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更新时间:2017-8-29 11:13:01 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

So Trump Makes Spelling Errors. In the Twitter Age, Whoo Doesn’t?

As protesters across the country marched in opposition to neo-Nazis this month, President Donald Trump did something truly shocking on Twitter: He issued a level-headed statement praising the marchers.


“Our great country has been divided for decades,” he wrote on Aug. 19. “Sometimes you need protest in order to heal, & we will heal, & be stronger than ever before!”


But Trump’s belated attempt at statesmanship was overshadowed by what, for him, has become a frequent problem: He had flubbed his spelling. In some earlier versions of his olive-branch tweet, he had rendered “decades” as “decade” and “heal” as “heel.” The misspellings were up for only minutes before he deleted and corrected his tweets, but he was roundly mocked on Twitter.


“Thurd times’ the charn!” quipped comedian Billy Eichner. As The Daily News put it, “What a heel.”

“Thurd times’ the charn!”(“Third time's the charm”[有志者事竟成]的误写版。——译注)喜剧演员比利·艾希纳(Billy Eichner)揶揄道。正如《每日新闻》(The Daily News)所写,“What a heel.”(Heel亦有“无耻恶人”的意思。——译注)

This wasn’t the president’s first run-in with spelling. Trump says he has the best words, but he appears to be very bad at remembering how to correctly put them together. People have caught at least a half-dozen basic spelling errors in his tweets (and more in other statements by his staff), some of them small (“counsel” as “council,” “gas” instead of “has,” “tapp” for “tap”), some large (“unpresidented” for “unprecedented,” “honered” for “honored”) and some plain inscrutable (“covfefe”).

To which I say this: Lett Trrump bee.


There are lots of reasons to criticize Trump’s policies, conduct and statements, especially his tweets. But we should lay off his spelling.


Actually, we should lay off everyone’s spelling. In a digital age of autocorrect and electronic publications that can be edited from afar, not to mention social media platforms that prize authenticity and immediacy over polish, misspelling has become a mostly forgivable mistake. You simply do not need to be able to spell as well as people once had to, because we now have tools that can catch and correct our errors — so it’s just not a big deal if, on your first draft, you write “heel” instead of “heal.”


People are very attached to spelling, of course. When I first floated the idea that politicians’ misspelling was a forgivable sin, I was dragged over the coals for it on Twitter. My wife got so upset that she quit talking to me for most of a day. When I emailed my editor to say I wanted to defend Trump’s misspelling, she wrote back, “You should listen to your wife.”


So I did what I normally do when confronted with people who are wrong on the internet: I researched the subject. I looked at the history of standardized spelling and what misspelling says about you cognitively. I uncovered a rich history of political misspelling. And I read a book by an Oxford professor on the shifting cultural attitudes toward spelling and then talked to him for a long time.


Twitter is a mess. On basic elementary-school requisites like spelling, punctuation and the completeness of sentences, the service looks like someone vomited alphabet soup.


There are technical reasons for this. Twitter limits posts to 140 characters, and most tweets are produced and consumed quickly on mobile phones, encouraging abbreviations, acronyms, “textese” (LOL, OMG, etc.) and other linguistic shortcuts, not to mention both human-caused and autocorrected typos.


Yet for the service’s small but addicted band of loyalists (including yours truly), Twitter’s syntactic ugliness is a necessary side effect of its essential point, which is immediacy. Twitter’s appeal lies in its being a place to record one’s instant and primal observations on events happening around you — it’s something like the first draft of the world’s thoughts.


This immediacy inevitably invites error and overreach, which is often much of the fun of it; Twitter is watching someone say the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time, making fun of him, forgetting about it, and then doing the whole thing all over again tomorrow.


If immediacy invites error, then error, on Twitter, conversely suggests humanity. One mistake many politicians and brands make when they get to Twitter is to compose tweets as if they are issuing news releases. They use complete sentences and big words, and the whole tone is off, like wearing a three-piece suit to a spring-break party.


Some of the best Twitter accounts, by contrast, deploy textual sloppiness on purpose, to affect a kind of endearing earnestness that might get lost in more polished prose. Look at Jonny Sun, a Twitter comedian who plays an “aliebn confuesed abot humamn lamgauge.”

