back to article Suprise at spelling snafu sanctions

Proof that the revised maxim "If you can't beat 'em, fuck it all off and have some pie" is increasingly the norm reaches us today, as a senior university lecturer throws his hands aloft and declares a spelling amnesty. According to the Times, Dr Ken Smith of Buckinghamshire New University* suggests a list of 20 common mistakes …


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  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    There's only one cure for this kind of attitude...

    Give 'em a touch of the knout!

    If they're too lazy to learn the *language*, why should we bother exposing them to higher education? It isn't the place of a university to be teaching basic language skills.

    Mind you, I'm soft on spelling and grammar mistakes. I'd support the 'one percent off the total score for every mistake on the paper' approach, rather than the hard-line 'you've failed!' at the first mistake.

    (Yes, I *know*. There will always be unfortunates who are unable on medical grounds to write English without mangling it. But no-one else has an excuse.)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I can't help but agree though. While we are at it, get rid of the bane o my life the " ' "

  3. Sean Groarke

    Kew the weirdos

    So a sentence such as "Their books - they're there" would now become "There books - there there."


  4. Peter Lenz
    Paris Hilton

    Thes es a gudd idear

    All kidding aside there is no central body that governs English like, say, French Academy does French. As such there is nothing stopping anyone from deciding that these other spellings are in fact correct.

    Paris - for her significant contributions to the English lexicon.

  5. Avi

    I might be missing the point here....

    But I was under the impression that the bulk of the point of the exams and coursework is to demonstrate that not only do you understand the subject matter, but you can explain it coherently?

    Which, surely, includes managing at least the grasp of the English expected of a seven year old?

  6. Chris

    That says a lot about...

    ...Buckinghamshire New University, really.


  7. AC
    Thumb Down

    it's time

    to give in,

    give up,

    go out,


    then your language skills will be at the level of the average student at buckinghamshire unviersity {THATS A UNI NOW WTF ?!?!?!?!}

  8. James Bassett

    Shoot them all

    Even if his students can't spell then can we not at least teach them how to use a spelling checker? I can't believe any of his students are actually handing in hand-written essays.

    Yes, I know this also means teaching the plebs how to switch the spelling checker over from the default English (US) to English (UK) (would it really be that hard, MS, to set English (UK) as the default when the OS's time zone is set to GMT?) but they can't be that thick can they?

    I did hear our head of HR complaining earlier this week at the appalling standard of English used by respondents to a recent job advert for a very junior role. She didn't mention the spelling in particular, just the general inability to put together a coherent sentence.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It won't change a thing...

    Im sure, after 3 years of one lecture (well, 4 terms over 3 years), who wouldent accept word processed work (apparenly he was worried about cheeting if somthing wasent in your hand writing) insisting on correcting my spelling, dispite the fact that he was told regulaly that he should not do it as I was Dyslexic.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    They might well still get their degree...

    ...but I won't be employing the stupid illiterate twerps.

  11. Guybrush Threepwood

    Writing is so 3000 years ago...

    Here's a thought, why bother with actual letters when talking is pretty good, scrap this writing bollocks, it causes nothing but trouble. I want to see ideas represented in picture format like the Maya, possibly aided by interpretive dance cycles to convey the emotions behind the words and the cultural identity of the people speaking them...

    I noticed recently that our local Teenage Pregnancy service did a run of leaflets with "R U 13 2 19" on them, surely kids don't see that and go "Ah, now theres a hip young message I can relate to, must go to the local community centre to pick up a bundle of free profilactics so that I might be protected if I strike it lucky with that pretty thing in the summer dress". I'm no young buck but at 23 I'm pretty au fait with text lingo and this just makes me cringe, like the 42 year old dads who blast fall out boy out of the car speakers and think they're cool, or the scumbags who put fancy or foreign phrases like 'au fait' in their posts to make themselves sound important, dickheads.

    Oh, wait...

  12. Thomas Schulze
    Thumb Up


    And I'm tired of learning foreign languages, so let's get rid of them and make everyone speak loudly and slowly ;)

  13. bigolslabomeat

    Criminology students..

    ..clearly aren't a bright bunch, some of those suggestions are just stupid, not "variations", pure stupidity.

    Certainly not a techy bunch as they must be writing all their coursework by hand, either that or they've not learnt what that little red squiggly line means.

  14. Al


    Isn't there something very wrong here? If a teacher is tired of correcting the spelling mistakes made by his (or her) pupils, isn't that indicative of the standard of education they've had?

    Surely the students should be getting tought how to spell, not having their common mistakes accepted as 'variants'. Or is this to allow exam marking to be outsourced more easily next time round?

  15. Robajob

    No need to correct their spelling...

    Just knock marks off for it. If they haven't got the nous to find out what's wrong with their spelling then what the hell are they doing at university in the first place?

  16. Anonymous Coward

    a moose loose in the hoose

    > Anyone correcting our deliberate (as in the headline) misspelling, or indeed our

    > accidental misspelling, will be cast onto the barbecue

    I think you're in danger of loosing the plot :-)

  17. David Webb

    I agree

    Totaly agre wiv this blowk, eny kidz whu kant spel rite shud b alowd two du az dey wont two du. Y shud dey hav two spel rite enywho? Itz nut leik dey kned two b abel two spel in der reel wurld!

    Good lord, its incredibly difficult to spell like that. Guy needs to be strung up, kids need to be able to spell properly, they need to know why we use their instead of there, the current crop of kids will be facing off in the international marketplace against Chinese children, think of the future!

  18. Gulfie


    No, please, use a dictionary...

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Sounds about right for today's education system!

    Sorry Prof., but your setting a very bad precedent or to put it another way "If you give 'em and inch, they'll take a mile!".

  20. Stef
    Thumb Down


    Just please please please don't start up the nonsense about phonetic spelling.

    I can't wait for for the kidz from London <i>axing</i> me a question, or the kidz from Newcastle who get wet it the <i>rian</i>, or us in the home counties who would rather take a <i>barth</i> than a shower.

  21. DMJ

    How about...

    just learning how to spell? Christ, these are college students!

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Wheir indeed?

    "Al vere wel, Duckter* Smiv, but whier does that leaf "they're", eh? Wheir?"

    What rubbish! We read by recognising word shapes (not their spelling) and hence their meaning. You can generally swap all the middle letters of words and still have readable sentences - but that shouldn't make it acceptable. He's just after an easy life, the lazy old duffer*.

    Ask a lawyer about how important spelling can be (along with proper punctuation).

    * He's probably a quack.

    * Must be an old duffer to pander to the yoof of today.


  23. Steve

    @ Peter Lenz

    "All kidding aside there is no central body that governs English like, say, French Academy does French. As such there is nothing stopping anyone from deciding that these other spellings are in fact correct."

    Other than the fact that they are wrong, you're right, theirs nothin stoping ennieone...

    And why the hell are we listening to the opinions of a criminology lecturer from a polytechnic?

  24. Ken Darling
    Thumb Up

    Wot er totel fuqwit

    stew pit kunt. neckst heel b teling us too yous txtspk insted.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Point at him

    and scream HERETIC!!!!

    Do a google on "20 Gnarliest Torture Devices of All Time" and suggest he review his options.


  26. Chris Harden

    And people wonder why people have so little respect for degrees nowadays

    See title.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    And the guy is a lecturer?

    Changing the spelling and you can change the whole meaning of the word. My pet hate is how the word 'lose' is constantly being written as 'loose' all over forums, comments pages etc. it isn't rocket science.

  28. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    @Neil Barnes: 1% rule + some pedantry

    Deducting 1% for each mistake would sink (sync? ;-) ) the hopes of many students. Many can easily top 30 errors in an essay.

    I always find there is a distinct correllation between the quality of language and the actual content. Good writing indicates good care, and good thinking. It is no accident that one of our worst (msc) students writing-wise came up with

    sqrt(-4) = -2

    in an exam (my comment: OH COME ON!!!!!)

    Another beauty (by a first year student):

    A hash function requires a large prime number, e.g. 1000 (comment by colleague: not big enough or to big)


    On a different note, English spelling is far from mercurial (volatile, changeful), rather it was fixed in time when pronunciation was far closer to spelling than it is now. The Dutch by contrast have a spelling reform every other year (OK, decade)

    which does not help much either.


  29. Adrian Jackson

    @Sean Groarke

    I believe it would actually be "There buks there there". Punctuation is too elitist and difficult, and 'books' is too complex for the likes of me.

