6.03.2006

Casting spells

Deer Miss Snark,

I no there's no such things as a "stupid" question" but I've noticed that alot of so called "Writers" who's questions you post to ur blog often mispell works or use the wrong word, for example saying "complement" instead of "compliment" or "they're" instead of "their" and so on.

So I've been thinking that perhaps you and KY should, in addition to pointing out they're nitwitery-ness, you could also point out that reel Writers spel cheque and grammer check before sending their dumm questions to You're Royal Highness.

Maybe its jist my pet peeve and not other peoples, but I'm shore there ate othur people out there who read this blog that don't like reading badly written questions, usually wirtten, by the way, by people huffing and puffing about how their fristrated because agents won't respond to their queryes and talking about how Dan Brown is such a horrible writer. At least he can put and freakin' sentence together and beside, he's sold more books than the peeple asking thr dumm questions. Yes?

No.

I'm not getting caught up in the false logic of "you can't spell worth a shit" or "you messed up a word" ergo you are a bad writer.

Besides: pot/black. I drive people crazy with my punctuation, my misuse of fewer/less than, not to mention my dangling modifiers, participles and mismatched adverbial forms.

I assume the questions here are pretty close to first draft; I know my replies get a spell check and a review, but I'm NOT giving each post the three day intense scrutiny I give a cover letter, or the year long scrutiny you give a novel.

Let's talk about ideas here, or substantive issues, and leave the spelling wars to people who knit picks for fun. You can be a nitwit for a lot of reasons here but it's a compliment to be in the complement of those who have risked public scrutiny to ask a question.

And yes, there are stupid questions in this world; here are two:

What does pages mean in a manuscript?

Does Killer Yapp like cookies?

46 comments:

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Einstein was famous for his misspellings. He was also a genius. He just needed a good secretary.

Anonymous said...

Is this a stupid question:

Does Killer Yap like steak?

Anonymous said...

"pot/black" is the correct response! you earn 5 points!

good for you for admitting, to use another hackneyed saying, that what is acceptable (if not good) for Her Royal Goose is acceptable for the snarkling gander.

...just when I think maybe I've had enough reading Miss Snark, you suck me back in for more.

The Rentable Writer said...

I can't believe me spelling 'compliment' wrong has caused such a stir. This is awesome!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Miss Snark.
While I have been - and no doubt will be again - a tortfeasor on this blog, I can assure the poster that my query letter, as well as my manuscript, went out immaculate.

Anonymous said...

Most of the professional writers I know personally (and I know several) admit they are either bad spellers or have trouble with some grammar. But, they're quite creative, have wonderful characters and develop amazing plots and entertaining stories. That makes them good writers - not the mass market sales that Brown achieved with his so-so writing. The writer I know who is a professor in English Lit. and Creative Writing at the U. of WA and who never makes a spelling and/or grammar error, doesn't create the best stories. Some of the best writers, I've heard, slam their stories down on paper and hire someone else to edit it before it's submitted to agent or editor. Also, "Casting spells's" letter contained too many errors to not be a joke. He/she is silly.

kis said...

I don't mind seeing that kind of thing from questioners (questers? askers? quaestors?), or even in a swiftly typed response from MS. I just hate seeing stuff like "transportative" (yes, I'll happily beat that dead horse, and with a dictionary, no less) on websites or in books where you would think someone, SOMEONE, was minding the freaking store.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I spel lowsy. Butt only cuz I tipe fast.

sally apokedak said...

At the risk of sounding like a toady I have to tell you that I liked your response here. I like most of your responses, really, but this one warmed my heart, especially.

Could be because my blog is full of typos (with whole words missing, even) and I can't place a comma correctly to save my life, or it could be because I don't like toadies. Probably a little of both.

M E Hunt said...

Thank you, Miss Snark for declining the invitation to dump on those of us who are spelling-challenged.

A tip of the tam to KY

Anonymous said...

