Though Shakespearean English made sense in the 17th century, it is almost incomprehensible nowadays. If we’re not careful, future generations will have a hard time understanding us as well.

Colloquialisms, also known as slang, are informal words or phrases that become popular through widespread use. For example, “gnarly” from Gen X, “adulting” from millennials and “salty” from Gen Z all push the bounds of uniqueness in English communication.

But alongside these harmless new additions to the dictionary come their evil stepsisters: micro changes to existing words. Take the word “octopus” for instance. The spelling “octopuses” is the mollusk’s original plural form, yet overuse of the incorrect word “octopi” (treating the word as a Latin instead of Greek descendant) made it widely accepted. So now the originally correct plural is looked down on as a thoughtless error.

The most Googled slang word in Utah is ...

Imagine if this risky trend continues for currently correct vocabulary. If “seperate” becomes the preferred spelling, will we part ways with the OG “separate”? Could “judgment” be ruled obsolete as Americans refer to the British spelling “judgement”? Will “playwright” one day exit dictionary stage left for “playwrite” to take the spotlight?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we should never have new slang words. If you can say something more accurately in one word than one sentence, like entries in John Koenig’s “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” then by all means get Merriam-Webster on the line.

However, what should irk us are new words that replace existing ones through subpar spelling. “A lot” shortens to the nonsensical “alot.” “All right” compacts to the quasi-acceptable “alright.” “OK” modifies to “okay” or the passive-aggressive “k.” The phrase “another think coming” changes to the easier-to-say “another thing coming.”

Utah's most misspelled word right now is pretty ugly

I recognize that the ultimate goal of writing is clear communication, not perfect grammar or punctuation. However, correct grammar facilitates clear communication. When we lack proper grammar and spelling, it’s the blame of either our lack of knowledge or our lack of care.

As a copy editor, I’ve noticed my siblings take caution to punctuate and spell sentences correctly in their text messages to me. But the truth is I don’t care if they send typos; I care if those typos make their messages indecipherable. I can easily forgive the misspelling in “Check out this meme, I though it was funny,” but “tis mems funy” unalives a few of my brain cells.

If you want your words to really mean something, it’s time to start learning about the time-tested basics and sticking to them. Make your ancestors proud by protecting this language the way your grandma protects the china cabinet.

Some critics say we have no need to fear the mutations of English. David Shariatmadari from The Guardian, for example, claims that “Anyone who wants to preserve some aspect of language that appears to be changing is fighting a losing battle” because the evolution of language is inevitable. The writer has a point; after all, if English never evolved, we would never have invented the semicolon or created contractions.

However, not all language evolutions are improvements. Some create clearer communication, like standardizing comma rules. Other less-structured changes, though — like smashing “I am going to” into “Imma” — force out-of-the-loop readers to look at the page through furrowed eyebrows.

Call me a grammar purist, but I just don’t think sacrificing clarity is an improvement to an already complex language.

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I’m not suggesting we retrace our linguistic steps back to the Dark Ages of English; I recognize that many language changes were for the better. However, I am suggesting that after how far worldwide English has come, and with how well its rules are documented nowadays, we cannot afford to let spellings slip further into gobbledygook.

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A catalog of American words come from breakaway misspellings of British words — like “grey,” “honour” and “travelled” — and we have no reason to deny that a similar split could happen within the U.S.

I’ve noticed many TikTok creators use poor spelling in their videos on purpose to elicit conversation, since a greater number of comments authorizes the spread to a greater number of users. So, not only is bad grammar allowed by internet algorithms, it is prioritized. This is not OK.

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English is not perfect; grammarians like me still daydream about integrating the em dash into the keyboard and abolishing the “I before E” law in schools. But blatant disregard for spelling rules and indifference to dictionary orthography are not what this language needs to evolve; it’s the degenerating recipe for destruction.

Joel Randall is a writing and editing intern with the Liahona magazine, freelance copy editor on and self-published author of two nonfiction books.

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