    It also means "Their books - they're there" would now be exactly the same in written form as "They're books - there, there". Which can only be a good thing. Or a bad thing. Or a thing.

    Personally I think there's only one solution - bring back capital punishment for such egregious spelling mistakes. Or, if you're a bleeding heart liberal, corporal punishment.

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  31. Dave

    Just remember...

    There's a "we" in "weird".

    Deduct marks for bad spelling, encourage them to learn the language properly. Deduct double marks for using US spellings...

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But why don't they care?

    People don't *care* about getting it right. I was helping a younger friend with an essay recently, and despite my protestations she didn't care about using 'formal' English. Writing things like "If you do this, then...." etc for a uni essay isn't the right tone in my book.

    So what I want to know is why people don't take pride in their writing? They care so much about how they are perceived visually or socially, but not to a lecturer (who doesn't know them) who is making a judgement about their future, purely on the basis of their written work. I just can't get my head around it.

  33. A. Lewis

    This article made me die a little inside.

    I shall get my coat, mine's the one with the dictionary in the pocket.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re:Kew the weirdos

    Not that I am remotely in support of this idea of making laziness and incompetence correct or even acceptable, but repeated words in a sentence are already correct and occasionally useful. This is taken to the logical conclusion with the _perfectly_correct_ sentence "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo".

  35. Richard

    A vision of the future

    This reminds me of the old joke email (

    Worryingly, entering "Ze drems of the Guvernmnt vud finali hav kum tru" into google, it asked Did you mean: Ze drems of the Government vud finali hav kum tru?

    It's clearly spreading...

    I was delighted to learn (admittedly on wikipedia, so pinch of salt mode is ON) that "Buckinghamshire New University owes its existence, at least in part, to a tax imposed on beer and spirits towards the end of the nineteenth century". This explains a lot.

  36. The BigYin

    If they can't be bothered to spell correctly...

    ...what else can't they be bothered to do correctly?

    One hopes that no technical courses (e.g. engineering or anything actually important) are taught at this uni if their (there?) mathematics is as inaccurate as their spelling.


    If the students cannot spell - fail them. It's that simple.

  37. Bill Gould
    Gates Halo

    Fire this dolt

    ...and fail those that chose to follow in his illiterate wake.

    Learn to spell kids. I don't want to support your unemployed ass because your resume is full of typos and 'made up' words.

  38. Xander

    o deer

    u jst no its thees kids hull b cryng wn thy cant gt a job newere

  39. Tim Elphick
    Paris Hilton

    Can't the university just

    print there certificates in thier own spelling? Not that anybody's ever looked at mine, mind. Or my certificate ; )

    I might add, that being the old duffer that I am, at 27 I find youth spellings to be rather difficult at times. As for the slang, that just gets silly.

    I think Paris gets rather a bad press around here. Not from me. I still would. So long as she was quiet.

  40. Dale Fessenden

    Misspelt vs Unsavory

    Are the misspellings to be condemned & the unsavory cliches of the article accepted?

  41. Daniel


    Please, no. They just make matters worst by letting idiots sink hat because it passes whatever piss of junk MS have put on their PC, awl is OK.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    Whilst queuing at Kew I poked his eyes out with a cue...

    The very flames of hell cannot burn hot enough for this man.

    I can't believe there's someone I actually despise more than Hazel Blears.

  43. Martin Lyne


    ..they expected to be able to correctly spell "Criminology" on thier CVs? Or is it just meant to be a padding degree where they never get jobs? If i was reading a CV and they had left typos in - bin.

    If you're about to say "But they would pay more attention when writing a CV" then THEY SHOULD PAY ATTENTION WHEN DOING THEIR/THERE/THEY'RE/THAR/THUR DEGREE!

    I loved the way my maths lecturer corrected my borked roman numeral page headings (It was an accidnet, on the second set I had only one sheet of paper, accidentally wrote 1 and didn't want to cross it out for neatnesses sake.. so I went with II, it went squiffy at 7 I think. VII or IIIX?)

    More pedants, less "I can't be bothered to mark things" professors.

    Oh and less people that say "think" instead of "thing", Somethink? TELL ME THEN, WHAT *DO* SOME THINK?

    *Pants, breathes, trousers*

    Aliens would learn English proper.

  44. moylan

    can't we all get along?


    The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty's Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5 year phase-in plan that would be known as "EuroEnglish": --

    In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c".. Sertainly, this will make the sivil sevants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favor of the "k". This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have one less letter.

    There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with the "f". This will make words like "fotograf" 20% shorter.

    In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent "e"'s in the language is disgraceful, and they should go away.

    By the 4th yar, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v". During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaning "ou" and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

    After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech ozer.


  45. Harry Stottle

    Headline Ironic Right?

    I can't be the only one who spotted "Suprise"?

    More seriously, the case for allowing such "flexibility" is made by Sean Groarke's sample above: "There books - there there."

    How would you cope with that sentence if spoken rather than written? Answer "context"; and it's not wildly unreasonable to apply the same logic to the written word. But that only applies to that kind of example - where we're dealing not so much with mis-spelling as with wrong choice of words which sound identical.

    Permitting things like "wierd" instead of "weird", however, just muddies the water and ultimately slows down communication.

  46. Jolyon Ralph
    Thumb Down

    Batchelors Degree in Sumfink

    It's all well and good helping them get educated good and proper, but shouldn't someone tell these illiterate darlings how it's going to look when they send out their first CV and have it rejected by everyone?

    What the hell is the point in encouraging bad habits? Sounds like an excuse for lazy teaching to me.


  47. This post has been deleted by its author

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Misspelling are a big no-no on any CVs that come here. It's a very easy way to reduce the pile. You might get a degree, butt youll still be surving hamburgas at Macdonalds.

  49. JohnG

    Too stupid/lazy to have degree...

    ...if they can't spell basic words after 12+ years of compulsory free education.

    I notice that about half of the recruitment consultants that send me emails use "their" and "there" incorrectly.

    Why don't we save the taxes spent on eduction, let the kids fuck about for the 12 years and give them all a Media Studies degree if they're still alive at 21?

  50. Pete

    Dr Smith...

    kan fuk off, coz e can.

    Seriously, I haven't heard such a lot of wet fermented dribble in a long time. No, we don't have the equivalent of an Academie française to "protect" our language, and English is indeed evolving all the time, which is a wonderful thing. However we do have accepted grammatical and orthographic standards that help us to communicate with each other without too many problems. Just because some people cannot meet these standards, it doesn't mean that we should lower them. How will these people then thrive in a world where there are many people for whom the standards are still important?

    In saying that, I know people who just cannot spell many words correctly, no matter how hard they try. It creates a sort of mental block for them. One of my girlfriends in particular had me tearing out my hair in my attempts to show her how to spell words and how to remember they way they were spelt. In the end I gave up, become relaxed about it, and concentrated on enjoying the other pleasures that we could share together. I know that there will always be people like that, but it doesn't mean that we should lower the standards for everybody in general.

  51. Bob Boswell

    Awl is ok.

    "whatever piss of junk MS have put on their PC, awl is OK."

    Daniel, much as I loathe the MS universe and sympathiz(s?)e with your point (!), an Awl is a small pointy tool for making holes in leather and possibly wood. Which is, presumably, why it is let through.

    This idiot professor should be shot at dawn every day for a week, just to teach him a learning. ( Arrrrghhhh, NO, Please the pain. Bloody consultants )

    And I though my grasp of my native language was a bit flaky, good grief.


  52. This post has been deleted by its author

  53. Mike Street
    Paris Hilton


    Are Paris and I the only people on here who thought he was probably being ironic, or even sarcastic?

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Wierd would be right if it were a Germanic word like Brief.

    (Also cf. Reichstag.)

    But it's not.

    (Also, this is a proud day, that was the first of my Hazel Blears comments

    that has ever been permitted past the censor. I know not what stopped the others.)

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    marks off

    In his memoirs, Alvin Kernan mentions giving a -16 to a paper turned in by a Yalie who later achieved minor celebrity playing a teacher on some TV show. Four percent off per misspelling x 29 ...

    Theodore Roosevelt attempted a spelling reform during his presidency. The Congress declined to pay for the printing of any materials using his reformed spelling, and it died quietly.

  56. Rhyd

    Warning: This post contains (mostly) correct spelling. Continue with caution.

