Correct spelling is a basic courtesy, like legible handwriting.  It’s not optional.

Here’s a website I came across today: Online Marketing Ireland.  I know nothing about these people, and for all I know they might be very expert at what they do.  But if I were a potential customer of a company that describes itself as a leading online marketing agency, I wouldn’t be overly impressed at their claims about Search Engine Visability.

Or this:  Need to upgrade your hotels online presence?!

If I were a hotelier reading that I’d move on to another agency without a second glance.  Dreadful.

Their website says to me, as a possible customer, that they’d fill up all my ads with mis-spellings and grammatical errors, making me look illiterate.  Not a good selling point for a marketing agency.

I wandered at random around the rest of the site, and I didn’t notice too many more errors, apart from online adversting, but the point is this: there should be no errors at all.  It isn’t hard to eliminate mis-spellings and grammatical mistakes.

This is not nit-picking.  This is about the way a customer perceives a company. It’s about how people perceive other people and it can undermine confidence, possibly unfairly.

I have no problem with this particular company.  Their website just caught my eye, and I  use it to illustrate a point.  It’s a pity to spoil the result with a few tiny errors.  It speaks of carelessness or a lack of interest.

When words are supposed to be your stock-in-trade, you’d better be able to put them together properly, and a marketing agency that can’t get its own front page right isn’t going to inspire much confidence in others.

They’re hardly unique though.  It’s everywhere, and it permeates every corner of our society.

Does anyone care about getting it right any more?  Why can’t people spell?  Are the teachers in the schools capable of correcting a child’s spelling or punctuation?  Are parents able to teach their children proper standards of literacy?


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51 thoughts on “Spelling

  1. Here, here, Bock. I completely agree with you about the importance of spelling words properly and also using punctuation correctly. I’ve just corrected handwritten work by final year college students and many of them consistently spelt words incorrectly and continuously made the same punctuation errors. Some of these problems have been blamed upon the frequent use of abbreviated spelling and the lack of punctuation present in text messaging. However, I believe that part of the problem is a result of not having been taught properly in primary school where many newer teachers make the same mistakes as their students. It’s going to be hard for them to teach correct English if they don’t know the basics themselves. In any case, these problems should be eradicated by the time a student has finished secondary school. Not all teachers are at to blame, of course, as the educational system in this country makes it difficult for them, particularly at secondary school level. The large class numbers at primary level and the competition for points at second level place more focus on getting through the course work than actual education. And some people are just lazy and don’t think this kind of thing is important

  2. Grandad — Well im not to impresed with there speling.

    Pat — You’re right. The emphasis hasn’t been on education for a long time. It’s all about training.

  3. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, olny taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pcleas. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by ilstef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

  4. To follow on my first glib comment, I have to agree also. There seems to be a total disregard for the simple rules of spelling and puctuation. When I was a lad [many many moons ago] spelling and punctuation were drummed into us long before we got to the exam phase of schooling. I would also propose a theory that people aren’t reading books as much these days?

    Fox: Taht has nihontg wetshevaor to do wtih rersaceh from any uritisnevy. It is mlerey the way my dog Snady tpeys.

  5. They’re in marketing what do you expect? At a previous job we frequently had to correct spelling and grammar from sales and marketing for their submissions to our company’s website. We got so fed up with it we started sending them back with red corrections. Bill Hicks had some good ideas for people in marketing.

  6. Well said and written, Bock. I find it easy to turn a blind eye to poor spelling, dodgy grammar, and arbitrary punctuation in informal contexts, such as emails and blogs, though of course reading good writing gives pleasure whether it is on a website, in a book, or on the side of a box of oranges. In professional contexts, on the other hand, such lapses reflect badly on the business for the reasons you mention. Every day I see more lapses than I could count, but it’s my business to notice them.

    Everyone knows you should check and re-check your CV to eliminate typos and mistakes, but the attitude to language on business websites, for example, seems all too relaxed: “Ah sure it’ll do.” For some, it does; for others, it really doesn’t, and the financial consequences can be considerable – at least in the UK, but it seems fair to assume that good spelling and grammar are considerations for a minority of people everywhere.

