Ecaterina Harling

Consultant, MooD International


This conversation is closed.

Does punctuation and spelling still matter?

Punctuation marks are symbols that indicate structure and organisation. Spelling is the action of writing symbols so that these constitute meaningful structure (words) that in turn create longer structures (sentences, paragraphs, etc.) that convey meaning.

But in the current world where technology is used more and more for communication purposes, what is the importance of correct spelling and punctuation? Isn't spelling reform a good idea? Do we still need punctuation?

Candidate for a Pullet Surprise
by Mark Eckman and Jerrold H. Zar

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

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

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

Each frays come 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 checker's
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we're lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

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

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word's fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw's 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 pleas.

  • Jan 13 2012: In art (like poetry) there are hardly any rules if any at all, but I think that to express unambiguous ideas then yes punctuation and correct spelling are needed.
    • Jan 14 2012: The art of forgetting punctuation still needs knowledge of punctuation ... in art, you "forget" rules? I doubt it. You rather break the rules for an effect. Without the rules the effect would not be there.

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    Jan 14 2012: In reading the comments here, I was reminded of a high school English teacher I had. She railed against parentheses, asserting (correctly, I think) that whatever was within parentheses could be dropped from the sentence with no error in grammar and no loss in meaning. In fact, she said, if we used parenthetical phrases in our writing, she would ignore them entirely.

    I can recall taking advantage of this edict to offer the occasional confrontational assertion (enclosed in parentheses, of course), knowing that she had obliged herself to not respond.
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      Jan 15 2012: That is, indeed, a very good point.

      One other feature of the English language that I find is underused (and sometimes incorrectly used), is sentence clauses. The correct use of subordinate and coordinate clauses can be instrumental in putting particular emphasis on parts of the sentence (very much as brackets are used for interjection of meaning of meaning).
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    Jan 13 2012: Being able to communicate well has never gone out of style.
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      Jan 13 2012: Especially when that well is of the Artesian variety!

      Oh, wait... :-)

      /In re: the topic at hand:/

      Spelling and punctuation are definitely still important. One's choice of words may hold in its grasp the difference between life and death, though I doubt such severity is commonplace. More often than not, it will merely provide some err in communication, some confusion, some humor, some forgivable comma splicing.

      Technology is changing the world around us with rapidity, in how we communicate our thoughts and intents. In the online world, most are probably familiar with the tongue-in-cheek proclamation that the internet is SRS BZNS. Perhaps as more history is realized, the tongue will depart from its place ever so delicately.

      Take, for example, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Up until this time, there was no direct telephonic exchange between Moscow and Washington. A relayed message could take upwards of 20 hours to translate, and more to compose a response. Tensions were high, and a lack of real-time communication threatened to hasten our mutual demise. In response, then, the now-fabled Red Phone was developed, to provide near-instant communication between the relevant parties. While such communication was verbal, and still necessitated the use of translators, the sheer quantity of time for such transmission was reduced by a significant value, so much so that tensions were palpably eased.

      How many wars might be averted if heed is paid to proper spelling and punctuation?

      Moreover, grammar is still of the utmost essence.
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    Jan 12 2012: As my response, I would like to quote a blogger.
    "An apostrophe is the difference between a business that knows its shit and a business that knows it's shit." - Sam Tanner
  • Jan 12 2012: Spot on with this Ecaterina, and what a great name. I'm not that uptight about much stuff, I think, but spelling and grammar, or the lack of one and misuse of the other, do make me seethe with rage.

    I have recently started to learn how to teach and the inability to spell of some 17 year old kids is frightening, but what I find even more worrying is how rarely they are being corrected. One is a direct consequence of the other.

    I'm guilty of texting with all the usual abbreviations and phonic spellings but I also firmly believe that language is fluid and constantly evolving and there is space for both to coexist. It's just that they are not mutually exclusive and the trends for texting come underneath the need for correct spelling and grammar on a list of priorities.

    Anyway the reasons I think they do matter, and matter greatly, is firstly that they just do and secondly, they are indicative of how education in general is faring and how much attention to detail is being undertaken, and lastly they are, I believe, indicative of how much reading is being done (and life without literature in all its forms would be horribly barren).

    That's my contribution for what it's worth.

    Kind regards

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      Jan 15 2012: The word "punctilious" (attentive to formality or etiquette) comes from the same origin root word as punctuation...
  • Jan 12 2012: Does it matter? Yes. But not in the same way you're implying.

    Historically, people have always been divided by different "classes" portraying their dominance in culture. Traditionally this is organized by wealth. Upper class, middle class, lower class. That's how it has been for the last...while. I feel that as we are developing with our industrialism and education, however, that these classes are beginning to reorganize. The money is still there, but more and more people are judged by other things - education, intelligence, and sophistication in general. Language will be a clear stereotypical indicator of the "intellectual class" one falls into.

    So to answer the question? Yes, punctuation and spelling matter. If you want to fall into the crowd of those who don't act on their educations, who don't enhance their minds, and who don't REALLY know how to think, imagine, and inspire, then don't worry about your writing. If you want to be seen as a sophisticated, high class, high intelligence individual, however...I would consider being careful.

    To be clear, I'm not saying that when you send a text to your girlfriend that you should try to use big words, fancy clauses, and sound like you're writing a paper. On the other hand, sending "omg i dunn0 wat 2 do im just so tired well i g2g ttyl nite" ...will certainly not help you out.
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      Jan 12 2012: Well argued, Joseph.

      1) Do you think technology blurs social class? Social networks such as twitter enable people from all social class to have a voice. But does that also mean that the 140 character limit inherently leads to an unhealthy change of language? Or is it merely part of natural language change?

