My blogging and online philosophy

Magnolia flowering © Ricky Yates

Ever since I started writing this blog more than three years ago, I have always sought to recognise three important things. Firstly, I am a native first-language English-speaker. Secondly, I am an expatriate, living in a foreign country – in my case, the Czech Republic. Thirdly, I am a Christian minister – an Anglican priest in the Church of England.

Therefore, as far as I am concerned, numerous consequences flow from these three things.

  • As a native first-language English-speaker, it behoves me to use correct English spelling and grammar; particularly so when I have written and posted many times about the numerous examples of Czenglish which I regularly encounter.
  • As a foreigner resident in the Czech Republic, it is essential that when I write about Czech history and geography, I get my facts and locations correct.
  • As a Christian minister, I have a duty and responsibility to always seek to be accurate and truthful in what I write and publish online.

In order to ensure I am true to each of these responsibilities, there are a number of precautions I take before posting anything either on this blog or anywhere else online. I always use a spell checker to pick up any spelling mistakes. And I also normally get someone else, usually Sybille, to read through what I’ve just written, to ensure what I want to say, is actually what I’ve written – not what I think I’ve written.

Of course, spell checkers do not think. If you misspell your intended word as another perfectly legitimate word in the English language, no spell checker will pick this up. An online friend of Sybille recently intended to write about ‘Public and private information’. What she actually wrote was ‘Pubic and private information’. You can imagine the hilarity that followed once this was spotted!

Likewise, I am quite thorough in checking my facts before publishing anything. For this, I use both books in my possession and online resources, always recognising that, because it’s on the internet, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s correct!

Despite all of this, I do still make mistakes, spelling, grammatical and factual. So I am always grateful when someone picks this up and points out the error of my ways. Thank you Tim, for the correction of my spelling. Thank you Sean, for pointing out that I had Jan Hus born in the incorrect part of Bohemia. And thank you Katka, for spotting my more recent mistake, in writing ‘Prague’ when I clearly meant to write ‘Brno’.

You will only know about these errors if you follow each of these links and scroll down to the comments. This is because, as soon as an error is pointed out to me, I correct the main text. But if the correction is made via a comment, then the comment still gets published, followed by a thankful and apologetic comment in response from me, acknowledging my mistake.

The reasoning behind this blogging and online philosophy of mine is quite simple. I write because I want others to read what I write, take it on-board and think about what I say. I want what I say to be taken seriously. Incidentally, it is ‘seriously’ and not ‘serious’, an ever-increasing error in spoken and written English!

This is because when I read something online which contains bad grammar, careless spelling and/or glaring factual errors, I have great difficulty in giving much credence to what that author is trying to say, even though they may be very well-intentioned. So consequently, I often do leave comments on other expat blogs, online newsletters and on Facebook, when I spot something wrong, be it a funny but unintentional typo, or a factual inaccuracy. I do this because, as I explained previously, I appreciate it when people do this for me because, so far as it is possible, I don’t want to ever be inaccurate or untruthful in what I publish online.

Most of the time, the response I get is similar to mine. The writer is grateful for the error being pointed out, their text is corrected, and a friendly acknowledgement is given. But in recent months, I’ve had a small number of rather negative responses. These have ranged from complaints that I’m ‘always finding fault’, through to the dismissive, ‘it’s vaguely right so why does it matter?’

Of course, everybody is entitled to their opinion and I am very aware that, having worked in publishing for several years before my ordination, I do possess what is usually known as ‘proof-reader’s eye’. But when these comments come from first-language English-speaking expats who cannot be bothered to use English correctly or get their facts right about the country they are now living in, I have great difficulty in giving any credence to anything else that they write about.

Am I being too harsh? Am I being pernickety (British English) or ‘persnickety’ (American English)? And I would be interested to hear about other people’s blogging/online philosophy. As always, comments and discussion are welcome.

29 comments to My blogging and online philosophy

  • “But when these comments come from first-language English-speaking expats, who cannot be bothered to use English correctly or get theirs facts right about the country they are now living in, I have great difficulty in giving any credence to anything else that they write about.”

    Yes, sometimes when reading your blog I do get this same feeling. ;)

    • Ricky

      Hi Johanna – Are you having a little dig at me? Have I said something wrong about Finland? Or does the answer lie in the ;) at the end of your comment?

