After several months of consideration and debate, I have finally decided to start an “English Usage” category here at Karlonia for the benefit of my beloved readers. I am planning on making this a weekly feature similar to the search query answer posts that I have scheduled to run on Sundays. Because there are so many common mistakes that I see people making on their published blogs and web pages, I should have an ample source of material for this series, especially if I address each issue in separate posts as opposed to making casual mention of several issues and then lumping them together in one post. This means that there will be plenty of time to cover the most common English usage issues in detail before we get around to more esoteric topics such as whether or not it is grammatically correct to end a sentence with a preposition.
Before I begin the series of lessons that will explore each issue, I will use the remainder of this post to explain why it is important to learn how to use the English language properly, particularly in its written form. Before you actually publish a written work, proofreading it and correcting any errors is important for the following reasons:
- Having clean copy helps you maintain a professional image and makes it more likely that your written documents will be taken seriously and provide favorable results.
- You will be able to communicate more effectively and greatly reduce the possibility of any misunderstandings. By contrast, if your writing is sufficiently riddled with errors or includes non-standard forms of English such as IM (instant messaging) shorthand or “leet speak”, a substantial portion of your audience may not even understand what you are saying.
- Depending on the situation, some types of errors that are not corrected in time can wind up causing you much embarrassment later and can even make you look stupid. For example, if you look closely at the image in the upper left of this page, you can see that the words across the front of the basketball players’ T-shirts read “West Virgina” instead of the correct name West Virginia. While I’m not exactly sure what a “virgina” is, I can think of two very similarly spelled words that provide some interesting mental associations. The original photo can be found at Ad Goodness.
- Doing the proper proofreading and getting it right the first time will prevent the possibility of having to spend money on reprinting paper documents or spending extra time editing web pages or blog posts after publication because they contain embarrassing errors.
- Perhaps the most important but least recognized reason for proofreading is that there are many errors that cannot be caught by spell checker software but will still make a writer look very ignorant if they manage to slip through and become part of a published work.
To illustrate this last point, consider the example of this “spell checker poem” written by Janet Minor:
I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC;
It plainly marks four my revue
Mistakes I cannot sea.
I’ve run this poem threw it,
I’m sure your pleased too no,
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh,
My checker tolled me sew.
Although a standard run thorough a spell checker would not detect any problems, there are actually twelve English usage errors in the above quote, most of them involving homonyms. In case you didn’t notice them all on the first reading:
- four = for
- revue = review
- sea = see
- threw = through
- your = you’re (”you are” is also correct, but would mess up the rhyme scheme)
- too = to
- no = know
- its = it’s (or “it is”, but this would also alter the rhyme scheme)
- it’s = its
- weigh = way
- tolled = told
- sew = so
Finally, this humorous video titled “The Impotence of Proofreading” by Taylor Mali provides a good example of what an unpolished piece of writing can sound like when critical mistakes are not corrected before publication. For a printed copy of Mali’s 3-minute speech, see his website at TaylorMali.com.