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Communications

Hackers, Spelling, and Grammar? 2360

Posted by Cliff
from the i'm-as-guilty-as-the-next-coder dept.
Strom Carlson asks: "Over the last few years, I've noticed that a surprisingly large number of native English speakers, who are otherwise very technically competent, seem to lack strong English skills. Mostly, this seems to manifest itself as varying degrees of poor spelling and grammar: 'definately' instead of 'definitely'; 'should of' instead of 'should have'; and I even see the names of products and companies misspelled from time to time. It baffles me that a culture so obsessed with technical knowledge and accuracy can demonstrate such little attention to detail when it comes to communicating that knowledge with others, and it baffles me even more that many people become enraged when you attempt to help them correct and learn from their mistakes. Do hackers and geeks just not care about communicating effectively? Do they not realize that a mediocre command of written English makes them appear less intelligent? Am I missing something here?"
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Hackers, Spelling, and Grammar?

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  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:49PM (#12954073)

    Can...open...worms... everywhere.

    I for one cannot agree with you enough here, Strom. Sadly, the epidemic of poor spelling/grammar is not confined to the tech world, but is pervasive throughout just about every aspect of American culture. I was raised and educated to believe that spelling and grammar counted...that the coherent presentation of your information was at least as important as the information itself. I don't know exactly when we as a society decided that coherence was no longer important...sometime in the mid-eighties, I'd guess.

    I will agree with you, however, that this problem is especially apparent in the tech world. I've known many techs that not only didn't care about the rules of the English language, they actually regarded their ignorance of such rules as a perverse badge of honor, as if mastering the intricacies of the language was somehow beneath them. I've always found it intriguing that a programmer who could master several arcane computer languages (especially since computers are notably intolerant of errors), could fail so utterly to master his own native human language.
    • HuKt aWn FoNix WerKt fer mE.
      • Seriously though, I think being taught phonix(sp? lol) as a child really hendered my spelling capabilities because so many words are spelled in ways they shouldn't...
        • by ProfaneBaby (821276) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:01PM (#12954273)
          Seriously though, I think being taught phonix(sp? lol) as a child really hendered my spelling capabilities because so many words are spelled in ways they shouldn't...

          The above sentence made me cry.
          • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:43PM (#12955009) Journal

            "I dislike the French because because they do not speak English, but I abhor the Americans because they speak English badly."

            -Winston Churchill.
            • by pilgrim23 (716938) on Friday July 01, 2005 @04:28AM (#12958705)
              We should learn the English of Chaucer, the spelling rules of Wycliff, of Dr John Dee. We should spell Shakspeare in at least as many ways has he did himself. Those worried over form, miss content.
              • by RealAlaskan (576404) on Friday July 01, 2005 @12:25PM (#12961650) Homepage Journal
                We should spell Shakspeare in at least as many ways has he did himself.

                In Shakespeare's day, nobody worried about English spelling in large part because serious people wrote serious things in Latin, where the spelling was thoroughly standardized. Because Latin was the language of the educated, nobody had bothered to standardize the spelling of the vernacular.

                Since that time, English spelling has been standardized, and very few of us have reliance on Latin as an excuse today. English spelling isn't difficult: it follows two sets of simple rules. We have a set of rules for the words adopted from Latin (about half the language) and another set for the words derived from Anglo-Saxon. Foreign borrowings generally retain their foreign spellings. See my English spelling [geocities.com] page for some pointers to resources for learning how simple it really is.

                Those worried over form, miss content.

                Those who don't worry over form obscure their content, and ensure that it will be missed or misconstrued. It's just plain rude to deliberately or carelessly use bad grammar and orthography: it shows contempt for your ideas and for your audience.

        • by MemeRot (80975) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:16PM (#12954546) Homepage Journal
          The problem is that spelling is completely arbitrary. America obsessed about spelling in post-colonial times and came up with standard dictionaries. Britain didn't care.

          We should throw out the old spelling. Knight is spelled the way it is because it used to be pronounced kuh-nig-it (yes, just like monty python). All it does is confuse everyone. With its odd mix of Latin and Anglo-Saxon words and grammar rules it's complicated enough as it is without weirdo spellings that are unrelated to pronunciation.

          That being said though, the above sentence made me cry as well.
          • by panaceaa (205396) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @07:00PM (#12955225) Homepage Journal
            The problem with changing spellings is that the more we do it, the less the current generation can comprehend writings from the past. Isn't it nice that we can still read Shakespeare's works 400 years after they were published? But writings just 200 years before that, such as Chaucer's, are very difficult to read because there wasn't a yet standardized language. The reason there was no standardization during Chaucer's time, though, was because it was difficult for language to travel long distances. Hence it did not become standardized across regions. But now that we have television, and the Internet, it would be a shame if we changed our language. It would move us away from our cultural heritage linguistically.
          • by rlbond86 (874974) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @07:01PM (#12955236)
            I agree!! For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld. -Mark Twain
            • Source: Mark Twain (Score:5, Informative)

