Doesn’t Take Much

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On Sunday, I published a post called Comeupins.

Within seconds, I started getting emails, DMs on twitter, messages on Facebook and comments saying “stop the presses, change the spelling before too many people see it.” And I genuinely appreciated so many people looking out for me. But I wasn’t about to change it.

I know the “other” spelling, my variation was intentional.

So, why’d I do it? A number of reasons.

One, my spelling created a better visual for me of what the word’s really about. It’s grittier. I could taste that spelling, not so much the mainstream one. Yum.

Two, I live in da Bronx in NYC and the Urban Dictionary says, YO, that’s one way to spell the damn word!

Three, I don’t like rules. I was Managing Editor of Law Review many moons ago. I’ve written for journals, mags, books, the whole yadda yadda. I know the rules. And I also know that my favorite renegade writers, entrepreneurs and makers know them too, and they break them. Just like that.

I love language. To me words matter. That same love drives some people to never want to mess with the way it’s “supposed to be.” For me, it does the exact opposite.

I am far more interested in exploring the evolution from, rather than the preservation of status quo.

I question authority. I enjoy the occasional push, nudge or shimmy against “because I’m the grown up and I said it’s so.” Even if it’s just in the name of fun. Even if I end up wrong.

And guess how new expressions, variants, rules, words, ideas, companies, spellings and movements are created? Someone does something different. They poke. Then someone else wonders about it. Then someone else blasts them for it. Then someone else joins in. Then another person wonders. In the blink of an eye, it turns into a conversation. And maybe, just maybe, an evolution.

Even if it doesn’t, it’s gotten people to think. And people need to think.

Language, by the way, is a gorgeous example of dynamism. This may come as a big surprise, but linguistic conventions, usage, spellings and pronunciations are not fixed. There is no eternal right or wrong.  They evolve over time to reflect common use. What begins life as an outlier, with enough adoption over time, becomes a viable alternative and sometimes even the mainstay.

The one right answer today becomes one of the right answers tomorrow. Some folks can’t stand that. Drives them batty. I get that. But I’m on the side of thinking it’s pretty cool (oy, started yet another sentence with “But.” Hack!).

There’s one last reason I spelled the title the way I did. It was a little devious, but I wanted to demonstrate something.

It was a test. I wanted to see how much of a pattern interrupt the misspelling would create and how motivated people would be to say something about it. And, wow, it did not disappoint. What you see in the comments is only part of the conversation. You should see my emails, DMs and more.

For you marketers and raconteurs out there, a pattern interrupt an example of doing something unexpected in the quest to change someone’s state and open them to a conversation. My spelling of comeupins stopped a solid chunk of people, made some laugh, some scratch their heads, some angry at how a dude who calls himself a “writer” could make such an error or even acknowledge the existence of something so devoid of authority outside the Urban Dictionary and, well, many others had no clue how the word is normally spelled anyway.

More importantly, it started a conversation in a way the proper spelling never would have. I like that.

So next time you feel bound by the rules, or bound to jump on someone who’s not following them, maybe take a step back and say, “hmmm, wonder why the rule is there?” or “wonder why she did THAT?!”

Then have a little fun with it…

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52 responses

52 responses to “Doesn’t Take Much”

  1. Richard Posey says:

    Well, as one of those who played a part in your social experiment, I’m still glad the guy who took the parking space you deserved didn’t get a spot in the coffee shop.

  2. B says:

    So funny how people get so bent about non-conforming. Rebel!

  3. Mark Powers says:

    And now you totally omit the subject from your title?! Fields . .
    🙂
    Kidding- love the post. Glad you didn’t change comeupins!

  4. Tim Brownson says:

    I love pattern interupts which is why I now have a pound of live fish down my underwear.

  5. Marirose says:

    You are a rebel with a cause! I love it! Language speaks many volumes in many forms, no matter how its spelled, scaled, it works for me.

  6. Valerie says:

    Totally agree and way to go! I was an English major in school, but I think language is ever evolving and should evolve and should be used expressively and creatively, not rigidly. Look at the most amazing poets and writers and you’ll see this playfulness and flexibility. Creative writers shouldn’t sound illiterate, but shouldn’t sound like a newspaper or encyclopedia either.

  7. Anne Wayman says:

    I’ve always wondered why the folks who take time to correct my spelling bother. For some I take it as an expression of love or affection, but maybe affection is the better reason.

    Thanks for being who you are.

    A

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I actually totally get it. I get emails all the time about my grammar, typos, everything. Some people love language the way others are mad about knitting or cycling or music. They just express it very differently than I do. And it’s the conversation between the two approaches that makes the conversation interesting. 🙂

  8. Shane Arthur says:

    Peter Sokolowski recently tweeted the best quote about this issue: “Language follows rules, but it doesn’t follow orders.”

  9. Leeanne says:

    Thank God you don’t merely maintain the status quo and do everything the same way as everyone else…95% of us wouldn’t subscribe to your blog if you did. And it’s delish food for thought everytime.

