In a world of texts, tweets,
Wallace fights for language

In a world of texts, instant messages and tweets, shorthand rules. But Jim Wallace doesn't LOL when he sees the English language being shortchanged.

The Hoschton resident is a voracious reader, and he's troubled by mistakes he sees in print, often made by very intelligent people. It troubles him as a former newspaper reporter and a former writing instructor. And it also bothers him as president of SPELL - Society for the Preservation of the English Language and Literature.

Wallace became president of SPELL in 2002. The group, which has a little more than 1,000 members spanning the United States and Canada, is "an extraordinarily diverse group of men and women with little in common save their love of our language and their determination to resist its abuse and misuse by inept writers and speakers," according to the member handbook.

The group has a bimonthly publication that contains articles on grammar, usage, word origins and writing in general. There's also a feature called "Murderers' Row" that prints some of the best goofs cited by SPELL members. The organization also has "goof" cards, which members send to the offending party, citing the mistake.

"The idea is to be constructive," Wallace said of the "goof" cards. "We tell our members: Don't have a 'gotcha' attitude."

Wallace began his appreciation of the written word at an early age. He delivered the Atlanta Journal for five years, taking time to read the paper as he navigated his route.

"I read the paper cover to cover," he said. "I might not have been the smartest kid in the class, but I knew the most about current events."

His knowledge of grammar was hammered home at Marist High School in Atlanta by Father Hageman. "A real tough guy," Wallace said, Hageman handled the school's discipline problems in addition to his teaching assignments.

"We had to write a 100-word essay every night," Wallace said. "If you made one grammatical error or had two misspelled words, you got an F. We didn't (all) become good writers, but we learned to avoid the errors he was looking for."

Wallace majored in English at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., before working as a reporter at the Atlanta Constitution in the early 1960s. From there, he went into the corporate world, working for 30 years in financial public relations.

He found a group of likeminded folks when he discovered SPELL.

"We're just a group of people who are concerned about the deterioration of the language," Wallace said. "It's important to have it remain as pure as possible."

He blames some of the deterioration on the likes of texting and Twitter, which value brevity over fully formed sentences.

"That plus a failing educational system," Wallace said. "They teach grammar but they don't teach kids why it's done that way."

Wallace knows that the number of people who care about language as much as he does is dwindling. SPELL once had more than 2,000 members, a number that has nearly been cut in half. Wallace estimates 100 members live in Georgia; 25 in the Gwinnett County area.

He said he doesn't send out many goof cards these days, but does collect "bloopers" made by President Barack Obama.

"You're never supposed to use 'myself' instead of 'me,'" Wallace said. "It's one of the common mistakes ... It is alarming when you see people who are supposed to be smart make (grammatical) mistakes."

Though errors like that bother Wallace, his wife, Marietta, is not as militant about language. "She just kind of raises her eyebrows and says, 'Give me a break,'" Wallace said.

Does Wallace correct his wife's grammatical errors?

"I'm not a masochist," Wallace said, showing both his knowledge of language and matrimony.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.

SideBar: To join

Visit www.spellorg.com for more information and to download an application form. Cost is $20 for first year of membership or $30 for first two years.