  • Ricky, I very much agree with what you have written here. I think that many people feel as you do about these three parameters. Of course, some do not, and these people may well find themselves bewildered by the importance that we attach to them. Is it possible that the theological training that we share accounts for our congruence of opinion? When one spends endless hours poring over a Greek New Testament, differentiating between the finest subtleties of translation and of alternative texts, one comes to recognise that some of the most important differences in life are contained within what may appear to be the very smallest of differences in language. Those who have not yet recognised this could try changing the occasional word in a Blake poem.

    Before posting anything on my own website I always ask my wife to read over what I have written although, when posting a comment on a blog it seems too much to ask. Mistakes will be made and, on many sites, cannot be retracted.
    Clarity, honesty, accuracy and, if possible, elegance, economy and even beauty of written expression can make it easier for the reader to appreciate and to trust the content. I wish only that I were possessed of such gifts!

    Best to end with a joke? (Please feel free to remove!)
    Once upon a time I used
    To mispell
    To sometimes split infinitives
    To get words of out order
    To punctuate, -badly
    To confused my tenses
    To deem old words wondrous fair
    to ignore capitals
    To employ “common or garden” clichés
    To miss the occasional out
    To indulge in tautological and repetitive statements
    To exaggerate hundreds of times a day
    And to repeat puns quite by chants.
    But worst of all I used to forget to finish what I

    • Ricky

      Peter – Thank you for your endorsement of my three blogging and online parameters. As for your joke, ‘many a true word is spoken in jest’. Why on earth should I remove it?

  • Hmm, maybe your proof-reader’s eye was blind when you wrote the sentence I quoted. :)

    And another thing is that your blog does contain interesting information on Prague and the Czech Republic but sometimes it seems to me that the points you make are either very subjective or based on something you only heard. This is not always the case, but for example when you wrote about the rivalries between nations, I got an impression that the text is based on opinions only and not any in-depth research. Maybe I am wrong.

    The third point I would like to make is that if I didn’t know you in real life, the impression I have got from some of your blog posts is rather unfriendly towards us non-native English speakers. It is very easy to laugh at people making mistakes, calling them stupid is also easily done.

    If I had read your blog before I came to Prague, I wouldn’t have stepped in your church, I simply wouldn’t have had the courage since my English is so far from perfect. I know it is not the impression you give in real life, you are a nice person and a great pastor, so it was a good thing I hadn’t read your blog before I got to know you. :)

    • Ricky

      Hi again Johanna – Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Well spotted! That was a classic example of seeing what you think you’ve written rather than what you’ve actually have written. The additional ‘s’ on ‘their’ has now been deleted.

      Regarding your second paragraph, not everything I write is purely factual – sometimes I do only express my opinion. The post about rivalries within small states and nations was inevitably based on things I’ve heard. It is a topic for which it would be very difficult to have hard facts. But if you read the various comments I’ve had, they are nearly all in agreement with me or giving other examples of similar rivalries. And if someone is of a different opinion, I’m always happy to approve their comment and respond myself or invite others to do so.

      I’m sorry if you think what I write is in any way unfriendly towards non-native speakers of English. That certainly has never been my intention. Where I am critical is when first language English-speakers misuse theirs and my native tongue when they write something online. My other area of complaint is the unwillingness of so many Czech businesses, restaurants etc., to get the text of an English translation checked by a native English-speaker to ensure that it is spelt correctly and makes sense.

      Both Sybille and I do try to practice what we both preach. I recently had a new business card printed with English on one side & Czech on the other. I thought I’d got all my Czech correct but I still did send my draft text to a native Czech-speaker just to be sure in advance of printing. He duly found two small mistakes which I’ve now corrected. And whilst Sybille can both speak and write near-perfect English, when she writes something for the wider public domain, she will often ask me to read it through before publishing, simply because I am a native English-speaker & she isn’t.

      As you know and acknowledge, non-native English-speakers are very welcome at St. Clement’s. After all, I’m married to one!

  • It is actually possible to dig into the rivalries between nations or other groups of people. The rivalries always stem from something and it is much more fruitful to study the history of the area to understand why some people think they can look down on others. This might also help in improving the relations.

