What is your reaction when you see a misspelling or an correct use of grammar? I did a poll on Twitter. Half said they were mildly annoyed, a quarter were extremely irritated, a quarter felt disturbed. No one picked the ‘It doesn’t bother me’ option.
What sort of bugbears are we talking about here? Common culprits are: ‘They’re is’ ‘Me, two’, ‘Come over hear’. Words that evade spell-checkers. How does it feel, just reading those? The chances are that if you a keen reader, it does not improve your mood. Why?
Here’s my theory. Chaos. Not ‘chaos theory’ but simply that we enjoy order. It’s calming. Agreed spelling and grammar is order: this is what we do, this is how we do it.
We are creatures who have relied on the recognition of patterns for our survival. When something deviates, it could indicate danger. The apple that is brown instead of green, the cheese that has blue fur on it, the smell that is too pungent, too sweet, the snap of the twig that breaks the silence. We recognise the thing that doesn’t fit, and it raises the alarm.
In the case of correct usage of language, it should raise a red flag in certain circumstances. If you’re reading the website or an email from someone that you’re thinking of employing, for example, the standard of communication can indicate that they are competent and attend to detail. (However, I must admit that I have tapped out emails in haste and after hitting the send button have spotted a mistake.)
Mistakes may be pardonable in emails. However, if one of these spelling transgressions appears in a novel or a work of non-fiction, it disturbs the flow of our concentration, our engagement with the narrative. The more we have paid for the book, the more we feel entitled to receive text that is expertly edited. That is a reasonable expectation.
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t consistently annoy you, or not always to the same degree. ‘Yes, it does,’ you insist. Let’s do an experiment. Don’t you love those?
You get a letter from the Tax Office. It tells you have supplied incomplete information. The writer tells you:
‘Fill in and return in the next too days or you may face prosecution.’
Now you’re annoyed, right? If these people are going to make demands and induce stress, the very least they can do is spell correctly!
Now let’s try this.
You are in your garden. The family living next door are delightful people, and you have become good friends with them all. Suddenly their little girl pops her head over the fence, calls ‘hello’, and waves a piece of paper.
‘I wrote this for you!’ she says with glee.
She passes it to you, and there is a page of her 6-year-old handwriting, at all angles and surrounded by colourful doodles. You begin to read. It is entitled …
My First Storey
It jumps out at you, doesn’t it? But are you annoyed? No. She’s 6 years old, and this is her present to you.Not so sure that misspelling should be a capital crime now? Let’s do one more experiment.
Your current favourite author has just published her 9th book in the series that has you riveted. She seems, from interviews and social media, to be a charming lady too. You snuggle up, get cozy, coffee steaming on the table beside you, to take advantage of two solid hours of bliss.
However, for one reason or another, she brought this book out in a hurry. There in chapter three, is …(gasp) ‘She could not here what he said’. Oh dear. In chapter 5 is another, and throughout the book, there are a dozen such errors. Do you stop reading at any point? Unlikely.
Later you take up a novel that has been recommended by someone you actually don’t like all that much. Nevertheless, it sounds vaguely interesting. Hm. You begin to read … chapter 2 … typo … chapter 3 …. misuse of grammar and a missing word. By the mistake in chapter 5 …? Yes, you probably throw in the towel, thinking, I didn’t really want to read it in the first place.
Who’s In The Driving Seat?
Now we’ve established that our reaction depends on the circumstances. Good. Or is it? Isn’t the problem that we are allowing ourselves to be controlled emotionally by circumstances that we have chosen to engage with? What are the alternative reactions that could leave us less ruffled?
How about this: congratulate yourself on knowing how to spell and use grammar correctly, that the error has been spotted by your informed eagle eye, even allow the flash on indignation that you can’t get a refund and maybe … let it go. Does it really matter? Is it worth dwelling on?
Reading any book for the first time is to some extent a gamble: if we lose, we get minutes or hours wasted and disappointment. However, most of the time, we win; win entertainment, a roller coaster ride, the joy of the characters’ journey, the elation of the ending. It’s worth the throw of the dice, isn’t it?
If you find a favourite author who has let something slip in their book, there is one more thing you can do that will definitely make you feel good: drop them a line and tell them. I have a team of beta readers who do just this for me, and they are gold! And please, if you see me using ‘here’ it should say ‘hear’ or a trespass of that nature in something I have written, do, please tell me. I will feel nothing but appreciation.
However, what about when we don’t agree on the rules? What then? More about that next week …
Book 5 of the Amanda Cadabra British humorous cozy mystery series continues to grow. Back soon with more thoughts to entertain you.
Cat adorer and chocolate lover, Holly Bell is a photographer and video maker when not writing. Holly lives in the UK and is a mixture of English, Scottish, Cornish and Welsh, among other ingredients. Her favourite cat is called Bobby. He is black. Like the hat in her cupboard. Purely coincidental.
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