Online grammar – does anyone care if you spell it “there,” “their,” or “they’re”?

“Trevor realized that the odd thing about English is that no matter how much you screw sequences word up up, you understood, still, like Yoda, will be. Other languages don’t work that way. French? Dieu! Misplace a single le or la and an idea vaporizes into a sonic puff. English is flexible: you can jam it into a Cuisinart for an hour, remove it, and meaning will still emerge.”
Douglas Coupland, Generation A

“People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.”
B.R. Myers

Writing online. (Photo by fish at

Let’s talk about online grammar today. (Not texting, however. I can stand just so much.) Read the quotes above and consider where you stand. Judging by a lot of the emails and Facebook quotes I receive, the psychology of Coupland’s quote is at work. And that’s okay for a lot of items – a quick note from a friend alerting you to some event or a time to meet, a reminder of some kind, a response to a funny photo, and such. Sloppy spelling, though, still gets me down.

But I receive a lot of newsletters, sales offers, and posts from businesses and organizations too. It’s not so cool to find spelling and other basic grammar errors – like incorrect applications of their, there, and they’re. And it’s totally cringe-inducing when emails come in from my kid’s school and teachers containing bad English. They usually aren’t that long, so, high school educators and administrators, feel free to take a few moments to scan through your message. Spell-check invariably highlights the obvious problems. Listen to it. That way you’re more likely to keep my respect. Of course, you might also consider hiring the Polished Paragraph to proofread your stuff.

But NOTHING is as bad as finding an error in one of my own emails. I’m freakin’ anal before I hit SEND. For heaven’s sake, what do I do for a living? I find instant messaging an incredibly stressful experience, and not just because I can never seem to extricate myself from conversations. Clearly, I am not immune to mistakes and the hurried nature of our society. Though, in all honesty, I would like to be.

Where do you fall in the online language camp?: “Don’t be so hard on them. They’re busy, and I got the point anyway,” OR “Incorrect grammar, particularly on a regular basis, shows a lack of care in other areas of the writer’s life”? And just for fun, what do you think about Margaret Atwood’s assertion below? Is the Internet and all the information contained on it really driving folks to read, folks who would otherwise be illiterate?

“I got into trouble a while ago for saying that I thought the internet led to increased literacy – people scolded me about the shocking grammar to be found online – but I was talking about fundamentals: quite simply, you can’t use the net unless you can read.”
Margaret Atwood