Monthly Archives: February 2013

Grammar and spelling online: An interview with Laurence Stark

At last, another podcast! This time I spoke to my friend and fellow language nut Laurence Stark, who runs a niche interest website called Minorzine.

We discuss grammar and spelling and why people love or hate it, the movement of books from paper to screen, and how exactly to go about correcting people online without sounding like a douchebag.

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Word of the week, 20th February

Today’s word was found on an awesome website, Brain Pickings, where I find myself increasingly spending time reading about writers, writing and, occasionally, science-y things.


In-fan-duh-s; noun; too offensive to talk about or express.

This is a word that, for some reason, has never stuck around for long. It has been seen used in old letters, or back in 2009 where Canada used it to describe George Galloway, but it’s not remained in popular use for long.

I honestly don’t understand why this isn’t in popular use. It’s useful, not complicated to spell or say, and makes a great insult.

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Word of the week, 14th February

Believe it or not, I did not purposely delay this week’s word of the week to coincide with Valentine’s day (cue groans or sighs). But seeing as we’re here, here’s a couple of words to woo a potential lover and make yourself seem all that bit more cultured.


In-ah-mer-rah-tah; noun; a female sweetheart or lover.


In-ah-mer-ah-toe; noun; a male sweetheart or lover.

These are, unsurprisingly, of Italian origin from around the late 1500s to early 1600s. I don’t suppose many people use them these days, but they do sound just a tad more romantic than the British colloquial “bird” and “bloke”.

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Why people don’t bother

As discovered on my podcast a couple of weeks ago, many people actually know the differences between words that are spelled and pronounced similarly. Some said that they were more likely to get the definitions wrong because they are dyslexic, but this made little difference to their answers; those that mentioned a difficulty with reading and writing gave more correct answers than those who didn’t.

I put this difference down to the possibilities that a) most of the people I asked just happened to have such problems and only some of them mentioned this, or b) the people who were more conscious of their reading and writing put more thought into the words they were reading and how they explained their meanings.

It seems that since the internet became an every day necessity, people have become slack with spelling and grammar. We’re not talking about the odd grocers’ apostrophe here and there; it’s pages upon pages of “coz i went to th shops rite n it wos suny,” from Facebook to forums. Does school simply fail teenagers these days? It’s too simple an answer. Go through any online role-playing forum and scroll past posts of fantastical prose written by teens the same age as those bashing their heads onto keyboards in the dim hope that words will appear on their status update.

There are plenty of resources to correct spelling and grammar on the internet itself, so why, when these people are told that their spelling and grammar is less than great, do they retaliate with “omg shut up geek!!!11!!1!” rather than “o i c. can u help pls”?

As found in my post Why do you hate being corrected? there are a number of reasons why people resist even gentle correction, but plain ignorance, and even pride in it, seems ever-present on the internet (and this, unfortunately, isn’t limited to poor use of language). But a haven of forums like Reddit, where correct grammar and spelling is still important if you want to be taken seriously, remain strong. It is not a rule that people use correct spelling and grammar, it’s a matter of credibility; the better you present yourself, the more likely people will listen to and believe you.

But there is no escape from incorrect spelling and grammar on the internet. Making clear arguments, instructions, or simply writing out a legible story isn’t important to the people who perpetually misuse language.

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Word of the week, 6th February

I found this word just today and thought it may be particularly useful when I stick myself into the world of subbing as a real, full-time, paid job.


Long-ih-low-kwen-ce; noun; a long-winded way of saying things.

When I was practicing subbing in my journalism lessons, I would be given old pieces of student work and pieces by the lower years (suckers). It’s quite interesting to see how people’s styles change over time, in particular how much more descriptive the classes seem to write the newer they are.

My task was to take the pieces of work and a pre-set layout, and make it all fit. The problem with doing this is that you also have to neaten up the copy, sometimes having to delete chunks of text because it’s full of longiloquence. While it’s wonderful to be able to write things in so much detail, in news writing it’s often unnecessary and needs to be chopped down.

Hurrah for useful words!

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