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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spelling online: even Homer nods off

Our senior writer, Tricia Nissen, previously blogged on a humorous and rare spelling lapse at the White House. As a communications company, Goff & Howard knows that small errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation occasionally can happen, but we have a zero-tolerance policy, because mistakes, if not caught, slowly but surely erode the communicator’s credibility.

The conservative standards adhered to by communications professionals (e.g., mainstream media journalists, PR types like us, and political flacks) don’t apply very well in the real world of Web 2.0. For example, in reading online comments to blogs and news stories, I am often struck by the rampant, casual spelling errors made – and not corrected. (But, hey, we’re talking about an all-too-causal medium where the spectrum of contributions runs from thoughtful, closely reasoned contributions to ad hominem attacks devoid of originality, taste or civility.)

We the readers of a posted comment can often “fill in the blanks” from context . . . some of the time. Someone may write “no” meaning “now” without hitting the third keystroke, or it might mean “know” because their synapses were shorting out. We might figure out the meaning, but we’re usually left wondering slightly about the poster himself/herself. (“Is he or she an idiot, just sloppy, or functioning on only two hours of sleep over the past three days?”)

Of course, that ubiquitous crutch – spell-check – isn’t quite so readily available when leaving online comments. And if someone is in a hurry to post or shaking in rage to respond, taking a few moments to ensure his or her thoughts are expressed in standard English, error-free, isn’t a priority.

So as a service to you, dear reader, who may be inclined to post a comment online sometime, please be forewarned on “Eight Spelling Mistakes Even Smart People Make.”

Just remember the Roman poet Horace’s judgment on trivial mistakes made by even the greatest of ancient poets: “I still get annoyed whenever the great Homer nods off” (Ars poetica 358-9).