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.