  10. Tom Bentley says:

    Doesn’t take much? You have shaken the columns of rectitude with your insolence! It’s no real surprise that your wordplay upset the digestions of the worthy—as H.G. Wells said, “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone’s draft.” Your urban winds worry the keepers of the flame, because as you say, that flame, language, is always flickering.

    I just wrote an editing guide that tries to describe the moving target that is language, but it’s tough. Dunno about “comupins” though. It just looks ugly to me, and if the words are going to be weird, I like them to dress nicely.

  11. Tom Bentley says:

    See, I couldn’t even spell that damn “comeupins” right. Or maybe there is no “right.” Anarchy!

  12. Good for you Jonathan – words are to be played with and you played with the word and sometimes people don’t like the game…
    In gratitude to you creating new words for us!
    Nancy

  13. Irene Ross says:

    I LOVE this! I totally got it, but this was a really though-provoking pattern interrupt “experiment.” (But then your experiments usually are thought-provoking–I remember the Cool Whip one.)

  14. Bunny says:

    It showed me how easily people can be manipulated. We are a simple bunch despite what we may think. I just saw it as a “made you look” move.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Ohhhh, manipulated. Now THAT’S a loaded word, lol! I prefer participating in a fun social experiment in that name of advancing the conversation. How’s that for fancy?! 😉

  15. Meg says:

    Writing in a conversational style (starting with “and” or “but”) actually has the opposite result of creating your own spellings for words.

    The former makes for an easier read in some cases (because the reader processes the text in the same way they might process a spoken conversation), while the latter just makes things more difficult to read and process.

    Which makes it less of a “pattern interrupt” than just a hindrance to clarity, from my perspective.

    I’m not a grammar or AP style freak, although I adhere to the rules if that’s what the client wants, and what makes sense for the document.

    I do aim for clarity, though. Which is why “the rules” sometimes make life easier, not more restrictive.

  16. When I’m reading what you have written – I can hear YOU speaking – that is what allows me to connect – I appreciate that FAR more than the ‘rules’ of spelling or AP style…

  17. Jonathan,

    I’m a big fan of status-quo shakers and authority questioners (I call them venturers) like you. It’s great to see you putting yourself “out on a limb” like that.

  18. wendy says:

    Without the pattern interrupt, we’d all still be speaking like Chaucer. Thank God for small favors! 😉
    I have to admit, my skin does still crawl a little when I see thru vs. through and nite vs. night, but I don’t lose any sleep-I have no doubt that communication will continue to happen.

  19. cara says:

    I guess I’m the only one who found the whole exercise a bit silly. Most people are not interested in nitpicking and pointing out typos/misspellings, especially since your content is so often incredibly creative, inspiring, and useful. Everyone is entitled to honest mistakes.

    Even so, there is something to be said for respecting the “rules of the road” language-wise when you are writing from a position of some authority. It provides a solid framework we can all use to facilitate clearer communication and understanding, and prevents distracting from the valuable intentions of the writing.

  20. Sukhi says:

    Hilarious Jon!
    THe Pattern Interrupt didn’t even phase me. It was like… it’s all good.

    I’m with you with questioning authority and breaking rules. I was born with that disposition. FInally channelling it the right way.

    Look forward to more “Jonisms”

  21. Bridget says:

    I liked the Comeuppins.
    And I like a pattern interruption.
    But also, I like people who use language effectively and who know the rules before they break them.
    It would be hard for me to work with someone who says “For all intensive purposes”, unless they knew they were breaking the rule. (especially if I was hiring them to write or convey an idea. Not so much if they are fixing my car. Both are noble work.)
    Language rules are part of credibility.
    I’m also contrary.

  22. Bridget says:

    Woops! I didn’t finish my thought. I’m also contrary, so well, I’ve got things to work on. 🙂

  23. John Sherry says:

    New words always act as a springboard to new concepts and thinking and they also reflect modern culture so your ‘experimeant’ (meaning a deliberate test – yes I had to join in!) pushes these boundaries to evolve. Plus it gauges what language we’re really all speaking and to see if we all agree which one that is. Hymn books and singing from the same or different songsheets comes to mind. Nice move Jonathan.

  24. Janine Elias says:

    Jonathan,

    I just love your writing and your point of view!

    Can I repost your blog post to my blog? Actually I want to take excerpts from the first one (comeupins)direct people to read your blog and the comments and then also post your second post (this one) and then make additional comments with a psych slant on your comments… let me know if you are open to this.

    The way you write is real, open, and imaginative… I think it would be a great contribution to my grassroots movement…

  25. Breaking the so-called rules is how we evolve,expand and give birth to OUR OWN SHOW. bravissimulto!

  26. Marie davis says:

    I think it was Walt Whitman who said, A person who cannot think of at least two different ways to spell a word is not very creative.

  27. Michelle Falzon says:

    Thank You! Loved this post. Especially what you are saying about language being a gorgeous example of dynamism… Shakespeare actually invented words as he wrote because the current language of the day was not sufficient to express the ideas, emotions and subtleties he wanted to convey. Everything is in flux, all the time. If we could be more present to this idea we could be freer to invent; to play; and to tolerate (strike that, celebrate!) differences.

    Thanks for your words.

