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Proofreading and the technology of language

Do you want to be understood? Do you want to get your viewpoint across? Do you want to write clear and convincing articles?
Language is a technology. The goal is communication. Following the rules of this technology - grammar, punctuation, spelling - makes your communication effective. Following the rules is not classist.

It is not classist to follow the rules of plumbing or welding or computer programming. It is simply using the technology to further your ends. If you want to be understood, build a house, or write html you learn to follow the rules.

If you are afraid or arrogant or simply stubborn you can choose to not follow the rules. And watch your house fall down, your website malfunction, and your writings confuse rather than communicate.

Keeping people away from learning the rules of technology is classist. Where the commas go is as important as where they don't. An uneducated populace is the easy one to control. And a poor use of language technology is easy to dismiss.

I would use my very best technology to build my home. Why not use my very best language technology to build and communicate my thoughts and dreams?
Because it is classist 17.Oct.2005 13:43


Nice try, but again you need to understand that not all people have had the advantage of your assumedly superior edumacashion. Language is but a tool, and is best used in comfort, in the genre you are most comfortable with. Keep going to school, if you find that language is your favorite hobby. Some of us will just concentrate upon disseminating information in the best possible way for us.
Do enjoy crossing all your t's and dotting all your eyes, but if you are expecting perfect english, go to Cambridge, not to Indymedia.

good English 17.Oct.2005 13:53

Red Tree

As a person who graduated with a degree in English Literature, I do agree that language is very important and that communication depends upon a good use of the rules of language. I do not agree, however, that people who have not had the advantage of a "proper" education should be excluded from the human discourse. There is a fine line between education and snobbery, between expressing true ideas and articulating vampid impressions.

I aggree with the smart guy 17.Oct.2005 14:17

edumacated at Yayle

My name is Goerge Bussh and My poppy says I can presidentts al by myselfs I went to Yayle and the Sckull and Boness club was my favorite lernig expeeryence. I now can blow up villages all over there in that place over there wher they wear funny hats 'n' stuff.

googol, googl, google 17.Oct.2005 14:37


The great beauty and utility of the English language is the fact that it grows, exponentially. Until a couple of years ago, if you had spelled "google," some math or english snob could have rightfully slammed you for not correctly spelling it. Ain't was another extreme no-no when I was a wee lad. The point is that you will find little of your father's language being spoken these days, and yet thoughts are being expressed pretty well, if not as succinctly as you would like, Scott. Since the country was willing to accept the little fucker the sUpreme court shoved into the White House, I think language can take a little holiday, do you not agree?

origin of language 17.Oct.2005 15:53

two to too

in my own research into the history of the english language, i found two interesting ideas.

First; The notion that language was created or "picked up" by man as a tool to communicate is matched with another theory that sees the origin of language in the spontaneous utterances of emotions or feelings with involuntary use of the muscles of the vocal chords. Intimate relationships in my life have shown me that the latter (sponteneous utterence) is a more accurate understanding of the origin of language. To me this reinforces my feeling that good language is just self-expression, and should be whatever is used to get across an idea!

The above thinking gave me insight into the second big idea I came across: the history of spelling and grammar of english. if you look into this, you will find that rules of grammer and spelling in english have been a slapdash affair from the beginning. These rules are based upon relatively arbitrary (any user of english can identify with this bewildering arrangement) agreements made, at first, between early writers of the new language (after the monk scribes who were up till then the soul [pun allowed] and improvised writers of the tongue) who were propertied land owners who felt obliged, not required, to express their views on how to properly and efficiently spell or articulate this or that spoken phrase as the need to write the language grew common. These early grammar ideas appeared in letters and pamphlets on the subject. Eventually we have the situation today where rules are still being drawn around what is essentially an improvised, ever changing islanders' tongue picked up by parts and a lot of the globe. Any frustration relating to the use of english is better placed in the lack of refinement in its structure over many generations (as compared, say to a more ordered language like Sanskrit or Greek) and not on any one or group of users.

in my opinion though, english is a rogue-ish language: "folly is a cloak of knavery" ; naturally obscurantist. which probably reflects the collective temperment of its original speakers. Similar to the "critical levity" and "panache" of the French.

