Thursday, 22 November 2012

The improtance of spleling

Supposedly only 55 people out of 100 are able to read this passage with ease :-
I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm. This is bcuseaethe huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!
I think I've seen it before because it stimulated the same thought - how important are spelling and grammar? To me they are fairly important because I was brought up to value them, but sometimes I mull over the question, especially when Blogger tries to insist on American spellings.

As for grammar, I have my copy of Fowler which I've even consulted from time to time, but language tends to drift quite quickly and it isn't easy to distinguish drift from error or doomed colloquialism. Blogs are a particular problem because of their temporary nature, so a slip or two is hardly a major failing and a touch of the colloquial avoids the sterile horrors of faux academic writing.

Whether or not we should be rigorous over these things I don't know, especially when so many other standards seem to be falling by the wayside (cliché) and blogs are written for whomever (wrong) happens to read them.


Mark Wadsworth said...

"Blogs are a particular problem because of their temporary nature, so a slip or two is hardly a major failing "

But luckily, some pedant usually comes along and points out your mistakes and you can go back and change that bit, be it a spelling mistake or a mistake in the calculations or whatever.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Oh shit, I started a sentence with "but".

Why is it OK to start with "however" but not with "but", Mr Fowler?

A K Haart said...

Mark - yes, useful corrections can be made to blog posts.

I ignore the rule about not beginning a sentence with "but". It can be an effective way of switching the emphasis. But that's only my view.

Nigel Sedgwick said...

Mark writes: 'Why is it OK to start with "however" but not with "but", Mr Fowler?'

The reason is that "but" and "however" are not perfectly interchangeable, as can be seen in the strangeness of the following: 'Why is it OK to start with "however" however not with "but", Mr Fowler?' Also 'Why is it not OK to start with "but" however it is with "however", Mr Fowler?' But I do agree with AKH that it is sometimes good to start sentences with "but". This is, not least, as it established some extra emphasis on what follows, at least to the grammatically well brought up; it also hints at the writer being somewhat rebellious at that particular point in the text.

I also disagree with Mark over the equivalence of spelling errors and numerical errors.

Spelling errors are mostly obvious and mostly convey information about the author, eg their attention to detail and the value they place on accuracy. Thus spelling errors do not usually mislead the reader on the topic. Numerical errors are much more likely to mislead most readers, and are therefore more akin to writing a mistruth, even if there was no intent to mislead.

As one who (perhaps pedantically - perhaps not) does issue corrections, I usually differentiate these two types. Spelling and grammatical errors, I normally email to the author; thus privately giving them the opportunity to slightly improve their image. I also tend only to do it for blogs/authors where I rate their reputation higher than average; also where the original post is likely to have a longer lifetime of use.

Numerical errors and errors of fact, I normally post as blog comments, ie publicly. This is to reduce propagation of the factual error.

I am, in this, also somewhat strict with myself, as can be seen on my company's website. I acknowledge that this style (which is shared by a few others) does irritate some people. So be it. I find irritating the public promulgation of factual inaccuracy. So be that too.

Best regards
Nigel Sedgwick

Nigel Sedgwick said...

Returning to AKH's posting, the experiments about reading are fascinating.

I am a bit busy myself this morning (so don't have time to research it), but I do wonder further with the following.

The jumbling of the letters (apart from first and last) does add noise to the process of transmission, thus surely it causes some damage to the perception (ie reception of a communication).

If there are spelling errors in the jumbled text, it would be interesting to know if and to what extent (if any) they are perceived with less ease than in unjumbled text. This would be especially interesting on often confused homophones (eg there/their/they're).

Secondly, if there are grammatical errors, how much less obvious are these in the jumbled text than in the unjumbled.

Finally, if there are errors in presentation of factual errors or in logical argument, does the jumbling affect ease of noticing these.

And, of course, we (well, some of us) would find it interesting (even useful) to know how much actual spelling errors detract from the detection of other errors, such as those of fact and deduction.

Best regards

Mark Wadsworth said...

NS, fair points on corrections. My arithmetic posts never intend to mislead, which is why I lay out my workings, give sources etc, which makes it easier for people to spot mistakes (if there are any). It seldom happens that the mistake is so fundamental as to invalide the whole post.

This whole reading thing is fascinating. If you hold a book upside down and force yourself to read it umop ap!sdn, after about ten or twenty minutes you get used to it and it seems perfectly normal.

Demetrius said...

Me werd posseser as a vyrusk.

A K Haart said...

Nigel - I think we need people with a penchant for the meticulous approach. This is how a great deal of misinformation and superficiality is being exposed on the Web.

Excessive confidence in the predictions of climate scientists being just one example.

Nigel and Mark - yes, reading is fascinating and rather more subtle than we usually suppose.

The main problem with errors in blog posts is probably the effect it has on the reader. An error can taint a post and detract from the point being made - even if only slightly.

Demetrius - r yew shore? Mine seams two bee okay.

Woodsy42 said...

Makes a bit of a nonsense about all the people claiming to have problems because they are dyslexic.

A K Haart said...

Woodsy - I don't know if they would be able to read it or not.

James Higham said...

kdnt wrid a fiink.

A K Haart said...

James - kloze 1 i (: