Thursday, August 9, 2018

How the Internet Is Destroying Our Language

Photo of Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic inside Tottenham Court road tube station by Mark Hillary, via Flickr
Like many people with creative tendencies, I wear more than one “artistic” hat. I not only love to read, write and edit, but I also dabble in art, photography, poetry, bead-making and a form of mosaic known as pique assiette that uses pieces of broken crockery in place of colored glass.

You might be asking yourself what does any of this have to do with a blog about writing and editing? Quite a lot, in fact. My artistic ramblings led me to the world of t-shirt design and I was pleased to discover it was a lot of fun and brought in a few extra dollars each month.

A few years ago, I posted some tee designs on Amazon when they opened their print on demand division, known as Merch. These evergreen designs had all been best-sellers on other POD platforms in the past so I figured they were a good place to start.

And there they sat. I was pulling out my hair trying to figure out why my clever, amusing shirts weren’t selling while barely literate teen boys whose designs were frankly awful were routinely making $10,000 to $20,000 a month selling their tees. Seriously. They were. See why I was intrigued?

I started investigating and soon realized the difference came down to language skills. My insistence on using proper grammar and punctuation in my keywords was costing me sales because almost no one else in America cares about such things anymore. Why search for a t-shirt when it’s so much easier to search for a tshirt? That’s one less character to type, plus it’s so difficult to reach all the way up to the top of your keyboard to type a hyphen when, really, it’s not needed.

Why bother with possessive apostrophes when potential buyers looking for runners’ t-shirts are almost certainly searching for runners tshirts instead? The sheer number of adults whose grade school teachers never managed to convey the difference between your and you’re to them, nor the vaguest concept of why it might be important not to use them interchangeably is staggering. Now, on almost a daily basis, I see the pronoun “our” used in placed of the verb, “are.” I guess they do kind of sound alike...if you’re underwater with a motorboat running nearby.

These errors are creeping into headlines as well, and not just in local community newspapers. Last summer, the scroll on an NBC newscast read: “Turkey Trimmers.” Now you might be forgiven if you thought that meant a light-hearted story about someone who provides free haircuts for needy turkeys, but nope. The story was about a devastating 6.6 earthquake in the Aegean Sea that injured almost 500 people and caused millions of dollars in damage to homes and irreplaceable historic structures. I guess whoever wrote that scroll was actually looking for the term, “Turkey Tremors” instead. But there was no copy editor on hand to correct the mistake before it aired because most copy editors have been fired, because really, they're not needed anymore either, right? So I say the Internet is destroying our language, I mean that when people see errors repeatedly in print, either on the Internet on TV, or in trusted publications, the error becomes the norm as it is inculcated into our language as acceptable usage. And correct usage withers, dies away and becomes "archaic."

I would like to say I am carrying this noble grammar flag into battle but the truth is, I caved on this one. I now meekly peck out "writers tshirts" in my descriptions, cringing with every letter I type. I guess that makes me part of the problem now, but hey, if you can manage to make $10,000 a month selling anything that isn’t drugs, I guess you’re doing something right.

Addendum: For the record, I don’t make anywhere close to that amount selling t-shirts online. If I did, I’d be on some sun-soaked island in the Aegean Sea, keeping a watchful eye out for trimmers.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.

11 comments :

  1. I appreciate the humor with which you've approached your subject, yet I am closer to tears than to mirth. The methodical destruction of our language goes hand in hand with the destruction of our values, our culture, our way of life in general. Mediocrity finds acceptance and even praise while correctness and excellence plummet into disrepute. Those of us who remember the era where people cared about grammar, proper word choices, the correct use of language, and the value of a job well done appear to be dinosaurs headed for extinction. Thank you for this thought-provoking post, Pat. You've stated the new reality well.

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    1. Well said, Linda. I don't really have to leave a comment, except to second what you said, and then second what Polly said. After reading the blog post I was tempted to hop over to Amazon and change all my keywords.

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  2. Could efforts to market books be hampered by correctly spelled keywords? What a horrible thought. One would think readers would at least have a grip on spelling. The thing that shocks me the most is the number of errors I see in newspapers these days...brake/break, pour/pore, etc.

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  3. Some of those errors can be attributed to autocorrect, which changed the spelling of my name twice in recent emails.

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    1. So true! I've been tricked by auto correct a few times...I finally turned it off.

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  4. Lovd ur post, cuz its o so tru. Mayb thats why my books arent selling. how can i fix that?

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    1. May i add short cut texting doesnt help either.

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    2. Lovd ur comment! I hate to admit that butchering my keywords has indeed slightly increased my organic shirt sales, but try as I may, I cannot bring myself to butcher my book descriptions.

      I think those of us still concerned with topics such as proper grammar and spelling are indeed becoming extinct, and may one day be displayed in museums, encased with our typewriters within a sort of glowing writers' amber. Tourists might stand around thinking, "Alas, poor Yorick..." except by then, they may have forgotten the Bard as well. Alas, indeed.

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  5. Loved the humor, Pat, and I do hope your writers tshirts start selling tons. Although we would hate for you to retire from writing and move away. Unless you promise to keep posting here at BRP. :-)

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  6. Maryann, I plan to keep posting as long as they will have me. :-) Or until they come to take me away. Whichever happens first.

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  7. Linda, I have to make jokes about the current degradation of our language in order to keep from weeping over it daily.

    People may scoff but the loss of a cogent language that unites rather than divides us does indeed signal many sea changes, none for the better, and does not augur well for the next hundred years or so of human history. I fear we are headed for mob rule.

    Mediocrity indeed wears the crown, and all are forced to kneel at the altar of that false god.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.