Tuesday 7th July 2020

Mistakes and politeness

Simon Pitt

A couple of months ago I wrote an article about Fortnite. A group of friends and I started playing the game last year and now it’s become a weekly ritual, more just to hang out and chat than to actually win.

In the draft of the article that I sent to my editor I misspelled Fortnite in the title, missing out the first T: Fornite. I then preceded to misspell the word every single time it appeared. It was an article about Fortnite. The word appeared a lot.

My editor found this hilarious.

I’ve never really been that good at spelling. I struggle to spot misprints, and often gloss over typos. As a child, I found learning how to spell a bizarre bit of rote learning. The content of the ideas, I thought, was more important than spelling. Surely one day computers or some other mechanized process would be able to handle that for us. My six year old self would have been so smug about the creation of the spellchecker.

As an adult, of course, most spelling is muscle memory and I tend not to make too many laughable errors. Although I can’t help thinking that spelling is a lot less important than people think. It’s more about indicating class or education level than actual comprehension. It turns out humans are very good at understanding typos. Inafct, as lnog as you hvae the fisrt and lsat lteter in the crroect potisions, you can lraegly do waht you wnat ibnewteen.

For my part, the Fortnite misspelling caught me off guard, partly because I spelled it incorrectly so many times the wrong spelling went into my muscle memory. I have to create a mental interrupt now when I type it to add that extra t. In my defense, Fornite with a t isn’t a word either. Both are adorned with the red squiggly underline.

This leads me to this week. Writing is about communication, and communication, really, is thinking of others. This has been a bit of a theme for me recently. On OneZero I have an article about online etiquette, and spoiler alert, most of it really comes down to thinking about what might be nice for other people.


Elsewhere

The Fourth State of Matter is an old article - from a 1996 edition of the New Yorker - but I love it. I came across it a few months ago and re-read bits of it occasionally. It’s a long old read (as the New Yorker so often is), but incredible compelling. For literary form spotters, it’s a great example of a braided narrative.

There are squirrels living in the spare bedroom upstairs. Three dogs also live in this house, but they were invited. I keep the door of the spare bedroom shut at all times, because of the squirrels and because that’s where the vanished husband’s belongings are stored. Two of the dogs—the smart little brown mutt and the Labrador—spend hours sitting patiently outside the door, waiting for it to be opened so they can dismantle the squirrels. 


Speaking of braided narratives, The Crane Wife in the Paris Review is another one. This one from last year, and similarly compelling:

Ten days after I called off my engagement I was supposed to go on a scientific expedition to study the whooping crane on the gulf coast of Texas. Surely, I will cancel this trip, I thought, as I shopped for nylon hiking pants that zipped off at the knee. Surely, a person who calls off a wedding is meant to be sitting sadly at home, reflecting on the enormity of what has transpired and not doing whatever it is I am about to be doing that requires a pair of plastic clogs with drainage holes. Surely, I thought, as I tried on a very large and floppy hat featuring a pull cord that fastened beneath my chin, it would be wrong to even be wearing a hat that looks like this when something in my life has gone so terribly wrong.


I hope you are all well. Until next time:

Yours,

Simon