As I see it there are three ways you can screw up. 1) Fat fingering on the keyboard which can happen to anyone. This is the easiest thing to do but also easy to catch. 2) Misspelling, where you intentionally type the wrong letters because you are unsure of the proper spelling. Less frequent but a quick trip through spell check should find most errors. 3) Confusing "there", "their" and "they're" or similar misuse. Spell check is no help because all the words are properly spelled and even a grammar checker will not always help. Here I have little sympathy for the "bang it on the page, I don't need to know the technical aspects of language because I'm creative" mode of thinking, as what you have banged on to the page does not necessarily mean what you intend. If you can't use the English language properly, how do you know that you're communicating your ideas clearly, much less artistically?

hkaurgs said...

Thank you, Miss Snark!

I think this is a trap new writers fall into. No book was ever rejected because of a typo or two (several thousand being another matter); books get rejected because the stories don't work on a deeper level.

Save the commas and typos for the final pass. They're the least of all our writerly problems.

Anonymous said...

another anonymous wrote: Most of the professional writers I know personally (and I know several) admit they are either bad spellers or have trouble with some grammar.

Phew!

I'm so bad at spelling that I sometimes can't even look up the word, and get no hints because it's too far gone for spell check to guess. Aarrgghhh!!!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Cougars Rule and Huskies Drool.

Fact of life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Miss Snark, for making up the rules as you go along.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Holy crap - bad education flashback: asking a teacher how to spell something and her saying to look it up. HELLO?! If I knew how to SPELL IT to FIND IT, it wouldn't be an issue!

Bad spelling irks me to no end, but I find the moment I comment on it, I have my own word posted for the world to see, totally spelled wrong. Sometimes it's just flat out easier to say nothing and let your own brain change the word as it was supposed to be.

LOVE this post by Miss Snark, btw. I think I felt a collective sigh of relief all the way to Texas as Snarklings read it. And I agree with Miss Snark - most of us type fast - and rarely do we re-read something a billion times before we submit it to a blog. Totally different from our novels as they go out into the world for agents/editors to see.

Just Me said...

I was a freelance editor for years, I'm now a writer, and I despise writers who feel that grammar and punctuation are beneath their Creative Genius and should be left for the Little People to sort out. Those are our tools. If you don't know how to use them, how on earth can you ever expect to get your writing to say what you want it to say? (Spelling is a different issue, as far as I'm concerned. Lack of knowledge there doesn't prevent you from crafting your writing with precision and style.)

But this blog, and all posts to it, are a whole different thing. It would never occur to me to correct anyone's grammar or punctuation here, unless someone went off on other people's while at the same time making errors of his own.

If I were making a speech to an audience of thousands, and I'd had all the time in the world to prepare it, you better believe my syntax would be flawless. But if I'm having an interesting chat in the pub, it's not. This blog is an interesting chat in a literary pub, not a prepared professional speech. I don't check my posts for errors, and I can't imagine why I should care if anyone else does.

Maya said...

Anonymous said: I'm so bad at spelling that I sometimes can't even look up the word, and get no hints because it's too far gone for spell check to guess.

LOL. THAT's when having a thesaurus (or Rodale's Synonym Finder, which I prefer) comes in handy. If you know what the word means and can look up a synonym, you can find the word you want. I probably use the Synonym Finder more often for that purpose--or when I can't remember the word I want--than I do looking for synonyms.

Watercolorz said...

not to mention my dangling modifiers…



FYI… Le Mystere has a new line just for such conditions ~W

Elektra said...

It's like when I asked a teacher in fourth grade what the first letter in 'pneumonia' was, and she told me to look it up in the dictionary...

Anonymous said...

I think that people who nit-pick about spelling often times are compensating for their own lack of creativity, voice, and/or ability.
That said, though, people who grossly mispell words on a continual basis are almost as infuriating, simple because they do not get their point across.

Mark said...

My pet peeve is continued use of "alot." It's not a word. Usually the rankest amateurs use it religiously, and repeated use is indeed a sign of nitwitedness.

Anonymous said...

And if "nitwitedness" were a word, I suspect it would contain one more "T"...

cribcage said...

You can't defend flatly incompetent writing by saying, "It's only a blog." It's like sitting next to a drummer who's tapping a desk with his pencil. Just from hearing that, no, I can't judge his fills and I don't know whether he can play a soft 5/4 — but it will be obvious if the kid has no rhythm whatsoever. If you're halfway decent behind a trap set, then you won't have trouble tapping a pencil to a steady pulse. You can't not do it. It's automatic.