    For example the relations between Finland and Sweden has had many phases in the history starting from colonialism and now heading for even closer co-operation for example in defence policy.

    I think the only thing we fight about these days is ice-hockey and who the referees are favouring and who are being treated unfairly. In the 1970s the situation was completely different when Finns were considered cheap labour force and second-class citizens in Sweden.

    Still in my childhood (in the 80s), during my visits to Sweden, I remember how it felt, being the one with less fashionable clothes and less money too. So I completely understand how it feels to be the less fortunate one. (Even though I never remember being unhappy, I also had what I needed.) That is why I don’t know how to deal with all the praising comments I keep hearing about Finland whenever I go abroad, the change has been so rapid. Now even Sweden wants to learn from us. :)

    My country is far from perfect, we are dealing with all kinds of problems, just like the rest of the world. Yet, I think this is a perfect example of how the “destiny” of a nation changes and the rivalries are not necessary any more. I also hope that I would learn not to look down on others, especially those who come to my country to do the low-paying jobs. 30 years ago it was my relatives who did that in Sweden.

    When it comes to blogging about mistakes other people make, I guess you have to estimate how much you gain from it and what. You obviously do gain encouraging comments from a few readers and maybe some good laughs too, but those who feel bad about it may never post a comment here. Mind you, I never did until you explicitly asked.

  • An interesting post and comments, Ricky. As I’m writing a purely personal blog, not one linked to a public position, my attitude is slightly different. I always try to be as accurate as I can and if I make a factual error I am happy to have it pointed out and will correct it, as you know. If I were to see a real inaccuracy on another blog and were sure of my facts I might point it out in a comment if I thought the correction would be received in the spirit in which it was meant.

    As you know, good writing matters a lot to me. I proofread my own posts carefully and will edit them after publication if I spot a typo, but I would never point out a grammatical or spelling error in someone else’s post, just as I wouldn’t in public conversation. That’s just me, I think and others are entitled to feel and do differently.

    I think the thing that matters most to me in the blogs I follow is authenticity. I want to read someone who has found their own voice and has something worthwhile to say, even if the saying isn’t always as well-expressed as it might be. I want their thoughts and images to linger in my mind when I’ve finished reading to enrich my own thinking.

    • Ricky

      Thank you Perpetua – Your concern for both accuracy and good use of English in what you write are two of the many reasons why I enjoy reading your blog so much. I agree with you that I like reading blogs and other material online, written by people who have got something interesting to say & do so with authenticity.

      Like you, I regularly correct typos in my own blogposts when I spot them after publication. The only typos I comment on in other people’s posts are the funny ones, such as the one I mention – ‘pubic’ rather than ‘public’. Thank goodness, most online authors have a sense of humour, including the one who made that unintentional mistake.

  • I am not commenting on this blog very often, but as I got mentioned here, I thought I ought to ;-)

    First I can confirm that Rick is very quick to acknowledge his own (spelling or grammar) mistakes – ‘mistakes’ in his opinions / interpretation of facts might take a bit longer ;-) One example: I was one of the first to read this blog post, not difficult if you live in the same flat, and spotted a minor thing in one of his last sentences. Originally he wrote about having a ‘proof-reader eye’ until I pointed out to him that, whilst not completely incorrect, ‘proof-reader’s eye’ would be a better, more elegant way of putting it. – We are that kind of people …

    And yes, as a non-native English speaker married to him, I get a good dose of his ‘passion for grammatical and orthographical correctness’ on a daily base, which, btw, has improved my written and spoken English considerably over the years — if I could only say the same about his German!

    Having said all this, first of all I want to say that I agree with Johanna’s remark about the perceived unfriendliness of some of his blog posts. I think the problem here lies in the fact that you can only use words (and to a certain extent images) on a blog post – but these words often lack tone, nuances etc that you can add easily in a face-to-face conversation. But as his non-native-English-speaking-wife I can confirm that he is far more critical of native English speakers that get it wrong, than of non-native English speakers that try hard to get it right!

