Human Error, or Disrespect?

I was amused to come across this mock-CAPTCHA image:

(After a bit of searching, I believe that it may have originated from a site called “Defective Yeti”, though it’s been making the rounds for a bit.)

Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that requiring a test like that before letting anyone on the internet is a good idea, but even while I laughed I couldn’t help but agree with the sentiment behind the suggestion. Some things are not just “hard grammar stuff,” but basic facts that everyone should know.

Oddly enough, one of the words I seem to see misspelled most often is “yeah.” It’s a word that most people use frequently in everyday discussion, and it’s not very long or difficult to spell. Really, I would have thought that it would’ve been harder not to learn how to spell it correctly. And yet, the number of times I see it spelled any other conceivable way is amazing. Yea, yeh, yah, ya…

In some cases, of course, it’s just a simple typo. For other people, it’s consistent enough that the person clearly doesn’t actually know that it’s incorrect. Rarely, it’s a deliberate attempt to portray a dialect in written form. But in some cases, it’s something else entirely.

A thread I was involved in recently on a forum was briefly sidetracked by a discussion of grammar and spelling issues. In the course of it, I pointed out to someone that “yea” was not a spelling variation of “yeah” but actually a different word. (As a side note, I do not make a habit of making myself obnoxious by pointing out others’ typos and spelling errors when they haven’t asked me to do so. The comment was appropriate under the circumstances.) His response? He said that he knew that – he was just too lazy to type the whole word.

When I see something like that, I don’t think that it’s a sign of stupidity, or lack of education. (Not that I look down on people that way when it is an honest mistake, either!) I think that it shows a basic lack of respect for the people that you’re talking to. This person was willing to take the time to comment on someone else’s “misspelling” (which was, in fact, a perfectly acceptable spelling variation), yet in that same post couldn’t be bothered to type one extra letter in order to complete a word.

The occasional typo is not a big deal. It happens to all of us from time to time, and under most circumstances the majority of people are unlikely to give it a second thought, if they even notice. But people can tell the difference between the occasional slip-up from a generally intelligent, thoughtful person and a pervasive attitude of apathy or disrespect toward the people with whom you’re communicating.

You may think that a bit of sloppy spelling or the failure to skim through casual correspondence before sending it doesn’t matter. But the truth is, if you make a habit out of it when it “doesn’t matter,” that habit is going to stick. It’s going to come out sometime when it does matter, and it may make a bigger difference than you think.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to be a grammar expert, or compose rigid, formal letters no matter what the context, or keep reference books beside them to consult every time they so much as type up a forum post. What I am saying is that your basic attention to detail and respect for others – or lack thereof – will make a difference in how you are perceived. If you want to be taken seriously and respected in turn, keeping an eye on the little things is a good place to start in earning it.

2 Responses to “Human Error, or Disrespect?”

  1. Hyrum Huskey says:

    You have made some interesting observations Emily. I suspect a lot of us see email as a less formal type of correspondence, not worthy of time spent to make corrections. Still, as writers, our writing habits are — as you note — critical. Thanks for that reminder.

  2. emilysather says:

    Thank you! I do think there’s a time and place for shooting off a quick email, not belaboring every note sent to friends and family. But being in the habit of giving things even a quick second read through can make a big difference in terms of professionalism, and save on potential embarrassment. (Such as the case of the designer who accidentally asked a German client, “Can I help you fuhrer?” rather than “Can I help you further?”…. It happens, but not everyone has a sense of humor about those things!)

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