While I may immediately discredit myself and this magazine, I must begin this inaugural column with a personal and, at least to some, questionable admission: I love, and may be infatuated with, famed crooner Josh Groban.
Since my adoration for Mr. Groban runs so deeply and is only equaled by my reverence for the English language, I was disappointed to see him refer to the Tony Awards as “the Tony’s” on social media. Unnecessary apostrophes are, unfortunately, not rare, but it’s hard to watch your heroes stumble, even slightly. Mr. Groban should have referenced “the Tonys,” with no apostrophe, a punctuation mark primarily used to designate possession, as in Josh’s mistake, or to replace letters in a contraction, as in don’t use it for plurality. (Though, it is preferred in some styles to pluralize non-words with an apostrophe, such as letters: “He received four A’s and two B’s.”)
To his credit, though, Mr. Groban was quick to tweet a correction from another Twitter account. While I was happy to see him acknowledge his mistake, I would have been happier if he had not made it in the first place and fallen into the culture of errors that has permeated the digital world.
The Internet is a hotbed for mistakes like Mr. Groban’s, and I’m distressed by each one. As a former copy editor and ongoing champion of the written word, I care more about these mistakes than most people, but you should care about them, too (at least a little bit).
Our computers and mobile devices provide us with a multitude of quick and easy communication channels. Whenever we have the urge, we can instantly share our thoughts with our friends or family—or the entire Internet. Unfortunately, many of the people sharing their thoughts these days are playing fast and loose with the English language. In their rush to say whatever they must say, they dash off a tweet or text or post without any regard for spelling or grammar or punctuation. It’s cultivated a culture of apathy and disrespect toward our English lexicon.
And on the Internet, mis-users are also playing fast and loose with fact and fiction. When someone feels strongly, they may post or share news without taking a moment to make sure what they are sharing is genuine. This is how inaccurate, irresponsible, and, sometimes, altogether fake news goes viral, and it’s how mis-attributed and incorrect quotes end up overtaking the correct versions.
This proliferation of misinformation has made it quite difficult for us to trust anything we read on the Internet. In order to get to the facts, we must wade through a Web that’s bogged down with inaccuracies, errors, and falsehoods.
Moreover, each mistake we make reflects poorly on us. When a reader finds an error, whether it’s grammatical or factual, it erodes the respect and trust that reader had for the author.
Perhaps you think I’m overdramatic, and perhaps you are correct, but consider how you react when a Facebook friend posts a political statement you know to be false, when you find a mistake in a news story, or when someone whose intelligence you admire makes a spelling error in an email.
Think about this, too: As text speak and Internet slang creep into other avenues of communication, the mistakes we so often find online may follow. Maybe you don’t mind making an error in a text or on social media, but what about on your resume, on your wedding invitations, or in an important work proposal?
Personally, I’m ashamed whenever I make a mistake in any medium, so I always double-check what I’ve written. In the interest of promoting the truth, the English language, and your reputation, I recommend you do the same. And that is the hallmark of this monthly piece. In Chicagoly, I’ll use this column to highlight common mistakes, the reasoning behind them and behind the correct rhetoric, as well as how to avoid them.
We are starting simple, talking about how errors are all around us, because admitting there is a problem is a good first step. For now, we all, as disseminators of information, need to slow down. As I mentioned, we live in an instant-communication culture, so it can be tempting to transmit our thoughts to the world without giving them a second thought.
Take the time to really think about what you’re writing and to read it over before hitting send or post. While that seems sophomoric, if it was universal, there would be less inaccurate, distressing, and inappropriate content within the world wide web.
If you’re already on your smartphone or computer, the resources you need to double-check your spelling, grammar, and facts are right at your fingertips.
Of course, nobody’s perfect, so we’re bound to make mistakes, no matter how careful we are. If you take a little time to check yourself, however, you’ll make fewer mistakes.
And if you do get something wrong, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and correct your error. That’s what I do, and that’s what Josh Groban did. And you know how I feel about Josh Groban.