    I’ve posted this quote elsewhere, but it’s worth repeating here as a counterweight:

    “The pronunciation is the actual living form of a word, that is, the word itself, of which the current spelling is only a symbolization – generally, indeed, only the traditionally-preserved symbolization of an earlier form, sometimes imperfect to begin with, still oftener corrupted in its passage to our time.”
    It’s by James Murray, from the introduction to the first Oxford English Dictionary, with original italics. The point being that there is no absolute and eternal correct spelling. But there are conventional standards to which businesses would do well to conform or at least aspire, both because it is a worthy pursuit to communicate well, and because it is in their own interest.

  7. There’s no absolute spelling but there is a convention to maintain common ground. Likewise, many spellings preserve the derivation and origin of words and therefore help with understanding their meaning.

  8. Agreed. The common ground itself has fuzzy edges, such as in the differences between U.S and British English, but that’s not an excuse for spelling that doesn’t adhere to any standard whatsoever.

  9. Just reading the news ticker on BBC World today and for some reason the word “The” does not appear! Is this for dramatic effect?

  10. Is the word “Blog” good English? I think not. However I am ,of course ,open to correction on this point.

  11. Grandad: When u rote (#5) ‘When I was a lad [many many moons ago] spelling and punctuation were drummed into us long before we got to the exam phase of schooling’, u sure slobbered a bibful!
    The operativ word is ‘drummed’. Why is it necessary for spelling to be ‘drummed’ into us? The very word conjures up pictures of boring repetition, and distaste and revulsion for the exercise. Hardly a good way to encourage love for literacy attainment. Spelling is a mere tool, not a substantiv subject such as literacy, chemistry, mathematics.
    We English-speakers make literacy-learning difficult for many of our children because we use a faulty tool!
    If we want perfect spelling from most people, how about we modernize it, as we hav with so many other tools (skilsaws for hand saws, mountain bikes/pennyfarthings, telefones/pigeon post, computers/typewrites, etc)? These upgrades hav not dummed [riming with drummed!] down but rather made skills available to a greater number of people. So would an update of our crazy, unpredictable, unreliable spelling make correct spelling and acceptable writing available to mor of us.

  12. One of the few things the Brits left us, was this beautiful language. Let’s at least try to use it correctly.
    For the record, I also love our native language, I’m just not able to use it.
    Listen to Leonard Cohen, that’s language.

  13. Gary Ireland: “Blog” is fine and standard. It’s even in the OED. I’m not a big fan of “blogosphere” but it doesn’t bother me to see it.

    I read a book by Leonard Cohen last week. A real poet, that man.

  14. I agree totally, this bothers me a lot, and I see it all the time. Here’s a few of many examples – written by someone who is supposedly the English expert at this non-English speaking company (guess the term “expert” here is relative):

    He association symbol is used (The association’s symbol is used)

    The association IS involved, since its establishment, in the INITIATIVE and production of (The association has been involved, since its establishment, in the initiation and production of)

    focused on the promotion of the development of (focused on promoting the development of)

    industry that that presents

    As from the seventies (Since the seventies)

    And, they unnecessarily repeated a whole paragraph a second time!

    Sometimes I’m in the mood to do them a favor and correct them. Some of the funniest ones are from the packaging of Asian-made products, where they are obviously writing English the way they speak their native language (examples another time). How about “hydrogented vegetable oil”?!

  15. And even people who write comments about proper spelling and grammar make mistakes (just pointing it out, folks – nothing personal):

    #2 Pat: Not all teachers are AT to blame, of course
    And some people are just lazy and don’t think this kind of thing is important (no period)

    #8 Stan: consequences can be considerable – at least in the UK, but it seems fair… (I think either two dashes or two commas enclosing such a phrase, not one of each. And the sentences are long with a lot of commas…)

    #14 Alan: not a substantiv subject such as literacy, chemistry, mathematics. (substantivE; OR mathematics)

    #15 Duck: Listen to Leonard Cohen, that’s language. (should be a dash or a period, not a comma)

  16. Alan – I don’t know if you are trying to make a point with your ‘modern’ spelling, but you have just illustrated a point. When you spell ‘rhyming’ as ‘riming’ I assumed at first glance that you meant ‘rimming’, which, you have to admit, is a little different?
    As a qualified teacher, I know the value of learning things by rote. The problem nowadays is that we mustn’t bore the poor little darlings, and learning has to be ‘fun’ all the time. I believe that teaching should be fun, but when it comes to the basics, such as spelling and punctuation, there can be no shortcuts. They are the basic foundation of any language.

