In general, I try not to be elitist, but I confess that, for much of my life, I've been a bit of a spelling snob. Admittedly, for me it's still contextual: I never judge someone's intelligence on the basis of their spelling in SMS or IM, but if a resume or other professional documentation is rife with misspellings, it can give me a negative impression of (at a minimum) the author's attention to detail.
In recent years, the proliferation of social networks has caused me to rethink my stance on this. Initially, as I was exposed to my friends' individual writing styles, I seemed confronted by an apparent contradiction. I wasn't consciously thinking, "Why does he keep writing 'your' when he really means 'you're'? I know that guy... he's smart." But I know at some unconscious level, my brain was trying to reconcile that apparent contradiction.
When I saw the above-linked comic, and started thinking about how most of the misspellings I see on Facebook, Twitter, and now (though, as of yet, to a lesser extent) Google+, are limited to those listed in that comic, I was reminded of something far older: the crown jewel of my antique book collection... a 300-year-old Latin-English dictionary.
Despite my sentimental fondness for that book, in a practical sense it's of course completely obsolete. The most obvious reason is that almost nobody speaks (or writes) Latin anymore. It's still taught as a way to provide context for languages still in active use, but for the vast majority of us, a working knowledge of Latin serves no useful purpose. But another reason it is obsolete is that many of the English equivalents it specifies are no longer spelled the way they were at the time.
How did this transition occur? Did dictionary publishers decide to change each word's spelling, and then notify everyone that they should use the new spelling? No... enough people "misspelled" each word the same way that eventually the "incorrect" spelling of each became the "correct" spelling, just because that's how everyone spells it now.
In Douglas Crockford's Yntrodxkshxn tu Nuspelynh (Introduction to Newspelling), he proposes a completely different approach to spelling, which not only abolishes contractions entirely, but actually reconciles spelling with pronunciation: each word is spelled how it sounds. No more silent letters, no more double letters. The more I thought about his recommendation, the more it seemed to make sense. A few months ago, in fact, I even started a first-person short story that I may one day finish where the narrator writes entirely in Nuspelynh, because the post-apocalyptic society of which he is a member has adopted it as just one of many ways in which they have abandoned the more wasteful behaviors of pre-apocalyptic society.
Language is, by its very nature, a matter of convention, because its entire function is based upon pattern recognition. Any language is a collection of agreements, each of which dictates that a certain shape or sound conveys meaning.
But pattern recognition is also contextual, which begs an interesting question: if I notice that someone has misspelled a word (at least, one of the misspellings mentioned by the comic), doesn't my very knowledge that the word is misspelled imply that I know what the author intended to convey? And, if so, does it even matter that the spelling they used does not precisely match what I would expect or prefer? They attempted to convey information. That information has been successfully conveyed. Mission accomplished.
Reading that comic, I found myself picturing the author of that Latin-English dictionary transported to today's time and reading one of my blog posts, disgusted by how many words I misspell...
...which brings me back to the title of this post. Social networking (and the Internet in general) is eroding our language. Every time someone includes "it's" in a status update, when "its" would be more "correct", it increases ever so slightly the likelihood that someone reading that update will eventually make the same "mistake".
Hundreds of years ago, this type of erosion, like a stream carving a canyon, was so slow it almost entirely went unnoticed, because there were so few creating content for others to read. Now there are hundreds of millions publishing their words in a context where others can read them in a matter of seconds, not months. And their unconscious decision to stray from a dictionary-approved symbol to convey their intended meaning influences others to do the same. This erosion, which has been in continual progress since the first cave paintings, is accelerating at (where fiber networks are available) literally the speed of light.
I would submit that every landscape we cherish was also created by erosion. The Grand Canyon, in all its splendor, would not exist but for the same process that has made our language what it is now, and will shape it into what it will become. Erosion only seems like a negative if something you value is carried off in the process... ever since I've realized this, I scarcely even notice incorrectly used contractions and simply (if you'll pardon the pun) go with the flow.
locating XPage components with XspQuery
Sun, Apr 14th 2013 12:00a Tim Tripcony Several years ago, I wrote a utility Java class designed to make it easy to search for components within the current XPage instance based on various criteria. I've found it enormously useful, and, apparently, so has Keith Strickland, because he added it to org.openntf.xsp.extlib, complete with a few refinements. As an example of how you might use this, examine the following line of code:
List requiredFields = new XspQuery()
.loc [read] Keywords: ldd
your how is not your what
Wed, Apr 3rd 2013 11:36a Tim Tripcony I've noticed a pattern emerging when I'm asked for help with XPages. Here's a representative conversation:
"I'm trying to do [X] and it's not working. How can I do that?"
"What are you trying to accomplish?"
"I already told you. I'm trying to do [X]."
"No, that's how you're trying to do it. What are you trying to do?"
For example, replace "[X]" with "reach into a repeat control from outside it" (since this has become the most frequent topic I'm asked about [read] Keywords: xpages application
my new favorite quote
Sat, Mar 23rd 2013 5:20p Tim Tripcony "We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing of the world. We give little thought to the machinery that generates the sunlight that makes life possible, to the gravity that glues us to an earth that would otherwise send us spinning off into space, or the atoms of which we are made and on whose stability we fundamentally depend. Except for children (who don’t know enough not to ask the important questions), few of us spend much time wondering why nature is the way it is; where the [read] Keywords: wiki
Taking the scary out of Java in XPages: Prologue
Tue, Feb 26th 2013 9:50p Tim Tripcony The discussion following my last post made stark the need for greater availability of information that makes the nature of Java more accessible to Domino developers. Credit for the title of this post goes to Declan, who is considering writing a series of blog posts on this topic. I will be doing the same; hopefully there will be a fair amount of duplication. As David Leedy is fond of stating, it's a good thing when several people share the same information, because that makes it easier for the [read] Keywords: domino
Passthru vs. component - my perspective
Sat, Feb 16th 2013 9:40p Tim Tripcony Paul Withers posted a thorough article explaining the differences between namespaced XPage components (e.g. ) and their corresponding passthru elements (e.g. ), providing numerous examples of what actually happens when these objects are constructed. I've always heard (and often repeated) that passthru elements are more efficiently processed than their namespaced equivalents, so Paul's post inspired me to offer my own perspective.
Simply put, there's practically no difference... but there a [read] Keywords: acl