              by SFalcon (809084) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @07:36PM (#12955655)
              The parent is Mark Twain's proposal for the improvement of english spelling. Link [gla.ac.uk]
            • by amrittuladhar (824792) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @09:08PM (#12956395) Homepage
              The Mark Twain quote reminded me of the following, printed in my high school yearbook and probably inspired by it: The Great European Dream The European Union commissioners have announced that agreement has been reached to adopt English as the preferred language for European communications, rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, the British government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five-year phased plan for what will be known as EuroEnglish. In the first year, "s" will be used instead of the soft "c." Sertainly, sivil servants will resieve this news with joy. Also, the hard "c" will be replaced with "k." Not only will this klear up konfusion, but typewriters kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced by "f." This will make words like "fotograf" 20 per sent shorter. In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a dterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of silent "e"s in the languag is disgrasful, and they would go. By the fourth year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" by "z" and "w" by "v." During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou," and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters. After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru.
          • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @07:07PM (#12955309) Journal
            Why not throw out the grammar and the dictionary as well, and just learn Lojban [lojban.org]?
          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 30, 2005 @09:33PM (#12956572)
            No, the spelling is NOT arbitrary. I don't know how many times I have to point this out in my life as a linguist. An arbitrary system is one like Japanese kanji, which have no phonetic component whatsoever. The fact that I can throw a word at you that you've never seen, like, for example, "orthography," and you can read it and pronounce it correctly is proof positive of this. The fact that the spoken==>written relationship is not as strong, however, is not proof of arbitrariness. It indicates something else--something people have already discussed here without realizing it (in discussions of the multitudinous influences on the development of English), and that is the concept of morphology.

            Words usually do not exist all by themselves but are members of a "word family" (and yes that is the technical term). Word families are made up of forms of the same word which feature little to no extra learning burden to master given knowledge of one of the other forms. These relationships are best represented by fixed spelling of the morphemes, even when there are pronunciation differences.

            Something like Japanese (kanji, not the hiragana and katakana syllabaries) or Chinese puts all their eggs in the morphology basket, and none in the phonetic. Words are comprised of morphemes which are represented by particular graphemes (kanji/hanzi). This is great once you learn all the morpheme/grapheme pairs, but at 15,000 for Chinese, the system requires a large initial investment of time and cognitive burden.

            English splits the difference between a morpheme-centric and phonetic orthographic system, wherein spellings of morphemes are relatively regular, but they are also phonetic enough that anyone with a basic understanding of the phoneme-grapheme pairings of the English use of the Roman alphabet can at least make an excellent guess at the pronunciation.

            And to the many lazy and weak-minded individuals who whine about how everything should be phonetic, I would like to point out that there is an entire alphabet designed for this: the International Phonetic Alphabet. Learn this and try reading some text in it. See if it's really easier. A morpheme-centered orthographic system allows for faster processing of text because it allows the reader to bypass the sound production phase entirely, linking written words directly to their meanings (resident in the brain).

            So stop whining, whiners, and learn the system. It's just a system to aid in the transfer of information. It's there to help you, not keep you down, man.

            And BTW, although Noah Webster gave birth to the modern science of lexicography, dictionaries did indeed exist before his tome. They were used as spelling lists, mostly. The phase in which the English didn't care about spelling to which you are referring was up to the introduction of the printing press. Once more reading material was available to the masses it was very rightly decided that spelling should be standardized throughout the industry (he wrote with the arguably NON-standard, American spelling of "standardised). Furthermore, the "gh" that's left over in many words, including "knight" was a voiced velar fricative, not a /g/ followed by an /I/. The sound no longer exists in English.
    • Well, if you look back at the history of the english language it has changed and evolved numerous times, so I believe we're in a state of flux again. People are finally realizing that some of the "correct" spellings are idiotic and when need a more efficient, less excemption filled language. At least that's what I hope it is...

      Me personally? I never could spell, and with spellcheck it's just getting worse...
    • American culture, yes. However, I blame it more specifically on the Internet, computers, and technology. Today, kids grow up sending text messages, communicating over instant message clients, chatting via IRC, etc. In these types of conversations abbreviations, shorthand, and even (shutter) l33tspeak [wikipedia.org] are the norm.

      Most people don't care if the person they are chatting with is using perfect English... and they certainly don't care about "minor" things like correct spelling and grammar; all that really matter
    • I am not a perfect speller. Occasionally I may misplace a comma or semi-colon. It bothers me when I misspell a word on a forum or document that matters. (i.e. A report for work) It bothers me less, or not at all to make these minor errors in a forum like /.

      When I am posting here, I am giving my opinion on a topic. The content is what is important. I feel this is the wrong forum for your 'corrections' and 'suggestions.' It breaks the flow of the discussion. It has nothing to do with the topic being discussed, and makes you sound like a show off intellectual.

      Frankly, I really dont want your critique of my grammar and spelling skills. If the post is intelligible or the error changes the meaning of the post significantly, then there's your time to jump in with your corrections. Otherwise, it just seems arrogant that folks like you feel free to offer your unsolicited advice and expect me to appreciate it.
    • by BewireNomali (618969) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:59PM (#12954231)
      I'll play devil's advocate. The purpose of language is communication, and the standardization of such is to ensure against ambiguity, right? If someone's written work is devoid of some common rules of grammar and usage, does it matter if you completely and unambiguously understand what they are saying/writing?