  17. even people who write comments about proper spelling and grammar make mistakes


    some1lovesU: Rather than criticize your own writing, which would be presumptuous and a bit rude, I will address the faulty ‘correction’ you made regarding mine. I wasn’t enclosing the phrase. If I had wanted to, I might have used two dashes or two commas. There is a good reason I didn’t. Your advice to FT Duck is equally misleading; there is nothing wrong with comma splices in informal writing.

  18. Stan, you (or anyone else) can correct my writing – I would actually appreciate it – as long as it’s done cordially. Like I said, this is nothing personal. I still think that your punctuation is wrong regarding “- at least in the UK,”. Seems to me (correct me if I’m wrong) that, instead of my original suggestion (what was the “good reason” for not doing it that way?), there could also be a period after UK, or the whole phrase could be in parentheses: “…consequences can be considerable (at least in the UK), but it seems fair…”.

    Regarding the comma splices, that sentence still doesn’t read right, even in informal writing. In “Listen to Leonard Cohen, that’s language.”, the word “that’s” is the emphasis; a comma there doesn’t indicate the emphasis, while a dash or a period would. Any other English experts out there to help resolve this?

    Let’s not get carried away with this – there are much more important things to think and talk about. I was just trying to be helpful, and to make the implicit point that people often act differently than how they claim to act.

  19. …Or don’t take the time to check what they wrote, which is understandable in our busy world, but unfortunate for readers nevertheless.

  20. Pat, I’m sorry, but you lost your argument with your opening two words. Here, here should be Hear, hear. People in glass houses ………

  21. I hate poor spelling or grammar in any written material, online or off, though I admit that I am not always perfect by any stretch. But I love the comedic results of carelessness, they can really make your day.

    As in the pub with the sign outside reading “Lunch now been served” (no point going in there then), or (although this isn’t a spelling mistake) the sign spotted recently in Superquinn advertising something (forget what) at “Two for the price of three”. Though given that it was Superquinn the latter may not have been a mistake.

  22. People familiar with soccer jargon will be familiar with the term “a daisy cutter”. That more or less describes a shot that flies just above the grass.

    A few years back a journalist, in a match report in a leading provincial newspaper, wrote “he neatly stepped inside a defender before rifling a twenty yard daisy cutter inches over the bar?

    The grounds man hadn’t cut the grass on that pitch for years apparently…

  23. Grandad (#20): I’m surprised that your first reaction was to confuse ‘riming’ with ‘rimming’. Apart from Coleridges ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ giving u a clue, it is the same construction as ‘timing’, ‘chiming’, ‘priming’, and not ‘dimming’, or ‘brimming’.
    It follows one of English’s basic but neglected rules or conventions: After a stressed ‘short-vowel’ syllable, double the consonant when adding -ing, -ed, -es. So, tap/tapping (cf tape/taping), run/running, bet/betting, rot/rotting.
    If this convention was universally followed learning to read and rite would be so much easier, and become achievable by mor learners.
    Learning by rote is fine, in the absence of easier ways of learning. Learning that is fun is learning that is mor likely to be achieved. So why not make spelling less of a chor and mor of a delite?
    Upgrading our spelling convention is not so much a short cut, as a changing to a better a tool to do a better job.
    And spelling is not, as u claim, a basic foundation of the language. Many languages still dont hav a writing system, and hence no spelling.
    Words and their usage ar natural foundations of the language. Spelling and writing ar merely invented ways of recording it.

  24. I understand u for you and rite for write. But what’s the deal with all of the dropped e’s? Mor, chor, hav, ar instead of more, chore, have and are. And why not also for “same, become, rote, make, delite, usage and language (I left out words ending in e with two consonants, like syllable and absence)? Can’t be a long/short distinction – mor and chor are long, hav and ar are short. Your way actually makes sense – you would read the words the same with or without the e. But “become” is also the same as “becom” (maybe stress would change). All of the others (same, rote, make, etc.) are different without the e (sam, rot, mak, etc.) – no e makes the vowel short. Even so, that’s not the way they’re spelled. Are you starting a spelling revolution? And by the way, what about rite (write) and delite (delight)?

