standard and nonstandard words

Just because a word appears in a dictionary, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should use it in your writing.

There’s a difference between “standard” and “nonstandard” words. For example, words like “alright” and “dunno” may appear in some dictionaries (on my computer “alright” appears correct, while “dunno” shows up as a mistake), but that’s simply because these are misspellings or contractions that have slipped into common usage. That does not mean they are correct.

The word “alright” is a short form of “all right”, and is so commonly misspelled it even appears in dictionaries now. But most good dictionaries will refer to it as nonstandard. What does that mean? Simply that it’s acceptable for use in informal writing or even dialogue, but not for formal professional writing.

For example, having a character say, “I dunno if she’s alright,” is fine. It’s part of dialogue, and can help the reader hear the voice of the character. But to say she was alright in the main body of the text is fundamentally incorrect.

Honestly, this is something I only learned of recently. In the past, I just assumed that any word in the dictionary was a word that I could use in my writing. But even though I use “alright”, “dunno”, and “ok” in emails to my friends or even in blog posts, I would never even consider using any of them in my scientific writing. And that’s the difference.

English is a fascinating language. And yes, new words are being added every year. The language is evolving. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules, and that any word can be used at any time. Context is important. Abbreviations such as “LOL” or “btw” should not appear anywhere in the book, unless it’s an excerpt from an email or message. Likewise slang should not be used unless it’s part of the dialogue.

I know that there are people out there who will disagree with me on this. That’s fine. But it’s important to mention that I’m not the one you need to worry about. If you’re a serious writer and serious about having writing as a profession, you’re going to have to deal with editors and publishers. And readers. And regardless of what you may or may not think is right or wrong, they are going to know what’s right and wrong, and they will judge you accordingly. And that’s why it’s important to know the difference between standard and nonstandard words.

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