      I try to use the rules, but if I understand you, what else matters?
      • by computational super (740265) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:10PM (#12954423)

        You know, the thing about that is... proper spelling and grammar make the writer look more "grown up". A tpyo or two are one thing, but if the grammar and spelling are at an eighth-grade level, I tend to assume that the writer is in the eighth grade. I'm always on the side of the grammar nazis on slashdot (even when they get me) because really poor grammar (from an otherwise obvious native English speaker) tend to make me discount the opinion of the poster. Although the grammar nazi victim may not think this is fair, I know I'm not alone... and you'd think that the poster would want to improve his/her writing skills just to make his/her opinions, thoughts, rantings, etc. more valuable to others.

        • by mooingyak (720677) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:31PM (#12954808)
          from an otherwise obvious native English speaker

          Just wanted to emphasizes this point, as I'm something of a closet grammar nazi myself. I'm always more forgiving to those who don't sound like native speakers, except for when the change is particularly amusing.

          Eg:

          A Russian coder that I used to work with once wrote some C code that would generate SQL queries dynamically. In his comments inside the code, he described this as "Building SQL queries on a fly" which had me giggling quite a bit when I first read it.
      • by servognome (738846) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:20PM (#12954607)
        I try to use the rules, but if I understand you, what else matters?

        I think of it like a stuck pixel on an LCD around the edge of the screen. During normal use you wouldn't even notice it; the monitor works fine, you can watch movies, play games, surf the net... but in the back of your mind that monitor is still broken.
        Poor spelling or grammar still gets the point across. Though, if the reader notices it lingers in the back of their mind and detracts from your message.
      • by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann@slashdot.gmail@com> on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:30PM (#12954797) Homepage Journal
        I try to use the rules, but if I understand you, what else matters?

        The problem is when non-native speakers are taught the meaning of "should have" and never EVER have had contact with the completely illogical term "should of". I'm saying this because i couldn't understand what my friend tried to tell me whenever he said "should of". I'm not saying it was difficult to understand him. I'm saying i could NOT understand him AT ALL. I didn't know if he missed a word, and only after the third time he tried to explain, i caught the meaning.

        You call this EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION? I don't think so.

        Why should non-native speakers have to LEARN a WHOLE NEW LANGUAGE that is not even english? Shouldn't native english speakers learn ENGLISH in the first place?

        Poor grammar does NOT help communication between people of different countries. And the fact that english is the universal language today is only by chance. Remember latin was universal 1000 years ago.
      • by TheWizardOfCheese (256968) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:46PM (#12955047)
        If someone's written work is devoid of some common rules of grammar and usage, does it matter if you completely and unambiguously understand what they are saying/writing?

        Well, the first problem is that you are begging the question: why do you think it is possible to write clearly and unambiguously without recourse to conventional spelling, grammar, and usage? I think this is a highly doubtful proposition, because even clear and correct writing is often ambiguous. When I do understand bad writing, it is because I am smarter and have worked harder than the person who wrote it (remember, we are talking about native speakers, not geniuses who don't know the language.) Then too, bad writing is rude because it conveys the implicit message that time you save in writing is worth more than time I save in reading. But why do you think I should bother to read something you can't be bothered to write?

        I think you are also mistaken in assuming that the only drawback of bad writing is that other people can't understand you. Literacy is a system, and if you are a bad writer you are unlikely to be a very good reader. Consider the locution I employed in my first paragraph: "begging the question." This phrase derives from a meaning of "begging" that is no longer current, namely "taking for granted." Because this is an antiquated meaning, many people interpret the phrase as "begging for the question." What's wrong with that? After all, language is continuously changing. Certainly. But if you don't even know the old meaning, and make a point of refusing to learn it, you have cut yourself off from the writings of earlier generations; writings that in many cases are more interesting than what you have to say now (that, after all, is why they have been preserved.) For my part, I believe that most people who misuse phrases like this do so in ignorance and are tacitly acknowledging my point: they have adopted the phrase, without understanding it, in hopes that by emulating better writing, their own will be more favourably received.
    • by RobertKozak (613503) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:03PM (#12954306) Homepage


      I tihnk taht seplnilg rellay deosnt matetr at all. For exmalpe, I bet taht you can raed tihs precfcetly fnie.

      I bieelve it was proevn that as lnog as the frist and lsat lettres do not chnage, our brians can aoutomtacalily rearragne tehm and we have full comhenpresion.

      I cnnaot fnid the lnik rgiht now but I am srue taht tihs was psoted on salhsodt a few mnoths ago.

  • yes (Score:5, Funny)

    by bigwavejas (678602) * on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:49PM (#12954077) Journal
    "...Am I missing something here?"

    Definately.

  • by rednip (186217) * <rednip AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:49PM (#12954080) Journal
    I even see the names of products and companies misspelled from time to time.
    The Horror!
    Do they not realize that a mediocre command of written English makes them appear less intelligent?
    The Horror!
    it baffles me even more that many people become enraged when you attempt to help them correct and learn from their mistakes.
    You mean the people don't like to be criticized.

