The Age of Illiteracy

When I first returned from Ireland, I worked as an English teacher in what would euphemistically be called a “previously disadvantaged” community. I don’t know so much about the “previously” part of that pat little phrase – think kids casually doing orals about the domestic violence in their very own homes, and classrooms so packed that every time I turned around to explain a concept, whatever I had just written on the board was rubbed off by my back. It saddened me that these young people had made their way almost to the end of their schooling career and could still barely read and write in English. Getting a (small) handful of them to fall in love with Shakespeare, or at least start to understand his work, was a huge accomplishment. These then, are definitely not the people I have an issue with. Instead, it is the well-educated individuals who have English as a mother tongue, and insist on behaving like illiterates, that make me want to hurt them.

We’ve all encountered them I’m sure. In the emails we get, the status updates we see on Facebook, even in the CVs we peruse when we’re hiring new staff. The people who use some kind of bastardised version of the English language to get their message across. At first I thought it was just me – that I was getting old and therefore did not fully grasp the undeniable coolness of writing ‘dem’ instead of ‘them’ or ‘dat’ instead of ‘that’. But it seems that people in their thirties are living in the ghetto too these days…or at least speaking as if they do. I simply can’t take those people seriously. You could have a genius level IQ, but as soon as the bizarre spelling mistakes appear, my ability to think you’re anything other than a complete moron disappears. The thing is, I’m fairly certain that these people are not actually making mistakes. They’re choosing to write ‘dem’ and ‘dat’ and ‘cud’ and ‘gud’ (could and good for the English speakers among us) and all those other little gems we encounter each day. Are people really that lazy that they would rather look like idiots than take the time to type in a few extra letters?

Then there are those people who are actually making spelling mistakes. Who made it through their whole school (and sometimes varsity) careers without learning the difference between too and to, your and you’re, there and their, etc etc etc. Look, we all have days when the brain is moving faster than the fingers can type, and a spelling mistake slips in. But for the love of all that is holy, if you have made it to adulthood and you still don’t know how to differentiate between to and too, please seek remedial lessons. Alas, spellcheck cannot help you on this one, since they’re all real words, and the correct usage depends on context. It’s up to you to figure it out. Go on, you can do it. Think of how proud you’ll make your mom.

The last category of people I want to hurt does generally seem to exist only with people under a certain age. It seems we are breeding a generation of young people who think it’s, like, super awesome to replace letters with numbers, or even better, to mix upper and lower case letters in one word. Like, wOw, that’s s0 kEwL. Look a bit retarded? Exactly. I’m sure someone out there is just dying to explain to me why exactly this phenomenon exists. Let me save you the energy…I don’t care. All I’m saying is that if you have children, and they write like this, it is your moral responsibility to keep them inside the house…I’m not sure they’re smart enough to take care of themselves in the big bad world out there.

I recognise that I am an intellectual snob. I don’t really feel bad about it. The English teacher part of me doesn’t help either. Rest assured, if you are a business, and there are spelling mistakes in your menu/signage/correspondence, you won’t be getting my business if I can help it. You may think it seems hip to name your establishment Da Beach House…I think it’s a sign that you’re tacky and probably unprofessional. And if you’re a principal in a school but you sign your letters to me from the “principle”, you’re not really making it easy for me to respect you. This is my little pet hate, and as someone who loves the English language so much, I can’t help it. Maybe you’re happy behaving like a functional illiterate. All I’m saying is try reading a book from time to time. It may change your life.


  1. Shannon Sewell

    March 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Belinda

    Just to let you know I love your blogs, they always hit the nail on the head and have me laughing! This one is particularly brilliant and really made me laugh out loud! w0w, it’s so kEwL!

    Keep Well


  2. Bel, you’re right on the money! You have just vented on one of my all time peeves (my other being car seats and seatbelts for children). I cannot understand how people write these days, it is just ridiculous. I feel exactly the same way you do.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with you, Belinda. English seems to be going to the dogs these days. I wonder if that is why I am such a stickler for spelling tests and phonics.

  4. Bel

    March 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Well, without great teachers, and parents who instil a love of reading early on, we’d all be lost.
    Of course, I can never make another spelling mistake for the rest of my life after writing this…

  5. U r sew rite. I hAtE dis 2!

  6. It’s only words, and words are all I have – to take your heart away. (Bee Gees lyric). Imagine being courted by somebody who wrote words of love in ghetto spell? Methinks your heart would remain firmly your own in response to that sort of approach! (However, don’t forget that even good English needs a b/s filter in these circumstances)!!

    There is nothing more annoying and disappointing than to read or receive messages etc., in this “prose”, especially when they come from somebody who has been the lucky recipient of a higher education or even an ordinary education for that matter. For me personally, I am completely taken aback and even shocked when somebody of my generation or younger, addresses me in this terminology. Are they trying to appear cool and fit in? What kind of image are they hoping to project (the mind boggles). What about the example they are setting if they have young children or grandchildren? I say it’s library cards at dawn and quick march out the door to get a good book to read – that is what is lacking here. Ignorance might be bliss but being ignorant certainly isn’t.

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