Sunday, August 09, 2015

Blog spelling, lack of punctuatio, or lack of same

These posts would be so much eazier to write if I didn’t have to worry about spelling and punktuation. That was always one of the beauties of riting dialog. People don’t talk in grammatically correct sentences and who cares about the spellling because the audience is just hereing the words and not seeing dem. (Shit. That last sentence is in fact a question. I forgot the question mark.)

After having proper grammar drummed into my head in school it was difficult at first to not write dialogue stilted but correct. Eventually you learn that flow and writing conversationally is the key. Then its (or it’s) fun. All bets are off.

Until you have to write prose again (or FRASIER).

(This is the punctuation that is the screenwriter’s best friend -- … Use it to represent any pause. Believe me, it… works!)

It’s (or its) amazing how much grammar you forget. And part of the problem – at least for me --, is that if you (or in my case, me) tend to write quickly, you’re trying to get your ideas on the page while their in your head and I can’t do that when your stopping midthoughtwse to ponder whether there’s a comma here or this participle is dangling or there is no such word as midthoughtwise. (That last sentence may or may not be a question. I’m not sure.)

Back to script writing, you see this in rewrite sessions. There are monitors in the room allowing the writers to see the script as the assistant is typing it. Someone pitches a joke, everyone laughs, the assistant starts transcribing it, and there’s always one asshole who sees himself as the Grammar Police barking out that there should be a comma there, or that’s a semi-colon. That shit is “Proofer’s challenge”. Let whoever proofs the script deal with that. Don’t slow down the process by blurting out that dad needs to be capitalized.

Back to prose: Spellcheck and grammar programs help somewhat. A wiggly green line will appear under something the computer doesn’t feel is right. Half the time it’s (or its) useful and half the time I’m thinking, “what the hell is wrong with this?” Or, “the computer just doesn’t get me.”

Same with spell check – it catches a lot of mistakes but misses others. If a word can be spelled correctly two ways or if you write in the wrong word but it’s an actual word -- : that too won’t get caught. Sometimes I remember the little hints we got in school. Principle or principal – the principal is your “pal”. But as I get older my brain is beginning to fill up with the Infield Fly Rule and where I put my keys and those little tips are fading from memory.

I actually do know the difference between it’s and its (it’s is only used as a contraction for it is) but there are others that I’ll admit, I’m guessin’.

And there are certain words I just don’t know how to spell. So I type in some approximation and let Spell Check correct it. If I ever have to write a letter in longhand I am so screwed. Thank you, Steve Jobs.

The point is… from time to time… you will see grammatical mistakes, misspelled words, made up words, tenses changing, inconsistencies, italics for no reason, and other egregious clerical errors. I do try to proof these posts but things still slip by. So I beg your indulgence. I don’t have an editor. And even one of those doesn’t guarantee (that’s one of the words I always struggle with) 100% accuracy. When I got the galley proof for my book IT’S GONE… NO, WAIT A MINUTE (notice the ….?) this is what it said on the cover:


This is a re-post from five years ago.  I still make these mistakes.


Bill Avena said...

Jebel, wanze, gelderoy...these are all words my spell check insists I made up, and they're everyday words! I don't know why the youths of today ignore the squiggly Line Of Correction on Youtube or Yahoo comments. Seems to be a logorrhea of the damned.

MikeK.Pa. said...

The misuse of further and farther drives me nuts. There and their is another one.
Your opening paragraph shows why English is such a hard language to learn to right, eh, write.

Been too long since a Natalie Wood shot. Thx.

Matthew said...

Punctuatio sounds utterly filthy and tremendously fun.

Johnny Walker said...

At least you have an edit button!

John in Toronto said...


As a technical writer in Toronto, grammar, punctuation, and pedantry is my life's blood. Nevertheless, communication always comes first. It's more important that the text is can be understood by the reader, who(m)ever that is.


John in Toronto said...

I hate typing on aa phone: "...the text can be..."

Michael said...

Vin Scully's mentor was Red Barber, who had been an English major at the University of Florida before he quit to be a full-time broadcaster. Red said that a rhetoric course he took was the most important for his career because in later years he would make statements and they might not be right grammatically, but he knew that he was right rhetorically. During Sandy Koufax's perfect game, at one point Vin joked that it was "nuttin'-nuttin'" and nobody had scored nothing. He apologized the next inning for his bad grammar. But what we say and what we write are necessarily different.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

The thing that I hate most about spellcheck is that it apparently doesn't recognize there are other spellings of my last name, as it always indicates it's misspelled without the extra 'O'.

kent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jbryant said...

Obviously, proper grammar, spelling and punctuation are less important if you're handing your work over to someone who takes care of those things. But for beginning writers especially, I don't think their importance should be downplayed too much. Reading scripts can be a bit difficult even for those who are used to it. Ideally, the script will help the reader visualize the writer's conception of the potential finished product. Anything that gets in the way of that -- confusing description, incorrect formatting, the aforementioned grammar issues -- frustrates readers and may make them give up on it after a few pages. You could have the greatest story in the history of filmed entertainment, but if a reader can't get through your poor execution, it won't do you much good.

There's nothing to be embarrassed about if your spelling and grammar skills aren't great. There's not necessarily a correlation between poor spelling/grammar and intelligence level. Quentin Tarantino can't spell for shit, and it hasn't held him back. So it's a good idea to proof your scripts as best you can, and if you suck at grammar enlist a friend or hire a pro to help you out. Professional script readers and development people have to read a ton of material, and they don't appreciate getting hung up on errors that should have been caught prior to submission. It shows a lack of respect toward those you're hoping to impress and toward the art of writing itself. If you want to make a living using words, you have to respect proper usage and be aware of your weaknesses so you can minimize them.