    As someone who is constantly picked on by these people, I can say that more than often, they are rude, have very little to add to any discussion, other than showing off their impressive command of the English language. I'd be more receptive if some of them made their response to the thread at hand, and did a BTW, but that's not what happens. Usually they are just have one line response that is rude, and often picking on one or two 'mistakes', and always critical of one's intelligence. I've said it before, but it's not the diction that matters, but the message. Good grammer is only helpful to get a message across. I'm not writing a fucking paper, it's an response in a damn forum.

    Am I missing something here?
    Yes, good humor, understanding, and basic people skills.
    • Usually they are just have one line response

      Talk English, dude!
    • "...I can say that more than often, they are rude, have very little to add to any discussion, other than showing off their impressive command of the English language. I'd be more receptive if some of them made their response to the thread at hand, and did a BTW, but that's not what happens. Usually they are just have one line response that is rude, and often picking on one or two 'mistakes', and always critical of one's intelligence."

      So they're just like computer geeks, but of the english language?
    • by Zorkon (121860) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:07PM (#12954376) Homepage
      You don't like to be criticized? Makes you grumpy does it?

      That's how I feel when I'm forced to try and make sense of a "document" written by somebody that can't make the effort to use something close to proper grammar and spelling.

      Unlike some of the grammar-Nazis out there, I'm happy enough to pass over minor mistakes. However, if I have to spend extra time trying to decode your message to me, of course I'm going to correct you. That way, in the future I won't have to waste my time trying to decipher your cruddy excuse for a document again.

    • by imac.usr (58845) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:08PM (#12954390) Homepage
      I've said it before, but it's not the diction that matters, but the message. Good grammer is only helpful to get a message across. I'm not writing a fucking paper, it's an response in a damn forum.

      Eh, I don't know. I tend to consider the diction an integral part of the message, myself; if there are glaringly obvious errors in basic structure, spelling, or diction, and I don't know the person well enough in any other way, it's going to impact the message for me. It's just the way I roll.

      My father, a successful engineer with DEC for 15+ years, is a notoriously bad speller, to the point where I sometimes have to phonetically read his letters. (Make of that what you will in regards to my comments above. :P) The fact that I know he's intelligent and a good communicator of ideas mitigates his lack of polish grammatically in my eyes. If one of his co-workers wrote to me in such a style, though, I'd wonder how he made it out of college.

      I try very hard not to be a jerk about grammar or spelling, learning to roll with the punches. I've almost gotten to the point where I consider a phrase like "makes its own gravy" to be written wrong because of the missing apostrophe, because it's so common -- even in advertising copy, for pete's sake.

      I sometimes wonder if I'm one of the last generations (I'm 34) who will have any solid grounding in grammar, spelling, and basic English constructs for the future.

    • by throx (42621) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:13PM (#12954486) Homepage
      I've said it before, but it's not the diction that matters, but the message.

      The diction matters because it distorts the message. That's the whole point of diction - it defines the parameters for getting the message through.

      Reading a post, a report or an email from someone who you know is technically adept but suffers from poor English skills is like watching a flickering television set. You know the message is there but you have to view it several times before you get through the static to what it actually means.

      In addition, poor diction from someone that you are sure actually knows better is simply a matter of their being inconsiderate. It takes very little time and effort to get spelling and grammar correct and to not make at least an effort is just being contemptuous of the reader.

      If anyone is "missing something", it's those that defend bad English usage. It's not acceptable, it's lazy and frankly if you can't even try communicate properly then you probably don't deserve to be heard. THAT is basic people skills, and I rarely have good humor for those that express contempt towards their readers.

      Throx
    • by SLi (132609) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:15PM (#12954521)
      I for one am happy that this topic was raised here on Slashdot, where I see perhaps most of the examples of poor English.

      I've said it before, but it's not the diction that matters, but the message.

      I speak Finnish as my native language. Still I have noticed the poor spelling of English by a large number of geeks. The same seems to hold, perhaps to a smaller degree, in Finnish.

      What you said in the sentence that I quoted is really wisdom, and I hope I could have such an attitude myself (but I wouldn't sacrifice my diction for it). Still I have noticed that whenever I read poorly written (grammar/spelling) text, I always have a negative presupposition against it. I just can't help it, it's something so deep in me. And I am sure I'm not the only one among those to whom grammar and spelling has never been a problem who thinks that way. What I seem to think subconsciously is something along the lines, "the writer doesn't even want to put the effort into making their text easily readable, so they cannot be very serious". Really reading poorly written text can be a slight annoyance, which you might not know (or maybe you do) if you aren't so fluent yourself.

      While I'm trying to get rid of this, I'm sure a very large number of people aren't. So really I believe you would do well to yourself if you put some effort in trying to learn proper grammar and spelling if you want to be taken seriously.

      Of course if you have some real, diagnosed disabilities, this might not be a possibility. That's one of the reasons why I'm trying really hard to get rid of that attitude of mine. But believe me, it's not easy (and I don't consider myself snotty or superior in any other sense).
  • by fembots (753724) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:49PM (#12954081) Homepage
    Hands up if you read through the paragraphs several times trying to find a mistake!

