Why Bother About Correctness?
I often receive emails from readers who profess to see no reason to worry about standard forms of spelling or usage. I say “profess” because if they are reading DWT posts, they must care a little.
Here’s a recent comment:
does it really matter b/c everyone has their own way of speaking, writing, and thinking and the languages and “right” ways of spelling our only set up and there… truely their is no wrong or right way to spell because everyhitng was just though up by someone eles… such as books are thoughup by theirs writers…
On the face of it, this comment suggests that the writer does not assign much meaning to language or to thought. And there’s no reason that he/she should. According to some thinkers, the only meaning life has is the meaning we choose to give it. So no, in the grand scheme of the universe, it doesn’t matter if you spell truly with an e. The stars are not going to fall because of it.
On the other hand, I consider language to be the most valuable and significant thing about being human. It’s a means of communication, certainly, but much more. It’s a tool of thought and a vehicle of culture. It’s a window to the past and a bridge to the future. It can be a source of lifelong satisfaction and pleasure and personal satisfaction.
I think correctness in language matters because having standard forms maintains access to past literature and makes one’s own writing comprehensible to a larger number of English speakers than strictly idiosyncratic spelling and usage do.
People seem to approach correctness in language rather as they do religion. At one extreme stand the prescriptivists who want everyone to follow their practice or be damned. At the other extreme are the descriptivists for whom anything goes.
How much importance to assign to correctness in writing and speaking is an individual choice. Those who don’t care whether others understand them or not are certainly justified in writing and speaking any way they please.
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