This week I just finished reading Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling by David Wolman.
You may not know what orthography and etymology are and that’s okay. I know I’m a butcher of grammar and spelling, but this book made me feel quite a bit better about my skills. There are millions of words in the English language, but the average high school graduate knows about 60,000. The fact is that most of us don’t have a clue what the majority of words are in our own language!
Ours is a language that is phonetically incorrect and a near impossible language to learn. Some folks believe that misspelling is a sign of ignorance, but Shakespeare himself used to both invent and misspell words as he saw fit. He felt letters and words were like clay to a sculptor. Imagine if I made up my own redunculous words on this blog, folks would belittle me (right before leaving).
As we move into a new millennium, we find ourselves speaking words with respect to technology that will probably never find themselves in any formalized dictionary… and even the dictionary publishers can’t agree on what makes it and what doesn’t.
If you don’t believe that we’re inventing new words as we go, you simply need to take a look back in time to OK…. or is that Okay… or is that oll korrect or ole kurreck. Just think, your grandchildren may have a part of their daily conversations, rofl, lmao, asap, lol, ttfn.
Don’t believe it? How about the word Scuba, which used to be an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. How about Blog, which less than a decade ago was Web log! With the word has come blogger, blogged, blogging and blogware. It’s a fairly exciting time as well because many of the words, acronyms or short codes that are being generated online today are used internationally.
As well, it’s interesting how advertising and marketing need not follow the rules of orthography. We’ve got companies like Google, things like the iPhone and products like Seesmic that are all fully acceptable – yet we have very little tolerance for accidental misspellings in our own content. I think it’s fascinating.
Thank goodness we still can rely on spellcheck!
Eye have a spelling chequer,
It came with my Pea Sea.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss Steaks I can knot sea.
Eye strike the quays and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am write oar wrong
It tells me straight a weigh.
I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book, it’s a fascinating walk through history. David keeps the reading very light. Even more entertaining is that he narrates all of the origins of English as he, himself, visits the places that they were transformed. It’s a great read!