相比之下,一些最好的Twitter帐户就是故意使用文字上的歪曲,制造一种令人喜爱的真诚感,这样的文字在较为精雕细琢的文章中可能是找不到的。看看在Twitter上扮演“对人类滴语言狠困惑滴外猩人”角色的段子手“囧尼·孙”(Jonny Sun)吧。

I’m not suggesting Trump is misspelling on purpose (though I suspect we’re within a few years of politicians doing just that to sound more real). Still, his misspellings clearly add a sheen of authenticity. They offer an unvarnished, unfiltered view of his mind, partly because we know that he is posting himself — which we can tell because of all the errors, like the time he misspelled “hereby” as “hear by,” and then deleted it and misspelled it again as “hearby,” before finally getting it right on the third try.

我并不是说,特朗普是故意拼写错的(不过我估计,过不了几年,政治人士就会故意这样做,以显得真实)。不过,他的拼写错误显然增加了一层真实性。它们表达的是他未经修饰、未经过滤的观点,因为我们知道帖子是他自己发的——因为所有这些错误,我们可以判断哪些是他亲自发的,比如,有一次他把hereby写成了hear by,然后把它删了,又写成hearby,直到第三次修改后才写对。

You may argue that it’s all well and good for ordinary people to be careless about spelling on Twitter, but that a president should hold himself above the freewheeling mores of social media. Stodgy people tend to offer some version of this argument every time a politician uses a communications medium in some novel way. (Fogies were aghast when Bill Clinton addressed the boxers-or-briefs mystery on MTV in 1994, or when Barack Obama was interviewed by several YouTube stars, including GloZell Green, who once bathed in a bathtub full of cereal.)

你可能会说,普通人在Twitter上拼写粗心没问题,但总统不该在社交媒体上像普通人那样随心所欲。每当政治人士用新颖的方式使用沟通媒介时,刻板的人总会这么说(比如比尔·克林顿1994年在MTV频道谈论穿平角内裤还是三角内裤时,或者贝拉克·奥巴马接受几位YouTube网红采访,其中包括曾在灌满早餐麦片的浴缸里泡澡的格洛泽尔·格林(GloZell Green)。

Yet there is an even deeper sort of elitism underlying the criticism of spelling mistakes. It stems from people correlating accurate spelling with a good education and outsize intelligence, which is actually incorrect.


There is not much scientific evidence to suggest that spelling well is connected to high intelligence. In the same way that some people are naturally better at arithmetic than others, some are naturally better spellers than others (and some people have lexical disabilities, like dyslexia, that make spelling even more difficult). But if you spell well, you can still do lots of dumb things, and if you spell poorly, you can still be very smart.


Standardized spelling has been with English for at least a few hundred years, and it has mostly served us well. So I understand that the idea of abandoning it, or at least relaxing our adherence to it, may sound frightening, like the first step on a short march to civilizational decline.


At the very least, there’s the brown M&M argument for spelling — if someone spells well, it shows they have taken care to write something, in the same way that the rock band Van Halen would prohibit brown M&Ms in its concert rider as a way to test the attention to detail of its stage crew. That Trump and his staff often misspell is a sign that they may be careless about everything else.

关于拼写,至少还有棕色M&M豆的例子——如果某人拼写得好,表明他/她写的时候很认真,就像摇滚乐队范·海伦(Van Halen)在演唱会要求清单中写明禁止出现棕色M&M豆,以此来考验工作人员对细节的关注程度。特朗普和他的工作人员经常拼写错误,表明他们可能对其他事情也一样粗心。

That’s a fair argument. But I’ll end with two things.


First, everyone’s sloppy sometimes, and more so these days, because our devices all but encourage it. Obama and his staff made spelling errors and other textual mistakes, too; one of his communications advisers once made one of the worst typos imaginable on Twitter, writing “bigger” with an N.


Second, there’s little evidence that how one types on electronic media has much to say about how one functions otherwise. One study, in fact, showed that kids who frequently used “textese” tended to be better at grammar than those who didn’t.


All of this suggests that we are simply giving too much weight to spelling and other typographical mistakes. Focus on what people say, not how they spell it.