    I don’t find the consonantal doubling rul to be so neglected…

  25. some1lovesU (#29) : I may not be consistent, because i hav not learned all these spellings at school and carried them thru my life. I am trying to make a small step to sanity without a dictionary to spell-check me. So i will miss a beat somewhere.
    I omit the ‘useless E’ in words where it is, well, useless. So i dont omit it in ‘same’, ‘rote’, ‘make’, and ‘delite’ because they use ‘magic E’: it indicates a long vowel. ‘Become’ i would like to change to ‘becum’, but that can ‘cum’ later!
    In ‘usage’ and ‘language’ the E softens the G to a J sound. ‘Delite’ is my attempt to avoid the antiquated ‘gh’. I dont know whether ‘mor’ and ‘chor’ ar classified as long, but they rime with ‘or, for, nor, tor, nor’ which dont need an E.
    I dont know that i’m starting a spelling revolution, but i’m trying to do my bit to show that our spelling is inconsistent, and doesnt follow its own rules or conventions (eg, ‘have’ doesnt rime with ‘save’, ‘live’ is sounded in two ways, one of which can be better represented by ‘liv’).
    If we all tried to make some sense of our spelling by using a few sensible changes. we mite eventually get a spelling system we could be proud of, as the Italians and Koreans ar of theirs.

  26. Hear, Here! Good work. Change for good has to start sumwer.

    Replacing I with i also makes sense – i see that a lot. Encourages humility (i wanted to take out the u, but then it would sound like “forages”). And what about “wantd” instead of “wanted”, especially since it’s the unstressed syllable?

    Also, taking out the ‘ from cant, wont, dont etc. makes a lot of sense. (And if i wrote “sens”, would it be read “sense” or “senz”?).

    And what is that “gh” doing there? Maybe it’s vocalized in certain conjugations, so it would be good to leave it in. (And should “conjugations” be “conjugashuns”? Duznt save any letters, but is more intuitive). Isnt it useful to distinguish between rite, write and right (Like to, too and two, or there, their and theyre)? Even more so, between might (which has two meanings anyway) and mite (the bug – ich!).

    And what do u do about a parenthetical phrase at th end of a sentense – punkshuate the phraze and the sentense, or just won or th othr? (this is fun!). (this is fun!) (this is fun)!

    BTW, thanks for taking my kwestshuns positivly, and not personally…

  27. This is getting interesting, so I decided to google “spelling change intuitive”, and found this great article on the pros (mostly) and cons of correct spelling:


    (BTW, how do I hide a URL behind a word like “here”?)

    Here’s an excerpt:


    How Ridiculous

    Rediculous – Results 1 – 10 of about 3,800,000 for rediculous.

    It is ridiculous that such an obvious misspelling has become so prolific (correctness by repeated assertion), yet it’s a great example of how contagious an incorrect spelling can be: Given that language is largely learned by example, it is inevitable that an endless exposure to malformed spelling will eventually infect the language of others, gathering a widening net of victims.

    This is more of a problem now more than ever, given that many of us have supplanted – or entirely replaced – the professional writing in our lives (newspapers, books, professional papers) with the amateur writing of bloggers and forum posters…


    Dont worry, Bock – you’re an obvious exception to that rule…

  28. Cant is a separate word from can’t and they are not pronounced teh same, except perhaps in your neighbourhood. Dont would not be pronounced as dont, but at least it isn’t a word. As I said already, taking out the final e from chore and fore changes their proniuunciation as well. For is not pronounced to rhyme with four, except in the new phony Roadwatch accent on RTE.

    Removing all the history from the language will impoverish it, but that seems to be in line with the souless world we live in these days.

  29. Someone who spoke Old English would probably say that our English is likewise impoverished. Languages change gradually – it’s not like a surgical operation. I’ve seen the lower case i a lot, so maybe that’s becoming at least an alternate spelling. Even if “cant” is a separate word, it would be understood as meaning “can not” in context, like much of language. For example: “Might I have” – what does that mean? Context reveals: “Might I have; wisdom to use it unfortunately not,” as opposed to “Might I have more wisdom, if I learned and listened more?”.

