I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this post, as I know for a fact that most of the people who follow this blog, whether they’re regular commenters or not, are literate and perfectly capable of using the English language correctly. I just thought it would be fun to have a whinge about some of my pet peeves with regard to English usage… or lack thereof.
I’m not entirely sure what it is about the Internet that makes people’s English usage so much worse. The world has plenty of intelligent people in it, yet if you were to go solely by Internet comment sections it would be hard to believe that. I know intelligence is a much more complicated equation than simple spelling, punctuation and grammar — and there are specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia to bear in mind — but the fact is, technology should make it easier than ever to write things technically perfectly. So why do people not bother?
Laziness, usually, or a desire to get whatever is in their head out into the digital domain as quickly as possible. Most people would be quick to blame social media for this one, with the presence of “Like” and “Comment” buttons on pretty much everything these days encouraging people to spew their facile musings all over things they really have no knowledge of whatsoever. But it’s actually a much older problem that, most likely, stems from more real-time forms of communication such as chatrooms. “a/s/l” is a linguistic object of ridicule these days, but in the early days of Internet communication it was an essential part of the “introductions” process when entering a new chatroom. (For those who don’t actually know what it stands for, it’s asking everyone present what their age, sex and location is.)
Chatrooms often got very busy, and it thus became important for people to be able to make themselves heard as quickly as possible. Consequently, a lot of the abbreviations we use (and/or ridicule) regularly today entered popular usage. Some had been around for a while; others had changed their usage significantly, occasionally leading to comic misunderstandings when one speaker thinks that “LOL” means “lots of love” and the other thinks it means “laughing out loud”.
This is no excuse, though! Proper English usage when addressing another person online is, to me, a sign of respect. If you don’t take the care to spell and punctuate correctly when addressing someone, to me that says that you don’t think they’re worth more than the bare minimum amount of time it takes to bang out a furious, cackhanded message and then switch to another tab to, I don’t know, watch some porn or play FarmVille or something. (Or both. The mind boggles at that possibility.)
Anyway, rambling explanation over, allow me to present the crimes against the English language that irritate me the most at present. If you are guilty of any of these, please stop being guilty of them, because they all make you look like a bit of a tool.
(Oh, before I go on, my day job requires me to write in American English so I am not going to cover any of the silly things they do with English, such as misusing the words “momentarily”, “solicitor” and “patronise”.)
1. “LOL” is not a substitute for punctuation.
I’ve lost the original Facebook post (not by me, I hasten to add) where I first became aware of this obnoxious usage of “lol”, but it happens all too frequently, particularly in comment sections. “LOL” is not a substitute for a comma, full stop, semicolon or indeed any punctuation mark.
To judge whether or not using “LOL” is appropriate, read the thing you have just typed out loud. Did you laugh out loud when you got to the “LOL”? If not, remove it and replace it with an appropriate punctuation mark. In fact, even if you did laugh out loud, please remove it and replace it with an appropriate punctuation mark.
2. It’s “definitely”, not “definately” or “defiantly”.
Definitely. Definitely. It’s not that difficult a word to spell. It’s no “accommodation” or “antidisestablishmentarianism” and it’s certainly no “floccinaucinihilipilification”. So stop fucking it up.
Also, every time you use “defiantly” instead of “definitely”, you are significantly changing the meaning of your sentence. Compare and contrast the sentences “I will definitely do the chores” to “I will defiantly do the chores”. One is a nice assurance that you will do the things expected of you; the other suggests that you are going to be an arse about it.
3. Games (and drugs) are “addictive”, not “addicting”.
“Addicting” is a word, but not in the way you think it is used. Angry Birds is not “addicting”, it is “addictive”. “Addicting” is a verb. “Addictive” is an adjective. Observe:
“I am addicting my little sister to Angry Birds because it is better than crack. She finds crack worryingly addictive.”
(Note: I do not have a little sister, and no-one I know is addicted or in the process of being addicted to crack. Also, Angry Birds is shit and I would rather my hypothetical little sister were addicted to crack than play that bollocks.*)
In fact, no. The word “addicting” is a surprisingly difficult verb to put into a sentence without it sounding stupid. So just stop using it. Addictive. Addictive. Got it?
4. When you write in lower case, you look like an imbecile.
I know professional writers who write everything — blog posts, status updates, comments, even their own name — in lower case when they’re “off duty”. It makes them look like imbeciles. I don’t think I need to say anything more than that. The Shift key is right there. Your little finger is probably hovering over it anyway as you type, so stop being so fucking lazy and use it.
5. This review is “biased”, not “bias”.
I’ll grant that speaking like a twat is something of a meme on the Internet, but any time you accuse something you read of “being bias”, you look like a complete cock. An article exhibits bias if it is biased. Not the other way round. Or any other arrangement.
If you can’t remember the difference, how about you just say you disagree with what you have read rather than accusing it of “being bias”? Or, better yet, just close that webpage before clicking the “comment” button?
6. Apostrophes denote possession, not plurals.
CDs. GCSEs. Sofas. Not CD’s, GCSE’s and sofa’s. Under no circumstances are you to use an apostrophe to denote something is a plural. Why? Because it’s wrong, that’s why. Even when using an abbreviation. And even when the word you are pluralising ends with a vowel, which appears to be when this issue more commonly raises its ugly head.
Related note: “it’s” is short for “it is”, while “its” means “belonging to it”. This is, I’ll admit, a particularly stupid rule, since it breaks the “apostrophes denote possession” rule by overruling it with the “apostrophes also denote missing letters” rule. Stupid language.
7. If you’re going to swear, just swear.
You’re not protecting anyone’s innocence by writing “f**k”. Everyone knows you mean “fuck”. If you’re going to censor naughty language, censor it completely. If you’re going to make it clear what all the words you’ve asterisked out are, then you may as well just type them all out properly, you f**king c**t-faced w**ksplat, you t*sser, you kn*bjockey, you complete twunting sh*tbag b*****d. (“Twunting” is not a swear, despite it sounding like it should be.)
8. You’re a twat if your knowledge of “your” and “you’re” is poor.
As Ross from Friends put it so succinctly: “Y-O-U-apostrophe-R-E means ‘you are’. Y-O-U-R means ‘your’!”
Read your sentence out loud. Could one of your “yours” be replaced by the words “you are”? If so, you should be using “you’re” instead.
Here’s an exercise. See if you can spot which ones are correct and which ones are not.
1. You’re mum’s face smells of poo.
2. Your not very good at this, are you?
3. You’re defiantly going to get some of these wrong.
4. Get you’re f**king words right lol
5. You’re very brave if you successfully managed to navigate your way through those monstrosities.
9. Have fun!
Above all, have fun with language!
Actually, no, bollocks to that. Learn to write properly first, then have fun with it.
(Author’s note: Any indication that I am a pompous grammar Nazi in this post is entirely intentional and mostly played for comedy value. Mostly. Comments that do not follow the above rules will be printed out and fired into the sun, then deleted.*)