Don’t tell me spelling isn’t important

Are you a copy editor? In “The lonely life of the lowly copy editor,” this “human spellchecker and guardian of the newspaper’s arcane style guide” is nonetheless considered low person on the totem pole, not trusted with “real” writing, just with the last-minute proofreading and editing. I imagine it’s about the same in a non-newspaper setting.

While I’m not a copy editor, I found this a very apt read for the changes the digital age has put upon traditional jobs. I also found it disturbing.

“[O]nline news sites and blogs tend to be nearly completely unconcerned with the kinds of typos and grammatical errors that copy editors are paid to seek out and fix. […] If a few words here and there are misspelled, so what? We’re smart enough to know it hardly matters to the quality of the story or argument.”

I disagree, wholeheartedly and with gritted teeth. Even if you pay the barest amount of attention to what’s being said online, you’ll see a lot more than a few misspelled words, not to mention a blithe disregard of grammar and sentence structure. A typo is one thing–I make my share–and literary style is another, but consistent mistakes jar me right out of the story and lessen its quality.

So who’s saying we shouldn’t care about spelling and grammar–the people who are already making the mistakes, or people who have somehow risen above such “petty” concerns? Is there an overlap?

Tell me in the comments below, and let me know the worst mistake you’ve seen.

Pic found at what looks like a very interesting blog here. In fact, read the first post.

4 thoughts on “Don’t tell me spelling isn’t important

  1. In a journalistic context, sacrificing copy editors to drive down costs has proved nothing short of disastrous. Most reporters are good at finding a story, but woefully bad at putting it into intelligible English, let alone the small matter of legality. If you’ve ever seen reporters’ raw copy, you’d sometimes be hard pressed to believe an adult penned it, let alone someone with formal training in the art of the written word.

    However, it cuts both ways – good writing is about much more than meticulous attention to grammar and spelling…many times I’ve read prose that is high on pedantry and low, low, low on flair and imagination. Well punctuated and bland writing is still bland writing.

    That’s why “writers” and copy editors are both key ingredients to the recipe.

    There are definitely more errors, and fundamental ones, creeping in as a result of this copy editor cull. I’ve seen “Your” and “you’re” used with carefree abandon, typos in sensitive articles and a recent unforgivable error in one newspaper – a photograph of an innocent man used to illustrate an article about a convicted sex offender.


    • I’ve heard that recently, about papers getting rid of their editors and leaving it all up to the journalists, with disastrous results. Everybody needs a proofreader, even when proofreaders are the writers.

      I agree, punctuation isn’t going to save something so bland you wish you could sell your soul to get that lost time back.


  2. There’s a standard office form with a spelling error on the title. I dont think many people pay attention to it; you know that way we recognize the word from the first few letters, then stop. It would be impossible to track down and eliminate all versions, as everyone uses it, and likely have copies in a desk that can make it out. Like an epidemic!


    • Oh no! Definitely an epidemic–in all companies everywhere, I bet.

      It’s true that the brain does a great job of knowing what things should look like and just carries on with its own business. I’ve missed things because of that.


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