Sew, jest hau due ewe spill thet wurd, anyweigh?
Burt's Eye View
I saw the most amazing thing on Facebook the other day. Under the photo of a cuddly kid, someone commented, “Aw.”
Finally, someone got it right!
“Aw,” as in “how cute,” is the interjection social media misspellers usually mean when they type “awe.” The noun “awe” depicts an overwhelming feeling of reverence or fear for something grand or powerful.
The willy-nilly swapping of “aw” and “awe” on social media drives grammar nuts and spelling geeks buggy.
Back when I was boy, if we chiseled the wrong symbols onto our stone tablets, our teachers made us clean the dinosaur pens for a week. Once you’ve been on shovel patrol for a herd of tyrannosauruses, you learn correct spelling in a hurry, let me tell you.
OK, not really, but it’s a fun story to tell my grandson.
And please, snapping an apostrophe before the letter S at the end of a word does NOT make the word plural. When an envelope arrived at our house addressed to The Cole’s, I didn’t know which one of us was The Cole, Terry or I?
And since the apostrophe made Cole possessive, what was the missing word? The Cole’s glove? The Cole’s pants? The Cole’s grace and charm? (That would be Terry. I tend to avoid things like grace and charm.)
The point is, judging by our everyday postings, we as a nation can’t spill. I mean, spail. Spale. Uh, spell.
Compounding the problem is that for years, businesses and rock bands intentionally tweaked spellings to be cute (“aw”). So we diaper our babies in Luvs, grab a bite at drive-thrus, and listen to tunes by Motley Crue, Boyz II Men and the Beatles.
Between phonetic ignorance and orthographic alterations, we’re in no danger of winning the spelling bee anytime soon. Or even of getting stung by one.
Are we just that dense or is our language intentionally trying to trip us up?
Homonyms, homographs and heteronyms litter the language. Consider way and weigh; two, to and too; board and bored; it’s and its; wear, ware and where; and, of course, aw and awe, all commonly misused in social media postings.
The word “read” can be pronounced “reed” or “red.” You can wind a clock but the wind might blow it over. A minute can be about time (min-it) or size (my-noot). Present can be a gift (prez-int) or the act of handing something over (pree-zint).
Even capitalization gets in on the act, as in Polish and polish: The Polish maid made the table shine with polish.
Add to that our all-time champion, words that use the letter combination “ough,” which have at least 10 pronunciation variations: rough; through; dough; cough; thought; plough (more commonly spelled “plow”); thorough; slough (which can be pronounced either “slou” or “sloo”); hiccough (an old spelling of hiccup); and lough (more common spelled “loch” and pronounced “lock”).
It’s enough to make me want to go back to etching hieroglyphics on the wall, like we did back in my school days. In fact, we already are. But in our brave new world of social media lexiconic mayhem, we call them emojis. So there, their, they’re.
— Fellow grammar nuts and spelling geeks can send pictures to Cole at email@example.com or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.