    Considering that English is technically my second language and was banned at school outside of the twice-weekly English lessons, why is it that I'm continually correcting the spelling and grammar of English friends and colleagues?

    On the topic of further education, I once attended a lecture about the importance of "spelling and grammer". Sigh.

  57. Funky Dennis
    Thumb Up

    @Sarah Bee

    Did you change

    "Email hacker banged up for exposing boss' sex life"


    "Email hacker banged up for exposing boss's sex life"?

    If so, thank you. I learn with sadness that the first version is now apparently acceptable.

  58. Fogcat

    Ole hatt

    Nigel Molesworth esquire pieoneared this form ov speelling in the 50s- As any fule kno

  59. Stevie


    This "student spelling" rant is as transparent as it is specious. The British education system is the best in the world and simply could not turn out classloads of University students unable to spell or parse their work. Is he suggesting they all got in through clearing?

    No. The man is obviously unhinged by his interminable stint with the Space Family Robinson in the mid 60s. Ten minutes with the bubble-headed booby would do for mi brayn tu.

  60. Steve Carter

    queue protests in a long cue

    There a buttload of difference between queueing a programme for air and cueing it.

    *stab* *stab* *stab*

    Imprecise language is fine if you're not trying to say anything clever or important. One would hope that you are trying both when writing in a university exam.

  61. Anonymous Coward

    Cue the Kew Queue

    They're there. Not a knot, Knott. What, a watt? Write the right rite, Wright. Thyme time!

    et bloody cetera.

    While I might sympathize with him to a certain degree, his call to allow spelling mistakes is telling the lazy / crap teachers that it's just fine for them to carry on not doing their jobs properly. He is telling the students that their shoddy, misspelled work is just terrific. I would have thought that criminology required some degree of accuracy and attention to detail. Apparently not.

    Students who can't spell properly, do arithmetic without a calculator really shouldn't be in university in the first place.

    The ongoing dumbing down of the education system and thus future population is depressing.

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Both sides

    I can see both sides of the argument. Students should be expected to be able their, weird and truly. On the other hand, if they are studying criminology, why should their marks be significantly affected by their inability to spell - it would be different if they were studying English Language.

    Without going into too much detail, I know someone who is dyslexic and a master's degree physics however he got a much lower honours than he ought to have done, purely because he has difficulty remembering the formulas required by the exams (essentially very complicated spellings). No allowance was made for his dyslexia because they are 'formulas' and not 'spellings', so he had the derive most of these formulas from first principles, which took a lot of the exam time - not something most (or even any) of the other students could have done. However, does this inability to remember formulas make him a worse physicist, of course not, in 'the real world' he would just pull out a pocket book of formulas if he ever need.

    Now I realise the article wasn't talking about dyslexics, but why should anyone, dyslexic or not, be assessed on their spelling, memory for formulas, or anything else which isn't directly related to the subject. Especially when these other things can easily be overcome in the 'real world' e.g. by using a spell/grammar checker, book of formulas, etc..

  63. david

    No excuses

    FFS, don't even deduct marks, that impies you have to read it. Mark the first mistake and reject the work until they can do it right.

    That way they might put in the effort to learn between watching daytime tv and pissing their grants up the wall.

    Pathetic. That's all really.

  64. Garth

    They should all be forced to learn...

    The Kings proper French... err

    I mean German... err

    I mean Latin...


  65. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Word shapes

    "We read by recognising word shapes (not their spelling)"

    So why do I wince and stumble whenever I hit anything but the most trivial misspelling. Those paragraphs written to "prove" that wordshape is all we use cause me physical *pain*



    They're just fuckin' *different* and my mind can't read "Physiacl" fluently. And it's not like I'm a slow reader (about a paperback page a minute).

    There, they're, their. Where, ware, wear. They're all different. Dinnerware, dinnerwear and "Dinner? Where?" are all different, and you can tell that by reading them if they're spelt differently.

  66. Inspector_Morse

    Latin = Dead, English = Alive

    Living languages constantly change. Live with it.

    Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, circa 1580, The Miller's Tale:

    Original (modern English version is below):

    This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart,

    As greet as it had been a thonder dentght

    That with the strook he was almoost yblent.

    And he was redy with his yren hoot,

    And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoot.

    Of gooth the skyn an hande-brede aboute

    The hoote kultour brende so his toute

    And for the smert he wende for to dye.

    Converted to modern English:

    Nicholas then let fly a fart

    As great as if it had been a thunder clap,

    That with the stroke Absolon was almost blinded;

    But he was ready with his hot iron

    And hit Nicholas right on the arse.

    Off went about a hand's breadth of skin,

    The hot coulter so burned his butt,

    And he thought he would die of the pain.

    Finding gems like this when studying O level Eng. Lit was great fun!

  67. Mark Norton

    And while we're at it

    why don't we start accepting incorrect answers in mathematics too. I'm tired of correcting 2+2=5 so if we just made 5 a "variant answer" then that would be fine wouldn't it.

  68. Samantha Clinton


    We're all capable of the occasional typo, and for me personally my brain sometimes runs ahead of my fingers...generally when I'm in a real rush to be a pedant and correct someone else, making myself look stupid in the process, but REALLY?? As it is I have friends that texts make so little sense I have to reread them 4 times before I can decipher them. If we suddenly decide that spelling is irrelevant I'm going to go and find myself a little dwelling on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, build a library and stay there till I die.

    JonB...on an island the ironing will be less of an issue...and I'll still do the cooking ;)

  69. Lupus

    So angry.

    Angrier than I probably should be, but these fuckwits are actively defiling my native tongue, my precious English!

    Hang them! Or better yet, give them a nasty case of Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.


  70. Mike Crawshaw

    Dear Dr Ken Smith,

    You, sir, are a fool and a charlatan. I would respectfully suggest that you stop whining like a big bitch and just do your fucking job. Which, in case you may have forgotten, is to *educate* - to improve the level of knowledge of your students. It is NOT to lower the standards further so that sub-literate morons are able to attain a certification which was, once upon a time, an achievement.

    Kind Regards,

    The English-speaking nations.

  71. GrahamT

    Pot, Kettle...

    Setting myself up for a fall here; better re-read this 3 times.

    I find it amusing that several of the commentators that disagree with this guy (no names, no pack-drill) have some of those common mis-spellings in their own comments - accepting the deliberately ironic ones. At least two use thier. OK, this is a common typo, and I've done it myself, but "People in glass houses, etc."

    Having said that, I am quite pedantic about bad spelling and grammar, and my C.V. is checked and double-checked before it goes out of the door. I am, therefore, ruthless with poor C.V.s that land on my desk. If you use there/their incorrectly or don't know the difference between of and have, or misuse the apostrophe, you won't work for me. In addition, anyone applying for a job in I.T. who doesn't know how to change the spell checker from U.S. to U.K. spelling doesn't deserve to work.

  72. Sam


    "** Anyone correcting our deliberate (as in the headline) misspelling, or indeed our accidental misspelling, will be cast onto the barbecue."

    That's me in the clear, because this is grammar..shouldn't there be a semicolon after "maxim"?

  73. RW

    The Myth of English Spelling Irregularity

    "notoriously mercurial English spelling system"

    According to Jeanne Chall's "Learning to Read: the Great Debate" (McGraw-Hill, 1967), in 1954 researchers estimated that 85% of English has regular spelling. Another estimate, from 1965, asserts that English language rule-based text-to-voice software could be devised that would correctly pronounce 95% of English text.

    Bernard Shaw's famous "ghoti" pronounced "fish" is in fact a counterexample of spelling irregularity. The "gh" digraph never occurs at the beginning of a word with the value "f". Likewise, "ti" never appears at the end of a word with the value "sh". And the use of "o" to represent the short "i" sound is equally restricted, though the details escape my sluggish memory.

    The underlying cause of much apparent irregularity in English spelling is Caxton's early printing of books in English. Out of necessity, he had to standardize spellings to match pronunciation. As a result, English spellings reflect the pronunciation current in the late 15th century. Unfortunately, English underwent a sea change in pronunciation during the 16th & (iirc) 17th centuries, leaving the older pronunciation fossilized in the form of non-phonetic spellings.

    None of this historical detail will have the least effect on the natural smoothing down of spelling rules, a process accelerated by the increase in the number of people now writing online who, in the pre-internet age, would have written nothing more than "Thank you for the Christmas gift, Aunt Fanny."