    Technical precision requirement on programming language and human language is very different, for I am (and maybe many others are) extremely lazy and just want to get things done with as little effort as possible.

    So if "return true;" works but not "ret tru", then I'm forced to use "return true;" every time.

    However, if "alot" works as good as "a lot", I can use whatever comes to up mind at time of typing. When I was in highschool, few of us liked to say "os cof" in place of "of course" and it didn't affect our communication at all.

    I think the main difference between a native English speaker and a foreign English user is the former heard a word before he learnt to write it, while the latter tends to learn to write and speak at the same time.

    I'm shocked to see natives using "its good", "don't go their", these are mistakes that no foreigners will make.

    I'm not sure why this has anything to do with hackers or geeks specificially. Racers, police and builders are all technically competent yet they can still make these kind of mistakes.
    • by Marc_Hawke (130338) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:01PM (#12954278)
      His keywords were "communicating effectively."

      None of his examples hindered effective communication in the slightest. Infact it could be said that it 'increased' the effectiveness of the communication. Now we know that the submitter is more concerned with details than with results. We wouldn't have had that information if we hadn't misspelled anything.

      His other point about 'appearing less intelligent' has more credibility, but not much. It comes down to knowing your audience and taking the necessary measures.

      I think the reason the submitter imagined a connection between 'technical' people and grammatical/spelling shortcomings is because we are in, (and have been in) an area of real-time written communication.

      If you're using Email, or worse Instant Messaging, or even worse IRC, or even worse 'talk.' The 'speed' at which you present your ideas means MUCH MUCH more to the effectiveness of the communication than dotting the I's and crossing the T's. And once it's established, it's just a matter of habit.

      I wonder if the submitter has compared 'on-the-fly' writings of the 'Slashdot Crowd' vs their more permanent and published writings.
  • Man! (Score:5, Funny)

    by daeley (126313) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:49PM (#12954082) Homepage
    Talk about your flamebate!
  • by drewfuss (872683) * on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:49PM (#12954083) Homepage
    At georgia tech there is a road named Ferst street. Naturally the running joke is that they misspelled First Street.
  • native speakers? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pikine (771084) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:51PM (#12954098) Journal
    How do you know those who post in English are native English speakers? I'm not one. I'm sure I make spelling and grammatical mistakes, or even use the wrong words from time to time.
  • by creimer (824291) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:52PM (#12954111) Homepage
    They don't teach reading, writing and arithmetic in the schools anymore. I had to go to college for that.
  • Two things: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ryusen (245792) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:52PM (#12954115) Homepage
    1) i think this is an issue that goes well beyond hackers and geeks. there is just a general disregard for spelling and grammar. i'm quite guilty of it myself
    2) as for "hackers and geeks," they mostly reside in their own circles. this is especially tru on the internet. within one's own circle, it's much easier to get away with it.
  • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:52PM (#12954117) Homepage Journal
    It doesn't help that English spelling is such a mess. In order to really know how to map sounds to spelling, one needs to (perhaps unconsciously) learn a number of rules corrisponding to the bewildering number of languages that have been borrowed from in constructing American (or British, or Australian, or ...) English. Somehow we all manage, more or less, to do it, but it's worth noting that in a lot of other languages, it's a lot harder to misspell words, and spelling bees seem somewhat humourous.
  • Sayeth an expert --- (Score:3, Interesting)

    by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:54PM (#12954139)
    It is a damned poor mind indeed that can't think of at least two ways of spelling any word.

    -- Andrew Jackson

    Here [quotemountain.com]
  • Correct English? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sheriff_p (138609) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:54PM (#12954140)
    Uh,

    What is this 'correct English' of which you speak? Can you send me a copy of the official English language handbook? No. Hrm. Well maybe you could direct me to the official governing body of the English language. You mean, French has one and English doesn't?

    Bugger!

    Then, how do we know what correct English is? You mean, 'correct' English is by definition 'common' English?! No! But then what will all those semi-intelligent pedants who haven't caught on to the fact that 'should have' is no more meaningful than 'should of', but that 'should of' is much more common in spoken English do? Who knows!

    All I can say is that having worked in the publishing industry, you could tell the people who had little intelligence but a lot to prove by how frequently and strongly they misunderstood the fact that there is no 'correct' English, and jumped down the throats of those they perceived to not have as good a grasp on this 'correct' English as they did.

    +Pete
    • by kongjie (639414) <.moc.cam. .ta. .eijgnok.> on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:06PM (#12954350)
      Sorry, but that won't fly.

      "Should of" is only heard more in spoken English because people mishear "should've" and so few people read anything of substance to any appreciable extent that they don't know any better.

      "Should of" is not meaningful in itself; it does not "mean" what "should have" means...it doesn't MEAN anything. It is the linguistic equivalent of people who say "expresso."

      So it's really easy to say that "should of" is wrong because "should have" is an adverbial expression and "should of" is not.

      If someone asked you "Have you eaten?" would you reply "I of eaten."? Maybe, but you would be wrong.

