Sometimes I hate the Internet. Oh sure, it's great for finding people who disagree with your every opinion. In the past, getting into arguments required going out and talking to real people. Now you can do it from the comfort of your own home!
The World Wide Web has given people everywhere the opportunity to debate and discuss anything, at any time. And many of those people out there have opinions that are interesting, insightful, and which should enter the public discourse.
Unfortunately, many of them don't know how to spell.
Many times I've been reading a comment or blog posting, thinking, yeah, this guy's not a complete moron, and suddenly, he uses the word "there" instead of "their."
Boom! My respect for him vanishes in a puff of smoke. I can no longer agree with anything he says, even if he's outlining a plan to save orphans and puppies while reversing global warming.
Don't even get me started on people who use "they're" in place of either "there" or "their." I resist to urge to smack them with their keyboard. Barely.
But even more annoying than spelling errors are the weird word transpositions in common sayings. The one that confuses most people, and which comes up most frequently in journalism, is "toe the line."
No, it is not "tow the line." But I admit, I had to look that one up myself. Its origins go back to the 19th century, when "toe the line" was a common phrase, and referred to sprinters or other athletes lining up before a contest. Obviously, they weren't allowed to cross the starting line early. They had to toe the line, or toe the mark. But the reason for the original saying has largely fallen out of use - you seldom see announcers at the Olympics saying that Usain Bolt is toeing the line.
So an alternative, plausible meaning arose. Could it be "tow the line," meaning that everyone has to pull together? This is often how it's presented in political discussions, such as "tow the party line."
But it's wrong! And getting it wrong makes Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny hate you!
You can find long lists of alternative spellings at the Eggcorn Database, a website that collects them. (They take their name from a surprisingly common spelling of acorn. Egg plus corn equals egg-shaped seed, which is sort of what an acorn looks like, which seems to result in this error.)
The errors that bother me the most are the transpositions of "bare" and "bear."
Here's a good rule: If it's an action, you probably want to use "bear." We bear arms and witness, we grin and bear it.
Bare is almost always a synonym for naked, uncovered. We ride bareback and tell bare-faced lies.
Bear-skin rug should be obvious, but you never know. Some people at this point probably think bares live in the woods.
Am I a language snob? Am I policing the English language, trying to ruthlessly stamp out the random mutations by which language evolves, the changes that took us from Chaucer to Shakespeare, from Shakespeare to Dickens, from Dickens to textspeak?
Yes. Consider it part of that evolution.
Change will happen.
But without rules acting as a brake (not a break) on that change, we'll all become mutually unintelligible to one another in just a few generations.
I'm just being a language-fascist to slow things down to a manageable level.
Someone's got to make sure we tow the line.
Wait, that didn't come out right.
Matthew Claxton is a reporter with the Langley Advance, a sister paper of The Record.