Does your spelling make you want to spit?

Accurate spelling is something I value. Do you? I know that sounds very old-fashioned in the light of modern day text messaging and online shortcuts and abbreviations. But like most things there are good reasons behind what sometimes appears like unnecessary rule-following. In the case of good spelling, I believe the reason is to maintain uniformity, which leads to accuracy.

The other reason why some people see good spelling as desirable is to demonstrate the writer’s level of education and literacy, but I’m not sure if this is a particularly accurate gauge. One of the worst spellers I’ve ever known was a doctor who could write out prescriptions using perfect 20-letter pharmaceutical terms but couldn’t write a postcard to his mother without 6 or 7 goofs in it. The other atrocious speller I know is a brilliant mathematician and is definitely not dyslexic.

Spell checkers are OK, but not perfect

Most word processing software includes some sort of spelling checker device and these are helpful, but not infallible. They will pick up typos and glaring mistakes but, being machines, are far too logical to cope with the insanity of the English language and can’t deal with homophones or wrong words that are spelled right or apostrophes appearing in the wrong place.

Many word processing packages also incorporate grammar/syntax nannies, rather like mine which sticks a disapproving green line under most of my work. I ignore it. Finally, most word processing packages give you the option to select UK or USA spellings, which leads us directly into another can of worms.

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Which English spellings – UK or US?

Many people ask me how text should be spelled for international English language communication. My answer is I don’t know. Possibly you should spell according to the organization’s country of origin – where its headquarters and roots are. But that gets blown straight out of the water if the company’s origins are a small distillery in the Highlands of Scotland which has now been supplemented by a multi-million dollar manufacturing and distribution operation incorporating 24 huge factory/warehouse sites coast to coast in the United States.

Possibly, then, you should spell according to the country in which the largest amount of the organization’s business is done, but with hierarchies being what they are this may not work out evenly either. Probably, though, if we wait for a while the internet will solve the problem because, through its aggressive internationalism, English language spellings will become standardized everywhere.

And because the US has the rest of us by the short hairs on the internet there are no prizes for guessing which type of English we’ll standardize to. Although the mere thought of it will make most British-speak purists burst into tears, I must say I’m looking forward to the day when I can write out a “check” in the UK for new “tires” on my car and then go home and watch a good “program” on TV.

(By the way, if you want a great little guide to English words on either side of The Pond, you’ll love my book, “English To English – the A to Z of British-American translations.”)

So what can you do to improve your spelling?

In the first instance, consult your spell checker and then be sure to human-check any ambiguous elements. Also, use the Thesaurus facility if you’re unsure how to spell a particular word; enter a simpler synonym that you can spell, and your other word should come up.

Alternatively, at the risk of sounding like my usual low-tech self, I would say use a dictionary. Despite being paper-based, a dictionary is often the faster way to find a word.

A bit of (clean) fun to finish

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

Yes, you got it:

“According to a researcher (sic) at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself but the word as a whole.”

So it seems as long as the first and last letters of a word are correct, our eyes/brains are programmed to understand it. Does this blow the whole need for good spelling out of the water?

More help to stop you spitting:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

Comments

comments

Thoughts

  1. Courtesy of @AlunRichards

    Eye halve a spelling chequer
    It came with my pea sea
    It plainly marques four my revue
    Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

    Eye strike a key and type a word
    And weight four it two say
    Weather eye am wrong oar write
    It shows me strait a weigh.

    As soon as a mist ache is maid
    It nose bee fore two long
    And eye can put the error rite
    Its rare lea ever wrong.

    Eye have run this poem threw it
    I am shore your pleased two no
    Its letter perfect awl the weigh
    My chequer tolled me sew.

  2. I love Lynn’s amusing little ditty yet it does highlight a growing tendency to rely on apps to check accuracy of spelling rather than knowledge, doesn’t it? Or go the alternative route and not care…

    Learning English as a foreign language must be a nightmare yet I still hate the thought of any language being reduced to the lowest common denominator, which is probably what we’re heading for… ;-(

    • Talking of lowest common denominators, Linda … here’s another little ditty you might enjoy:

      The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby
      English will be the official language of the EU rather than German
      which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, Her
      Majesty’s Government conceded that English spelling had some room for
      improvement and has accepted a 5 year phase-in plan that would be
      known as “Euro-English”.

      In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”. Sertainly, this will
      make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard “c” will be dropped in
      favour of the”k”. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan
      have 1 less letter.

      There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the
      troublesome “ph” will be replaced with “f”. This will make words like
      “fotograf” 20% shorter.

      In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be
      ekspekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are
      possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters,
      which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

      Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent “e”s in the
      language is disgraseful, and they should go away.

      By the fourth year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing
      “th” with “z” and “w” with “v”. During ze fifz year, ze unesesary “o”
      kan be dropd from vords kontaining “ou” and similar changes vud of
      kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

      After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl.

      Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to
      understand ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru! And zen ve vil tak
      over ze world!

  3. The frightening thing about spelling- and grammar-checking programs is that the less you know writing, the more dangerous they are to use. As you say, their poor little software brains can’t possibly know how to cope with the vagaries of the English language. It’s often astonishing what bad suggestions they make, and those who don’t know any better can get in quite a lot of trouble!

    I’m with you–dictionaries rule!

Trackbacks

  1. […] you read on a website, in an email, in a blog post, in a social media comment, etc. contains spelling mistakes, in all probability the intrinsic spell-checker has been screaming bloody murder at you to […]

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