2 Dec 2007

It's not right just because you googled it!

It is never good when your parents tell you you have done something wrong; it's worse when you're 30-something and it's a professional error they have so constructively drawn your attention to. You can imagine I was pretty embarrassed when my Mum emailed the other day to point out a typo on a recent newsletter I had sent out (yes, I send out my stuff to everyone!). Here I am, a supposed English teacher and writer, making minor boo-boos in my professional communications! As the Brits say, it's just not on.

The only thing that makes me feel better is that I'm not alone and not only am I not alone, but I have heaps of company: basically, everyone who has ever contributed to that wonderfully fluid and written history that is the Internet. Well, this makes me feel better on an I-was-too-much-in-a-hurry-to-edit-what-a-loser level, but as a teacher, it brings me darn near panic. Who is monitoring all these language errors? Who is perpetuating all these language errors? Why hasn't Google found a way to demerit these sloppy writers? Just who is in charge here?

I feel like a frustrated lexicographer in London, circa 1476. Too many spellings to choose from. Eenee, meenee, mainee, mo... While the advent of the printing press "froze" English spelling (for better or for worse), the Internet is spewing out old words with a vast array of new spellings. The Internet is melting the rules. The implications are mind-boggling.

As a language geek, the thought that anything goes both excites and terrifies me: vive la révolution! Even as I write this, though, I wonder how far we can go before easy comprehension is lost, before the natural flow is staunched; how many misspellings away are we from the tower of Babel?

As an ESL teacher, it is a daily battle. "But, teacher, I read it on the Internet". "I googled it!". In the old days, students would simply say, "My teacher in ______ told me that...". My stock response was always that perhaps he or she had misunderstood what the teacher had said. Not now, nooooooooooo. Now, the student has a print-out of the article, or blog, or random googled sentence. My only defence is this: It's not right just because you read it on the Internet.

As a businesswoman, it is vital to me that my clients take me seriously and particularly because my "stuff" is the stuff of language, I cannot afford mistakes. I have yet to find an error-free website for any business I've sought out online. The errors always make me pause, make me consider the professionalism of the organization. It seems website content editing is not a valued service. It should be. I just hired my Mum. Cheap for me. You? You'll have to buck up.

It goes without saying that it is so much easier to google what we need to know than walk down to the library or bookstore and hope we can find what we need in, say, less than ten hours. I'm certain I don't need to point out that the world of the Web and the popularity and ease of self-publishing allow all and sundry to put their thoughts in both concrete and cyber-black and white. Of course, no one is in charge; the sane and the insane are running the asylum.

My kingdom for an editor. Don't even get me started on texting.

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