As the editorial director of a book publishing company in Carlsbad, I periodically interview prospective copy editors and proofreaders . . . and find it continually frustrating that the majority of applicants (mostly graduates of local Southern California colleges, and usually possessing English degrees) can’t spell, write, put together a cover letter, or converse intelligently when applying for a position.
Even in my own field, editors (not on my staff, of course), agents, authors, salespeople and others seem to be spelling challenged. In fact, the word that is misspelled more than any other in book publishing is foreword, as in the foreword to a book (think of it as the word that comes before). More often than not, it’s spelled forward, foreward, and forword . . . as far as I’m concerned, the etymological equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard.
But lately I’ve found that the workplace isn’t the only arena where our linguistic shortcomings are so prevalent. I find it increasingly difficult to watch TV due to the multitude of mistakes I see and hear related to the written and spoken word. Any viewer who has watched CNN or any of the other cable news shows has been privy to the numerous errors on the “crawl” at the bottom of the screen: Defendant in murder trail pleads guilty . . . Power couple seperating . . . Noble Peace Prize awarded . . . and if you can’t figure out what’s wrong with these phrases, then my point is well made.
And don’t get me started on reality shows. The cringeworthy dialogue is often peppered with the incorrect use of personal pronouns on a regular basis — virtually an American epidemic! For example, you’ll hear: “John doesn’t think he wants to go to the club with Susan and I.”
“Just between you and I, I think she’s a raving lunatic!”
“Me and Harry are going to Italy next week.”
Still don’t see anything wrong? I rest my case. . . .
Back when I was in grade school in a Pennsylvania suburb many moons ago, I vividly remember my sixth-grade teacher drilling the parts of speech into our impressionable little brains. We were expected to know what a being verb was, when to use who and whom, and why you don’t use I at the end of a sentence after a preposition. . That’s right, it’s not “with Susan and I “ it’s “with Susan and me”!
But is any of this type of dedicated and intensive instruction still going on in English classes here in San Diego or in other places throughout the U.S.? If it is, no one seems to be listening, studying or doing their homework! There are spelling and grammar mistakes on street signs, billboards, TV commercials, book covers, CD albums, restaurant menus, and all manner of Web sites. And if you’re wondering why people don’t just use the spell-check feature . . . well, that device only finds fault with words that aren’t really words. So if you use “their” instead of “there,” you’re sunk. And I don’t mean sank.
The solution to this national tragedy is the following, which, I believe, we should start implementing in our local Southern California schools immediately: Make the use of proper English a requirement for every student in every class that kids and young adults take from the time they’re in grade school through graduation from college. Math, history, science, art . . . whatever . . . when they write or speak, they must do so by using correct grammar. If students knew that their grades were not just dependent on the tests they took in the particular subject but were also based on communicating properly on an overall basis, then proper English would become the norm, not the exception.
Now, at this point you might wonder if I, the word nerd who would rather spend a Saturday reading at the Cardiff Library than sunbathing on Moonlight Beach, am also that annoying person who corrects her friends’ grammar in casual conversation.
Well, just between you and me . . . I would never be so forward!
Jill Kramer is the editorial director at Hay House, Inc., in Carlsbad.
Filed Under: Community Commentary