There, There, There

Bad SpellingI have always been a poor speller, although I’ve improved greatly over the last decade. However, because I am a careful writer, I am less likely than most to write an incorrect homonym like “beat red.” This must be a point of pride to many intelligent bad spellers. In general, spelling is arbitrary. As Geoffrey Numberg says in the way we talk now:

Nothing is fairer than a spelling test, after all. The rules are the same for everyone: there is no cultural bias, no subjectivity about right and wrong answers. And unlike other subjects, spelling gives no special advantage to those children who happen to be brighter or more creative than their classmates. The wonderful thing about English spelling—at the fourth-grade level, anyway—is that it makes no sense at all.

Thus we bad spellers can brush off good spellers as freaks like professional basketball players and American Idol contestants. But knowing the difference between there, their, and they’re: that takes intelligence.

Bearing this in mind, I had a very uncomfortable experience a couple of days ago when I was writing Reduced Shakespeare. Reading through my first draft, I noticed that I spelled “their” as “there”—three times! This was very embarrassing, even if I was the only one around to notice it.

Having thought about it a few days, I now wonder what the big deal is. In truth, the following sentence is completely clear, “There horses were not their.” It makes me wonder if my concern is not just a reflex to please grammar pedants who I despise anyway. These people are, after all, the greatest impediments to the reform and simplification of the language that I greatly desire.

On the other hand, no one wishes to look stupid. Such grammatical niceties are the best way that we have to prove we are educated. That is something, sadly, that matters to me. Except, of course, when writing about grammar.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “There, There, There

  1. Hahaha as an English major, that shirt in the picture made me chuckle. I am not a huge stickler on spelling, but I do cringe a little bit when people confuse their/there/they’re or your/you’re, or even two/to/too. I am not a grammar pedant or anything like that and I don’t correct people as they speak or write, but I definitely notice!


  2. Yeah, I know. I’m the same way. Just the same, English is overly complicated. I care, but I can make strong arguments for why I shouldn’t.

    On this note, I really hate it when people mess up its and it’s. What could be simpler? Can’t they at least get THAT right?

  3. I am taking a business communications course right now and it’s all about grammar! This was a fun read and gets me excited for the course. Thanks :)

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