    I agree that English has a wealth of character, but that’s easy for us native speakers to appreciate – people learning ESL (which is a big chunk of the net-savvy world) would probably be delited (sic) to trade some of that wealth for simplicity.

    But as Dennis Forbes says in that article:

    “Incorrect spelling … can even reduce the comprehension efficiency of written materials, as the reader’s brain tries to rationalize the correct spelling on the paper with what they have stored in their memory cells. It reduces general literacy.”

    I agree with that – my post #31 may have more intuitive spelling, but it takes time and mental effort to make the conversion. But give it a few jenerashuns, or sentshurees…

  30. (Re #32) Q. What is an incorrect spelling? A. A spelling that does not conform to the conventional rule or norm.
    At present we see traditional spelling (TS) as the norm. It is a convention. And conventions can be changed. What may be incorrect in the present convention may not be in a new convention.
    So, the aim is to change the convention!
    Then we could hav correct spellings that wer easier spellings. Our tool for literacy learning would be updated, mor of our kids would learn to read and rite, and the sticklers for spelling accuracy would be happy!
    Talk about a win-win situation!

  31. What vowel goes into cnt? And between which two letters?

    Allan isnt removing ALL of the vowels – just ones that are unnecessary, like non-magic e’s at ends of words, and vowls in unstressed syllbles.

    The Hebrew alphabet (Aleph Bet being it’s first two letters) contains only consonants! (Except for the Aleph, which is silent, and can therefore accept any vowel). Vowels are indicated by marks below, beside or above the letter, or by the letters yod and vav (actually waw) – y and w, otherwise also consonants, which often represent long a e or i, and o or u, respectively. Ambiguous meanings are determined contextually, or by memorization. Interesting, isnt it?

  32. Bock (#33) ‘Removing all the history from the language will impoverish it, but that seems to be in line with the souless world we live in these days.’ Souless?
    A question or two:
    What is the primary function of our spelling ‘system’?
    Is it primarily a museum to stor the history of our ritten language?
    Is it primarily a tool for communication by the recorded word?
    When these two aspects clash, which should take precedence?

    Will a spelling such as ‘ake’ (TS, ‘ache’) hinder ritten communication?
    Will it ruin our appreciation of our language?

  33. Bock make a good point in #9, about museum spelling helping to indicate word origins and meaning. But in spoken language, you don’t need that as much. Except in cases like “know”, which explains the k in “acknowledge”.

    Just curious, though, Bock. In a post criticizing poor spelling, how did you let through “teh same” and “proniuunciation” (#33)?? And while we’re at it, who needs the e in “the” at all? Why not just write th – “th same”? Such a common word – would save a lot of e’s. (Makes even more sense than u for you, because u could be pronounced “oo”).

    “Through”, BTW, is one that really bothers me. Don’t need the o-gh at all – why not just write “thru”? I do that sometimes – also seems like a development that’s catching on. Especially since the -ough has many pronunciations, like in bough, rough, etc. Does the o-gh ever get vocalized to justify its retention?

  34. Allanand some1 — This post is not about typographical errors which can happen to anyone if they’re in a hurry. It’s about people not caring what spelling is used. I hope that helps you to understand the difference. Perhaps you’d go more lightlly on trivial point-scoring and concentrate on the central issue.

  35. Difference understood. Not trying to score trivial points. A spell check will just as easily catch unintended typos as it will intended misspellings, which all get identified with a red underline automatically (on my computer) anyway (may not catch homophones, though – words with the same pronunciation but different spellings and/or meanings, like two, to and too). Typos are in a way more irritating, because the writer already knows that they’re wrong.

    I appreciate that you write a lot for this blog (what other word could replace blog?), which includes reading and responding to many comments, and we all appreciate that – that’s why we read it. Question is – is it worth the little extra time to at least reread the item and fix those typos (and eventually real mistakes)? I usually reread something 3 or 4 times, but I can afford to, since I don’t write so much.

  36. This is an interesting conversation – my tuppence worth is this: the language that Cervantes wrote in had been reformed to a new standard. I don’t believe that one can argue that there was a huge loss of cultural richness there. Most European languages have had planned reforms to them. Europe is not exactly a cultural desert.

