This article probably seems a bit redundant to some. You cannot write if you do not know how to spell, right? And capitalization is a no-brainer, isn’t it? Why are we going back to elementary school in this post?
First, it is important for me to state that we are not going back to elementary school, nor am I picking on anyone. Neither is this author telling anyone who misspelled a word or two by accident that they are terrible writers and should quit. Since I subscribe to the philosophy of “quit when you’re dead,” that would be a very bad message for me to send. Thirdly, I have misspelled words in my articles here, letting several remain misspelled even after I spotted them on a reread.
Why did I do this? I did this for the same reason Meg Dowell leaves her errors standing. Authors are human. We are not perfect. We will never be perfect in this life – even the saints had their foibles and flaws, and more than a few couldn’t read or write. That might not be a defect per se, but it shows that God loves us no matter what. Considering the number of mistakes this author is prone to making every time she sits down in front of her computer, there are no words which state how comforting she finds that fact.
So why are we looking at spelling today? The reason we are looking at it is because, sadly, in “modern” times proper spelling and capitalization is no longer emphasized in academic circles. More than a few forms of Internet communication attest to this; most text messages consist of single letters – capitalized or not – “emojis,” and a few punctuation marks. “Weird Al” Yankovic used this fact to make a parody song called “Word Crimes,” which every writer ought to see and hear once, whether they want to buy it or not.
A nation that cannot spell or capitalize – or even sign its own name – cannot read and comprehend, which means that it is in serious danger of slipping into barbarism. The fact that so many young people today are not being taught a respect for the written word is extremely disturbing, which is why this post has appeared before you now. Authors should strive to minimize the number of times they make spelling mistakes because, as a regular commenter here mentioned, proofreaders have become almost an extinct species in most publishing companies. Until such time as writers can reestablish the proofreader’s place in this business, either through pooling resources or through a culture-wide return to an emphasis on proper communication skills, authors must police themselves in this area.
Having dealt with why we are studying this subject today, we must now turn to the what. Spelling is a relatively straightforward item to discuss; if one reads and writes frequently, odds are good he has an appreciation for proper spelling. However, even the best educated man or woman on the planet can make an error in spelling. Also, some cannot help but believe that the spellcheck coded in most computer document programs will immediately alert them when they have misspelled a word.
This is not the case. While the spellcheck is a useful tool, it is not a blanket measure authors can rely on to catch all their mistakes. For instance, if an author writes down “lunch” when she wants to say “launch” or “rice” when she intends to type “race,” she has made a definite spelling error. But because these words are spelled correctly, the spellcheck code does not recognize them as being incorrect. This is where human proofreaders are desperately needed in the publishing business; no computer program, even so sophisticated a device on par with those seen in Star Trek, will ever be able to compensate for such things in the way that human beings can.
Obviously, writers cannot depend on the spellcheck to catch these slip-ups, especially since this encoded aid can be deactivated accidentally or may even fritz out. Once this happens we end up “typing in the dark,” so to speak. My own spellcheck has been on extended vacation in Tahiti or Greenland for a couple of years now; this is one reason why some lapses in spelling get past me. The machine no longer makes distinctions between properly and improperly spelled words and, since I am human, I get tired, bleary-eyed, or rushed during some self-edits. This means, naturally, that an error (or several) ends up on display for the world to see here at A Song of Joy.
Is this the end of the world? No, it is not. Lapses in spelling crept into published works decades before our current era, when proofreaders were more readily available than they are now. We are human. We blunder regularly. It is going to happen to each and every one of us sooner or later. Yet God loves us anyway and so, amazingly, do other human beings. It’s nothing to punish ourselves for; it is just something we want to curb.
The best ways to do this are to double check words that one knows he/she is prone to misspelling. This can be accomplished either through opening a physical dictionary or, if you are writing while online, using Google, Bing, or some other search engine to pull up an Internet dictionary. As an example, I regularly have trouble spelling “maneuver” and “bureaucracy” properly. This means that I must resort to a dictionary or thesaurus to make sure the latter is spelled correctly. In contrast, this author has managed to memorize “maneuver,” meaning she can recognize when she has misspelled it – most of the time. There are still days someone else has to point it out for me.