  • by yagu (721525) <yayagu.gmail@com> on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:55PM (#12954151) Journal

    I consider myself an excellent speller with a firm grasp of the English language, its syntax, and semantics. And I consider myself to be high on the scale of technical savvy. But I've met more brilliant people in 21 years in this industry who couldn't spell a lick. I don't know if it's lack of care, or just plain inability to spell.

    A peer who collaborated with me on one of my major projects implemented a layer of code to make the program more transparent and usable... and one of the major pieces used file handles to hide named pipes... He spelled it "filehadle", which in this case is more likely a typo, but he missed a lot of other words too. To this day I still get questions about that variable name (it's a good filter..., a programmer who brings that question is not one who I want working with that code).

    Another best friend is now VP of a company he founded, and I hope he is getting his correspondence edited before sending.

    There are even examples of Mr. Gates' e-mail... if you didn't know it was he, you'd think the author of some of his missives was illiterate.

    All of this said and observed, I don't think I've ever been able to see any direct relationship or correlation with "illiteracy" and the technology gurus. I have seen more of a correlation with younger people and while I have no conclusive evidence I would submit this is more about a school system that spends time worrying about the wrong things. (I've even seen typo's/misspellings pop up on the CNN crawler! Ick!)

    Another experience: a best friend of mine was in a German Blue Grass band, and they came to the U.S. and toured the midwest out of our house. So, here were four Germans with whom I spent over a week... and one of the most notable things about them was they spoke better English than most Americans! Go figure.

  • sms-speak (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gregmac (629064) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:55PM (#12954156) Homepage
    On this subject, why do people resort to phrases like "u", "ur", "l8r", "plz", etc? You have a full keyboard, use it. Shortening a 5 letter word down to 3 saves very little time, and makes you look like a big idiot. I don't even like it in SMS messages: on my phone, and most I've seen, I have a "t9" input. To say "hello", for example, you type 43556. It automatically figures out what word you're trying to spell, and there's a "next" button if it gets it wrong. Very rarely I have to switch to alpha input to type a word it doesn't know.

    Now, what really pisses me off is I bought a USB analog video capture device today. I didn't notice until I got back, but it actually says on the front: "DVD Direct Burn. No need to save in ur HDD". Seriously. I'm not sure I would have bought it if I noticed that earlier..
  • by b1ad3runn3r (896115) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:55PM (#12954165)
    The thing that actually bothers me is not that people have a poor grasp of the english language, but the fact that when you correct them in a non-arrogant manner, they actually refuse your help. Okay, okay, ignorance is one thing. Insisting on being ignorant is like... stupid.
  • by wernst (536414) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @05:56PM (#12954177) Homepage
    It isn't as if only the geeks have gotten sloppy with grammar and spelling. EVERYBODY is bad at it these days.

    Additionally, spell-checkers have made things worse, because now no one knows how to spell things correctly by themselves. When you see somethng choc-full-o-spelling-errors, it is probably because there's no built-in spelling checker. And I am just as guilty of this as the rest of the world.

    I'm not complaining, mind you. I'm a professional writer, and the worse the general population can write, the more employable I become...

  • by Cinematique (167333) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:00PM (#12954246)
    I've seen this issue raised numerous times over the past several years... hell, I've brought it up in random conversation quite a bit...

    But...

    The question that I've *never* heard asked...

    Is America the only country where the native language is so disappointingly mangled by the vast majority of native citizens?

    The funny/sad thing is when an American will gripe about a foreigner verbally mangling English... yet that same American most likely can't even speak a 2nd language... let alone speak it fluently. Bah.
    • by V1b3s (722266) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:43PM (#12955006)
      I'm an American, but I also happen to speak fluent Russian, and lived in Russia for a number of years. I can say that, generally speaking, Russians are wonderfully anal-retentive about their language. They would correct my mistakes without a second thought, which helped me learn to speak well pretty quickly.

      I knew one teenage girl while I was there was from Belarus, and her family spoke Belarussian at home, so her Russian was less than perfect - it was probably the quivalent of some backwoods "hick" English. She too was constantly corrected by her peers until she fixed her mistakes. ...And as far as I know, there is no governing body controlling the Russian language. Its speakers just appreciate it.
      • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @07:21PM (#12955484) Journal
        Speaking as a Russian; yes, it is indeed true, and for a very simple reason: we usually consider spelling mistakes to be a sign of uneducated person. A university student who cannot spell properly would simply be laughed at. And they do teach Russian quite in-depth in schools, not just the basic spelling rules, but also all the tricks, no matter how little-used, and the logic behind them.

        Oh, and Russian language is in fact regulated, by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

  • by ChaosMt (84630) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:00PM (#12954262) Homepage
    In an interview, they will see "Music Theory" as my college major. They will then ask, "How is it that you got into computers?" I then explain how IBM during the boom specifically went after music theory majors just out of college. Why? They are a) great at symbolic languages with strict syntax and b) can easily be offered more money than they ever believed they would ever make.

