If You’re a Writer and I’m a Reader, You Owe Me Something

Hey Folks,

There were a lot of good comments on James Scott Bell’s “Editing is Dying, Grunting Soon to Follow” in the Kill Zone blog. If you haven’t read it (I recommend it) you can find the post and the comments at https://killzoneblog.com/2018/04/editing-is-dying-grunting-soon-to-follow.html.

Reading the comments was an eye-opening experience.

Someone, a writer no less, actually advocated for the spelling of “all right” as “alright,” which, honestly, is just laziness.

It’s the same reason some folks write “enuff” instead of “enough” or “no” instead of “know” (I’m not kidding) or “hiway” instead of “highway” or “till” instead of “’til” or “OK” instead of “okay.” And there are a host of others.

But in every case, those misspellings (alright/enuff/hiway) or misuses (no/till) or unnecessary abbreviations (OK) are the result of laziness.

Yes, I know some of them are now taught in schools and included in the dictionary, depending on which dictionary you use. But their “common” use and eventual arrival in the dictiionary were both precipitated on laziness.

At some point, it became easier for teachers and lexicographers to simply accept the error rather than correct it.

And yes, I understand the reader will know what you mean (sigh), but as I’ve often repeated over the years, deciphering what the writer is trying to say and mentally correcting the writer’s grammar and syntax are not the reader’s responsibility. Besides, more often than not, it shoves the reader out of your story.

On the other hand, it IS the responsiblity of the writer to know and understand the tools of his trade, the more basic of which are spelling, grammar and syntax.

“But,” someone will say, “isn’t it all right to use ‘alright’ in dialogue to indicate dialect?’”

No. It isn’t. And as a copyeditor, I correct every instance of it, in or out of dialogue.

But before you don (not “dawn”) your war paint, let me explain.

If your character speaks with the dialect of a particular region, maybe he’ll say “a’right” (predominant in the northeast). I wouldn’t correct that as a copyeditor or as a reader.

Or he might even say “a’ight.” That pronunciation is predominant in some large inner cities. It’s also predominant in the deep south, especially southern Louisiana (south of Interstate 10), and especially as part of “a’ight’en” (all right then). Nor would I correct either of those uses.

And no, I wouldn’t correct the folks who wrote the immortal line for Jim Carrey in the Ace Ventura movies: “Alll righty then!” Even if it had more than three Ls. (Although as a copyeditor I would make sure every instance of “Alll” in that utterance was spelled consistently.)

In some western settings (maybe), a character might even mutter “awright,” especially (maybe) if he/she is blushing at the time.

And there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of more examples of truncated, phonetic or otherwise altered spellings used to convey local or regional dialects and speech patterns that I wouldn’t correct as a reader or as a copyeditor.

But there is no construction anywhere in which “alright” is all right.

Why? Because the pronunciation is the same either way.

Why risk annoying your reader with what amounts to a misspelling that doesn’t make a difference in the pronunciation of the word?

I have similar grievances regarding constructions like “should of” or “could/would of” instead of “should’ve” or “should have.” But in modern times, those misuses are based on ignorance (a lack of knowing better).

Those grievances are for the same reason I don’t like “alright” though. They don’t change the pronunciation of the construction.

Okay, there y’go. Discuss among (not “amongst”) yourselves. And if you have what you believe is a valid argument, comment below or email me.

‘Til next time, happy writing.


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