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I’m With Stupid – December 24, 2010

by Cindy Hirschfeld

It’s only a matter of time, I fear, before we all get sucked into an inescapable mass of verbal mediocrity.

Here’s why: The other day I called out someone for a cringe-worthy misspelling on a Twitter/Facebook post. But before you think I go around gratuitously editing posts just because I’m a writer and editor, know that I had a vested interest in making sure the information in this case was accurate.

The response made me think I’d slipped into an alternate universe: “Appreciate it ur input on spelling but spelling isnot important for Twitter. … Social is about being human, showing ur human side and erring when u err. … In 140 chars a lot of times things are spelt incorrectly to accomodate the lack of space.”

I suppose you could call that walking the talk.

Really, I’m not a Luddite. I have a Facebook page that I update in random spurts of inspired banality. I text (with — laugh if you must — proper punctuation and all). I’m even down with abbreviations like “u,” “nite,” and “LOL.” But spelling doesn’t matter anymore? Let me just hang myself from a dangling participle right now.

Years ago, when e-mail was morphing from novelty into life support, my brother Bob wrote a satirical commentary for The Washington Post on the careless writing e-mail seemed to encourage. He described “Strunkenwhite,” an insidious computer virus that repeatedly returned to sender all e-mail messages with grammar and spelling errors. It pretty much crippled corporate America because nobody could get out e-mails.

We’re victims of a new virus these days: Nitwitter. This sneaky little bug has taken over the social media channels, fooling hundreds of thousands of people who think they’re being “authentic” into sounding like a bunch of verbally challenged tweens or semi-literate pop stars. I’m so afraid of catching it I don’t want to be anywhere near my Twitter account (funny things is, I actually have followers even though I’ve never Tweeted a thing).

I suppose you could view this as a good thing. If spelling is irrelevant in our hyper-Tweeting world, imagine all the money and resources we could save. Kids wouldn’t need to study spelling in school — heck, why don’t we just be proactive and ditch the whole concept of English class altogether? Fewer classes means fewer teachers means lower education budgets. And you know what that means, right? Lower taxes for us all. It’s ingenious, really, though for some reason the thought fails to cheer me.

As depressed as I’ve been over the rampant spread of Nitwitter, however, I have glimpsed a small ray of hope. Maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only one with an outmoded fondness for communication standards.

This past week, Fast Company magazine highlighted Twitter’s dumbest celebrities. Using the new search feature from Google, which labels websites according to their reading level (from basic to advanced), the mag analyzed Tweets from the 20 most influential celebrities (as determined by Forbes). An online slideshow features the bottom 11 “ranked in order from bag-of-hammers dumb to merely dim.”

The dumbest? Ellen Degeneres. Eighty-five percent of her Tweets came in at only a basic reading level. Now I happen to think of Ellen as a fairly bright, accomplished woman. But Nitwitter seems to have infected her, dumbing her down.

Then there was Katy Perry, who ranked somewhere in the middle with scintillating messages like this: “Tonight I’ma crack sum nutz…err… Jingle some balls…err…make it snow…um…show u what’s inside the present…#Z100 ‘SJINGLEBALL!” Um, yeah, whatever, Katy. Did a squirrel hijack your Twitter feed?

Afterward, I read a post by a guy who founded the parent blog babble.com. He wrote about the impending obsolescence of editors, whom he compared to “giant pandas in a receding bamboo forest.” As I continued reading, I got a fluttery feeling in my stomach.

And therein may lie the root of my discomfort with the new “rules” of social media. I’ve been an editor for more than 20 years, and I’m not ready to become completely obsolete! I still want people to care about things like spelling and grammar; it may seem like nitpicking, but these elements developed over hundreds of years to help us all communicate better. I don’t want to feel like I’ve wasted my professional life caring about things that have become as irrelevant as most people’s Facebook status updates.

For now, I’ll continue upholding my standards, even if that’s just an extravagant gift to myself.

And to all of you …. Hapi Holidaze!

Cindy Hirschfeld hopes she doesn’t go into a food comma after Christmas dinner.

About The Author

Todd Hartley

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12 2010

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  1. Phillip Long #

    My jaw often drops when I read e-mails. It isn’t just the spelling or abbreviating! How people use what set of words (and often wrong words) gives a scary insight into how very poor their grasp of the language is.

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