We’re more literate than we think

16 May
There isn’t a lot of spare time for reading these days, but I squeeze it in when I can — like when I’m brushing my teeth or blow-drying my hair.  Yes, the bathroom is a great place to get some reading done.
 
Last night, as I was preparing for bed and reading about the doings of some evil characters in my book who happen to be illiterate, it occurred to me that, as a society, we’re likely more literate than we have ever been before.  It true, in the past I have lamented the misuse of apostrophes and the maltreatment of words like "poring" (a mistake that, I noted today, recently appeared on a CBC webpage – yikes!).  However, I have never thought of the fact that it’s likely that nowadays there are MORE people who might recognize these abuses than ever before in history.  When have we ever been more literate?  In the 1800’s?  In the 50’s?  I’m sure there were just as many bad students of English in the 60’s as there are now.  At least we now live, in the Western world, in an age where literacy is not just a skill of the elite.
 
Now, I don’t want to make light of the literacy issues we do have — sadly, I know a whole lot of adults who can just barely read, or not at all.  I also recognize that literacy levels are more important than ever, since apparently more than half of us work at a computer these days, not to mention the correlation between literacy and wealth.  And then there are whole countries in developing parts of the world where literacy really still is a skill of the elite. 
 
But it does make me more cheerful to think that when people around me make big, ugly English-related mistakes, it’s not a matter of "people used to know this and now they don’t".  It’s just that those folks are still catching up.  That’s just a little bit comforting.
 

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