      2) Do you think technology helps people move from one class to the other? For instance, mobile phones are becoming increasingly important in Africa. Does that mean that language patters shift because people, inherently, don't use correct punctuation and don't spell correctly? Do we think that technology is directly positively or negatively correlated with literacy levels in developing countries?
      "There is mixed experience on the uses of SMS. Although it is recognised as a cheap means of
      communication, its use in East Africa is limited. This appears to be in contrast to West Africa
      where use is widespread. This is counterintuitive as literacy is higher in the East Afircan
      countries. It may be due to the approach of the Telecom operators who offered free and very
      low cost SMS messaging to students in West Africa, which developed a culture of text
      messaging." -
  • Jan 11 2012: Hi Ecaterina,

    It only matters if you want to be understood.

    Best wishes,
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    Jan 12 2012: Punctuation is an integral part of the language and is highly necessary for effective communication. It's the written equivalent of the pauses and aspirations we use in spoken communication, to ensure our words are properly heard and understood. I try to use punctuation carefully; though I do have a penchant for overuse of the semicolon.

    When I read an email, I tend to appraise the level of education (if not the intelligence) of the sender based on spelling, grammar, and punctuation. So those points matters to me -- even if only to let me know to whom they don't matter.
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    Jan 12 2012: The first writings didn't use punctuation it was a long string of characters. So to avoid misinterpretation dots and comma's were invented.
    I understand that if someone is trained and fluent that person can read it anyway even with wrong spelling. Up till that time it was helpful.

    Don’t mess with language. In the Netherlands they do it every decade or so. Things are changed then changed back again and no one knows anymore what’s right or wrong. Some time ago it was suggested to write as you speak and most unreadable lines were the result. Compared to a century ago our language has lost a lot of its expressing power.
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      Jan 12 2012: Maria Fedorovna, the empress of Russia and wife of Czar Alexander III, was known for her philanthropy. She once saved a prisoner from exile in Siberia by transposing a single comma in a warrant signed by Alexander. The czar had written: "Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia." After Maria's intervention, the note read: "Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia." The prisoner was eventually released.

      Indeed, dots and commas are quite instrumental in avoiding misinterpretation.
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      . .

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      Jan 12 2012: The only thing that I think should be changed in modern language, is the third person pronoun, which should be unisex.
      In contemporary English, which is both the language closest to reaching this evolutionary point right now, and the language of global communication, there should not be a "he" or a "she". Some other word needs to be born.......... which is gender neutral, like "ye"......... And I know this is not answering, nor in any way :-) related to, the question of punctuation or spelling, but I believe this is the single most effective way of equalizing the "world".lol.
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        Jan 12 2012: Well, pragmatically speaking, English language has the underused impersonal third person pronoun 'it'. But I know what you mean - would be useful to have a third person personal pronoun that would not be associated with gender.
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    Jan 11 2012: Does it matter? Look at the opening line of Moby Dick. Put a comma after the word "me". A whole new novel!
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      Jan 12 2012: Edward, so does it not matter?

      A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down and orders a sandwich. After he finishes eating the sandwich, the panda pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter, and then stands up to go. "Hey!" shouts the manager. "Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and you didn't pay for your sandwich!"

      The panda yells back at the manager, "Hey man, I am a PANDA! Look it up!"

      The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: "A tree-dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, characterised by distinct black and white colouring. Eats shoots and leaves."
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        Jan 12 2012: Absotutely punctuation matters. Again we see the importance of the comma illustrated in the grisly panda episode. Funny stuff? Or should I say, " funny stuff!"
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    Feb 9 2012: Nice one, Some Times in professional writing we must care for punctuation because it changes the meaning of a sentence, and would resulted in completely different understanding which might not be intended, and about spelling i think some places it matters like the use of than or then, think or thing and words like that
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    Feb 7 2012: "But in the current world where technology is used more and more for communication purposes, what is the importance of correct spelling and punctuation?"

    The same like before . If you don't 'write' a program well you get nothing .
  • Jan 16 2012: Yep TED's a treat, sure ain't tedious.


  • Jan 15 2012: Typo or Type?
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      Jan 15 2012: Typo. And indeed a typo in my reply earlier on in the thread.
      Re the acronym - just thought that, when abbreviated, TEAD is pronounces as TED. That's all :)
  • Jan 15 2012: well it's Google that misspelt that acronym...

    that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it...

    but I shan't be making the same mistake again, so thankyou!

  • Jan 13 2012: Yes.
  • Jan 12 2012: Did you hear about the punctuation graffiti artists in America? I don't know if they are still active but I sincerely hope so, who bravely took it upon themselves to covertly correct public signage, particularly the abuse of the apostrophe. They were or are called The Typo Eradication Advancement League. Fanbloodytastic to mongrelise an adjective.

    I saw a Melvyn Bragg Channel 4 documentary about the english language where he said the greatest survivor story of all time is the language that came from a small Scandinavian race called the Angles, I think they may have been Danes but I could be wrong.

    Certainly in the UK the work of William Tyndale seems cruelly neglected in comparison to Caxton, and as for that harlot King James, well, as Sonny Boy Williamson once said,

    "donchoo start me talkin'...well I could talk all nite..."

    English became dominant through its ability to shape shift, evolve and stay one step ahead of the others. There's a funny TED talk by I can't remember who, shame on me, but the French have a society for the upkeep of their language and it is full of old farts who are so far behind the times they can only be ridiculed. They are hopelessly elitist and should be mocked, if gently so.


    Tigger said that
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      Jan 15 2012: Back to my panda example - there is a book entitled "Eats, Shoots &Leaves! by Lynne Truss. She includes a 'Punctuation repair kit' - stick-on apostrophes for the public correction of the many 'Valentines Day' (incorrectly spelled without an apostrophe) and 'Pizza's' (vice versa).

      PS: Acronym for Type Eradication Advancement League - TEaD :)