Friday, October 30, 2009

SPAG woes - an introduction

SPAG stands for
specifically within the English language.

Now, I'm not perfect with my SPAG usage (if asked my SPAGuality, I'd say I was 'experimental'), but speaking English is something that most English people are taught to do almost from birth. Most of us start being taught to read and write it a relatively short time later. I'd say that practising something for such a large part of your life should make you quite good at it, yet so many British people can't speak or write a decent sentence for toffee and, even worse, simply don't care. What does it matter if you don't know where to put an apostrophe, which 'their' to use or even what a semi-colon looks like?

It's not important. It doesn't matter. It's a waste of time learning these things because everyone still knows exactly what you mean even if you miss out every vowel and don't bother with punctuation at all, don't they? But it vexes me. It makes my stomach acids bubble to read through my Facebook news feed and see apostrophes being abused, homophones being interchanged willy-nilly and lazy spellings infecting a sentence that may otherwise have turned out to be a pleasant read. Why does it prod at the less savoury parts of my psyche? Here are some reasons:
  • If someone has written (or typed) something, I'd like to think it's worth saying. If something's worth doing, you spend time on it, you craft it lovingly and you make it your own and as perfect as it can be. If I were to slap some letters down on a page with randomly interspersed items of punctuation and no regard for conventional spelling, I would feel that it's not that important to me. If that is the case, then why bother saying it at all?
  • The rules of SPAG are there for a reason*. That reason is to unify communication; to ensure that we can get our message across unambiguously** using the tools at our disposal. Sometimes it's harder than others, but in even the most simple of sentences changing so much as a comma's position can alter its  meaning dramatically.
  • Writing is an art form. You don't have to be any good at it to take part, but I am of the opinion that you should at least try. My writing is not by any means flawless, but I do make an effort. Otherwise, what's the point in doing it at all? Ignoring spelling conventions and denying the existence of punctuation is a textual version of inarticulate grunting, and I don't know anybody who enjoys being on the receiving end of that.
I'm going to write a series of blog posts on the theme of commonly misused or misunderstood uses of the English language. I'm sure these will be well-read and massively popular, and I would welcome comments and suggestions from both of the people who will read them, especially if I've got anything wrong. I'd also like to suggest the possibility of somebody 'guest-blogging' on the subject: I know there are people on various of my friends lists who have a similar bee in their bonnet yet are much more qualified than I to comment on it. If you're interested, let me know. Or just write something and send it to me.

* That's not to say we can't break them from time to time: I break many of them all the time. If we didn't break rules, we'd never make any progress. But breaking rules and being ignorant of them are different circumstances entirely.

** Although one of the more fun things to play with is the double meaning. But that's an example of rule-breaking as opposed to rule-ignoring, as commented on in *.