    As for the rest of the discussion, personally I am far more concerned about factual accuracy then about minor typos in my own writing. Typos and grammar concern me mostly when they, without my intention, change what I intended to write, like in the famous ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ example (see this Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eats,_Shoots_and_Leaves). Otherwise I try to use them in a creative way, or at least in a way I think of as creative ;-)

    Factual mistakes, either intentional or unintentional, are a completely different ball game. In the old days, the dark times before the Internet was something everybody used, you had print media like newspapers and books – and you had an editor-in-chief! That was the person you would give your finished article to and who not only would check that your grammar, orthography – and style! – adhered to the guidelines the newspaper or publisher was using, but would also question and check your sources and conclusions before sending things of to be printed and read by ‘everybody’. In the end, the reputation of the newspaper, magazine or publisher depended on the correctness of form AND facts… Nowadays, everybody can put up a web site or publish for free, a book on Amazon Kindle and we have to be our own editors-in-chief!

    A rather sad example, I came across recently, is the story of a relative of an online acquaintance of mine who is now in hospital fighting for his life – because of a web site!

    He has diabetes.
    He believes that because it is on the Internet it must be true.
    He came across a web site that promised him a ‘wonder cure’ for his diabetes.
    He bought this ‘wonder cure’ and neglected / didn’t follow the treatment his doctor had prescribed for him.
    His diabetes went from bad to worse and he caught an infection which is now, most likely, killing him.

    This is an extreme example, I know, but the amount of people that believe ‘it is on the Internet, it must be true’ is staggeringly high.

    But even lesser mistakes can have an impact on people and on ourselves as ‘online publishers’. First, as Rick already has pointed out, it is our reputation that is at stake. If I am not careful about the small details, how would somebody believe me with my conclusion? For example, if I would write, ‘Prague is the capital of Czechoslovakia and a really nice place to live,’ people that know a bit about political geography would most likely think ‘If she doesn’t know that there was a ‘Velvet Divorce’ in 1993, how can she know how Prague really is – most likely she has never been there, at least not recently!’ Plus, I would also add to the confusion of which country Prague is the capital …

    Between these two extremes, there are a myriad of other possibilities of getting things wrong in a more or less harmful way. So, to answer Rick’s question at the end, my personal online writing policy goes like this:

    To use English as correctly as possible for me and to triple check all my facts before hitting the ‘publish’ button.

    As for people that object to being corrected, sorry, again I agree with Rick, rare case I know ;-). If you put something online and get it wrong, it is your fault – not mine!

    If you don’t want to be corrected, you don’t want to learn, which I personally find a very difficult attitude to deal with.

    And last, but not least, if you make mistakes and don’t correct them, it is your reputation that is at stake – not mine.

    If somebody takes out a minute of his / her busy life to correct me, I check if s/he is right and I am wrong and if that is the case, I correct my mistake and post a thank-you note also. If I correct somebody and get a ‘oh, don’t be so picky’ or similar in return, you can be pretty sure I don’t bother to read anything by this person again. Why? Because if somebody is not caring about what they write is correct, why should I care to read it???

    SY

    PS I am off now to quadruple check some of my online stuff in case somebody here goes searching for it and wants to put me to the test ;-)
    PPS I am sure Rick will ‘proof read’ my comment before approving it and correcting any typos – so what you see might well be in better English then when I wrote it …

  • Hi Ricky,
    Being an expat blogger is not an easy job–being a blogger on any topic’s not so easy. We all make mistakes, as we’re all human–be it misspellings, grammar, typos, facts, etc. You’re quick to correct your errors and admit when you’re wrong. You are also open-minded to others’ opinions and statements about your posts. These are the qualities that help to make blogging such a wonderful platform to self-publish. These qualities also help to present readers with several different points of view on a specific issue or place.

    I’m like you, in that I will research the facts before blogging. Jiri, my Czech husband, is one of my “local” sources, along with other Czech friends and relatives. I also use Czech sources and English-language sources to verify facts before relating them on my blog. It’s very important to me to give the best information possible to my blog visitors. It’s always great when readers point out incorrect information–I’m very happy to correct it and thank them for their work! I’m also happy, though embarrassed, when readers point out misspellings and other mistakes, but I readily make the corrections!