Right now, these are an author’s best weapons against chronic misspellings. Make no mistake, readers want writing that is clear, concise, and comprehensible; if an author constantly misspells most of the words in his/her article, short story, or novel, it will reflect badly on him/her. Everyone makes gaffes and, for the most part, audiences are willing to forgive a writer who does not spell something correctly once or twice. But if they run across an author who cannot – or, worse, will not – spell her way out of a wet paper bag, they are perfectly justified in denying her their hard won money and precious time.
Now we come to capitalization. Like spelling, if an author does not maintain proper capitalization in their work, audiences will become righteously upset. Poor use of – or utter disregard for – correct capitalization makes the finished product look shoddy and its author lazy. Some readers can/will put up with constant capitalization errors, but they are the minority. If you cannot keep your capitalization consistently proper, your audience will be vanishingly small.
Unlike spelling bungles, an author cannot afford more than one (or less) improper capitalization mistakes in their works. It makes the piece look amateurish and unprofessional. Smart people will not pay for cheap construction that cannot withstand the twin assaults of time and continuous exercise; they will buy material which can take that beating for a lifetime over the stuff which breaks in the first storm, freeze, or drought. They want the same thing out of fiction – it has to be legible and readable, first and foremost, or the audience the writer is seeking will not give the work the time of day.
Now, aside from proper names for characters, places, planets, pets, or singularly powerful items/entities, every sentence in your story has to begin with a capital letter. This does not mean your sentences that include dialogue have to be spelled thus:
“Do you know where he went?” She asked.
No author who has made a good living in the publishing business writes this way. Jim Butcher, Dean Koontz, Timothy Zahn, and others like them avoid writing like this because it is utterly unprofessional. The reason for this is that the above sample is a blatant case of capitalization misuse. The sentence begins with “do”; therefore “do” alone ought to be capitalized, which we see in the example below:
“Do you know where he went?” she asked.
Unless your character is named in the tagline for the dialogue, or “he/she said” begins the sentence, please remember to keep “he/she said” un-capitalized. If your writing includes mistakes shown in the above example, it is best for you to go back and eliminate them. It will not only make your writing better, it will prove that you are serious about achieving some kind of career as a writer. Professional authors are not those who write in the manner that Jackson Pollock “painted”; skilled writers are those who appreciate the art and form of writing.
This is why those who “throw words on canvas” fail and those who “draw lines on paper” succeed; the former are determined to receive recognition for little work, while the latter are dedicated to practicing a craft to the best of their ability. Those who splatter the world with words are interested in themselves alone. True artists are those who resolutely seek beauty, truth, and goodness through their profession, whether that is writing or laying pipe.
If you want to write well, if you want your work to inspire and uplift, future writers, then you must be able to spell and capitalize properly. By forming proper sentences, one forms a proper thought, and proper thoughts that expose the innate mystery, beauty, and goodness of the world are among the most splendid things man may produce.
It is “grunt work,” to be sure. But trust me: the finished product makes it well worth the effort.
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2 thoughts on “Spelling and Capitalization – A Review”
I saw a study that indicated that even the best spell checkers catch only about 60% of mistakes. And, I have a belief that the dearth of proofreaders comes from feminism! I think most proofreaders of my generation were highly educated women trapped into such jobs by misogyny. When job opportunities opened for women, ca the 1970’s, the number of competent available proofreaders declined to the point today that they are virtually nonexistent. Traditional publishers have thrown proofreading onto already overworked copy editors and, well, we see the results.
And capitalization rules are a moving target. I don’t know when it began but currently there is a new practice of only capitalizing the first letter of an acronym, e.g. Irs, Nasa, Fbi, when when I was younger these were: IRS, NASA, and FBI. In addition, the rule for article and book titles was “to capitalize all of the big words,” and that practice is in decline. I think this trend began as young readers moved away from books to reading magazines and on the Internet. Now, a common practice is to capitalize Just the first word in the title. Basically this is sentence formatting without the full stop. The identification of the title is now made with font size or boldface.
And, again, I find nothing I can quibble with in one of your posts; you are on a roll!
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There’s also the one that absolutely grinds my teeth when I see it: the word being left as bible when it refers to The Bible. I’d *really* like to see those people write “koran” and leave it at that….
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