cause unintended confusion in the mind of the message recipient.

Though sometimes I intend to cause confusion :)

And there are a whole load of little grammatical expressions and phrases that I really dislike too …