By the same token, this isn't about whether you can develop sympathetic characters or construct logical plots, and the issue of revision versus first drafts is irrelevant. It's quite simple: If you spend any significant portion of your time constructing intelligible paragraphs, then your off-the-cuff writing can't help but reflect that — the contrapositive of which is, if your off-the-cuff writing reads like fourth-grade prose, then you're probably not much of a writer.

One Girl's Opinion said...

Oh Brenda! I think we must have the same bad speller gene! I brought this up on the Critique group I belong to someone said they will type their beyond-the-scope-of-spell-check word into google. them google comes back with "did you mean . . . ?" and usually suggests the right spelling.

Now thats a useful tool in my badly-spelled book!

Anonymous said...

What a great idea, Maya. I'm going to have to look for Rodale's Synonym Finder. I've successfully used Google to 'suggest' the word. I'll try to enter it phonetically, and so far, I've been able to find most words. My latest fiasco was mnemonic. I tried pneu... and neu... Interestingly, Google was able to suggest the correct word in with both misspellings, where as spell check threw up it's virtual hands and gave up.

My mantra used to be, "What are the first three letters?"

Mirym K. said...

If someone were to put the time and effort into making ALL of their comments flawless, most likely some wouldn't be ready for posting until everyone else had already moved on to other things. After all, many people catch their errors better when they haven't read what they wrote in quite a while.

It's fine with me if people don't try to make each comment perfect.

(Says the person who's commented on the entirely wrong post before like a nitwit...)

Anonymous said...

Sometimes good writers don't know squat about the rules. I'm fairly certain my editor doesn't think of herself as a little person sorting out my leftovers. I've got several published novels that prove one can write and not know the rules. And I'm very grateful for my editors who fix any errors I make, because they know the rules that I don't.

I don't have a college education, and I don't know a misplaced modifier from a gerund. But I write darn good books.

Miss Snark said...

wait! wait!

Nitwitedness ISN"T a word??

I have one thing to say to that!!:
piffle

Alan Morgan said...

I no there's no such things as a "stupid" question" but I've noticed that alot of so called "Writers" who's questions you post to ur blog often mispell works or use the wrong word

Yeah. Pot/kettle, for sure.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

I hate when you spell something and it just LOOKS wrong. It may be right, but there's something about it that makes you second-guess yourself. Gah.

Anyway...

www.dictionary.com

Put your word in and it'll let ya know what it's supposed to be. And you click on THESAURUS too, from the same place.

Anonymous said...

Nitwitedness ISN"T a word??

Ooh. Dictionary fight?

Nit-wittedness.

Not that it bothers me. Obviously.

Dave Kuzminski said...

My favorite worst misspelling is when I write something and then modify it only to forget to change one of the words that remained in the sentence such as it's to its because of the new content. Ouch, I sure hate making that one and I still catch myself sometimes only after I've hit the post button.

Inkwolf said...

Of course, the beauty of English is that everyone is allowed to make up words or substitute words and phrases, and as long as people know what you mean, it's okay.

Nitwittedness, sure! (Three T's, though. I insist.)

And after you've cut something out, dincha ever scootch your chair over and see all the schnibbles of paper left over in a huge, kingkongian plop on the floor? Well, just riffle 'em up and bork 'em in the trash.

Or, in the immortal words of Carl Barks, "You ain't just a-woofin', Donald!"

And that's just the conservative American version. Don't even start on the British with their fribbly-dibblys and rhyming slang!

I genuinely pity people trying to learn this language...

pjd said...

"If you can't use the English language properly, how do you know that you're communicating your ideas clearly, much less artistically?"

Yesterday I sat talking with my neighbors, and the wife said that her husband "liked the third grade teacher better than me." I missed the next five minutes of the conversation pondering whether she actually meant "I" instead of "me" and what types of scandals might result.

Mark said...

It should be a word. At one time there was no "disemvoweling" either.

Mark said...

It was a typo, something I make sure to avoid in queries. Blog comments sometimes get shoddy editing on the fly.

dink said...

You might think about adopting a new pet.
Those peeves have a mean disposition and are nortorious for biting their owners on the butt.

I have the scars to prove it.

;-)

Laura(southernxyl) said...

I went to dictionary.com and put in "newmonia". It said there was no entry for "newmonia" and asked if I meant "pneumonia". Bingo!