Anonymous said...

"People don’t talk in grammatically correct sentences and who cares about the spellling because the audience is just hereing the words and not seeing dem".

I would say the second clause is a rhetorical question, and my edit of it would not include a question mark.

Howard Hoffman said...

Love how this repost gets posted the day after I had to order the Chicago Manual of Style to study for a possible new job. I'll send it to you after I nail the interview.

Jake Mabe said...

Thanks for an honest (and legit) post. I am an editor by trade and have sometimes read your posts and thought, "Damn, the guy who wrote scripts for some of the best TV shows of all time is semiliterate!" But you are who you are, and write so well, tell a good tale, it never bothered me. I do, however, have little tolerance for news outlets. Even the almighty Associated Press is guilty. This is what happens when you lay off or outsource copy editors.

kent said...

Since you brought it up I have noticed that you sometimes swap "then" and "than" but many do. I'd have mentioned it before but I'm bigger then that.

Damn spell Czech. Have you noticed that swipe accidentally creates characters you can't recreate on purpose? I wonder how Chinese spellchecker works.

vicernie said...

Shakespeare didn't have spell check and a good thing or we wouldn't have the 1700 words he invented.

Bill Avena said...

And it's a good thing he didn't. That's why his name was so often spelled differently. Shakspear, Sheakhspeaare, Shaky Bill With the Magic Quill, etc.

Cap'n Bob said...

I think you do fine except for the damnable penchant for inserting a comma before people's names.

Greg Ehrbar said...

This is a good time to ask forgiveness for the occasional typos in my comments, which I always find after I send them. They tend to be written quickly while things are spinning around me during the day, but sorry nonetheless.

It's hard for a writer to "see" the typos when looking at the document. I don't know if there is a scientific reason for that, but where I work, we didn't have proofers in the early days and it's nice to have them now -- but they're human too and are as close to perfect as they can be.

What galls me is the poser who looks at a written piece, sees typos and assumes that the writing is of low quality based solely on that. I have had to work for such people. They don't even read and consider what the writing says, but just focus on the little errors. I was told once that the carelessness of the errors means the writing is no good. It was a dark period in my career to work for such a person, who was not a third grade teacher but a corporate professional -- in the creative department, no less.

I often refer to Jack Klugman's opinion on spelling. He was tough on his writers, but savvy enough to know about writing. To paraphrase, he said, "I can hire people to spell. I need writers who can write."

Lou H. said...

Geoff Edwards told a story about the time he was live reading a PSA about family planning and repeatedly stumbled over a sentence. Finally he realized what was wrong and "Now I see. Somebody missed a period."

Diane D. said...

There are 18 comments already, and not one of them has mentioned that this is one of the most hilarious things you have ever posted! I was laughing out loud from beginning to end. This sentence wins the prize, however: "But as I get older my brain is beginning to fill up with the Infield Fly rule and where I put my keys." And this word should become a part of the American lexicon: midthoughtwise.

My daughter went to the USC film school and each summer when she came home, she seemed to be more careless with punctuation and spelling (not grammar however). If I mentioned it she was annoyed. She loved her professors and I got the impression that they almost encouraged it! Creativity was all that mattered in her mind. Unfortunately, by the time she got to graduate school, she had decided to be a writer, and I feel sure she had some remedial work to do :)

DBenson said...

I put great stock in punctuation. Properly used, commas and even semicolons telegraph how a line is to be read. People may give you grief for a stage direction, but I'm guessing they're not as likely to make a case against a humble comma.

Meanwhile, old Hollywood story: Famously semiliterate mogul announces he's going to actually read a script. It's a medieval epic by a famous author. Half a hour in he furiously calls the author on the phone.

"I may not be a college man or anything like that, but I know damn well guys in armor didn't go around saying 'Yesiree' and 'Nosiree'!"

After a beat the author realized the mogul was talking about scenes with a king that included "Yes, sire" and "No, sire". He simply assured the mogul that he'd remove all the 'Yesirees' and 'Nosirees". The script was shot as written, and not hearing the offending words the mogul assumed he'd saved the project from anachronism.

DBenson said...

And another true typo story: In the published script of the stage musical "Bye Bye Birdie", somebody describes a rock'n'roll idol as a "bongo-playing car thief."

In the imperfect "sides" sent to schools and groups performing the show, "car thief" became "ear thief."

Over the years I must have seen at least half a dozen productions, and every one of them used "ear thief", evidently believing that was an actual joke.

Mike said...

I wouldn't worry about spelling, grammar and punctuation. You're Americans. The English language is wasted on you.

Greg Ehrbar said...

@Donald Benson
You have a good point about punctuation. Human error aside, when I am in the position of defending a specific word, phrase or word order, there are those who are puzzled by why such a seemingly small thing is such a big deal.

One of the best examples of why it is important is a Saturday Night Live Sketch in which Ed Asner played a manager retiring from running a nuclear power plant. As he left the farewell party, he paused and said: "Remember -- you can never put too much water in a nuclear reactor."

The staff started mulling this over after he left. Did it mean that you should put a lot of water in because you can never put too much? Or did he mean that you should NEVER put too much water in, because it might be excessive?

They kept going back and forth about it until the plant exploded.

VP81955 said...

Just bought a book for $3 where the author's credits included "He was the sole writer for 'USA Network Presents The Problem Child' starring Gilbert Godfrey." Oh, and the name of this book? "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Comedy Writing." I'll say.

Peter said...

I don't know if it was an intentional error for the purposes of irony but I once saw a job advert seeking a "Poof Reader."

Jeff baldwin said...

Judging from the comments it seems you may have written a blog post about...something...i don't know... i only saw the natalie wood photo.