Opinions Mon, 1 Sep 2008

Variant Spellings: Grammer Is Nobody’s Busines’

As kids, we sang it as a rhyme: i before e except after c. Most of us minded the positions of the vowels in receive, conceive and untie. Of course, it was a bit tricky whenever we met words like weird. We almost always wondered why the ing (gerund) form of some verbs behaved ‘irregularly’. So untieing was good enough for untying, as lieing was a good replacement for lying. Even as adults we struggle with ocassion and arguement, and are unashamed to mispell (misspell) compliment as complement when we mean to praise.

Perhaps, it is well that we confuse compliment with complement (a word, phrase or clause that completes the meaning of the predicate). This is because, these days, many of the words and sentences we write are amputated versions of the actual expressions we mean to write, and this robs our communication of their intended meanings. Most careful spellers blame this on the text massaging mode of communication. Consider this: ‘I hv a felin u r bord wit me, cos u didt pik ma cal. Mis u lds, luv u. xxx.’ What about this: wot r u doin 29t. wan 2 cam 2 c e gme? Wil b gr8, tanx.

In the face of this abuse, grammarians are considering accepting less terrible spellings as adequate for the purpose of communication. A British academic has suggested that we should accept ‘variant spellings’, even if variant is spelt varient, as long as it is phonetically understandable. According to him, some of the words that should be pardoned when spelled wrongly are: ignor, occured, truely, thier and twelth, instead of Twelfth. These common mistakes should be admitted into what he calls “the pantheon of variants.” Well, at least, ‘Tonight is truely great’ sounds more acceptable than ‘29t s trli gr8.’ So you would also be kind enough to ignore the second i in conspicious.


Indeed, grammarians are not very concerned that 29t is gradually becoming socially acceptable. Why should they? After all, these days, it is fashionable for a presidential candidate to announce his vice by sending text messages to supporters. That means the situation is not as terrible as it appears. Still, there are other language experts who insist that rules are rules, and that if we can encourage pupils to be mindful of the double c in occasion, why accept ocassion into the pantheon of variants, or worst still occassion? In an age where the computer is readily accessible, even in very poor countries, many parents would be happy to see their children spell with accuracy and confidence.

Do you often wonder why email communication is fraught with silly and sometimes significant grammatical mistakes? To begin with, it is fast and often demands immediate responses. So there is often the temptation to take the immediacy of the medium for granted. A combination of snail-paced typing and our sheer laziness to read over the text results in writing Toady for Today and Thank yuo for Thank you. Maybe we hurriedly type away, pretending to be fast on the keyboard, whereas we are not. So when we click the send button to carry the mistakes away, we have no regrets, because the interlocutor on the other end is sure to gloss over them, in the name of cyber convenience, or send back a worse text. In the process, we end up building our individual pantheon of variants, where errors are pardonable because grammar is nobody’s business.

Quesi Ntsiful-Benjamin
Ottawa, Canada Email: ntsiful_benjamin@yahoo.o.uk

Columnist: Ntsiful-Benjamin, Quesi