Signs of Subliteracy

Writers, especially those who self-publish, should always have someone who’s literate proofread the promo copy they write. After all, if the promo copy is well-written, it reflects well on the writer and if it’s not. . . Here’s an example of a writer who didn’t do that.

“Together, they find evidence of alien life, and set off in search of what maybe [sic] their only hope for survival. . . ”

Wrong. “Maybe” is an adverb meaning “possibly.” What the writer in this case either doesn’t know or was too lazy to proofread his own copy for correction (more difficult than it might seem) is that what he was groping for was “may be”–two separate words: “be” and the auxiliary “may”. Errors like this just scream “Subliterate!” when they happen more than once. . . and so it was in this case. *sigh*

Of course, “subliterates” aren’t incurable. The cure simply involves doing the “hard work” (which for a writer should be pure pleasure *heh*) of reading a LOT of well-written text. And, another “of course” *sigh*. . . of course, people who are poorly-read usually have no idea they are, and are all too often resistant to reading well-written books.

I have a prescription for such folks: Edgar Rice Burroughs and P. G. Wodehouse, to start. Neither one have any “message” to convey and both aim “merely” to entertain. Yeh, Burroughs’ books are almost boringly predictable, and Wodehouse’s books all follow the same story arc, and so can be a bit predictable as well, but they do entertain. And while entertaining, they do so with literate writing that is grammatically correct (apart from reproductions of dialect) and replete with words used properly and well. Finding a mistake of usage in one of the books written by either of these writers and it’s likely the fault of a modern transcriptionist (and missing in older versions). There are other writers who could aid in combating a subliterate’s faulty vocabulary and grammar (books by C.K. Chesterton, C.S> Lewis, and even Edith Nesbit spring to mind as easy, enjoyable literate reads), but the contrast between Burroughs and Wodehouse would be a good way to awaken literacy.

After some vocabulary building and exposure to good grammar, the subliterate student could then proceed to works by other literate writers, and thus begin to correct bad habits built from reading poor writing and begin as well to develop a vocabulary that can discriminate between “backseat” and “back seat,” between “maybe” and “may be,” etc.

End. Yeh, the rant goes on, but I’m too tired to give the voices in my head any more cooperation from my fingers. Here, let ERB stand in:


(Readers of Sci-Fi will recognize the recipient of the letter.)

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