    Footnote: English has an exceptionally rich vocabulary and has always welcomed the adoption of words from other languages. Many apparent irregularities in English spelling supply etymological information that distinguishes words otherwise homophones: khaki vs. cacky, for example. (That may be a bad example of the phenomenon.)

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Wow. So much bad spelling in these posts. At least for once it seems to be deliberate. Well, hopefully. Unlike the vast majority of Reg posts. Either a lot of Reg Readers are in no position to criticise others' education or are damn sloppy and can't be bothered proof-reading their posts. Or just as likely both.

    Michael Lyne - was your first sentence an attempt at humour?

  75. Anonymous Coward

    I think I'll

    just cut my own degree into strips and wipe my arse on it. Just what was the fecking point, I ask myself?

  76. Anonymous John

    The problem is mainly with the vowels.

    S why nt jst get rd f thm? Hrd t rd t frst dmttdly, bt t gts sr wth prctc.

  77. John Goodwin

    I salute you Mike Crawshaw

    There are no words full enough in the English language to describe my support for your post, Mike Crawshaw.

    I've been called a pedant before for my attention to punctuation and grammar errors on office correspondence and the like. I don't care. I know that I'm right, and the dullards who can't spell or don't know how to use an apostrophe are just cretins.

    Simply visit any street market in the UK to see prolific use of apple's, pear's and the like. I like to confuse them by asking "The apple's what?"

    <Pedant mode off>

    Don't accept it!

    Heart, because mine died a little reading this - similar to a previous poster.

  78. Rob Holmes

    @David, RE: No Excuses


    *Stops reading post*

    Please go back and do it again. Oh, and repair the irony-guage whilst you're about it, it seems to have exploded.

  79. Jonathan Richards

    @Martin Lyne

    > Oh and less people that say "think" instead of "thing",

    Fewer, dammit. FEWER people that say "think" instead of "thing".

    We don't have this confusion with 'many' and 'much'. 'Many' and 'few' are for countable quantities. 'Much' and 'less' are for continuous quantities.

    I thank you. I am getting fewer of these attacks, provided that I take my meds.

  80. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Logical conclusion

    We should let students submit in lolspeak.

    I'll go halves with anyone who wishes to introduce Ken Smith to a small pit of kwiklime (sic).

  81. Steve

    I had thought semi-literacy was an American trait

    So you Brits have your share of rediculous loosers with miniscule brains, as well? And fuzzy-headed enablers for them, too?

    No marks at all for the pretentious twats who are feeding the unholy current 'whilst' fad, either.

  82. Richard
    Paris Hilton

    No joke...

    This is depressing beyond belief.

    Maybe there's a reason that some 'new' universities are treated with disdain.

    I have trouble keeping to the speed-limits, maybe we should increase them to match my infringements.

    Paris, for the obvious reason.

  83. William Old


    Step forward to accept an award: JohnG, Pete, Bob Boswell, and GrahamT...

    Mike Crawshaw, to you goes the supreme accolade: my sincere thanks...

    These esteemed correspondents to El Reg have, thankfully, crafted appropriate responses to the maladjusted Brainiac from Thames Valley Polytechnic (or whatever it used to be), responses that enabled me to retain my sanity after reading the mindless vomit-babble that has passed, in some quarters, for an academic opinion... may his worthless mutterings be hereafter consigned to the /dev/null bitbucket of nothingness...

  84. Jolyon Ralph

    @Rik Hemsley

    Sadly, I don't.

    I lost count of the number of CVs I saw with people who had 'Batchelors' degrees. Those, along with people who had experience with "PC's", were discarded pretty rapidly.

    The best ever CV I received was a six page handwritten letter that started off as a CV and then turned into a furious rant about how bad Microsoft are.

    And yes, he genuinely did get the job in the end. (Programers, strange people).


  85. xjy

    Fucking Christ Almighty

    Everybody except AC both sides and Inspector Morse (with a tip of the hat to RW) seems to think that the cleverest cunts under the sun are the people who can spell. Which means that the American obsession with spelling bees should be imported here, and that proofreaders are the top brains in the country and should be paid accordingly.


    Writing and spelling and grammar all reflect the spoken language, which is FUNDAMENTAL to ALL human communication. Speech is primary, writing is secondary.

    Humanity has managed without writing and spelling for untold millennia, thank you very much, including our immediate linguistic ancestors the Germanic tribes, the vulgar Latin users (and their Old French etc successors), etc. Most Romans and Greeks couldn't read or write. During World War I an awful lot of soldiers used the one book-learned guy in the platoon or company to read and write their letters for them. But the letters were their own.

    Writing was a scribal thing first of all, to RECORD transactions carried out in speech. It has only been simplified enough to be generally used very very recently, and this has only been possible with the invention of printing and the revolutionary needs of the oppressed (first the bourgeoisie, then the working class) to participate in social life - at church with access to bibles and services in the common lingo and in politics with manifestos, exchange of ideas, etc.

    Dictionaries and pedantry (demonstrated by most of the commenters here) came along very very late. And destroyed the exact representation of changing speech by petrifying the speech of one period and class of people and their hired hacks and turning it into a compulsory norm. This kind of strait-jacket crap is burst and thrown away pretty soon by real language development and change, like a snake casts its skin.

    So fetishizing spelling is completely mad, except for a small professional cast of editors, sub-editors and proof-readers.

    The purest form of English we ever had - Old English or Anglo-Saxon (and even that was a mish-mash of Continental dialects) - never had consistent spelling, and they got a lot of good stuff put down in writing anyway.

    Middle English was an utterly chaotic and constantly changing mess of Old English and Norman French, used by people bilingual in the two. Chaucer and Caxton rode the crest of the emerging new language consensus from the early Middle English creoles and made it generally available to the "masses" - those who could read at the time. And - bang! - in a few decades with the Reformation and the fresh translations of the Bible into the vernacular, we had New English. A couple of centuries later the hacks (ie Sam Johnson) attempted to set all this in concrete with dictionaries and rules, copying the French.

    So all you Canutes out there can sit on the beach and admonish the tide to stop as much as you like (in Old East Norse ie Old Danish) and it won't do you a bit of good. Most of you will drown, and good riddance!!

  86. dave lawless
    Thumb Up

    spelling schmelling

    If you read some 18th century text such as Adam Smith's "On The Wealth of Nations" you will expose yourself to many of what we would term spelling mistakes. Rigid & standardised spelling is a 20th century invention.

    I'm all for flexibility, so long as text speak isn't permitted !

  87. Jonathan Tate

    Wow. Just wow.

    As an American, when the English forget how the language is supposed to work we're all screwed. As absolutely hilarious as this article and following comments are, there is something deeply troubling about it.

    This is further proof that I am one of the very few people left that take pride in his written language. I always write properly -- even in instant messages and notes to myself.

    Oh, and I (and perhaps most Americans) don't pronounce "they're" the same as "there" and "their", rather, a little like a (much less exaggerated) "they-urr".

    Flames because my god, that guy needs to feel them.

  88. David Gillies

    My policy was zero tolerance

    As a doctoral student, I used to supplement my meagre income by working as a lab assistant. There was good dosh to be made marking lab books. I took enormous pleasure in marking the idle little toads down for every spelling and grammatical error they made. There were howls of protest, naturally, but I prevailed. The fact that this was in an electronic engineering department rather than law school was neither here nor there: correct orthography and grammar are an aid to clarity and a courtesy to one's readers.

    xjy: you're talking bollocks. Insisting on correct spelling and grammar is not a fetish. Allowing 'variant' spelling, punctuation etc. breaks the standard. When Microsoft do that everyone screams like a banshee. It's not that one set of spellings is inherently more logical or superior to another. It's that it's (semi-)fixed, and everyone can read the RFC (AKA OED).

    Hoist the black flag and start slitting the throats of the illiterates!

  89. Neil Greatorex
    Thumb Down

    @ By Steve 17:04

    "rediculous loosers "

    Whilst posting to a thread complaining about spelling standards, you fail to check your own; sorry pal, you're a ridiculous loser yourself....

  90. Steve


    Canute's behaviour was intended as a demonstration to his sycophantic followers that he wasn't all-powerful. He knew what he was about.

    I'm with the pedants, using accepted spelling is an indication of education, which is what universities are there to do. I too get very irritated about people who are too lazy or ill-educated to spell correctly, and my own spelling is impeccable.

    I jsut wish my tyipng wans't so crpa.

