Does txt spk make you :( ?

Dave Ryan

Welcome to WriteStars’ blog. We hope you’ll like us. We’ll be posting about anything and everything to do with words, and we’d love to hear your comments and feedback as we go – and if you share our posts – all the better!

To begin, our pedant-in-chief (we love him really) - Dave Ryan, chief sub-editor at The Independent on Sunday, tells us exactly what he thinks about text speak – and it doesn’t make him as cross as you might think :)

By Dave Ryan

My wife spotted a small advert in our local Tesco store last week heralding the fact that a “3 peice sweet” was for sale. Superior titters all round!

Does anyone think the seller less likely to conclude a transaction because of poor spelling?
Unlikely, if the price was right.
So, when does accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar really matter?
Some would answer that good habits should be constant and that these things always matter. But is it not so that texting teenagers (and no shortage of adults) commit any number of barbarities upon the written language without anyone passing judgement? Indeed, they almost seem to relish the challenge of getting away with as much, or as little, as possible and still be understood.
Likewise, social media exchanges reflect a drive to scatty, idiosyncratic expression that is both trendy and liberating, with capitals, exclamation marks and acronyms laid on with a trowel.These conventions, and a lazy over-reliance on “spell check”, are said to be eroding standards and fostering a “cba” laxity, a wilful dumbing-down, that may prove impossible to reverse.
Chill!!! The trick is not in always getting it right, but in knowing when not to get it wrong.
 I fuss like a drone over my text messages, and probably run the risk of walking under a bus, simply because I’m unable to knowingly miss an apostrophe or a capital letter. Yet for 90 per cent of the time the recipient does not much care about such matters. I am not being judged (although an obvious ignorance of spelling is wurse).
As a working journalist, I know that these things matter, professionally, because to get them wrong undermines credibility. To fail to take the care to spell and punctuate correctly is as damaging as getting facts wrong. Any reader would be justified in thinking, “If they can’t get these things right, why should I trust anything that’s written here?” Some things in punctuation are subjective, almost a matter of taste … others are just plain wrong!
As a sub-editor, I am grateful that the people who read newspapers still think this way. It keeps me in a job.  And don’t think new media operate under different constraints; the credibility factor is exactly the same if someone is taking their news off a website or tablet newspaper edition. Even 24-hour television news needs to ensure that those rolling “breaking news” bands are error free (though they often fail, especially in the wee small hours).
We journalists take the same judgemental stance on the many poor-quality press releases we receive as you would with any communication in a professional context, rather than a leisure forum. Not least, say, the job application.
Youngsters, too cool for school, who feel they can get by with panache and vigour on a CV will have to graduate through the school of hard knocks that awaits. I know, I did.

However, I find that these texting teens, who get such a hard time from rigorous curmudgeons, often know quite well when credibility is an issue and have another gear to which they can go.

If they don’t, they can always carve out a career in second-hand furniture.
Dave Ryan


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