Duking It Out Over Who Owns the English Language

The English language is being ripped to shreds by writers who don’t have a clue how to spell a word or use proper punctuation. I’m not talking about people who write and publish books, I’m talking about the people who leave bad reviews on those books, smashing an author with scathing 1-star or 2-star reviews which cite spelling and punctuation errors. Here’s the problem… not all of the issues that are triggering bad reviews are actually errors!

Did you know that English is the primary language of more than 50 countries, territories and sovereign states, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia? That’s a lot of countries fighting for ownership of the English language in their right to slam an author for bad English in a book review. Books which are written in the English language and sold on the internet are usually targeted at all English speaking countries, not just one.

Trouble arises when each country has its own rules on what denotes proper English and punctuation. For example, “Everybody knows that a period always goes inside of quotation marks.” But guess what? Everybody doesn’t know that, because it’s the rule in the United States. “It is NOT the rule in Great Britain where the period goes on the outside”. British English as it’s called, was in use long before American English, and yet British authors are being blasted with rotten reviews by American readers for improper English and punctuation! No doubt the same is happening in reverse.

Spelling is an even bigger target to elicit a bad review, because there is not a universal English dictionary in the minds of torpedo reviewers. Prior to the 18th century, English spelling wasn’t standardized, and it took different paths in each country. You’ve got British English, American English, Canadian English, and Australian English, plus dozens of dialects within each country.

In addition, the English language evolves over time, and spelling and grammar rules change. Thus we have Archaic English, which has its own set of proper rules. Then we have the King’s English (aka Queen’s English) which was the de facto form of proper English starting in 16th century Great Britain. That’s a lot of different sets of rules for spelling and punctuation in the English language, and none of them are wrong. Yet authors get blasted with bad reviews for their choice of how to spell a word, or punctuate a sentence.

Perhaps the people leaving these erroneous bad reviews believe that they are doing the author a favor, pointing out the error of their ways in front of the world in the hopes of “encouraging” the author (by killing their book sales) to learn proper English. Maybe English is just a pawn in the war that pits unethical authors against their competitors. Either way, the readers who rely on reviews to make their book buying decisions are being duped into believing that a book is awful, even if it isn’t.

In the middle of the battle over who owns the English language, are the poor authors who get hit with bad reviews or worry about this type of review. Some authors even go so far as to publish a book in several versions of English, which floods the marketplace with duplicate books in the hopes of appeasing the people who are leaving bogus bad reviews. Other authors include a note in their book blurb that lets readers know that a book was written in British English, American English, or some other variant of English, in the hopes of preventing erroneous bad reviews.

Nobody owns the English language, folks, and there are many forms of proper English. Before you go blasting a book for bad spelling or punctuation, ask yourself, is it possible that the author is using a form of English that you aren’t familiar with? Are you blasting a British author using proper British punctuation because it’s different than what you’re accustomed to in America? Are you blasting an author who chooses ageing over aging, defence over defense, or judgement over judgment? Are YOU enough of an expert in the variations of the English language, across all of the English speaking countries, to pass judgement on a book by posting a bad review which will hurt that book’s sales?

If the president of the United States can stumble into a British/English blunder, then so can a book reviewer. So please think twice before passing a harsh judgement that will result in the loss of income for someone’s family.

P.S. If you happen to be an author who writes in any variant of the English language, it might be a good idea to bone up on words that have very different meanings across the pond. Phrases that you take for granted may not even exist in the vocabularies of your readers. If you’re a reader looking for advice on whether you should post that scathing book review, consult your local agony aunt or advice columnist.

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    One Response to Duking It Out Over Who Owns the English Language

    1. Albert Benson says:

      Great article. Allie Mars for President.

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