The English Pedant – The right to be wrong

Rod Yard-Kipplin

There was something on Facebook last week about common English errors – you might have seen it before, because we all see different things. It was a list including there, they’re and their etc, explaining what each one meant and asking something like “Is it really that difficult?”

It’s the kind of thing we look at every week on The English Pedant, but whereas here it is just pointing things out, that appeared to be one person’s one-off attempt to get it off their chest. This being the internet, where there is freedom to express an opinion, along with the messages of agreement there were two people who defended their right to write badly.

Oddly, both claimed to be “a writer”, and both said they could write perfectly well but chose not to do so on Facebook because, as one said, “this isn’t school”.

I’m not going to quote them verbatim, because for one thing the standard of their English in this context is likely to be an amalgam of being sloppy because it’s FB and wanting to show they are not morons. And the other thing is I would have to go hunting for the posts, and I’ve actually got more important things to do.

The point is, if these people are to believed, there are those who can write perfectly well but actually choose to write badly, which begs the question: is it easier to do something badly than to do it well? Is it easier to write a sentence with no punctuation than to put in the occasional comma? Can somebody’s brain be so tired that they don’t have the energy to select one from there, they’re and their?

Perhaps it’s a question of habit. On Thursdays on this blog you will find Kaycee’s Klasic Films , which I write in the character of a 30-something London woman, Siobhan Kennedy-Clark (her mates call her Kaycee), who didn’t have much of an education and can’t write to save her life. She is different from me in several ways: she’s a woman and I’m not, she’s younger than me, she’s unmarried, didn’t do well at school and all in all she looks at the world very differently, but her views and opinions come out in a way they wouldn’t if I was just being me.

Because I spend most of my time trying to produce clean, flowing, clear work, it pains me to deliberately make mistakes and I have to go through sentences and remove punctuation, because I’m in character and this woman doesn’t know the rules, so to be convincing I have to break them. Her paragraphs can be two or three sentences long and often the thread changes in the middle of them, whereas one of the purposes of the paragraph is to let the reader know you’ve changed tack. Siobhan’s writing is almost like stream-of-consciousness.

When I have bashed out 600 words as Siobhan, I read it through and see how it’s come out. And funnily enough, it’s not that hard to follow what she’s saying, sometimes to the extent that I find I’m slipping when I move on to the next post, which is meant to be written properly.

Here is how she would wrap up this post:

So what do you think is it okay to not try when your on Facebook cos it ain’t like being at school is it we had enough of that when we was kids and I no if I had of listened a bit more to the teachers I would of been able to do it without thinking but their’s no point worrying about it now is they’re what’s done is done and you no what I’m saying so who cares.


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