Vail Valley Voices: Language matters |

Vail Valley Voices: Language matters

David Dillon
Vail, CO, Colorado

I’m almost in mourning.

I say “almost” because the thing I mourn isn’t quite dead, but it’s crawling on all fours, gasping for breath.

I am referring to basic, simple literacy.

When I was a kid, grammar and spelling came easily to me. If someone used the wrong word or spelling in rudimentary English, I knew it instantly because it just looked wrong or sounded wrong. It’s like the rules were firmly embedded in us back then, and an alarm sounded in our brains whenever one of those rules was violated.

I know teachers have always done their jobs with dedication, so I don’t get why so few people seem able to retain what they are taught.

The more time I spend corresponding online or via e-mail, the more flabbergasted I am at how fundamentally illiterate so many people are.

To be clear, I am not being elitist. I am not talking about whether you can spell “antidisestablishmentarianism.”

I’m talking about spelling the word “to” correctly.

There are those who blame the fall of the English language on instant messaging and text messaging. Some studies claim that young people no longer know what is correct because they have used computer and cell-phone shorthand for so long they can’t tell the difference anymore.

Teachers have reported incidents of students using “u” for “you” and “ur” for “your” in essays and writing assignments and having no idea what to capitalize anymore because they use lowercase for everything when they text. It is admittedly not in any sense the norm, but it does occur.

Anyone who knows me knows I despise text messaging. I want to blow my brains out when I am with my niece, whom I dearly love.

Not only is it maddeningly annoying and incredibly rude for someone visiting with you to be texting others constantly, but it removes the direct, personal contact that proper communication fosters in socialized beings.

It confounds me that texting is preferable to picking up a phone and actually speaking to someone, but it is the way of the world now, so all we can do is attempt to imbue in our young people the fact that different rules apply to different forms of communication.

Another culprit is our lazy dependency on spell check. We no longer worry much about our spelling prowess because we let our computers think for us. The problem with this is that some programs do not check usage, only spelling. It won’t highlight “your” because it is an actual word. It neglects to tell you that you should have used “you’re.”

In fairness, I have to admit that it is not only young people who seem not to know the basics. People my age also make these mistakes and, each time they do, my brain actually hurts.

So, I think it is time to go back to basics.

Here is a cheat sheet of some of the most commonly made mistakes (I’m sure there are others) that may help jar the memories of those who have let what they were surely taught in school fall by the wayside.

Your and you’re: “Your” is possessive, meaning belonging to. “Your shoe is untied.” “You’re” is a contraction (joining) of the words “you” and “are.” “You’re too old for that dress.”

To, two and too: “Two” refers to the number between one and three. “I have two children.” “Too” means also. “I’d like to go to the zoo, too.” “To” is used in all other instances. “I’m going to take you to the zoo.”

There, their and they’re: “There” refers to a place or direction or the existence of something. “Let’s go over there” or “There is a bus stop down the street.” “Their” is possessive. “They took their marbles and went home.” “They’re” is a contraction of the words “they” and “are.” “They’re going to the beach tomorrow.”

Its and it’s: “Its” is possessive. “The hotel had a bar in its lobby.” “It’s” is a contraction of the words “it” and “is.” “It’s getting late.”

Lose and loose: “Lose” means to no longer have. “Did you lose your purse?” “Loose” means not tight or unrestrained. “The knot was loose, and the boat slipped away from the dock.”

Anymore: “Anymore” means any longer. It is not interchangeable with “nowadays.” So, you can say “People don’t speak correctly anymore” but not “Anymore, people don’t speak correctly.”

You may think I am nitpicking. But I happen to think language is a wonderful thing when used properly.

If you don’t think it is important, ask human-resources experts where job applications and resumes filled with misspelled and misused words will be filed.

Right in the trash is where I put them.

David Dillon is an Eagle resident.

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