Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Spelling Reform on the Fly and the Misuse of Text Filters

At least once a week Tiel tells me that English is wonderful for poets. But it's a hellish language for spellers. We may speak the only major language in the world where it makes sense for college-educated people to buy computer programs to correct their spelling. Mark Twain had a thought or two about spelling reform, but nobody least of all Mr. Clemens took him seriously.

Now we're seeing spelling and grammar reform on the fly. Let me tell you it's an ugly sight. We aren't quite the UK where you get points for correctly spelling "Fuck off" on a national examination. But if various online forums and the reports of high school and university teachers are any indication we are seeing the changes from the bottom up. A generation is doing much of its communication by SMS text message. I'm sure PhD theses will be written about the historical influence of l33t speak on text speak and how this decentralized democratic movement revolutionized the written (or typed) language. I'll nod sagely, comment insightfully and hang discreet black crêpe.

When you need to use Standard English it's easier to use spelling and grammar filters. But they have their dangers too. And here's where we get to the punchline of today's joke.

The American Family Association sends me email every once in a while. Who can say why? I'm not going to send them money. They think gay marriage is the downfall of America. I think of it as an effective if somewhat roundabout way of stopping gay sex. Their mailings are a little odd. Words are modified. "Gay" is always "Homosexual" or rather "H*m*se*ual". "Pornography" becomes "P*rnography". It seemed a little strange. So I asked. It turns out they automatically filter these words.

Sometimes the filtering goes a little too far. The AFA secretly owns the very Christian OneNewsNow. It seems they've applied their filtering technology to news stories. When Tyson Gay wins a race:

"Tyson Homosexual easily won his semifinal for the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials," the article read, "and seemed to save something for the final later Sunday." The headline read "Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic events."

"On Saturday," it went on, "Homosexual misjudged the finish in his opening heat and had to scramble to finish fourth, then in his quarterfinal a couple of hours later, ran 9.77 to break the American record that had stood since 1999."

"Asked how he felt, Homosexual said: 'A little fatigued.'"

Be careful about that automatic editing, folks.

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