  91. Anonymous Coward

    Deer surs

    I am apling 4 the postion uv rapporter for the Reg. Plesse higher me, I cant seam 2 find werq any wear els des spite apling al ofer de place. I half a decrre in de Anguish languish.

  92. Rhyd



  93. Chris G

    Hang the son of a bitch

    He's a disgrace to British edukashun

  94. MHW
    Thumb Down



  95. Anonymous Coward

    Those who can’t, teach

    I confess to being Dyslexic (not even sure if spelt that properly). My ability to spell correctly is rather hampered. I’m writing this post with the aid of a spelling and grammar checker.

    But, that said, I WANT to spell correctly and I WANT to be grammatically correct. Many posts I have made, emails and correspondence have taken me an hour or more to write. Because I CARE about what I am saying, most of the time. I don’t want to introduce ambiguity. Even with the help of spell checkers and grammar checkers, I still get it wrong.

    However, this Dr. Ken Smith is just a lazy git in my opinion. To advocate misspellings is just wrong. His job it to TEACH! If he finds errors in spelling and grammar, he should highlight them. He is basically saying it’s not his job. Get off your fat arse man and earn your wage! Feel free to criticise schoolteachers for not doing their job well enough.

    Thankfully, my reading ability is not nearly as impaired as my spelling and can say that I have enjoyed books from differing extremes of spelling and grammar:

    E.R. Eddison; The Worm Ouroboros. Found it hard, but rewarding.

    China Miéville; Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council. Some exquisite use of the English language, sometimes I read paragraphs aloud just for the pleasure of it.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Sherlock Holmes. Again, some beautiful, evocative language, I love passages where Holmes or Watson is reading from a newspaper. It evokes a real ‘taste’ for the period. Plus, if I find a word I don’t understand, I like to look it up and find out about its derivation. To me, this just adds more magic to the story.

    Ian M. Banks; Feersum Endjinn. This is the flip side of the coin; the majority of the book is a journal written in a phonetic style. I found this difficult to read for a couple of chapters. But, Banks is consistent, so it became jarring when chapters using correct English were introduced. In the end, I loved it because it created a language that, set in a far future, could be possible, even probable.

    The point is, I love these books and many more, in all these cases the authors have a good command of English and use it to different effect. I truly think that these books could not have been created in a climate where indifference to proper spelling was allowed.

    I know that my writing will never equal these authors. But, that does not mean I should not endeavour to try my best and admire those who do better.

    I have had my fill of teachers like this who told me I'd never amount to anything. This person is just as ignorant as his students.

  96. Juan Llodra
    Paris Hilton

    I'm no teacher...

    ...but would it not make sense to focus a little on the tricky aspects of our wonderful language during kid's early years in school? Just getting homonyms and apostrophes right will take care of half the mistakes. Reading books across a wide range of subjects, learning to infer what others are implying and standing by one's principal principles are all part of what I reckon could be done in one academic year to improve a student's lifetime English.

    Sh*t. I forgot, alright? The little scrotes have to be in school to begin with. My mistake...

    Paris because I bet she'll have her speech carefully proofread when she addresses the nation as the next US President.

  97. b166er

    Well, should become useful

    Let them mis-spell everything. Soon the UK will become illiterate and impoverished, but these new found skills will keep the cash rolling in to blighty via authentically composed 419 scams.

    Language is a virus.

  98. Tom

    Speling Checker

    I was using an Apple II when I first received a copy of this...

    I have a spelling checker It came with my PC. It plane lee marks four my revue Miss steaks aye can knot see.

    Eye ran this poem threw it. Your sure real glad two no. Its very polished in its weigh, My checker tolled me sew.

    A checker is a blessing. It freeze yew lodes of thyme. It helps me right awl stiles two reed, And aides me when aye rime.

    Each frays comes posed up on my screen Eye trussed too bee a joule. The checker pours o'er every word To cheque sum spelling rule.

    Bee fore a veiling checkers Hour spelling mite decline, And if we're laks oar have a laps, We wood bee maid too wine.

    Butt now bee cause my spelling Is checked with such grate flare, There are know faults with in my cite, Of nun eye am a wear.

    Now spelling does not phase me, It does knot bring a tier. My pay purrs awl due glad den With wrapped words fare as hear.

    To rite with care is quite a feet Of witch won should be proud, And wee mussed dew the best wee can, Sew flaws are knot aloud.

    Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays Such soft wear four pea seas, And why eye brake in two averse Buy righting want too please.

  99. Steen Hive
    Thumb Down

    Let's go find some old davchek droogies, and razzrezz his platties.

    Is that "A Clockwork Orange" I see before me?

  100. Charles Manning


    In the old days you had to be fluent in Latin to even get into University? Why? That requirement was relaxed some years ago.

    Why this need to have perfect spelling? If you're going to be a computer programmer or city planner then getting your "there" right hardly matters.

    Putting up arbitrary useless requirements as barriers to entry just keeps people from applying their skills properly. Just a good way to keep the blue collared workers in their place.

    We've hopefully got past that as it is not good for those people or the economy as a whole.

  101. James O'Shea Silver badge

    Ye Englische Langauge

    When (many, many years ago) I was in high school, my 2nd Form (I said it was many years ago) English teacher was short, had a beard almost as big as he was, and was named Lalsingh. He was also ex-Indian Army, and had learned his English there. There were no 'variant' spellings in his class. Attempts to do so tended to result in the person responsible getting The Glare. Most only got The Glare once before reforming. He did not raise his voice. He did not use harsh language. He merely intimidated the hell out of the class.

    Perhaps Blighty should import a few more long-service Indian Army warrant officers and use them instead of the likes of the (ahem) good professor. And perhaps the good professor should seek alternate employment. Becoming a minesweeper in Afghanistan sounds about his level.

  102. Adrian Esdaile

    Why don't we all just use Mindfuck?

    It is a legitimate langerage afterall, and haz only too 'letters' so splelinge is vasterly simplicicityifiedegded.


    Pronounce + as "tish" and - as "ooomph" and the kiddies will love it, yo.

  103. Adrian Esdaile

    Better idea - lets all use Lolcats!

    Bcuz itz ar too eezy.

    Pluz teh kittehs cen red itz.


  104. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    That iz a grate idee-ah

    That sownds grate! I luv just speling stuf howevar I want!

  105. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    If they can't spell... did they get in to uni? Don't they have entrance requirements any more?

    Paris, because she has entrance requirements.

  106. skeptical i
    Thumb Down

    When the kiddos write up their CVs ...

    ... they will most likely simply pay someone to correct the spelling, grammar, and logic (e.g., ensure that the arrangement of various fabricated past job holdings makes chronological sense) before sending them in. Since most job interviews are verbal, the candidate's poor written communication skills will not be discovered until s/he has started warming a desk chair.

    And while we're flogging Dr. Smith, let's also put into the stocks those who decided that using "their" as a third- person gender- neutral SINGULAR pronoun is acceptable: I will never get back the minutes I've lost tripping over such gems as "each student is given the time needed to achieve their potential" and wondering who else got smuggled into the sentence between "each student" and "their". If we can not all agree on an acceptable gender- neutral third- person singular pronoun, that's fine, but until that breakthrough arrives is it really so difficult to rewrite sentences to employ the plural sense coming and going (e.g., "all students are given ... ")?

  107. Justin

    Both sides??

    AC wrote: "On the other hand, if they are studying criminology, why should their marks be significantly affected by their inability to spell - it would be different if they were studying English Language."

    Are you crazy?

    I don't care how well an English major can spell.

    I am way more concerned over the grammar and spelling ability of someone who could be submitting expert reports in criminal cases that may be relied upon in securing a conviction/dismissal or deciding on a sentence.

    Law is one of those fields that requires absolute precision in expert testimony/reports.

  108. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    My Humble Opinion

    103 comments - I'm sorry I can't read them all. But, here is my position.

    In formal works and submissions, I believe strongly in maintaining standards. That's not to say that the language doesn't change over time - it does - but if standards fall in formal work, we risk major problems in communicating with each other in the future with much being lost in translation where it is most important to be well understood. In addition, somewhere examples must be set for others to follow.

    In one of my jobs I had to mark assignments from adult students - a very frustrating task, I can assure you, particularly encountering frequent spelling and grammar mistakes. But never would I accept a lower standard of marking than that which I would set for myself. Of course, since in my case, these were adult students in a paid vocational course, there were no failures from spelling and grammar - just suggestions for improvement!