You need "AFH 33-337"!!! 17.Oct.2005 16:34

Oscar Wells

Communicating concisely is something that needs to be worked at. None of us can claim to be experts all the time when it comes to spelling, pronounciation, punctuation and sentence construction. However, a new generation, brought up on a diet of network cartoons and easy exams, cannot get any of this right. Check out the average post to Indymedia - how many people call themselves 'i' instead of 'I', how many cannot be bothered to press the shift key when starting a sentence and how many cannot find a dictionary for that tricky word? All over the English speaking world spelling and grammar has gone down the tubes. Probably the worst case for this is South Africa, where skin colour is no barrier to poor punctuation and limited vocabulary.
So, what can be done? One guide to the English language that I refer to from time to time is the 'Tongue and the Quill'. This is the U.S. Air Force's guide to effective communication and you can down-load it here:
As of yet the 'Wombles' have yet to piece together an equally convenient reference work so I will continue to use the military version.

effective communication yes 17.Oct.2005 16:58

grammar nazis no

as long as people understand what you are saying who cares how you say it

That's the point! 17.Oct.2005 17:36

attempted reader

When you don't capitalize or punctuate, spell uniformly, or utilize common standards of style, you do make your message hard to understand. The problem with most posters on Indy Media who don't do the above is not that they are underprivileged, and therefore less equipped with the tools of written language, but that they are being lazy, and they think it's cool to be lazy. That laziness shows through, and it renders as without credibility the points they are trying to make. If you are on a computer, then you have before you a tool to easily check your spelling, style and punctuation before you hit the "send" button.

my point 17.Oct.2005 18:09


despite no capitalization and no punctuation you had no trouble reading what i wrote


Style vs. Content (parse the meaning) 17.Oct.2005 18:56

Inference Engine

" -- or utilize common standards of style, you do make your message hard to understand --"

Good punctuation and use of CAPITAL LETTERS does help - particularly the former.


1) lower case letters, in case you forgot, are a relatively recent invention.

2) standardized spelling, as has been shewn, is also a relatively recent practice.

3) while style can aide in the delivery of content

4) it is always the content that ultimately matters

Your point doesn't hold up. 17.Oct.2005 21:34


That's because each time you only wrote one simple phrase. A complex sentence, whole paragraph or article without them would render your content completely impenetrable.

"despite no capitalization and no punctuation you had no trouble reading what i wrote"

my point 17.Oct.2005 21:53


again punctuation and captialization are not necessary to be understood but then this has been said far better already

3) while style can aide in the delivery of content
4) it is always the content that ultimately matters

The fact is, if you can understand what someone is saying, that's all you need. If you can't, then ask for clarification. But if you can understand it, and you then tell the person to "proofread," you're being rude.

personally 17.Oct.2005 22:04

not a fan of pointless debate

I'd rather see people apply more critical thinking and dispense with the logical fallacies so often employed (several examples can be found in this article) rather than waste time on grammar and spelling. But then, I don't believe it is my place to dictate how people should think and write.

Who cares? 18.Oct.2005 00:53


Those who can communicate effectively will. Those who can't will be ignored.

Nothing fascist about it. If I misunderstand you, it is impossible to agree (or to disagree) with you.

Who benefits when we misunderstand and mistrust each other?

yoo peeple donno howda 18.Oct.2005 01:14

write kerrekly

> If you are afraid or arrogant or simply stubborn [missing comma] you can choose to [split infinitive]
> not follow the rules. [sentence fragment] And watch your house fall down, your website malfunction,
> and your writings confuse [transitive verb with no object] rather than communicate.

yeah dude whatever

Can You Raed Tihs? 18.Oct.2005 01:38

blast from the past

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

communication fine, polar reactive comments not required 18.Oct.2005 09:12

professional editor

a lot of it depends on your goal.

if you are expecting to consistently be taken seriously - as an article- or feature writer, or a real activist speaking out - on political-related topics a la Gary Sudborough or Noam Chomsky, it's important that you carefully adhere to grammatical standards of the English language.

a little creative, poetic or deliberate misspelling or 're-spelling' of words can be effectively employed (something like what Ben Tripp does over at CounterPunch, you can think of your own examples). That's like reclaiming language for your own purposes.

we've all made typos here and there: statistical human error. and non-native English speakers obviously have to be given some leeway.

if your whole post is sloppily riddled with misspellings and grammatical fubars though, it's not like people are going to want to read, consider, and respond to that consistently or considerately. They'll just end up ignoring you, no matter how deep or righteous your feelings or convictions.

p.s. on 18.Oct.2005 09:18

professional editor

education (within an institution) level has nothing to do with it. some of the greatest writers have no formal education at all.

once you've learned your abc's and basics of grammar, if you have the interest and passion - in America at least - it's possible for you to spend time at your local public library (Multnomah County happens to be a great one) to educate yourself.

if all you're into is poetry, that's great. there's tons of excellent writing of all genres and styles - subversive and otherwise - out there, which is the real teacher of effective written (and spoken) communication.