    We all make mistakes and have differing views on all matters human. The main thing we bloggers can do is to provide the best information we can, provide open discussions and help people to see what life is like in our part of the woods–in this case the Czech Republic. Being an expat blogger in this beautiful country is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me…and I’m enjoying it to the hilt! Life as an expat can be quite challenging, but there are also many rewards. For me, being an expat has thoroughly enriched my life on many levels!

    Have a great day,
    Sher :0)

    • Ricky

      Hi Sher,

      Thank you for the compliments & support. Your own blogposts about your experience of living as an expat in the Czech Republic are both educative and, on occasions, also highly entertaining ;-) I know from past experience that whenever Sybille or I have spotted a funny typo, you have been both quick to correct it and have a laugh at the same time. Your comment here reminds me that I haven’t paid your blog a visit recently, an omission I shall try and shortly rectify.

  • Ricky

    Johanna – Thank you for your explanation of the history of Finnish – Swedish rivalry in your last comment. In some senses, your comment belongs on my earlier post http://rickyyates.com/rivalries-within-small-states-nations/ but I appreciate that it also follows on from your earlier comment here & my reply to it.

    Regarding pointing out factual errors or funny typos on other people’s blogs, as I said in my original post, most times the response I get is like mine – the writer acknowledges the error & it is corrected and I get a short note of thanks. Sadly, in a small number of cases this isn’t so. When that is the case, I agree with my wife when she says in her comment, ‘If you don’t want to be corrected, you don’t want to learn, which I personally find a very difficult attitude to deal with’.

    Finally, thank you for responding to my explicit request for comments. I very much appreciate it, even when you spot small typos that I’ve previously missed :-)

  • Ricky

    @SY – Thank you for your long detailed comment even if it is critical of my German ;-)

    Your point about editorial controls with regard to print media in the days before the advent of the Internet, are particularly apposite. And you illustrate all too clearly the dangers of, ‘it is on the Internet, it must be true’.

    And yes, I did proof-read your contribution before approving it but it only needed very minor corrections ;-)

  • Gordon

    We are all born originals – why is it so many of us die copies?

    — Edward Young

    Answer: Too much `correction`. – – Gordon Truefitt

  • David Hughes

    “But when these comments come from first-language English-speaking expats, who cannot be bothered to use English correctly or get theirs facts right about the country they are now living in, I have great difficulty in giving any credence to anything else that they write about.”

    Ricky, you need to remove the first comma from this sentence or you’re saying that all Native Speaker expats can’t be fussed about writing in standard English and nor do they get any facts about the country they presently reside in correct. You mean, I’m sure, that not all of us use what you consider “correct” English and this is true. However, the sentence as it stands, by using a non-restrictive relative clause, gives the idea that all expats whose mother tongue is English ain’t speaking the lingo proper, like.

    Compare this “… all expats whose mother tongue is English ain’t speaking the lingo …” with this “all expats, whose mother tongue is English, ain’t speaking the lingo proper …” and you’ll see how the meaning changes.

    Keep up the good blogging work.

    • Ricky

      Hi David – I do recognise that in what I posted here, I did leave myself wide-open to minute inspection of my spelling, grammar and punctuation. Having had a typo spotted by a Finnish lady, I now have my incorrect punctuation corrected by a Welshman ;-) But you are right and my main text has now had the offending comma removed.

      More seriously, as I wrote in the original blogpost, I do not mind at all, someone pointing out when I’ve got something wrong, be it spelling, grammar, or factual information. Whilst you understood what I actually meant, it wasn’t quite what I wrote.

      Thank you also, for the kind words of encouragement in your last sentence.

  • Hello!

    Well, I do think there is a fine line between trying to helpful and being a bit obsessive or even impolite. I have a friend who I call “the grammatical guru”, and she tends to drive me nuts sometimes pointing out “the error of my ways”. Indeed, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to fix my mistakes, but I prefer it when she tells me through a private message as opposed to pointing it out on the blog! It’s rather embarrassing;-)

    But I do agree with the fact that one should take constructive critique from their readers and learn to be thick-skinned. Overall, my commenters are very polite and helpful. So have fun going over this comment for typos, ha, ha!

