The next National Spelling Bee champion?

Misspelled words are a reality in the world of computer technology. With our fleet fingers flying over teeny tiny keyboards, it’s more than likely we’ll press a wrong key or two, and sometimes, the results are hilarious. Even though many applications are equipped with AutoCorrect, a program intended to immediately translate our spelling errors into written perfection, AutoCorrect also has a tendency to take words completely out of context when making correction suggestions. It seems that at least once a week, someone on Facebook is posting the newest compilation of “Best AutoCorrect mistakes.” I particularly enjoy this one.

I’m someone who values spelling and grammar very highly. I am even the owner of the Grammar Girl book, which is something I’m rarely self-deprecating enough to admit. But when it comes to typing in a game interface or texting, I just can’t seem to get my writing correct. Sometimes, it’s because I know the recipient of my texts won’t care about my proficiency. Sometimes, it’s an honest matter of pressing the wrong key and realizing too late.

A few of my most commonly misspelled words include:

  • its/it’s
  • their/they’re (and ‘there’ too, just for good measure)
  • nearly anything with a contraction, including aren’t, where’s, that’s, etc.

For some reason, I just can’t make my stubborn fingers move that millimeter to the right and press the apostrophe key when it’s needed in a contraction. I swear I know that “won’t” needs an apostrophe, I just always leave it out. And believe me when I say it, this literally goes against every grammar-obsessed fiber in my body. Yet I do it repeatedly. For multiple audiences.

It’s made even worse in gaming chats, where all objective rules of written expression seem to fly out the window. In-game, it’s common to invoke a sort of short-hand which reinforces the idea that grammatically correct written expression is a thing of the past. I completely use this way of writing in WoW, whether I’m trying to organize a dungeon run, or just casually inquiring about something on Trade Chat.

There are those deliberate instances of miscommunication which make for a hilarious diversion on YouTube. If you’re a fan of WoW, there are dozens of screenshots from the in-game chat which reflect varying degrees of computer illiteracy. And while I completely understand the necessity of a ‘gaming short-hand’,’ I can’t help but wonder what effect this type of writing is having outside the virtual world.

In undergraduate courses, we teach that short forms such as ‘lol’ and ‘imo’ are not appropriate in essays, and even ‘etc’ is usually frowned upon in formal papers. Yet even as we discourage these short forms in an academic setting, they are becoming more and more popular in the computing and gaming worlds.

Maybe someday we can adopt a universal language which is uniformly appropriate for both formal and informal situations (how about the super cool-looking Hylian language as a candidate?). But until that time, we’ll have to continue to navigate the difficult boundary between formal prose and casual slang– between how our teachers want us to write, and how our friends demand we write.

The gaming world may appear to outsiders as merely a place of leisure , but it’s also changing the way we read and write, one pixellated letter at a time.