  28. Martin says:

    Your use of a pattern interrupt is certainly a useful device, and abundantly appropriate for the blog venue.

    Yet to me it seemed like you over-explained your point, like it wasn’t truly intentional. “Methinks he protests too loudly,” as a dude over in England once said. Of course I don’t know for sure if this was the case.

    I prefer to take a stand running counter to the trend of your previous commenters. I don’t advocate rigid adherence over an artful device, but generally we need to pay more attention to rules, not less. When college graduates in this country can’t handle stuff like their/they’re and your/you’re, the rot has gone way too far…

    Great blog, Jonathan!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Agreed, you need to know and have lived by the rules before some time before you can get a feel for how and when to leave them behind and, even then, it takes time to figure it out. Still very much in the middle myself.

  29. beckhen says:

    Lack of “correctness” in language used to be like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I’ve changed my stance; I think for two reasons.
    Have you ever noticed, in internet flame wars, that a commenter will use someone else’s typo as a reason to completely discredit them? As if they could not have a valid point of view, or worth as a human being, and make a mistake, or be less educated. It’s ugly, and I can’t help but feel that a superiority complex is usually a mask for an *inferiority* complex.
    I also don’t want to become a person known as a naysayer, focusing on what she dislikes, all in the name of quality. Instead, I’ll focus on what I think IS worthy of attention, and my ideals will come through that way.

  30. Ricky Ferdon says:

    BRAVO, Jonathan! Keep it up!!!

  31. For a real treat into the world of language, and the many ways it bobs and weaves throughout history, get your hands on Mother Tongue or Made in America by Bill Bryson. They are by far the most humerously funny language books I have ever read.

  32. Rob says:

    Jonathan,

    This was my kind of post.
    This isn’t a direct quote, but rather a paraphrase of your quote, that you never gave me, but is what I feel when I read this post,”I’m Jonathan Fields, creator. I’ve had and continue to have a lot of success in many different areas. There seems to be a fair amount of folks who like to read what I have to write. My success will continue to grow as I continue to grow. But, in the end, it goes back to the beginning. I’m Jonathan Fields, creator.”
    I like comeupins, although being from the South Side of the Windy City, it happens to be in our dictionary also.

    Live it LOUD!

  33. Angelwins says:

    I had an English teacher who, using the novelist Stephen King as an example, said that some writers do break the rules of proper spelling and good grammar, but only after they have learned and know the “right” way.
    I like that, because I think that it gives a writer’s work more power and veracity if his intentional misuse of the rules is informed. Such a writer manages to convey precisely what he means, while less-informed writers often do not.
    I, for one, find mistakes in punctuation particularly galling, since punctuation changes the meaning of what is written.
    A prime example of this happened at a Catholic hospital near where I live.
    There was a dedication ceremony held for a newly-built chapel. The local newspaper carried the story, complete with a picture of the chapel’s exterior, with large gold-toned letters spelling out: Chapel of Our Lady of the Apostle’s. Ack!

  34. Pamela Awad says:

    I am surprised that so many people fell victim to your little experiment…but glad that it provided valuable information. I too noticed, but took it to be intentional given the character of your writing in the first place. You do so love to get someone’e attention! Not a bad thing for a writer to love to do I think. ^&^

  35. Mark Freddy Farrell says:

    Conversations with NO Conditions. Let it all out, Free Speech. Expect Nothing back, except how you really feal, (feel?), Aint the the Truth wonderfull.

  36. Jonathan,

    It didn’t take me long, after seeing that spelling in the title, to figure out that you spelled it the way you did VERY intentionally. I love that.
    Anyone who has read your blog for more than a few months knows you are one of the best copywriters out there so that kind of spelling tweak, worthy of a true renegade, makes all the sense in the world!
    Rock, roll, re-pete.

    -Peter

  37. How interesting! I immediately recognized that you had used an alternate spelling, assumed you did it on purpose, and thought about what the new spelling had to say about the meaning of the word. It surprises me that you got so many corrections.

  38. I was also little surprised by looking at the spellings and at first I didn’t really get it and I thought it just a typo mistake. But, your this post opens the new door of thinking for me in spite of this it also tells how much rebellious, attitude you have got and how much you love to play with people’s mind. I guess it is a very good way to check the way of people thinking means how they look at the mistakes.

  39. Janine Kohanim says:

    Without fluidity there is no joy in language. Without the bending of a rule here and there, no music. As you pointed out, language should be dynamic and evolving. Playful. One of my favorite pastimes is coining words. And I tend to write like I speak….if I didn’t my cadence would be all stiff and proper, the voice and air drained out of my phrases, leaving them to flop around like dying fish. Bo-ring. What truly saddens me is that schools teach dead writing and, forevermore, people think it’s a destination instead of a diving board.

  40. Priyanka says:

    “It’s not so much the game, it’s more of a mindset. Some folks are more comfortable enforcing the rules, others question them. No right or wrong, really, you need both peeps in the conversation.”

    wow. i love that balance. i love playing – and sometimes get so annoyed with the this-is-the-way-it’s-been-done attitude but ur statement puts it a bit in perspective. m gonna remember this one. thanks.