    What I suggest in senior school/matriculation years and university courses is simple, effective and reduces the marking burden on staff:

    a. On encountering the *first* spelling error - subtract 10% and re-submit in 7 days - repeat until no spelling mistakes exist or available marks reach zero;

    b. On encountering the *first* major grammatical mistake - subtract 5% and re-submit on 7 days - repeat until no grammatical mistakes exist or available marks reach zero.

    That will quickly get the message across! Oh, and an aptitude test or two in senior school years THAT IS MARKED HARSHLY AND HAS REAL CONSEQUENCES would be valuable.

  109. michael

    dyslexic of the world untie

    "(Yes, I *know*. There will always be unfortunates who are unable on medical grounds to write English without mangling it. But no-one else has an excuse.)"

    I do I have a note from my doctor excusing me form english classes and everything

    seriousley I got so fed up of my maths teacher corecting my spelling and gramar if you can understand what I meen then stfu

    (sorry but I got soo fed up of the imposibility that is spelling and gramar that I got expeled from a school over it)

  110. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Buckinghamshire University?

    Only since the recent reorganisation.

    Before that it was a MacDonalds.

    Posted anonymously because

    I wurks in ur yooniversity teechin ur kidz!

    Sorry, that should have read:

    I wurks in ur yooniversity lernin ur kidz!

  111. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Chaucer pre-dates standardised spelling, your paragraph demonstrates why it was required, many of the words are spelt phonetically by his particular accent. If you speak in the same way (I imagine a strong west country accent) then it's much easier. With the vast globalisation of English standardisation has become more important than ever, we need to be able to understand everyone from Szechuan to Iowa.

    Also, your corrected variant isn't just spelling, there are dialect differences there too.

    Compare "thonder dentght" with "thunder clap" and "almoost yblent" with "almost blinded". These words were never intended to sound like the modern variants.

    @Samantha, sod the ironing, how about we claim Malta?

  112. Adrian Jackson

    @Jolyon Ralph

    While you might not like "PC's", it's a form that has been seen as standard by some fairly significant organisations. The New York Times and IBM spring to mind as examples. The rules for forming the plural form of acronyms and initialisms don't exactly seem to be set in stone, and I'm always happy to be tolerant of most variants.

    Better to save your ire for those cases where there truely are no alternative's. [sick]

  113. Dave Harris

    Re: weird/wierd

    Could not "wierd" be a misspelling of "wired" as well? Allowing "wierd" to stand for either could completely blanket the intentions of the writer.

  114. GrahamT

    @Charles Manning

    Re: "..keep the blue collared workers in their place."

    Sorry, I can't let that one go. My father was a coal miner, as were both my grandfathers. My mother and father could spell and write grammatically, better than 80% of the commentators here.

    At school, my mate was one of the worst spellers in the class: his father was white collar. The difference was that my house was full of books and magazines; he owned one book.

    Class should have nothing to do with education, though the working class tend to suffer most when the standard of education declines.

    I am lucky that I went to one of the country's first comprehensive schools in the 60's, with loads of keen, committed teachers. (I was an 11+ failure.) I thank them with all my heart for freeing me from a life down the pit. My brothers who did go down the pit, spell and write correctly too.

    These teachers even taught my mate to spell. Nowadays he would have been labelled dyslexic and left to stew.

    Oddly, my children spell and punctuate correctly, and write gramatically - except when they are texting. They don't make these silly mistakes, so it isn't a generation thing either.

    I blame Thatcher for starving the schools of money in the 80's and losing many of the enthusiastic teachers. I know one incredible teacher who left to become an insurance salesman, as he couldn't feed his family on a teacher's pay. A terrible loss to education.

    Now the pay is better, but the damage has been done, and we have a generation of poorly educated young adults. These then become parents, and even teachers if the standards are lowered as suggested by this wally, and the downward spiral continues.

    The answer is to raise standards, not to lower them.

    illiteracy is not a "variant"; it is a curable illness in society.

    <steps gingerly off soap box and awaits brickbats>

  115. Andy Taylor

    I am impressed, fellow Register readers

    100+ comments and no mention of Lynne Truss!

    There is no excuse for poor spelling. We need to return to the days when all subject teachers would correct spelling and grammar, not just the English teachers.

    Pad's comment shows that with the right help and assistance it is possible for everyone to be able to communicate clearly, effectively and accurately.

  116. Sooty


    "It does not make any difference to the meaning of a sentence if you spell 'their' as 'thier' or 'there', so why insist on 'their'?"

    Perhaps the problem stems from the teachers, after all, if a university lecture doesn't know that 'their' and 'there' are actully two different words with two different meanings that just happen to be pronounced in the same way, how are the kids supposed to learn it!

    Nice quote though, as using their or there could completely change the meaning of the sentence. In the same way that using write or right could, or mail & male, through & threw, were & we're, witch & which. I seem to remember a lesson in school entitled 'Which, witch is which?' and a quick google search turns it up under homonyms: teaching elementary language skills.

    The whole purpose of spelling, punctuation, grammer, etc. is to ensure that whoever reads the text, takes away the same understanding of it that the author intended. The spoken word doesn't always need this, as tone inflection, even body language, can carry the meaning over just as well. As someone who works in IT, I can tell you the value of a well written, completely unambigous, document! I'll certainly appreciate it quite a lot if I ever receive one!

    If you're marking an exam and what is written can be taken in more than one way, assume the incorrect way and mark it incorrect!! It's a university, and specifically criminology, if your students aren't accurate in the fine details then they don't deserve to get their degree. I can't say I'd particularly support a conviction based on evidence collected or processed by someone who couldn't master the basics of the written language that most people pick up in their infancy. I could go on to say, if they're good enough to actually get a degree, they could hang it up over there, on their wall. :)

    When I went through my education, finished a mere 8 years ago, all work had to be written in formal English* as well, although this was relaxed over the last few years. Obviously these comments don't count, but anything non-casual** should be written in a formal way.

    *Nevermind! If you do not know the difference between formal and informal English then go directly to the next post! Do not pass go, and do not collect £200!

    **just could not bring myself to use formal or informal there.

  117. Gareth Erskine-Jones

    Why we should listen to criminology lecturer about spelling...

    ...because he appears to understand language better than most of the people commenting here. Spoken language changes - words fall into disuse, change in meaning, new words are coined. The written language (which people often mistakenly think is a rendering of the spoken language in a different medium) also changes.

    Descriptive grammar is the legitimate study of language as it is actually written or spoken. It's a kind of science.

    Prescriptive grammar, when people are told that the way they express themselves is incorrect, is not a science, it's a system for enforcing class structures - the "correct" way to express something is to express it in the way that the dominant class in society would do it. It's extremely common to judge people's intelligence by the degree to which they adhere to standad grammar - despite this being an appallingly poor criterion.

    The lecturer is suggesting that rather than concentrating on the content of the papers he marks, he is forced to waste effort imposing a particular grammar on his students.

    Some people here have commented that it's important that students express themselves clearly - and so standard (meaning dominant) spelling should be enforced. This confuses two issues; it's possible to write something that's very hard to understand using standard spelling and grammar. It's also possible to write something perfectly clear while not using these standards.

    There's another important educational issue here - substantial effort is being put into teaching people to conform, simply because we're prejudiced against those who do not. That effort could be better used elsewhere. Another example of this is the teaching of children to write. They need to learn this, but their facility for written language is present long before they possess the motor skills to write with a pen or pencil. My children now write very well, but at a time when they were still struggling to hold a pencil properly and taking an age to write a sentence, I put them in front of a keyboard and found that their literacy skills were actually much better than they seemed - and yet the school insists on teaching penmanship first, literacy afterwards.

  118. David Bell
    Dead Vulture

    If you can't beat them, join them...

    I'm an engineer and write technical specifications all the time. The way it's written has an affect (effect? no) on its meaning, therefore I hate this attitude.

    But I can't help thinking.......could we apply this to other things.

    How about "we can't stop the yoof from smoking weed so lets not bother" Oh, we already did that!

    Mine's the one with the twatting stick in the pocket! Come here you little scrote

  119. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: If you can't beat them, join them...


  120. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ gareth

    "The lecturer is suggesting that rather than concentrating on the content of the papers he marks, he is forced to waste effort imposing a particular grammar on his students."

    And how are you to asses the contents of the papers, if the grammer is not correct? The grammer used defines the meaning of the content, if the grammer is incorrect the marker has to make assumtions. The marker will then grade these assumptions rather than what the student actually wrote.

