I have noticed of late a disturbing trend, the literary equivalent of those who play their car radios and sound systems at ear-splitting volume with the windows down, or youths who converse in shouts in public places. The trend is proliferation of the proud and unapologetic illiterates, authors of e-mails, blog posts or even published material who regard the basics of punctuation, grammar, spelling and rhetoric as an annoying inconvenience, and who not only pay little heed to these archaic matters, but also display no regret about the barely readable products that result.
At this point, I am less concerned with why so many of those who communicate in writing are so shamelessly sloppy, and more interested in what the trend signifies for our society. Perhaps some insight can be gained by examining a recent exchange between a grammar and spelling-challenged novelist and a reviewer of her work on a book review blog called “Books and Pals.”
The blog posted a review of an ebook called “The Greek Seaman” by British author Jacqueline Howett. The reviewer generally liked the book, but ended his review with a critique of the author’s carelessness and the lack of editing:
“…Whether Katy and Don will survive the criminal conspiracies the ship owner and captain have planned is yet another conflict that should keep a reader in suspense to the end. However, odds of making that final click are slim. One reason is the spelling and grammar errors, which come so quickly that, especially in the first several chapters, it’s difficult to get into the book without being jarred back to reality as you attempt unraveling what the author meant…Reading shouldn’t be that hard.”
The reviewer’s final verdict: “Numerous proofing, typo, and grammar issues. Rating: Two stars.
Rather than accepting the criticism, the author was indignant. Jacqueline Howett replied to the review defensively, writing…
“You obviously didn’t read the second clean copy I requested you download that was also reformatted, so this is a very unfair review. My Amazon readers/reviewers give it 5 stars and 4 stars and they say they really enjoyed The Greek Seaman and thought it was well written. Maybe its just my style and being English is what you don’t get. Sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea, but I think I will stick to my five star and four star reviews thanks.”
The reviewer replied:
“I received the email on 2/7 asking that I download the a new copy of the book, which I did…I have doubts that Ms. Howett being English is the reason for my reaction to her writing although I can’t discount it entirely…I’ll also point out that in the first two chapters alone I found in excess of twenty errors that ideally would have been caught in editing and proofing. Some were minor, but all have the potential of disrupting an enjoyable reading experience, depending on the specific reader and their sensitivity to such things.Here are a couple sample sentences from the first two chapters that gave me pause and are representative of what I found difficult while reading:
“She carried her stocky build carefully back down the stairs.”
“Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance.”
“I understand what both are probably saying. I do question the sentence construction. However, I should point out that the review does say the story, which is the most important part of a book, is good. The effort of extracting the story through the errors and, at least to me, sometimes convoluted sounding language, made doing so much too difficult…”
The reviewer again stated that he liked the book’s plot, and that some readers might “The Greek Seaman” despite its literary flaws.
This wasn’t enough for Howett, who responded defiantly, her syntax, grammar and spelling progressively deteriorating as she wrote:…
“My writing is just fine!… what I read above has no flaws. My writing is fine. … if their were any spelling mistakes they were corrected. Simply remove this review as it is in error with you not downloading the fresh copy i insisted. Why review my book after being told to do this, and more annoying why have you never ever responded to any of my e-mails? And please follow up now from e-mail.This is not only discusting and unprofessional on your part, but you really don’t fool me …Who are you any way? Really who are you? What do we know about you? You never downloaded another copy you liar! You never ever returned to me an e-mail Besides if you want to throw crap at authors you should first ask their permission if they want it stuck up on the internet via e-mail. That debate is high among authors. Your the target not me! Now get this review off here!”
Thereby settling any questions about her ability to spell, punctuate and speak standard English. Handy hint: when you are arguing against the proposition that you are a careless writer, it is neither wise nor helpful to your case to include sentences like “Simply remove this review as it is in error with you not downloading the fresh copy i insisted.”
More importantly, however, her astounding responses to the review demonstrate the results of a toxic combination of ego, arrogance, incompetence, and disrespect for others. Writing for the pleasure of readers demands that an author both respect and care about their readers’ comfort and convenience. The writers, professional and casual, whose attitude is that their thoughts and artistic creations have intrinsic value however badly they are communicated, and that it is a reader’s responsibility to slog through and decipher whatever mutation of English they choose to use to express them, are announcing their disrespect for the language, their readers, and quite probably everyone else they encounter.
Everyone in a society has an obligation to try to speak and write as clearly as possible; the responsibility belongs to the speaker or writer, not the listener or reader. While we should all be tolerant and supportive of individuals who are trying to master the English language but have not yet succeeded, we should also interpret a disregard for the basic elements of clear communication for what it is: disrespect, laziness, and arrogance.
“Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance.”???
[Special thanks to Jeff Hibbert for the tip!]