Misspellings are everywhere. It’s annoying, particularly for editors, to see someone write loose when they mean lose, but something totally different is going on when a tweeter types wut (what) or welp (well)—or refers to Murrica (America) and President Obammer. These aren’t mistakes; the intentional misspellings are words in their own right and are part of the slang vocabulary.
What’s a copyeditor to do with them?
Variant spellings are frequently an attempt to be clever or to point out someone else’s lack of cleverness. If you call someone stoopid instead of stupid, you’re presenting yourself as extra-smart. A similar cleverness is implied by nekkid. The clichéd comedian’s expression—“Am I right?”— is often abbreviated to amirite online to highlight its speed and inanity.
Intentional misspellings can also appeal to a specific in-group, as most slang does. Though noob is fairly common now, it comes from the slang of gamers. LOLcats enthusiasts have also coined many new spellings, most famously cheezburger.
That spelling is an attempt to imagine a cat’s accent, and alternate spellings have long been used for similar purposes. The Oxford English Dictionary recently added entries for anyfink and anythink, two variant spellings of anything. It also added bruh, a variant of bro that, surprisingly, can be found as early as 1894.
The prominence of slang in this area is a good guide for how to handle intentional misspellings: just as slang is geared to a specific group, so should most writing be. If the writing at hand is aimed at a subgroup where the misspelling is likely to register as clever, let it be. If the writing is informal enough that playful spellings will fit right in, let it be. However, if the writing has a broad audience or a tone in the same zip code as formal, cut out the cutesy stuff.
This article was originally posted to Copyediting.com on 11/1/18.