Sunday, April 27, 2008

'Hey, does anybody know how to spell LOL?'

In brief postscript to Friday's comments on chat-based writing and the decline of Western civilization, I offer the following absolutely true vignette (from about five minutes ago):

I call my local Barnes & Noble to see if they've yet received their allotment of copies of the new Skeptic, which contains my long piece on the foibles of modern journalism. The girl who answers the phone is clearly quite young. But bear in mind, she works in a bookstore. Let me repeat that: a bookstore. When I explain why I'm calling, she cheerfully replies, "Well, just let me check our computer to see if we've gotten it in. Now...that's Skeptic, right? S-p-i-k...."


Anonymous said...

I get your point, Steve, I really do.

But (and you knew it was coming, right?) before we start a highly satisfying thread on the woeful levels of illiteracy among our young people, bear in mind that spelling ability (or inability) does not have to reflect one's intelligence or even verbal skills -- or even, get this, writing skills.

I work with brilliant people, some of whom are atrocious spellers. One of the most gifted young writers I know -- a girl who at age 9 was writing like Emily Dickinson -- couldn't spell her own name correctly and consistently flunked even the simplest spelling tests at school, making her teachers think that she was dumb (and she was/is brilliant, not only because of her unique writing talent, but also according to her off-the-charts IQ scores).

The incidence of learning disabilities -- those "mysterious" pockets of neurological glitches that make learning and/or performing in one or several intellectual and academic areas extremely difficult, if possible at all -- is mind-boggling and much under-recognized in the gifted population. And of course learning disabilities affect average folks as well, without compromising their overall intelligence.

So, in defense of the girl from the bookstore on a Sunday morning:
My longish point here is that this girl may have been a young Pearl Buck even though she struggled with spelling Skec... er, I mean, Sce... wait, Skeptic? (sheesh) over the phone.

And I'm only slightly facetious right above. I'm a visual speller and can usually immediately spot spelling errors when I see written words in black and white, in front of me. But please do not ever ask me to spell anything (and I mean anything, including my own name) without writing it down first (and/or over the phone -- a sheer torture). Granted, I do not work in a bookstore (something you should be grateful for, I suppose), but if I may say so myself, my writing skills have not been as atrocious as my phonetic spelling (dis)ability. BTW, I worked as a proofreader and editorial assistant way back in my other life and immensely enjoyed both occupations. And unless I'm terribly mistaken (which I often am), I have reasons to believe that my employers at that time also valued my contributions.

P.S. But, OK, so maybe she should not be taking customers' calls. Especially not from journalists who write for Skeptic. :)

Anonymous said...


(You now you wanted it!)

Don't get me started on the fines that should be mandatory for all the eejits who cannot spell DEFINITELY properly.