Read an article recently about kids being allowed to "cheat" on tests by looking up words on their laptops. Since that's what smart people do in real life, I think it's great.

Ray Rhamey, Flogging the Quill said...

Is it worth pointing out that the protester used "who's" (meaning "who is") instead of "whose," the possessive pronoun?

Ray

Just Me said...

To an extent, I agree with Cribcage: if someone has a tin ear for language, it's often obvious even from a blog post. But having a tin ear is very different from making the odd careless slip.

There's no point in being fussy about the odd careless slip on a blog. And when it comes to a tin ear, there's nothing any of us can do about someone else's. The only cure, in my opinion, is lots and lots and lots of reading. Reading good stuff.

You can't defend flatly incompetent writing by saying, "It's only a blog."

I can't speak for anyone else, but personally, I'm not defending it. I don't think it needs either defending or fixing - not by me, anyway. Personally, I don't care one bit about careless slips in blog posts, and I consider tin ears to be their owners' problems, not mine.

Anonymous said...

I'd be careful about that collective sigh of relief re poor spelling and grammar. I agree that nit picking over those mistakes on blog posts is unnecessary, but I'd bet good money that Miss Snark crumples query letters the moment she detects the first such error.

Take back that sigh. Ignorance of the basics won't help you, but it's almost guaranteed to hurt - avowals of publishing success from those who claim to be incompetent at grammar and spelling notwithstanding.

So, Einstein could not spell? Hello - you're not Einstein.

kis said...

[Sometimes good writers don't know squat about the rules.]

Ditto. I wouldn't know a dangling participle from a split infinitive. There are people out there--myself included, I hope!-- who have read enough, and written enough, to be able to construct a coherent sentence by intuition.

I see a bad sentence (or paragraph), and though I might not be able to use the technical jargon to tell you what's wrong with it, I could probably rearrange it into something acceptable.

Readers aren't going to care about rules. They *are* going to know intuitively if something doesn't sound right.

As a reader, I'm much more forgiving of sentence fragments and other minor things than I am of dull writing, comprised of the same (technically correct) sentence structures used over and over, ad nauseum. And sadly, this is something I've seen from prolific writers with many good books out, who have either become lazy, or whose deadlines are killing them. And the most irksome thing about it is not that such drivel makes it to a publisher, but that it gets past an editor. I mean, what the #%$* is an editor for?

Anonymous said...

Some very well known writers must have a clause in their contracts that forbids editors to mess with their timeless prose.

I can't think of any other reason for the poor writing and basic errors that litter their books. If you're a best selling author, it seems, you get to call the shots, to the detriment of the book.

Anonymous said...

Some of the comments to this post cracked me up. Some people only noticed a couple errors in the question (there are at least 26) and took this question seriously.

I'm not a grammar Nazi by any means, but I personally find it embarrassing to discover that what I intended to communicate is not what I actually communicated because I didn't reread a post - using or misspelling a word so badly that my sentence does not make enough sense for people to understand what I'm saying.

A lot of people commented that "good" writers don't spend their time worrying about the "rules," but I think good writers should spend some time making sure they have a basic grasp of how to write in their native language. It's not a matter of "correct grammar" but one of communication. And spell check! (I know it doesn't catch everything, but it will catch many typos.)

I don't know shit about participles and dangling hoo haws but I do know that writing a run-on sentence can be confusing.

Does my own anal-ness sometimes bite me in the butt and make an ass of me? Yeah. But I still think it's important to read over what you write before sending it out into the world.

Re: the Einstein was a genius comment - I don't know about you, but most people are not geniuses. And I don't think using spell check has anything to do with a high IQ.

kis said...

Anon-

I hear ya. There's this commercial that comes on the tube fairly often that just makes me want to hit whoever wrote it upside the head with a grade 5 English textbook. How's this for a stinker? "High on a gleaming pedestal, all will cheer my arrival."

Tell me, how can all cheer her arrival, when all are on the pedestal, and she is somewhere lost in the ether? Arrgh!!

Why, why, WHY do I find this so infuriating? I'm sure there's a registered psychiatric disorder out there that would explain my urge to do violence whenever I hear that atrocious, atrocious line.

(reaching for valium and a bottle of scotch)