Congratulations, Master of Homonyms

03 Aug

Hello there. I couldn’t help but notice via Facebook that you like the correct usage of “your,” “you’re,” “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” 

That’s spectacular. Eighth grade is full of mystery and wonder, isn’t it? 

You know, I also like the correct usage of those five words.  I think that the correct usage of those five words is just fab. 

I’m also a fan of the correct usage of “yore,” which seems like it ought to be on the list.  Nothing gets my goat like when someone tells me tales from the Days of You’re.

But it’s a little weird, isn’t it?  The rules of grammar and spelling are stretched nowhere further and more often than in the online and texting worlds.  Even my mom likes to break off a text asking me, “Where R U?”

Saves her a couple of buttons, see.  She’s probably half in the bag and driving a stolen bus while she’s typing, so that’s a good thing.  She’s got to stay as focused as she possibly can.

And that’s pretty common – it’s not just my mom.  I know how to spell “Talk to you later,” but I might not do that, if I’m texting you.  Well, actually I’m the sort of old guy who does text in full sentences, but lots of people hit TTYL, and I know what they mean.  I know it just means that they’re in a hurry, and not that they’re incapable of spelling it.

Sometimes, like in the black heart of Twitter, the shortened spelling has a more direct function.  You only get 140 characters to work with, so figuring out ways to spell words with fewer letters is part of the game or the fun or whatever it is.

I’m all for you.  You know why?  It’s because I know what you mean whether you spell it correctly or not, and I don’t feel the need to get on my Grammarcycle and pop wheelies and ride around you in circles, correcting you.

Sure, it’s different when someone uses “there” instead of “their,” because it’s not intentional.  The person wasn’t abbreviating anything, he or she simply made a mistake.  But don’t panic – you should still be able to elicit the meaning of the mispelled word, using contextual clues. Like for instance, the rest of the sentence. 

When someone makes a mistake – as opposed to intentionally breaking all sorts of grammar and spelling rules for the pure sake of brevity – what we’re supposed to do I guess is surround them and point at them and crack our heads open like Pod People, screeching horrifically.

Given the very lax attention to grammar and spelling in the digital arena, I’m truly surprised anyone cares, but I just saw a Facebook page with six hundred thousand members, all really proud of themselves for knowing how to spell.

I’m proud of you, too, guys.  Keep that Perfect Spelling Beacon lit, so the rest of the world can look to it and know that you’re out there.  Spelling.  Spelling very selectively, very carefully, and with a bit of an attitude. The Top Spelling Guns – cocky, results-driven, and getting the thankless job done for the rest of us squares.

Frequently, those five words are simply typos.  It’s easy to type one instead of the other.  If you type a great deal, you tend to feel the typos as you’re making them.  It causes a little hiccup in your brain and you stop and look and go back and fix them. 

But sometimes the hiccup doesn’t happen if you’ve simply dropped the wrong version of the word in there.  It doesn’t feel like a typo if you’ve correctly typed the wrong word.  I didn’t design the typing hiccup so don’t ask me how it works.

And frequently, spellcheck won’t catch it, either.  And even more frequently, people don’t spellcheck their Facebook statuses.  I would imagine that’s because it’s just franking Facebook.  They probably had no idea that their intellects and identities as competent spellers were on the line with every post.

In short, it’s very possible to use the wrong version of any of those words, and still know exactly how to use them, what they mean, and how they are spelled.  Charlie Patterson, or whoever is bothering you in this regard, wasn’t sitting there concentrating and then filling in the wrong word on an English test.  He simply missed it – in a world where the number “2” can mean three different words and no one bats an eye.

This is Facebook, not the New Yorker.  Everybody settle the hell down.

It suggests a little bit of insecurity to me, you know?  Maybe you feel a little funny and well, not intellectual, for hanging out on Facebook all the time, and so you feel the need to assert your intellect through targeted petulance.  Look at me, I am Master of These Five Homonyms, and I apparently never experience typos; my fingers are perfect typing machines.

I was running a few miles earlier today, and I passed a fellow who tripped on the curb and almost took a serious spill in the gutter.  He was okay – don’t worry about him.  But you also don’t need to cluck your tongue and arch your eyebrows and become a big fan of Knowing How To Run Without Tripping, or Knowing How to Use Your Legs.

That guy knew how to do it.  He’s just a human being who screwed it up that one time, right in front of me.  I don’t think he’s having a hard time figuring it out or anything. 

You trip sometimes, too.  And you produce typos sometimes.  And you spell words incorrectly sometimes, even though you actually do know how to spell them if you think about it for a second.

Me?  You don’t have to worry about me, I know how to use and spell all five of those words, and even their sullen, sixth, left-out pal.  It’s just that, much like chewing gum, boiling water, eating carrots, or wiping my butt, I don’t think it’s particularly impressive, so I don’t go around shooting off my mouth about it.


Posted by on August 3, 2010 in Future Tom Grab Bag


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 responses to “Congratulations, Master of Homonyms

  1. Adele Dill

    August 6, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    This one hit home for me. Been caretaking grandchildren,11 & 12, so just catching up w/ Future Tom. They’re on FB, they text, they tweet and they can’t spell. Therefore, I’m making a concerted effort to let go of my English teacher, book editor background and go w/ their shortcuts so they’ll keep writing to me, in one way or another. So far, it’s working. When I got on FB 8 months ago, I looked for a spell checker but was told there wasn’t one. So I put an old dictionary next to the computer. Old habits die hard, eh?! Unless it’s a major wall post that someone my age might read, most days now, I type, I say “What the hell” and hit the comment link. Sure ain’t easy overcoming grade and high school training…now I just need a moment to proof this before I post it : )

  2. davidbdale

    August 7, 2010 at 3:57 am

    I really wish you had missed a typo somewhere in this long post, Tom, just for fun, so I could have pointed at it and you and screeched horrifically. I understand the typing hiccup better than most because I actually subvocalize each letter I’m typing as I type it and recognize instantly any asynchronicities (mind if I invent a word?). The fact that I can type at all with this handicap surprises me too, but I don’t seem to be able to overcome it. As far as the homonyms go, I flunk any composition student who gets them wrong on college essays. It’s college, for chrissake! I’m your last hope! People will know you’re a moron if I fail to break you. Once they get to facebook, though, they’re your problem.

    • thomaschalfant

      August 8, 2010 at 1:45 am

      Yes, I definitely scoured that thing before posting it. I would definitely agree, let the typos slide on Facebook, but in college not so much. I would imagine in college, that probably drives you crazy.


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