The King’s English in America

Is Spelling Important?

I think of Mom literally every time I use spell check. All through her life she was embarrassed by her spelling. She even suffered bullying and ridicule because of it. Until the day she died, she found it difficult to write a letter for fear that she’d humiliate herself through a misspelling.

King James I commissioned the King James Version of the Bible in 1611

Lately, I’ve realized how bad my spelling is and how lazy I’ve become thanks to computerized support. I think about how it would never have been a problem for my mother if she had a computer to correct her spelling for her.

And I wonder how unimportant spelling must be if we have computers blithely correct our writing for us. If you can write a document with lousy spelling – then have a computer repair it – it is no longer is necessary to learn good spelling.

English as a meta-language

Allow me to extrapolate in a science-fiction-like way into the future. We’re all hammering away on keyboards using phonetic spelling, misspellings, non-grammar, and then the computer fixes it and sends it to someone else.

They then respond in their own phonetic misspelling way and have THEIR computer fix the spelling and sends a response. Can you see how spelling (and by extension) grammar become unimportant? In fact, only computers begin to speak this higher-level language using spelling and grammar that humans don’t. Formal spelling and grammar become a sort of meta-language.

The King’s English

This is not without precedent. In the 1600s the English court system required the use of the King’s English. This was a problem because uneducated commoners did not speak “proper” English and had to have barristers represent them. This is one reason the USA does not have a language requirement for citizens – because it would disenfranchise those with a lower level of education or immigrants.

We’re even seeing a repeat of that today. Modern legalese is so complicated that the average citizen not only cannot make sense of it – but needs a lawyer (barrister) to interpret for them. Additionally, legal documents that we agree to simply by using websites, software, or opening a package are so long and complex that nobody reads them (Terms of Service, etc). 

Are we already there?

And look at how we communicate online. Nobody worries about spelling or grammar in social media. It’s almost laughable when some pedant corrects a misspelling or grammar mistake. And for good reason – it just doesn’t matter. How elitist one must be to think they’re better than others because they are a great speller. How elitist is our print media since it prides itself on grammar and spelling when 90% of people don’t know or care about either.

The only places we seem to care about spelling and grammar are in publishing. If you’re publishing a resume, book, article, or some other, you’re expected to use proper English spelling and grammar – AKA The King’s English.

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