    If the marker is knowledgable in the subject, they may read meaning into something that the student didn't intend and mark them too highly. If the marker has no knowledge of the subject, they may completely miss a meaning and not give the student credit for it unless it's presented in a clear way.

    The only fair way is to create a set of standards and enforce them, conveniently the English language provides this

  121. Graham Orr


    For Anonymous Coward, Both Sides, 15:36. Your friend is indeed unfortunate to have attended higher education before testing undergraduates for dyslexia became commonplace resulting in additional time allowed in the examination hall for those so diagnosed. But one thing still puzzles me: How, in the 'real world', does he decipher the meaning of the equations in the book?

  122. Gareth Erskine-Jones

    you prove my point perfectly

    If the paper is incomprehensible - then there is a problem. However as I said, it's quite possible for someone to use non-standard spelling or grammar, without the paper being incomprehensible. For example, I understood your point perfectly well, despite the fact that you used a non-standard spelling for the word "grammar".

  123. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <not title>

    He is a criminology lecturer, so whether he corrects his students' spelling or not is not the point, just so long as he doesn't drop marks for English when the subject being marked is Criminology. He can leave his English lecturer friends to cover all the student failing.

    Meanwhile his English lecturer friends are either capable of marking English or they are not. If not, then they should be sacked. If they are capable but can't be arsed and suggest "variant spelling" to cover their laziness, then they should be sacked. However if they are capable and they correct their students' spelling errors, then all is as it should be.

  124. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Gareth Erskine-Jones

    >Prescriptive grammar, when (...) [is] a system for enforcing class structures

    No, if you let it slide then the groups will separate. When one group can't understand another they will consider them either inferior or pompous.

    A standardised grammar and spelling, even pronunciation, protects against this. How can you be a class snob when everyone looks and sounds the same?

    >It's extremely common to judge people's intelligence by the degree to which

    >they adhere to standard grammar - despite this being an appallingly poor criterion.

    Yes, a bad choice, but it's sub-concious, if you struggle to understand a person you will always have a poor opinion of their intelligence.

  125. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The way I see it

    is that spelling / grammar / writing style should be dealt with according to the situation, media, subject and audience.

    The important thing I think, is the combination of media and audience. So when arguing on an internet forum any spelling / grammar / style should be acceptable as long as it doesn't affect the meaning of the sentence and does not make the sentence unduly difficult to read. (and obviously as long as you aren't insulting other people's spelling or grammar).

    However, when applying for a job correct spelling, grammar and writing style are very important.

    As for examinations or course work I suppose you could argue that spelling etc. is not that important [as long as the meaning is still clear], however it is human nature to correlate bad spelling with a lack of intelligence or understanding.

  126. Jos

    Try this one...

    And then try to rewrite it according to this guy's "new rules". I bet it comes out a bit awkward.

    Enjoy your weekend!


  127. Samantha Clinton

    In the grand scheme of things...

    There are many practical examples of spelling not being overly important, but equally there are many for which it is vital. For instance, I work in a promotions and marketing role (awaits flames) for an adult learning provider in local government. The major part of my working life involves producing publicity materials such as prospectuses. You can imagine how important accuracy is in area like me, if you make a basic error someone will be on the phone complaining that as 'adult learning' we should know better. This is why I am a completely pedantic bore these days - it's ingrained into me.

    Guess what? Although I did go to a grammar school, and did English Language at GCSE and 'A' level I chose not to go to university. My friend, who went to university, is quite possibly the worst culprit for you're, your, there, they're and their etc., that I know and is an international manager for a pharmaceutical software company. My father can't spell for toffee having left school at 14 with no qualifications, but that hasn't stopped him being a highly successful plumber for 40 years (just meant that someone else had to decipher his hand written notes and produce the invoices - hmmm, that would be me of late then).

    *trying to remember point* However, we all three started from the same rules, and whilst I can forgive people for making the odd mistake, if we destandardise spellings, who will know what was originally meant? In this world it's hard enough not to get in accidental arguments via text or email as it is, without me wondering whether someone meant to say weird, wired, tried, tired etc.

    @JonB - if you've freed me up from ironing duties, I should have the spare energy to take on Malta. I suppose not having the monsoon season should help keep the books dry. But won't the natives be a tad peeved?

  128. Michael

    Did'nt the daily mail kick this off?

    Pot?? Kettle????

    Bunch of Floccinaucinihilipilificators, the lot of them!!!!

  129. Gareth Erskine-Jones

    speak for yourself

    >if you struggle to understand a person you will always have a poor opinion of their >intelligence.

    Well, you might, but I don't. I struggle with Chaucer, and have problems understanding some of the regional accents in the UK, but I don't make judgements about intelligence on that basis - at least, not consciously.

    As you say, it's sometimes an unconscious judgement, but the solution to that is to attempt to overcome the prejudice, not to try to change the other person so that your prejudices don't kick in. Some think that people with different coloured skin are less intelligent - again, the solution isn't to change the colour of their skin, but to work at removing your prejudice.

    Once again though, you are confusing two things - you are suggesting that the use of non-standard spelling and grammar is strongly correlated with incomprehensibility. It is not. If someone spells "grammar" as "grammer", as one poster did, most people will not struggle to understand them. If a student hands in a paper which cannot be understood, then that is a problem, if they hand in a paper which is perfectly comprehensible, but which contains the occasional misplaced apostrophe, the only problem (unless they are being testing on apostrophe placement), is prejudice.

    Someone else mentioned Lynne Truss. I don't have her book to hand, but I have read it. She's quite inconsistent. She decries the horrendous changes that are occurring in the written language, occasionally because they cause confusion, but mostly because they are just non-standard (e.g. "CD's"). She then goes on to speak about changes that have occurred in the recent past (the dropping of periods after abbreviations is given as an example I think). It appears that her view is that changes in written english are acceptable if they occurred in the past, but that if they are happening now, then they are to be abhorred.

    I hate to say it, but I think a lot of people's views on this matter are influenced by a fairly narrow exposure to language and linguistics. The fact that our writting is primarily phonetic leads to the misconception that it's supposed to be a faithful representation of the spoken language, and silly phrases like "knife begins with a silent 'k'" demonstrate this misconception. People whose written languages differ much more from their spoken language don't suffer from these misconceptions so much. Nor do people who have studied a particular language as it evolved over a long period of time (e.g. akkadian, which was used for at least two thousand years). The idea that it's not possible to communicate clearly without everyone adhering to a fixed standardised written form is clearly untrue - it's been done for a very long time indeed.

  130. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: speak for yourself

    Obviously loads and loads (and loads) I could say here BUT just for now, I shall admit to judging people if their spelling, punctuation and grammar are poor (and they're not Not From Round Ere or dyslexic). It's not a lack of intelligence it suggests to me (although it sets me up to find you a bit dim, and I need convincing you're not) so much as indolence. It's... slovenly. I judge you on it just as I'd judge you if you met me in public dressed in tracky pants with ketchup stains and saggy elastic.

    Y'know, like, sack up.

  131. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Gareth Erskine-Jones

    It's a bit much to suggest that a subconscious assessment of someone's intellectual ability based on their use of language is akin to racism.

    You are right that small variations aren't going to confuse people, but if you leave it then they get worse. Besides, you have forgotten my other point that people worldwide speak English, what may be idiomatic and easily understood by us may be very confusing to someone from a very different cultural background speaking English as a second language - and vice versa.

    @Samantha Clinton

    I'm not sure where else fits the island with good weather description. There's not many of them, we'll just turf them off. Keep a few bar staff perhaps...

  132. Gareth Erskine-Jones

    final words....

    >It's not a lack of intelligence it suggests to me (although it sets me up to find you a >bit dim, and I need convincing you're not) so much as indolence. It's... slovenly.

    Ah, the good old, laziness argument. Most commonly employed against people who use glottal stops in certain words (e.g. water), or who say "t'cat" instead of "the cat". This can only be justly considered lazy if you make the assumption that the person is either trying to speak RP, but not trying hard enough, or if you assume that everyone ought to speak RP, and the only reason they're not is because of laziness or some other moral failure. Complete rubbish, and the whole argument assumes that there ought to be a standard way of speaking or writing that any deviation is bad. If that were the case, then we are truly privileged - standard written english must be perfect, (unlike the english of the past, along with all other languages which has changed continuously thoughout its history).

