Why can't bright young people spell, punctuate, or form grammatical sentences?

Look, I myself have instances of fumblefingers, and I make typos from time to time. I'm no stickler for Oxford English and I pepper my writing with colloquialisms. I use "ain't" and "gonna" and "hopefully" (which technically should be "one hopes"). Occasionally, I'll even say "anxious" when I should say "eager" (to be anxious is to be suffering from anxiety, not full of anticipation).

However, there seem to be two categories of people who don't know how to spell, to puncuate, or form actual sentences. 1) Hillbillies playing a banjo out on some Appalachian porch or 2) people under the age of 30.

Did the schools stop teaching English? Did it become an optional course in high school? Were the kids skipping class in favor of smoking dope? Is it too much texting? What's going on here?

By cracky (LOL), back in my day we graduated students prepared for college. Today many good institutions of higher education spend the first year bringing the students up to speed on skills they should have learned in high school.

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I think it probably has more to do with the fact that the W3 exists now, and that there are more people using it than ever, with greater frequency, and with less formality because of the social nature (also txting) of most of the discussions, and that most people really aren't that capable of proper spelling and grammar.

Posting online has become, it seems to me, less formal than speech, which is already less constricted (read:natural) than the written word, and as such is a completely different beast than books, articles, papers etc. Still, quite lamentable, and it personally irks me when I see it. My most recent rage is people egregiously misusing 'literally' in the same way they misuse 'ironic.'

Main takeaway: We're seeing people writing that we never used to see writing before, and most of those people aren't writers. Also, not to forget, the massive population of non-native English posters. Oh yeah, and people posting on their phones who don't have auto-spellcheck and who don't care to look it up. 

Also, cracky-chan? 

Did you know that no words have an innate, rigid definition?  That their meanings have changed and will change for the life of a language and its descendants?  That punctuation rules today are not identical to those used fifty, one hundred or even two hundred years ago?  That these changes may be accelerating due to technology and globalization?

If your lover, who you know adores you, sent you a message that read, "Unseen! I am so anxious to see you and hold you close!"  You would know exactly what she meant, she communicated her feelings perfectly in English and therefore used English correctly.  

It may be that kids entering college have written more in their first 18 years than in any previous generation.  My hypothesis might be wrong, but the ease, availability and social pressure to write has never been greater for children.  Everyone could improve their ability to communicate.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that they have to do it how you were taught 20 years ago.

(I am 25 and have not graduated college, nor am I currently enrolled.  I honestly think my language skills need some polish ;) 

I agree with the general spirit of your post, denuvian. Reading "The Mother Tongue- English, and how it got that way" by Bill Bryson is an enlightening tome that helps put language in its natural and practical perspective. However, the grammar and spelling often used in txts and social networks, as well as within serious online discussions are, quite often, needlessly ambiguous, confusing or outright unintelligible.

Inadequate vocabulary also causes people to use words that mean precisely the opposite (re:irony) and/or are just wrong ("I literally jumped out of my skin!" // "I literally wanted to sex with him") When a usage is close, or a word comes to mean something peripheral or figuratively analogous, that is growth, but when opposite words fuse or words that had a very specific, necessary meaning are eaten by an extremely common verbal diarrhea grab-phrase, then we lose meaning in a language, and that is truly lamentable. 

Literally just means something else now.  I use it, by your definition, incorrectly all the time. Also I use it with an awareness of that traditional meaning, for the ironic joke.  I'm not sad about losing literally, it's fun in its new form.  I feel for you though, you literally lost your favorite word ;)

Of course I know language evolves, but spelling evolves at a glacial pace, and when someone replaces "their" with "there," to take an example, that's not evolution, that's an ignorant mistake pure and simple. Yes, I can often understand what illiterate people mean, and because it's true that language is based on mutual understanding, adhering to some sort of standards makes communication easier and more effective. I don't count texting as writing. Sorry. English teachers are reporting running into kids writing term papers with lots of SMS shorthand.

