I was thinking it was just my people, those rotten Americans, but no. Brits are spelling wrong too. Or should I say, “spelling wrongly?” There I am, loafing through Sainsbury’s (or is it Sainsburys’, I mean, is it owned by more than one Sainsbury?). Right in front of me is a sign offering employment to people who, and I quote, “know you’re onions.” Damn! I could use a job like that! But, heck, I know I am not onions. Fish on a bad day, maybe, but never onions.
Over to a clerk I go and ask for his pen. He looks at me, bemused. “There is a typographical error on one of your signs in the salad section,” I say with lettuce-like crispness. “What?” “One of your signs is wrong,” I rephrase, thinking that maybe it isn’t a typographical error or perhaps he’s deaf. Maybe it is a punctuation error? Did someone punctuate his earbones? Maybe I’m getting too anal for words. I take his pen and scratch out the inappropriate bits on the sign, saying loudly, in my best American twang, “It says ‘Do you know you are onions’?” God, it is great to be smarter than a sign, righter than an inanimate object. Or do I mean ‘more correct’?
It doesn’t stop there, however. Normally I walk from the supermarket. But it today it looks like rain and there’s an empty cab. I’ve got five pounds burning a hole in my pocket. I think, “Taxi home, you little slutburger.” In the back of the cab is a sign for something, er, Irish. Or should I spell it ‘Oirish’? I think it is an ad for an airport. What I recall clearly is Vince Powers, who was a big cheese (should I capitalise that?) of the Mean Fiddler Group, saying, “I arrive late so they know whos boss.”
Whos boss? Isn’t this tantamount to the famous Dear John letter aptly titled, “The Importance of Correct Punctuation”? It goes, “Dear John: I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours? Gloria.”
The other version shows what a difference punctuation makes. “Dear John: I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Gloria.”
Punctuational cock-ups are costly. Costful even. I’ve seen big signs, carved signs, etched stationery and expensive stuff made by people who should know better made useless, each and every one, by punctuation errors. All over the Internet, folks are forgetting how to write good. English, I mean. Check out a site called Bud Uglly (one of my cyberspatial favourites) and see what I mean. The exception? This site wants to look like this. Billions don’t. So many people don’t care about their word usements. Many of these people went to ‘collage’.
I blame ee cummings and kd lang myself. I also blame everybody who confuses ‘its’ with ‘it’s’ and tits. And people who can’t get the meaning of the sentence, ‘The horse raced past the barn fell.’ And people who begin sentences with ‘and’. You know who you are. And especially YOU, the rotten apples who are poisoning the quotation mark pond. You are confusing the hell out of everyone else. Consider the sign found in a bathroom: Please do not put “anything” in the toilet. Or the woman whose grandmother sent her a card which read Dear “Rebecca”, as if to imply that that was not her real name and that granny was actually her brother.
Okay, so I’ve got a grammatical bug up my bum. Maybe I think it is important to express oneself clearly, precisely. Maybe I think the sign on my back which says, “Kick me,” should be spelled with correctness, just as the sign that says, “I’m carrying cash.” Or as Dave Barry, the American columnist, once said, in reference to the meaning of the expression, ‘this does not bode well’, “It means something is not boding the way it should. It could be boding better.”
I bet I’d be boding better if I ran out and bought a new computer. You know, the one that used to allow you to, ‘Think Different.” But shouldn’t I really be trying to “Think Differently”? Shouldn’t I be trying to write better, perhaps even well and not just good? Or maybe it is true after all. Maybe I’m thinking wrong. I dunno.
Next week: Vegans Who Own Meat-Eating Cats And What To Do About It.