Thursday, November 13, 2014


So there it was. The most shared, most read, most commented on article on the BBC website: “Why typos and spelling mistakes don’t really matter.”

A shiver ran down the grizzled old sub-editor’s back. He pushed aside his battered em-rule and wiped away a tear from the corner of his eye with the greasy, ink-stained sleeve of his well-worn, much-darned and utterly shapeless fawn cardigan.

“Does no-one else really care?” he thought to himself. “Am I really the only one left in the world who knows the difference between ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’?

“Am I the only person who still understands when to put an apostrophe into ‘its’ and when to take one out of ‘it’s’?

“Or when to use double quotation marks and when to use singles?

“Does anyone else actually know when to use ‘affect’ and when to use ‘effect’? Or that both are verbs, and both are nouns?

“Does anyone still know what a noun is, for that matter?

“And am I the only one left who still thinks it’s wrong to start a sentence with ‘and’?”

He reflected for a moment, realised his mistake, took out his glossy briar pipe, filled it with his favourite mix of Old Clarendon’s Finest Shag and lumbered off to the far corner of the office car park, the only place left where he was still allowed to smoke it.

He didn’t care much for websites, anyway.  Or for Twitter, where people wrote about “sneaky peaks” when what they meant was “sneaky peeks”. Or for Facebook, where  “friends” you’d never met complained about  “lightening” when what they meant was “lightning”.

Who cared, he thought, about people who sent emails to the paper saying they were “defiantly” going to stop buying it? When what they meant was “definitely”?

What was the point of living in a world where the old boozer had become a gastro-pub?

When the only thing people used dictionaries for was propping up computer screens?

Where people relied on spell-checkers, and where the spell-checkers and their dotted red underscores couldn’t spot the difference between “Queen Square” and “Queen’s Square”, between “Lansdown” and “Landsdown”?

Why, finally, bother with auto-correction, when it turns “You’re great” into “Your grate”?

In the good old days, he’d have dealt with a mistake like that with a caustic comment and a swipe of a sharp blue pencil. These days, he reflected, that sort of behaviour would get you accused of harassment. One r, two s’s.

The fug from his pipe grew ever denser, and rose to merge with the leaden sky. A passing health and safety inspector donned mask, gloves and protective yellow coveralls and went to investigate. But when he fanned away the fumes, the sub-editor was gone.