I don't know if you have any evidence that today's kids have written more in their 18 years than any other generation. Maybe if you count stuff like "LOL CU after class for sm 420" as writing. I don't. It would seem that today's kids have ample time to surf the web and engage in texting. Time my generation spent writing term papers and doing other homework.

Regarding the example you gave, that is a very informal example. Using "anxious" when "eager" is meant would (should) get a red mark from any competent English teacher simply for purposes of precision and keeping the meanings from continuing to overlap, which can result in unintended ambiguities.

I have worked a lot with young people, and when I stumble upon one who  can write complex sentences without ignorant errors (I don't count typos as ignorant) and with a certain sense of literary style, I always try to compliment them. It's become rather rare. Even the kids who think they are destined to be writers seem to have been cheated out of an education in the English language.

If you pen a note next to the phone trying to relay a short message for someone else in your house, would that be writing? ( I won't put words in your mouth, I don't know how you would pen "Jeff called and wanted to know X")   An sms is obviously analogous to such a message. Notice I used the word "pen" because really, you not counting such an act as "writing" seems to be you redefining the standard definition of the word.  Composing text.

On the notion of the rarity of competent writers.  How many generations have you observed? With what rigor?  Maybe there is a style, but you don't like it.  As you grow older, each new cohort of young people will be using language that is farther and farther removed from your sensibilities which were defined when you were their age or younger.

Honestly, I get peeved at poor spelling and grammar to a certain extent in a professional setting.  But for me, at age 25, my experience is getting upset at people twice my age who make three times more than me. 


Maybe they make more than you because they communicate better, though upon reading through your post, I don't count you among the people to whom I referred.

Look, I will keep it brief and use abbrev's when leaving a quick note for someone. Did you think I was expecting notes tacked to the fridge to be written as complete sentences? No, I was talking about expository writing. Business writing. Academic writing.

Here are a few words from a post I just read here: "For intense, my mother busted out her Bible." I don't understand how anyone who's even been reading a little bit could make the mistake that sentence starts with. If I'm a person in a hiring position, do I want a person who makes that sort of mistake representing my firm? Also, "busted out" is a poor substitute for the more standard "brought out" or even the more colloquial "broke out."

For sure, I have only what I classify as meager communication skills.  There are many people who I work with that make more than me and write much nicer emails and documentation.  They don't upset me in the slightest.  I try to emulate them.  

My point in the last paragraph of my above post was annoyance at those higher than me at work who have difficulty with things like they/their/there or writing complete sentences.  It seems, if it's apparent to ME that someones spelling and grammar are deficient, it must be pretty bad.  These people are all older than me.  By a lot.  I realize that my own poor writing skills are why that wasn't understood the first time ;)

They would probably be making even more than they are now had they developed better communication skills.

Could be!

RE: "Here are a few words from a post I just read here: 'For intense, my mother busted out her Bible.'"

Unseen, new TA member, Tammy, may not have your degree of education, but she's new here, just beginning to open up and express her feelings, feelings that I would guess are just as real as anyone else's, despite her inability to write precise English. What she lacks in vocabulary, she more than makes up for, in her use of language of the heart, if not necessarily of the mind.

I'm sure you could have found a less fragile example. I only hope she doesn't read this, having had water thrown in her face by an aunt, I can't imagine she could benefit from even further humiliation on a site she sought as a refuge from abuse.

pax vobiscum,

RE: "Did you know that no words have an innate, rigid definition?"

Actually Nick, English was always one of my best subjects in school, but I got a "C" once in college on a paper that I felt deserved an "A" - it was further decorated with the instructor's comment, "So?" The premise of the paper was that a living language should not be static, but rather should evolve like all living organisms. I cited Latin as a fossilized language, forever frozen in time, as it is no longer in use by any other communities than scientific academia and the Catholic Church.

I still stubbornly maintain that any language that doesn't adapt, fades into extinction. So, in your face, Miss Bell!

pax vobiscum,


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