Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Can we please all stop spelling ‘lose’ as ‘loose’?

No. It couldn’t be. Not here, of all places. But there it was, in black and white, on page 38 of the one bastion of standards in which I still believed, the Mail & Guardian. “The opening of the Gautrain”, reads the sentence in question, “has only marginally dented OR Tambo’s R230-million parking income, loosing Acsa an estimated R2-million per month.”

Yes, even the M&G is now guilty of the greatest grammar and spelling sin of our time — worse than the rogue apostrophe that infests the possessive its, worse than the confusion of they’re and their: the spelling of lose as loose.

Lose is pronounced looze, loose as loosssss. How hard is it to get that, people? Really? Has everyone just become stupid? I have to wonder because 10 years ago I seldom, if ever, saw this mistake but now it’s everywhere — in emails, advertising copy, on news websites and now even in newspapers. (On that point, standards at the M&G are slipping: on page 42 I found “Just the thought of a black man being whipped by a white women doesn’t feel right for me.” It didn’t look right to me either.)

It’s cultural, of course, and it’s reached a point where the lose/loose confusion has become a de facto meme, an insidious and highly contagious virus of the mind spreading from one instance of misuse to the next. A simple and obvious spelling error has become so widespread that there has arisen the distinct and awful possibility that we’ll fling up our hands and just not bother to correct people any more.

Which brings me to my question: does it matter? Spelling is just a matter of convention, surely? So why get one’s knickers in a knot? Why not just change the rules?

And yet the rules matter. Spelling and grammar are bulwarks against chaos, the basic guarantees of mutual comprehension.

Let this one slide and eventually everything unravels. Spelling lose as “loose” is sloppy and lazy and people who do it should have their arses kicked to next week until they remember to get it right. Don’t give people free rein to do what they like. Now, increasingly, spelled as “free reign”.

Don’t get me started.

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