NOTE: These several essays were reprinted as they related to the topic covered in my most recent essay.
I was reading Amazon reviews of books I dislike today (a guilty pleasure, seeing why some people think awful books are good), when I came to a realization. Not only should people know how to spell, but they really should understand the cliches they use. I mentioned this before when I ran into the "mix and mash" statement, and have been reminded from time to time when seeing "it takes two to tangle" in writing, but today I saw one that was new to me.
"Whoa is me!"
Now, I know "woe" is not a popular word in modern semi-literacy but it is not completely unknown. And while the the structure of "woe is me" is a bit unusual in that the normal order of elements is inverted, it should be pretty clear what "woe is me" means. (For those ,who find Jeff Foxworthy too complex, it means "I am woe" or, in Dummyspeak "I am really sad".)
What amused me was wondering what the person writing "whoa is me" could imagine the phrase means. For example, both the correct and incorrect spelling in "toe/tow the line" have partisans, each arguing that their chosen spelling makes sense. (For the record "toe" is correct.) Similarly, the "two to tangle" line, while completely wrong, at least makes superficial sense. But what could "Whoa is me" mean? I am whoa? Outside of a self-declaration of Keanu Reeves' acting ability, I can think of no possible meaning to that phrase.
Then again, I am sure that is why such horrible spellings and mangled syntax often appears in writing. People don't think about what their words mean. Which is why I give those who make obvious typos a break I do not give to those who write nonsense. Someone who writes "sue teh right word" may or may not know what he means, but the typos do not indicate a lack of thought, just poor proof reading. While someone who writes "I could care less about mix and mash" obviously hasn't put a lot of thought into what he is saying.
For those interested in my previous posts on grammar and spelling, please read the following:
Spelling NaziI also manage to tie them into my normal political and cultural topics in the posts "In Defense of Standards"and "Addenda to "In Defense of Standards"".
HILARIOS DANCEING CAT
Badly Chosen PC Words
Why Worry About Grammar?
Spelling Nazi Part 2
Why Spelling Matters (Again)
Spelling Nazi Part 3
It Warm's The Cockle's of my "Heart"
Tiny Grammar Gripe
Grammar Nazi Extra
Poor Grasp of the Meaning of Hypocrisy
A Grammar Nazi Rerun
Book Reviews? Calling All Readers
Oh No, Not Again
Conspiracy Theorists' False Logic (how bad spelling exposed a suspect document)
Oh No, Not Again
Why Spelling Matters, One More Time
Beyond Grammar and Spelling
A Thought on Iran (see footnote on transliteration)
Spelling Nazi Revisited
Grammar Nazi Gripe
The Spelling Nazi Begs to Differ
Off Topic Grammar Post
UPDATE (05/20/2010): It is embarrassing to admit one's own errors when mocking those of others, but my translation was in error. My translation of "woe is me" missed the fact that "me" is the English dative, as well as accusative. My translations above make no sense, as "me" should be "I", as the translations I gave assume it is the predicate nominative, which should be "I". Since it is "me", and to be verbs never take accusative, it must be either dative or ablative. One can make a case for either, but in either case, it means, literally "Woe is to me" or "Woe is [given] unto me." So, the translation is even more simple than I describe above. So, please forgive me the small error above. I figure it is less embarrassing than the original error I mock for two reasons. First, I noticed I made an error, unlike the original writer, and not only recognized it, but fixed it. Second, I know that there are nominative, accusative, dative and ablative cases (as well as locative, genitive, vocative and the rest). So I admit my error, despite the fact that the context makes it a bit more embarrassing then such errors ordinarily would be.
Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/10/24.