Writing in the Times Higher Education Supplement last week, Ken Smith, a senior lecturer in criminology at Bucks New University, argued that: "University teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell." He has come to this view, he says, as he is fed up with correcting his students' "atrocious spelling".
Perhaps this was a tongue-in-cheek article but, judging by most of the comments his remarks attracted, few are in agreement. As one commenter noted, apply Ken Smith's argument to other disciplines, music, say, or chemistry or maths and you see the absurdity of it.
I have a suggestion for Ken Smith, which will save him the time and frustration involved in correcting students' English howlers: just send for the cat.
more cat pictures
It is, however, a vexed topic. And it's not just students who can't spell; there are examples of writing littered with incorrectly spelled words and confusing punctuation all over the place - not least in the blogosphere. I'm not talking about the odd typo, here and there; when you're writing at speed and self-editing, it's easy to overlook a mistake. No, I'm talking about habitual errors, whether it's confusing their with there or failing to recognise the difference between its and it's.
Does spelling matter? Does punctuation matter? I won't even bother to mention syntax. I did mention it once, when I joined an international organisation as director of public relations and inherited a PR team, most of whom were English graduates. Despite their qualifications, the standard of their writing was dire, so I set up some 'brush up your writing style' sessions. (Didn't dare call them 'brush up your English'; the staff were a peevish lot and I would have had a mutiny on my hands.) "We'll be looking at syntax in one of the sessions," I said, with a smile. A sea of blank faces. One of the English graduates asked what syntax was. I put her question back to the rest of the team. Not one person knew the answer and these were 'professional' communicators . . .
What do you think? (And, yes, we know that Shakespeare had a flexible approach to spelling.)