    >although it sets me up to find you a bit dim, and I need convincing you're not

    If you're happy to judge people like that, then so be it. Personally, I make a particular effort not to do so - because I once met someone with a very strong regional accent (dialect really), and, yes, unconsciously assumed she wasn't very bright. I was very much mistaken - and that was my failing, not hers.

    The really interesting aspect of your post though is that you don't mention any real benefits of standardisation - you simply state that you judge people based on the way they use language. This is exactly my point - by and large, a misplaced apostrophe doesn't cause confusion, it causes you to make a judgement about someone. It's a class issue and a prejudicial issue - we live in a country where standardised speech and writting were propogated though certain educational establishments, and the main use of subtle grammatical rules is to try to assess a person's educational background.

    >It's a bit much to suggest that a subconscious assessment of someone's >intellectual ability based on their use of language is akin to racism.

    I beg to differ. I didn't mean active racism, I meant the tendency to make judgements about people based on completely unsuitable criteria. You suggest that because you tend to think someone is dim because of the way they speak, they should change to accommodate your prejudice. I suggest that you work on eliminating that prejudice.

    >You are right that small variations aren't going to confuse people, but if you >leave it then they get worse.

    Says who? Is english worse now than it was five hundred years ago? There are many long term trends in the development of languages (loss of inflection in english for example - something which has occurred in many other languages too). This doesn't appear to have been accompanied by a reduction in the expressiveness of the language, or an increase in confusion. Some of the changes occuring at the moment are quite interesting and appear to be for the better. Very few people get upset by split infinitives these days, and they seem to differ slightly in meaning from the "standard" form. The traditional rules for apostrophe use are pretty arbitary and rarely useful, while the much deplored use of an apostrophe to separate a pluralising "s" from a capitalised abbreviation does carry some meaning. The loss of many diacritical marks (the circumflex in words like "role"), the cedilla in words like facade is really no loss at all. Unless of course seeing these words naked as it were, confuses the hell out of you.

    >Besides, you have forgotten my other point that people worldwide speak English, >what may be idiomatic and easily understood by us may be very confusing to >someone from a very different cultural background speaking English as a >second language

    I'm not sure how this supports your argument at all. The other english speaking nations of the world have their own distinctive accents, dialects, grammars and vocabularies. This doesn't seem to cause any major problems, and suggests that insisting that there is only one true way to speak and write english is a bit of a waste of time.

  133. Tim

    Spelling mistakes.

    Maybe the website they are copying and pasting from has the mistakes and they do not read it?

  134. Schultz

    Problem with the English language

    There is a serious problem with the English language: The spelling just doesn't make any sense. Why not some kind of phonetic spelling? Maybe it would even help to get some convergence into the English, Americanglish, Indlish, Newzealish, ...

    Or just give it up and speak German like I do.

    Ist mir doch völlig egal wie der Professor in Buckinhamshire seine Arbeiten korrigiert!

  135. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Simple English

    It leads to the kind of English up with which I will not put!

    (Winston Churchill)

  136. Anonymous Coward

    Barbecued Buffalo


    AC wrote

    This is taken to the logical conclusion with the _perfectly_correct_ sentence "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo".

    Throw that one on the barbie.... I'm impressed.

    my favorite is rein/reign/rain, the reign in Spain is mostly kings and queens... I can rein Barbie but not reign her, especially in the rain... and no, there (their? they're?) are no picnic tables, bicycles, or Hoovers about...

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the American fave, ebonics. 100+++ entries an no ebonics advocates? Y'all (eh? ElReg accepts "Y'all"? no squiggly red underline?) a bunch of parochials or what?

  137. Samantha Clinton


    Might be worth keeping more than a 'few bar staff' ;) I'm quite partial to an occasional drink in a hot climate!

  138. Anonymous Coward

    If they can't spell, they can try EuroEnglish ;-)

  139. b166er

    Jon and Samantha

    Can I bring a video camera?

    Reign/Rain/Rein Pare/Pair/Pear

    Mines the grubby mac

  140. Kenji Takeda

    Precision counts

    As a Senior Lecturer in Aeronautics at the University of Southampton, I feel that precise communication is a crucial attribute that our graduates must have. Students may not be perfect when they come to us, but they are a lot better by the time we're done with them :)

    We train people to design aircraft and space systems. I think you'll agree that it's best if these people can spell and write sentences. The likes of Airbus, ESA and Rolls-Royce don't want engineers who cannot write. Lives may be at risk otherwise!

    Best regards,

    Dr Kenji Takeda

  141. Michael

    re:Problem with the English language

    How do you get the umlaut on the keyboard again?????

  142. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Such is the beauty of the English language

    we only attempt to make ourselves understood, who cares about the minutiae.

    It is both amusing and informative to see Miss Bee's comments - so eloquently put as ever.

    But, so what, if someone wishes to be appear indolent; care free, hip 'n happening. And even the great linguists himself, once wrote;

    'We will encourage you to develop the three great virtues of a programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris.'

    Slovenly, may very well, be a bed partner to those faux vices.

    Deep down, I think the real objection is most don't want to learn a new language, the one they got taught by some post war teacher is the one they want to stick with, along with the memories of their little bottle of milk at playtime.

    But, time marches on, and the English language waits for none. It will be changed again, and continue to evolve, each generation trying to leave a part of their culture in the Inglish lexicon.

  143. Anonymous Coward

    So let's apply this to maths too...

    After all, 2+2=5 is a common enough mistake (probably) for undergrads at Buckinghamshire University (snigger). So let's just re-define the integers to make the problem go away. While we're at it, we could also overlook the inadequacy of some of our educational institutions and call them all universities so as to avoid any confusion about which are the good ones...

    Oh wait...

  144. Samantha Clinton

    @ bi66er

    Great! Jon, that'll save on the wedding photographer! Book Bletchley Park as soon as you can! ;)

  145. Tiim

    Some peeps are just too wierd!

    The language is a living, breathing entity. Dictionaries are not written by linguists and frequently have a political slant from the authors.

    Admittedly, Standard English ought to be used in professional correspondence and academia. It doesn't matter elsewhere if the meaning of the sentence is clear with no sexual innuendo present where not wholly intended! We can't hold Standard English up to the world like a big stick, when international English users frequently use Business English and even Military English. I've heard the complaints from Chinese teachers saying their child will go back home and fail at school and then life because he picked up a South Yorkshire dialect. We think it's fine, even if they do get points for hitting women in fights down Barnsley.

    There are words that have historically changed to the form they are today and we look at them and furrow our brows at the process. Much like our descendants will with what we do with the language. Words are changing gradually though and people aren't going to be happy until a politically biased non-linguist has listed the new spelling in a dictionary. Go, Daleks, Go!

    Us linguists will get back to our mutterings about how conversation popped up in peoples heads; and how the feck it came out of their mouths. A few spelling variations isn't a scandal when the rest of education has had its arse ripped out.

  146. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Gareth Erskine-Jones

    >You suggest that because you tend to think someone is dim because

    >of the way they speak, they should change to accommodate your prejudice.

    No, because of the way they write when they don't know the background of their audience.

    To write constantly in dialect ignores the variety of your audience who may not understand your colloquialisms at all. If you intend to write dialect then t'rules are chucked out t'winder. It would be pretty stupid if your audience includes someone who's recently learnt English as a second language with a radically different cultural background though.

    As for spoken English, no-one's worried about your accent, and even the glottal stops are correct. When people come out with "Can I lend a pen off you?" though, surely even you with your superior liberalism, find that cringe-worthy?

    >Is english worse now than it was five hundred years ago?

    The small variations haven't been ignored, we have an extensive education system and standardised spelling and grammar. Written English is certainly worse than 50 years ago.

  147. William Towle

    Re: @Sarah Bee

    Funky Dennis> "Did you change

    "Email hacker banged up for exposing boss' sex life"


    "Email hacker banged up for exposing boss's sex life"?

    If so, thank you. I learn with sadness that the first version is now apparently acceptable"

    I don't see why it shouldn't be, and I'm somewhat adamant the former way is how my grammar school taught it (and it's modern schooling that differs): in the written form, the apostrophe is sufficient to denote the posessive; it's only when spoken that you need to express the multiple esses due to the apostrophe's lack of audible cue.

    Strunk and White be damned - this particular "variation" doesn't affect readability or meaning (at least, not negatively) ... otherwise you'd have to write "Joneses's snake" for "family's pet". Yuk.

    [boffin since I've never heard this argument from anyone educated enough to attribute the source of the belief. And it looks like me]

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