Emma Cowing: You say potatos; I say learn how to spell...

I WONDER where he is sometimes, the man I left because he couldn’t spell the word “potatoes”. Does he still rely on auto-correct to get him through the day, or has he met a lovely woman who offers up “tomatos” for his “potatos”?

I imagine there are some people out there who believe it is a little extreme to finish a relationship because of a spelling mistake. These people are wrong. One minute you’re tolerating your instead of you’re, the next minute you’re going back to “ur” place for “desert”. No good can come of it.

Wherever Mr Potato is nowadays, it wouldn’t surprise me if he took part in a survey this week that revealed one in five British adults have trouble with spelling. A shocking 64 per cent of the 2,000 tested failed to spell “necessary” correctly, while 33 per cent struggled with “definitely” and “separate” – coincidentally, I managed to spell these perfectly when dispatching Mr Potato.

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When did we stop caring about spelling and grammar? When did it become acceptable to misspell simple words, to confuse to with too, to go from their to there to they’re without so much as batting an eyelid?

Respondents to the survey also admitted to extensive use of computer spell-checks and auto-correct functions while writing e-mails and documents. Some 18 per cent said they used spell-checks all the time, while another 21 per cent relied on them most of the time.

Spell-checks were invented to make life easier. I use them myself on occasion, for even spelling Nazis have the occasional off day. The key word however, is “check”.

The spell check was not invented so we could indulge in the sort of grammatical expertise more usually found in someone who has been raised by wolves. It is meant to complement the hectic pace of modern life, not allow us to sail through the next 50 years believing the word recession has two Cs in it. And an H.

Text messaging, of course, must shoulder some of the blame here. There was a time, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, when we communicated in written form much less, preferring to yak away on the phone and then send long, formal letters to each other. E-mail, texting, chat messaging – all of these modern modes of communication have brought the written word back to the forefront of how we interact with each other as human beings. The fact that they are fast, and that we can communicate in real time with someone on the other side of the planet at the click of a button has somehow made it acceptable for us to misspell those communicados.

The younger generations are the worst offenders, perhaps because they have also thoroughly embraced “txt spk”.

There was a case a few years ago where a 15-year-old wrote an entire Standard Grade English exam paper in text speak, and one need only spend a few minutes on the Facebook or Twitter page of a teenager to realise that not only can very few of them spell correctly, quite often they gabble away in another language entirely, a funny mix of text speak and perplexing words such as “amazeballs”.

I have heard the arguments about evolving language of course, and while there is a truth that language is not, and cannot be, static, that it must change according to the environment and the society it is being written and spoken in, this is not an excuse for poor spelling.

The fact of the matter is that even today, spelling is important. When we are judging a person on their words alone – whether that be a written CV, a tweet or a personal ad on an internet dating site – spelling remains one of the few factors by which we can measure an individual.

We want to know that the person we’re hiring for a job or considering going out on a date with is capable of basic spelling, if only because it tells us that if they care about spelling, they might care about other things too, like showing up for work on time or buying us the occasional bunch of flowers.

Taking time to make sure you spell something correctly says something about your character, and that something is usually positive. If you can’t be bothered to spell a word right, what else might you get wrong?

Interestingly, the spelling survey bears this out. Almost all of those questioned, despite their often poor abilities, believed that spelling was important. I do hope Mr Potato was among them.