    When Roman numerals were replaced by the much more user-friendly Arabic [Hindu in reality] numbering system, there probably was an outcry about “dumbing down” and “foreign ideas flooding in” etc, but it lead directly to the flourishing that was the Renaissance. Have you ever tried doing long division in Roman numerals?

    There are a number of reasons for people not caring enough about their spelling. It might be, amongst other things, contempt for a system that effectively humiliates them and which they feel rebellious towards. It might be that it is too difficult for 25% of users.

    If the spelling system was more democratic – that is, open to more people and more user-friendly – it is possible that a) you would see fewer mistakes as there would be fewer traps to fall into, and b) people would feel a greater sense of ownership about it.
    Is it not precisely the “history laden” nature of the system that is distancing & disadvantaging users?

    Apologies for typos.

  37. What typos? Didn’t see any. (Wouldn’t have said so if there were – got scolded for that already…)

    So you think it’s OK to use
    i instead of I,
    u instead of you;
    drop the non-magic e,
    thru instead of through (etc)?

    (I noticed that it rhymes nicely, that’s why I wrote it out that way : )

    What about rhyme, BTW? Who needs the h, and why not use i – rime? And why does climb have a b – why not just clime?!

    Wouldn’t a more democratic system lead to more confusion, many people feeling justified to spell like they want, disregarding standards?

    Thank god(s) for the Hindus! They needed a good numbering system, to keep track of all those gods they hav. They’re having quite a rough time in Sri Lanka nowadays (Tamils are Hindu, aren’t they?). Seems like their Buddhist compatriots want to finish them off…

  38. “Wouldn’t a more democratic system lead to more confusion, many people feeling justified to spell like they want, disregarding standards?”
    This is always a danger in a transitional period but we are, in a way, continually in such a transitional period; we have this confusion already: Textese – American English – English English – Singlish etc. The rate of change or at which variations are generated is only going to accelerate.

    The point is to arrive at a standard that is not so complex or disordered – one that is less discriminatory against the large minority that are now struggling.

    In my informal writing I use “thru” & “u” [tho I “feel” the latter should be capitalised as a matter of courtesy]. Thought, [nothing to do with spelling]: the difference between “u” & “U” , a little like thee & thou/ tu & vous?

    AFT (Apologies For Typos, inevitable in posts like these).

  39. I’ve seen something called Simple English – does that begin to approach what you have in mind?

    About u or U for you: it’s interesting that u is the only vowel that isn’t pronounced like the long sound it makes: a, e, i and o are ay, ee, i and oh, but u is yoo, not oo like it should be to be consistent. Unless the first impulse when seeing the lone letter u is to say the letter’s name as opposed to it’s sound (yu -vs- oo). Therefore, while i could replace I, maybe yu should replace you. u does match i better conceptually, tho. Also, just a thawt (!) – u for singular, U for plural (problematic at the beginning of a sentence, tho).

    Just freely associating here: what are the u and l doing in would, could and should? Why not wood, cood and shood?

    BTW, speaking of different forms depending on location: five of the 22 Hebrew letters have an alternate version used only at the end of words! (m, n and f / p [same letter] being three of them that have English correspondence). How bout that?

    So you would switch the capitalization rule for I and you to be i and U instead? Interesting – kind of shows more humility, valuing the Other over oneself.

    Still don’t see any typos that warrant your AFT.

  40. Apologies For Typos (last line of NJH’s last post – otherwise, I woodnt have nohn eethr).

    I see that peepl jenerally stop commenting on posts a few days after theyr startd. Maybe it wood help to add a sidebar on the home paje showing the beginnings av Recent Comments, so readrs can see whats activ and what isnt.

  41. “[The spelling reform movement] gathered pace until by late in the [19th] century it seemed as if every eminent person on both sides of the Atlantic – including Darwin, Tennyson, Arthur Conan Doyle, James A. H. Murray . . . and of course Twain – was pushing for spelling reform. It is hard to say which is the more remarkable, the number of influential people who became interested in spelling reform or the little effect they had on it.”

    – Bill Bryson in Mother Tongue. After adding Bernard Shaw to the list of eminent champions of spelling reform, and charting the limited progress made by organisations dedicated to it, Bryson remarks that there is a strong case for reform but that calls for it “inevitably overlook certain intractable problems”.

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