Twitter时代,何必为特朗普的拼写错误大惊小怪

编辑:给力英语新闻 更新:2017年9月9日 作者:纽约时报中文网(FARHAD MANJOO)

拼写错误不再像从前那样是一种罪。
拼写错误不再像从前那样是一种罪。Misspelling is hardly the sin it once was.

本月,在全美各地的抗议者上街游行,反对新纳粹主义之际,唐纳德·特朗普总统借助Twitter做出了惊人之举:他发布了一份表扬游行者的冷静声明。

“我们伟大的国家已分裂数十年,”他于8月19日写道。“有时候你们需要进行抗议,以便促成和解,而且我们会和解,而且会变得比以往任何时候都更强大!”

但特朗普旨在展示政治家风范的迟来的努力,被一个对他来说颇为频繁的问题遮蔽了:他犯了拼写错误。在这则示好推文的早前版本中,他把“decades”(数十年)写成“decade”(十年),把“heal”(和解)写成了“heel”(脚跟)。这些拼写错误只出现了几分钟,他便删除推文,修正后重发,但他在Twitter上遭到了尖刻的嘲讽。

“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)

这不是总统第一次栽在拼写上。特朗普说他有最好的语词,但他似乎非常不擅于记住如何正确地拼出它们。人们在他的推文里至少发现过半打基本的拼写错误(在其幕僚起草的声明中发现过更多),其中有些错误很小(把“counsel”[法律顾问])写成“council”[委员会],把“has”[有]写成“gas”[气],把“tap”[窃听]写成“tapp”),有些很大(把“unprecedented”[史无前例的]写成“unpresidented”[没有总统的],把“honored”[荣幸地]写成“honered”),有些干脆令人摸不着头脑(“covfefe”)。

关于这个我想说:娆了特郎普叭。

有很多理由去批评特朗普的政策、行为和言论,特别是他的推文。但我们应该放过他的拼写。

其实我们应该放过所有人的拼写。现在是可以实现自动更正并远程编辑电子出版物的数字时代,更不用说社交媒体平台鼓励真实性和即时性,而非精雕细琢,拼写错误已经成为大多数时候可以原谅的错误。你根本不需要像以前的人那样擅长拼写,因为我们现在有了可以找到并且纠正错误的工具——所以如果你在初稿中把“治愈”写成了“至于”,根本就没什么大不了的。

当然,人们非常执着于拼写。当我第一次提出政治人物的拼写错误是可以原谅的罪过这个想法时,我在Twitter上被痛批了一顿。我的妻子很生气,那一天基本没和我说话。我发电子邮件给编辑说我想为特朗普的拼写错误辩护,她回邮件说:“你应该听你妻子的话。”

所以我做了我要质疑在互联网上犯了错的人时通常会做的事:我研究了这个问题。我研究了标准化拼写的历史,以及拼写错误同认知水平的关系。我发现政治拼写错误有悠久的历史。我读了一本牛津大学教授的著作,它讲述对拼写问题的文化态度变迁,然后又和作者本人聊了很久。

Twitter就是一团糟。从小学基本要求的拼写、标点和句子完整性方面来说,这地方就像是一个喝了字母汤的人的呕吐物。

这是有技术原因的。Twitter将帖子限制为140个字符,大多数推文都是在手机上快速制造和消费。缩写、首字母缩略词、“短信用语”(LOL,OMG等)和其他快捷语言方式都受到鼓励,更不用说人为和自动更正造成的错误。

然而,Twitter的精髓就是它的即时性,对于这项服务人数虽少但却非常沉迷的忠诚支持者们(包括你们真诚的那一位)来说,Twitter在语法方面的丑陋是这一精髓必然带来的副作用。Twitter的吸引力在于,它可以用来记录你对周围事件即时和原始的观察——它就像世界思想的初稿。

这种直接性不可避免地会引起错误和弄巧成拙,这通常也是它的极大乐趣所在;Twitter世界目睹某人在错误的时间以错误的方式说出错误的话,拿他开玩笑,忘记这一切,然后明天再重复这一整套东西。

如果即时性容易导致错误,那么在Twitter上,错误反过来也意味着人性。许多政治人物和品牌经营Twitter时容易犯的一个错误就是,写一条推文就像发布新闻通稿一样。他们使用完整的句子和高级的词汇,整个语气都是和Twitter的氛围脱节的,就像穿着三件套西装参加学生春假派对。

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。

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。

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)。

不过,对拼写错误的批评隐含着更深层次的精英主义。它源于将正确拼写与受过良好教育和出众智力联系在一起的理念,但这实际上是错误的。

没有很多科学证据能够证明擅于拼写与高智商有关。就像有些人天生比其他人更擅长做算术,有些人天生比其他人更擅长拼写(还有些人患有词汇障碍,比如诵读困难者,拼写对他们来说更为困难)。但是,就算你擅长拼写,你依然可能做很多蠢事;而如果你不擅长拼写,你依然可能非常聪明。

英语的标准化拼写至少存在了几百年,大多数时候,我们用起来很方便。所以我能理解,抛弃它或者至少是放松对它的坚持,可能是个有点吓人的想法,仿佛是文明急速衰落的第一步。

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。

这个观点不无道理。不过我最后说两点。

第一,每个人都有粗心的时候,如今更是这样,因为电子设备只会促使我们更粗心。奥巴马和他的员工也犯过拼写错误等文字错误,他的一个通讯顾问曾在Twitter上搞出了一个你能想到的最糟糕的拼写错误,把bigger第一个字母写成了N(即对黑人的蔑称Nigger。——译注)。

第二,几乎没有证据证明,一个人在电子媒体上的拼写与他/她在其他方面的表现有很大关系。实际上,有一项研究表明,经常出现拼写错误的人往往比那些不出错的人更擅长语法。

所有这些表明,我们太注重拼写等打字错误了。请把注意力放在人们讲话的内容,而不是拼写上。

翻译:李琼、董楠、王相宜

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.”

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.”

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.

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.)

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.

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.