    • Ricky

      Hello again Pearl – You point about there being a fine line between being helpful & being obsessive or even impolite, is a very valid one. I’m very aware that I’m sometimes guilty of erring on the side of being obsessive. However generally, I only make a comment on someone else’s blog, if there is a factual error, a funny typo, or a grammatical mistake which causes what I think writer means to say, to be easily misinterpreted. Minor typos I can & do ignore in the writing of others, especially if otherwise, they have something significant or interesting to say.

      But I do think that if we choose to publish our thoughts and beliefs online for everyone else to read, we should be willing to accept correction and not be afraid to acknowledge when we get something wrong. The saying that ‘Confession is good for the soul,’ does have a certain amount of merit.

      I made a remark sometime back, about your failure to break-up your text into paragraphs. You took this on-board, correcting past posts & breaking-up more recent posts into appropriate paragraphs. As a result, I read & enjoy what you write as I’m sure others do too.

      FYI – you missed out a space between two sentences which I’ve now inserted before approving your comment :-)

  • Indeed, thank you for suggesting that I break up my text into paragraphs. It does make things easier to read. And thank you for sending me the suggestion through private message, also.

    I know bloggers have the duty to be as accurate and grammatically correct as they can, but there are times when the writer is trying to sneak a writing session into his/her schedule, and does so in a bit of a rush. His/her thoughts and ideas may be good, and the overall presentation may be understandable, but there will be a few punctuation mistakes and misspelled words.

    What gets me slightly frustrated is when a reader seems determined to locate “the errors” and overlook the main point you made in the post! Of course, they usually know what you meant, but they decide to bring up the missing apostrophe rather than commenting on the main theme!

    Oh, and I will be sure to check out “Wesley” and let you know what I think. I am most interested in the time period, so I’m excited that a relatively new movie was made about such an influential figure.

    • Ricky

      Hello again Pearl – I agree with you that someone whose comments only concentrate on minor typos or small grammatical errors rather than on the main trust of what one has been written, is guilty of being somewhat unbalanced. See my reply to your earlier comment where I say, “Minor typos I can & do ignore in the writing of others, especially if otherwise, they have something significant or interesting to say”.

      However, having said that, as a Christian minister when making very public pronouncements, I do feel I should endeavour to be as accurate as I possibly can. If you cannot be faithful and accurate in small things, why should anyone take notice when you speak of much more significant things in relation to the Christian faith?

      As to the film, I look forward to reading your verdict :-)

  • Ricky, despite your claim that you still make grammar mistakes every now and then, I am actually having a hard time finding any. Your writing is crisp and accurate. Your blog is full with interesting topics..I love it.

  • Tim Taylor

    Ricky, you still need to practiSe what you preach. Because praciCe makes perfect. Your American spell checker is letting you down. It won’t be long before you’re walking down the sidewalk; taking the elevator and turning on the faucet in the fall. You’ll have center seats in the theater and be throwing your aluminum can in the trash.

    Tim

    • Ricky

      Tim – it’s not my American spell checker that is letting me down, it is me getting the noun and verb spellings the wrong way round.

  • Tim Taylor

    And now I notice a typo – ‘practiCe'; not as published.
    BTW I thought your post about June and Garry’s anniversary party was lovely. And I shall be forgiving about the picture which makes me appear to be performing the actions to the song ‘I’m a little teapot, short and stout, here’s my handle, here’s my spout.’

    • Ricky

      Tim – So easily done!

      Glad you enjoyed the post about your parent’s Golden Wedding anniversary party. I thought my photo captured your speech perfectly :-)

  • I would agree it is helpful to point out mistakes. The tone in doing so is important.

    Also English is a very adaptable language. It isn’t like their are rules that say how something has to be spelled following some rigorous system (like math, internally consistent…). English adapts and absorbs from the use people make of it. I like this and think it is valuable. It is funny comparing spelling from USA and UK English.

  • ATYQ

    Hi Ricky,
    I very much agree with what you have written here. Thanks you for sharing your online and blogging philosophy.
    Your tips and tricks are interesting for me because I am a French and German speaker. Furthermore, I try to run my own English blog.
    It is very difficult to know if your text is good or not when you speak another language. If you know someone in your family who speaks English, he can correct your articles before you post it on your blog.
    Best regards, ATYQ
    (Sorry for grammar and vocabulary)