    As such, don't asking me about strange, disorderly rules of english phonetics and grammar. Don't ask geeks anything concerning social subtlies, such as language and money.
  • by tezza (539307) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:01PM (#12954264)
    Good language skills are important in any walk of middle class life. If you desire to be a middle class mover, then you will need them. If you are a non-aspirant middle-classer, then it is not important.

    You say slashdot readers are: obsessed with technical knowledge and accuracy

    Some slashdot readers are. Others are more interested in:

    Tech Gossip, neither knowledgeable nor accurate
    Latest Gadgets, ditto
    Science Fiction
    Anime, large breasted Japanese girls(!?!), transforming creatures and flying penises
    Microsoft Delivery Schedule, always wrong
    Mac Advocacy, occassionally right.

    Not so many obsessed with technical knowledge and accuracy.

  • by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann@slashdot.gmail@com> on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:01PM (#12954265) Homepage Journal
    *clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap* :) Finally. I'm tired of being the grammar / spelling nazi around here. And yes I'm sh*t tired of people using stupid grammar just because they're lazy to learn the language.

    Maybe it's a coincidence, but the fact that I'm _NOT_ a native english speaker answers why people have such a weak grammar / spelling. I didn't learn english by hearing. But by reading (In fact I had some trouble knowing how to pronounce certain words).

    But anyway, from Mexico, it's common the rumour that americans are oh god the cream of the crop and they're so superior to us in everything. And then I come, and after a while of chatting I end up making a huge "WTF!? O.O" face.

    Please kids, learn a little grammar. Is that too hard?
  • by mccalli (323026) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:02PM (#12954282) Homepage
    Mostly, this seems to manifest itself as varying degrees of poor spelling and grammar

    Assuming we're dealing with a native English speaker, I see these as different problems. Poor spelling might simply be poor typing (though if I see 'loosing' for 'losing' one more time, I will become upset...). Poor grammar is more fundamental I feel, as it implies a lack of comprehension. In coding terms, I may not remember the method name but I should at least understand the algorithm I'm attempting to implement.

    ...I even see the names of products and companies misspelled from time to time.

    Good. They assume far too much importance in the world as it is. If people still get them wrong, perhaps indoctrination hasn't quite been completed yet.

    Cheers,
    Ian

  • Article (Score:4, Interesting)

    by b1t r0t (216468) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:02PM (#12954284)
    Seriously, this is the big can'o'worms.

    It basically falls into two categories. The one you're probably not complaining about is intentional joke misspellings like "teh intarwebnet". The one you are complaining about is the category where some words are just plain misspelled ("catagory"), and others use a correctly spelled wrong word (lose/loose, principal/principle, populace/populous, you're/your, its/it's). While some of the offenders are not native English speakers, most are the product of our (.us) wonderful educational system.

    I suspect a major cause of this is people who didn't read a lot when they were young. Not that it matters any more, because publishers can't afford anyone clueful enough to copyedit spelling any more. And that is thanks to spelling checkers which blindly let correctly spelled wrong words through. I think you can thank Microsoft Word stifling competition in the word processor market for the lack of good grammar checking.

    /teh intarnet is fool of morans

  • by DunbarTheInept (764) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:27PM (#12954726) Homepage
    One common hacker trait is an utter disdain for things that are deliberately illogical. The problem is that the standards of language often are illogical and yet enforced anyway. It's clear that the intent of English was to have a langauge where the letters record the sound of the word. But it failed miserably at it due to merging in words from different languages and now spelling in English is an utterly illogical mess. So it's not surprising that hackers wouldn't really care to spell things by the standard. To do so you have to fight against what is logical.

    Then there's the grammar standards of where punctuation marks are used. The comma was invented to just indicate an audio pause in speech. Then later on anal people changed it to only being usable under specific circumstances - Again, For, No, Reason.

    Then there's the confusion over whether or not the quote marks are supposed to accurately quote what is inside them or not. I'd say that only things that are part of what is being quoted belong inside the quotes. Punctuation that is an artifact of the fact that the quote got pasted into another sentence are part of that external sentence, NOT part of the quoted material - so they logically belong outside the quote marks. For example:
    Logical, but incorrect according to standard:
    "Hello", John said.
    Did John say, "Hello"?
    Illogical, but correct according to standard:
    "Hello," John said. (The comma isn't part of the quote dammit)
    Did John say, "Hello?" (The question mark is there because of the sentence the "Hello" is pasted inside of, NOT because it is part of the "Hello" that John might have said. This allegedly correct way looks, to me, like the question is aksing whether John spoke "Hello" in a questioning tone, because the question mark ended up inside the quoted part.

    According to standard, a question asked in the negative isn't really asked in the negative. "Aren't you coming with us", should logically be answerable by saying "Yes I am not coming with you". But the expected interpretation is the inverse of that. Again, the standard is at odds with logic.

    Most people look at stuff like that and don't care. People who think logically get fed up with crap like that and rebell.
  • by thesandtiger (819476) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @06:31PM (#12954820)
    ... then why should I care enough to read it?

    I don't mind if someone has a few spelling mistakes or grammatical faux pas - we all make mistakes from time to time.

