Spelling errors are disrespectful!

And having a "sic" sense of humor is no defense!

Over the years, many readers have caught me committing one or another of my innumerable errors -- whether in spelling, grammar, getting names and dates wrong, or various combinations thereof. While I usually appreciate being corrected, what sometimes annoys me is when someone becomes indignant over an error having little or nothing to do with the point I was trying to make. A perfect example was this comment left to a post about Ahmadinejad's necktie phobia, in which I quoted Matthew Yglesias's thoughts about Ahmadinejad, but inadvertently spelled his name with an "I" instead of a "Y." The infuriated commenter really let me have it, and accused me of having no respect for my (gulp!) values!

One classical value you have no respect for is SPELLING. Learn to do it. It's Yglesias, not Iglesias. Clown.

Now that hurt, so I promptly corrected my error, but I don't think the commenter's anger was warranted. When you write these long essays, it is nearly impossible to avoid errors like that. Almost every post I write has one or more errors, and I correct them when I see them. What I find especially unfair about angry corrections is that I am a very forgiving, non-pedantic person where it comes to other people's typing and spelling mistakes. Not only don't I like to correct people, but I actually find it annoying when persnickety polemicists score points by playing the "sic" game. Interestingly enough, in the very post of Yglesias that I quoted (now found only at the Internet archives), he had misspelled the Iranian president's name as "Mahmoun." I couldn't have cared less, because the point involved the man's attire, not his name. However, others did care, and they rubbed the "sic" right in Yglesias's face!

Even one of Yglesias's commenters pointed it out, but Yglesias never corrected it. Maybe he just didn't think it was a big deal, and maybe he just likes ducking "sics."

Not to lose my point here, but I was reminded of such useless nitpickery this morning when I saw that Ann Althouse is being savaged by a man with a name as unspellable as it is unpronounceable. As the guy is obviously at least as sensitive about his own name as Matthew Yglesias's angry minions are about Yglesias's, I must be extremely careful to get the name right. Hyphen and all.

It's Ta-Nehisi Coates!

So there! And boy is he touchy. Maybe I should retract what I said about the name being unpronounceable, because all that you have to do to learn how to pronounce it is to go to his Wiki entry, which very helpfully provides instructions:

Ta-Nehisi Coates (born 1975, Baltimore, Maryland) is a contributing editor for The Atlantic and blogs on its website. (He pronounces his given name /ˌta-nɘˈhasi/.) Coates has worked for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time. He has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, O, and other publications.
I guess the pronunciation instructions are in parentheses because you really should know -- just as you should know his name is "given" (something which matters enough to mention?) -- and if you don't, it's because you just aren't in the know. [Not cool enough, perhaps?]

Geez, I just thought of something.... What if my blogging software or the various browsers can't render the phonetic alphabet in the above pronunciation text correctly? Would that, too, be "disrespectful"? (If so, then all who are offended can go ahead and "sic" my "dis.")

This is all so unbelievably petty. My name ("Scheie") gets misspelled all the time, because it looks like a typo to begin with. It would never occur to me that people who misspell my name are showing a lack of respect. Whether for me as an individual or for my proud Norwegian heritage.

Obviously, I am missing something. There must be a hidden subtext involved. Do some people have more right to complain about misspelled names than others?

MORE: Damn, if there's one thing I hate more than spelling and grammatical errors, it's html errors! It just so happens that I found and corrected several in this post, and they involved Matthew Yglesias's dead but now archived post.

No disrespect intended -- for Yglesias or his disappeared post.

posted by Eric on 12.11.09 at 10:29 AM


Occasionally I am offended by something. Usually, I end up finding myself embarrassed by being offended.

Donna B.   ·  December 11, 2009 12:28 PM

Well, since you raised the subject . . .

It's got nothing to do with whether you or anyone else can pronounce Coates's given name. In criticizing him, Althouse quoted, at some length, a self-described "Conservative [sic] black woman" who stated she "might respect Ta-Nehisi Coates more if he has [sic] less of a jackass ghetto name", and who came back in a later post to explain that "I'm heartily sick of names that no one can pronounce, and fed up of [sic] people in the community who get angry cuz they seem to think that ALL blacks automatically know how to pronounce the crazy names." So it's hardly Coates who is making an issue of irrelevancies like names or pronunciation; Althouse, in the course of supposed political commentary, is not only attracting, but highlighting, critics who focus harshly on just those matters (while struggling mightily with their own language issues at the same time). I'd think he's entitled to take exception to that.

As for why he refers to his given name as his given name, I suspect it's because that's what it is. "Given name" is a standard descriptor for the name given to a child at birth, as opposed to the surname or family name, which is pre-determined. That's just what it's called. There's nothing strange in using that term - it's perfectly common. There's really no reason to critize Coates for knowing words you don't recognize - especially in a post devoted to language use.

