The contemporary reluctance to offer spelling (and grammar) corrections

Reader Mike B. sent an e-mail today with the subject line: “Two typos (should it matter)”.

The second of the two typos (actually it was two typos in one) was embarrassingly bad, and I wrote back to him:

The second one is terrible: two missing words in one sentence. Oh my gosh. Thanks. And that mistake was up there for three days.

But how could you wonder if it matters? Of course it matters. Thanks very much for the heads up. Without corrections like these from readers, VFR would be much messier than it is.

He replied:

Because (unfortunately), in this day and age, not very many people give much of a damn about anything whatsoever. I grew up from the late ’40s through the middle ’60s, when almost everything mattered. I guess I put it there as a disclaimer (stemming from probably a bad habit, unfortunately acquired over the decades). I’m old enough to “blame” it on brain lock if I want (but I won’t). I forgot to whom I was addressing this.

I replied:

I agree with your explanation. But I think there is another reason (though it may just be another way of saying the same thing) that people tend to be excessively reluctant or apologetic about offering corrections. In liberal society there is the message that we’re not supposed to criticize anyone. And in fact many people do feel insulted and will react with anger and hostility if you point out an error they made. So when people have a correction to offer, they apologize for it up front so as to avoid an angry reaction.

In The Revolt of the Masses, Ortega y Gassett said that what characterizes mass man (and mass man can be of any class, not just the lower classes) is the belief that there are no people and no standards better or higher than oneself. What we have now is the Revolt of the Masses to the nth degree.

- end of initial entry -

June 20

Greg W. writes:

I think the reason people don’t correct these things is twofold:

1) People today don’t notice (or care about) grammar or spelling mistakes when reading and writing.

2) The type of people who don’t notice (or care) are the same people who are overly sensitive when someone else corrects their spelling or grammar. They feel “called out” when someone notices a mistake. The person who is overly sensitive sees the corrector as condescending. Calling someone on a mistake makes the person feel dumb, so his instinct tells him to get defensive instead of admit his mistake and thank the person for noticing (one of the laws of human nature).

Either way we have a generation of people who don’t give a darn about grammar and spelling, because it’s just not important, and a computer fixes it anyway, and, at the same time, a generation of people too cowardly to speak up because of the oversensitivity of other people. No one wants to be the jerk who is always correcting people.

I had a group of friends in middle school that jokingly called me “Correction” because I would correct them when they said something that was wrong. I told them that I would hope they do the same for me, because I don’t want to say something that isn’t true, and I would sure want my incorrect statement to be at least brought to my attention.

I’m proud to say I have emailed Mr. Auster a couple of times to notify him of a mistake.

Matthew H. writes:

I can think of a few reasons for this:

1. Whereas in times past people were willing to be corrected by those who in some way demonstrated their own competence (if only in some limited context), today competence itself is an affront. The willingness to admit error, to repent of even the smallest trifle, seems less common than in earlier times.

2. Perhaps more importantly, particularly regarding the grammar of blog posts, we are blessed on the one hand with the ability to communicate more freely than ever before. On the other hand, our increased freedom means less editing. Hence the slide of quality control that occasionally afflicts even the best sites.

3. Then there is the drastic collapse in educational standards, already evident in my own schooldays but apparently much, much worse today. One piece of evidence in this regard is the shockingly frequent use of then when the writer should have used than (and vice versa) as in: Florida is much warmer then Alaska. I can think of no way to explain this other than than to chalk it up to plain old ignorance.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 19, 2012 04:05 PM | Send

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