    What I do hate - absofuckinglutely loathe - is shit like "u" instead of "you" and "4" instead of "for" and all that instant messenger shorthand when the person is clearly sitting at a regular keyboard and has plenty of time to compose a statement.

    Rule of thumb: if you're IM'ing someone from your cell phone or trying to type quickly in a shoot-em-up, then fine, use shortcuts. If you're doing anything else - if you're not engaged in real-time communications - then at least make the effort to follow the rules.

    Now, why am I so bugged by the "u" and "4" and all that shit? Because I'm somewhat dyslexic. When someone starts throwing stuff around like that, it takes me at least two or three times as long to parse it and make sense of it. I take the time to write clearly - I *agonize* over written communications I send out because I want to make absolutely sure that my point is getting across - it's important to me to know I'm understood.

    So, if YOU don't treat what you're saying as important, then why the hell should I?
  • A Few Points (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ndansmith (582590) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @07:03PM (#12955271)
    I am a Greek major, and often my study leads me to investigate the nature of language, human communication in general, and meaning. I would like to offer a few points:

    There are no rules, only patterns. Grammatical rules are misleading. Langauges evolve. They have evolved from the ground up and continue to change. The "rules" at the moment represent the normative usage at this time. So it seems sort of silly to teach English "rules," but it is the best way to express the common English code to English-language-learners. In other words, "You ought to follow these rules if you want to be understood."

    Language is in the mouths of the people, not the pages of the dictionary and grammar book. Usage by English speakers defines the language. That is why new words and grammatical constructions and figures of speech and idioms pop up and fall away all the time.

    The purpose of language is communication. The reason we talk is so that we can communicate with one another. When someone says "should of" instead of "should have," most seasoned English speakers understand exactly what that phrase means. Communication has happened, and the language has served its purpose. This happens all the time in common English. Example: Goodbye. I do not attack people who use this nonsensical grammatically poor word. You see, it originates from "God be with ye." Goodbye is an obvious grammatical distortion that has taken hold as a normative part of English language. So will "should of" as has "aint" as done as well.

    It is silly to get mad at someone for not following the "rules" of English if you know exactly what they mean.

  • Making an impression (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Shimmer (3036) <brianberns@gmail.com> on Thursday June 30, 2005 @07:05PM (#12955293) Homepage Journal
    These days much of the professional interaction betwen people is through e-mail. When I get an e-mail from someone who can't be bothered to write correctly, I tend not to bother to read it with much interest. If they don't care about what they're saying, why should I?

    (Obviously, I make exceptions for non-native writers, and for some kinds of informal communication.)

    I'm particularly bothered by executives who have this problem. One CEO I used to work for was so busy and so important that he just didn't have time to make his messages coherent. Getting an e-mail from him was like receiving a prophesy from the Oracle of Delphi, or like trying to interpret the cryptic mumbling of Mao Tse-Tung.

    Reading between the lines, the attidute here is: "I'm more important than you. I'd rather you waste an hour trying to figure out what I'm talking about than spend sixty seconds myself editing this e-mail."

    I think you can imagine just how inspiring this guy was as a leader.

    -- Brian
  • by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Thursday June 30, 2005 @07:11PM (#12955361)
    The article is based on a flawed premise.

    Look at Linus Torvalds, James Yonan, Guido van Rossum, Donald Knuth; all of these people have outstanding communication skills. It's merely the wannabes and hangers-on whose skills are inadequate -- and arguably, such individuals aren't really part of the community at all.

    Indeed, I distinctly recall it having been noted decades ago that there was a disproportionate number of English majors in the computing community. Perhaps someone will have a source?
  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @08:26PM (#12956107) Homepage Journal
    Since when has the true geek cared about appearing anything? We tend to wear clothing that is the most convenient (cheapness, comfort, availability, etc). Also traditional technical geeks tend to follow with hard sciences, but not so much with soft sciences and liberal arts. Most techies take many of these "unnecessary" classes because they are forced to, and it is generally by sheer will that they make it through them. It's unlike taking a few extra Chem classes or Physics classes just because you think they are fun.

    Now you can certainly be an obsessive bookworm who loves to debate the details of various well known and obscure literature. And that person is likely to have very good written an verbal skills.

    Now would a powerful command of the english language be useful in one's career? Certainly. Just as having excellent technical skills would be useful for just about anyone in this day and age.

    Perhaps anyone that talk good become manager and stop being engineeer. (or vice versa)
  • by Winjer2k (515635) on Thursday June 30, 2005 @09:54PM (#12956701) Homepage
    Everybody loves to use "It's" like it's going out of style.

    IT'S = a contraction of IT IS
    Used in sentences like:
    "It is a sunny day" = "It's a sunny day"
    "It is really annoying" = "It's really annoying"
    "Don't do that, it is stupid!" = "Don't do that, it's stupid!"

    ITS is neuter possessive - as in his or hers, only it refers to a non-gendered object.
    Used in sentences like:
    "My laptop's battery lost its charge"
    "Open Source Software has its drawbacks"
    "The G5's strength is its vector processing abilities"

    Many times you can save an extra keystroke by using "its" instead of "it's" - and you get the bonus of being grammatically correct.

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