And as for why he includes a pronunciation guide to his name next to the name on his Web page, I would suspect that that is because it's hard to pronounce and he knows that (and is likely tired of answering questions about it). The fact that Althouse could start such a widespread and hostile discussion on exactly that point, to which you are happy to contribute, makes it obvious that he would not be wrong in thinking so.

You're right that all these issues are superficial and off the point - a belief you could better have honored by not posting about them. But if you are going to address them, I don't understand why you seem to imagine that the people who raised those irrelevant issues, can't use language or pronounce names properly, and yet feel entitled to criticize others for simply being more right than they are on the issues they themselves introduced, are the ones who deserve your sympathy.

Why is Coates wrong for being right, and his superficial, ignorant critics right for resenting that?

Kevin T. Keith   ·  December 11, 2009 12:34 PM

While we're on the subject of values, classical or otherwise, here's my pet peeve du jour: pronunciation guides that give no frickin' idea as to how to pronouce something.

From the wiki: "He pronounces his given name /ˌta-nɘˈhasi/." OK. I'ev got no clue. So let's just call him something more pronounceable: Prick.

Or better yet, Prickly Prick.

Rhodium Heart   ·  December 11, 2009 1:07 PM

O my God! My post above has a misspelling! I spelled "I've" "I'ev"! Now, the Prickly Prick from Prickville will be able to write me off as an ignorant hack!

Which leads me to a second point:

@Kevin T. Keith: Why is the Prickly Prick wrong? Because his unmannered, ill-tempered, impolite response was way out of proportion to the offense. People have to get along with people. And if you dial your offense-o-meter to "11" for the most minor of slights, then civilization as we know it collapses. And, thank you sir, for having an easy-to-spell, easy-to-pronounce name, unlike Sir Prickly Prick of Prickin' Prickville.

Rhodium Heart   ·  December 11, 2009 1:11 PM

I think he should just change his pronunciation to Tennessee.

No, I can't take credit for this, but I do enjoy it. Hahahahaha.

dr kill   ·  December 11, 2009 1:32 PM

Does he have female members of his family named Sh'Thaid and G'nnoria? I enjoy them, too

dr kill   ·  December 11, 2009 1:35 PM

I misspelled Coates' name once too, and boy did he let me have it!

Americaneocon   ·  December 12, 2009 12:11 AM

When I noticed the person in question in passing, as some sort of public intellectual, I thought Ta-Nehisi sounded kinda fussy and female-ish. My bad ... but from the ne-hissy fit being thrown over a mis-spelling, I may have been not too far off the mark.

Sgt. Mom   ·  December 12, 2009 9:15 AM

Classical Values is putting content out.
Easier said than done!

Some are content to critique and ... nitpick.

g6loq   ·  December 13, 2009 12:41 PM

eric, ouch yes, you didn't deserve that one.
however, forgiving and non pedantic, yes but not correcting others for their errors...hummmm...is this the eric we love from the 1970s or the new eric?
keep up the wonderful commentary and have a great Christmas

john bonan   ·  December 13, 2009 10:32 PM

eric, ouch yes, you didn't deserve that one.
however, forgiving and non pedantic, yes but not correcting others for their errors...hummmm...is this the eric we love from the 1970s or the new eric?
keep up the wonderful commentary and have a great Christmas

john bonan   ·  December 13, 2009 10:33 PM

John, thanks, and a great Christmas to you too!

But having known me in high school, obviously you know too much about my past for comfort.

The question becomes, how much do I have to pay you not to rat me out to the world?


Eric Scheie   ·  December 15, 2009 12:07 AM

If someone wants to correct any of my messages that is fine. However, that should not include the now mandatory (seemingly) derogatory comment. Such callousness should result in an immediate response pointing out that rudeness is the worst kind of ignorance.

Etznsotnp (the last eight letters are silent)   ·  December 15, 2009 2:25 AM

...as for why he includes a pronunciation guide to his name next to the name on his Web page...

Web page? I was referring to (and cited) his Wiki entry, which states,

He pronounces his given name /ˌta-nɘˈhasi/
He may be "tired of answering questions about it," but that does not explain why Wiki goes into such detail.

Eric Scheie   ·  December 15, 2009 11:34 PM

Etznsotnp, thank you so much for cluing me in on your name's proper pronunciation. It's very embarrassing not to be in the know.

By the way, my name is pronounced as if I spelled it "Shay."

I point this out not only because I take these things very seriously, but because I suspect that some of you have been mispronouncing it in your minds!

If such insensitivity doesn't stop, I might have to resort to the F-word too!

Eric Scheie   ·  December 15, 2009 11:51 PM

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