Monday, August 11, 2008

Does Spelling Matter?

I scrolled past this one, then scrolled back and started thinking about it. From the BBC:
Common spelling mistakes should be accepted into everyday use, not corrected, a lecturer has said.

Ken Smith of Bucks New University says the most common mistakes should be accepted as "variant spellings".

He lists the 10 most commonly misspelt words, which include "arguement" for "argument" and "twelth" for "twelfth".

Mr Smith says his proposal, outlined in an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement, follows years of correcting the same mistakes.

Mr Smith, a criminology lecturer, said: "Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I've got a better idea.

"University teachers should simply accept as variant spellings those words our students most commonly misspell.

"The spelling of the word 'judgement', for example, is now widely accepted as a variant of 'judgment', so why can't 'truely' be accepted as a variant spelling of 'truly'?"

Mr Smith also suggested adding the word "misspelt" to the list and all those that break the "i before e" rule - weird, seize, neighbour and foreign.

He said he was not asking people to learn to spell words differently.

"All I am suggesting is that we might well put 20 or so of the most commonly misspelt words in the English language on the same footing as those other words that have a widely accepted variant spelling," he added. Bad spelling 'should be accepted'

There is a part of me that says, hey yeah, language is a living, evolving thing, written language should reflect the spoken language of the people. Language doesn't follow rules very well, there are gazillions of exceptions, asymmetries, unique situations. I've said here before, language is not algebra.

So why should we all learn to write schoolteachers' English? I admit, there's a part of me that favors doing it the old-fashioned way, the right way. Maybe it's because I had to learn there's no "e" in judgment, and so everybody else can, too. "Variant" spelling really is "wrong," it's illiterate. In fact, in this one I would vote in favor of keeping a dictionary handy, there should be a right and wrong way to spell everything except "Veirs Mill," I mean "Viers Mill."


Anonymous Bose said...

Not long ago, in my work as a tutor, I ridiculed my high school student's freshman history teacher to my peers.

On an exam which asked for answers in complete sentences, accurate spelling, and good grammar, one of the teacher's questions used the phrase per se, but spelled it per say.

My thought? The most competent, well-rounded wordsmiths will be asked to master the same comprehensive skills as the certified, professional, grammatocrats and spellocrats... but not all strong writers will become (much less need to become) effective editors or spellers.

As I type any comment, at any site, in whatever context, Firefox reminds me gently that neither "grammatocrats" nor "spellocrats" is a word. But, I was also reminded that the "se" portion of per se is also not a word.

Which of us is academic enough, or has enough OCD, to mess with resolving 100% of the instant checkers/censors of our words and phrases? And, how quickly will the technologies evolve to flag our errors accurately in context?

It all matters, but not necessarily grabbed by each of us with equal enthusiasm.

August 12, 2008 1:08 AM  
Anonymous svelte_brunette said...

The question of misspelling is quite compelling.
While most should avoid it quite carefully,
others do employ it most darefully.
Here are two examples from Ogden Nash,
whose spelling is sometimes in the trash:


Further Reflections on Parsley

Is gharsley.


The Wasp

The wasp and all his numerous family
I look upon as a major calamity.
He throws open his nest with prodigality,
But I distrust his waspitality.




August 12, 2008 8:24 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Both of the comments here illustrate a point: both use made-up words. Language is a living, dynamic entity and in fact speakers of a language can use the form of language to generate neologisms that will be understandable to others. We do it all the time. So who's to say that one spelling is "correct" and another is "wrong?"

Given my other thoughts about language and culture, I would expect myself to support the view that proper language should emerge from the people. But I'm saying, I find I do subscribe to the schoolteachers' view on this one, I do think there is a correct way to spell something, even if it's weird. Like "weird," with its e before i.


August 12, 2008 9:03 AM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Evolving, indeed! One of the trolls here who waxed eloquent about the inherent beauty of genitalia prompted me to call him a "genitalist." I doubt that's in the Funk and Wagnalls, but it's pretty appropriate.

August 12, 2008 3:25 PM  
Blogger Emproph said...

Of all the words in the English language, I find the word Phonics to be the most deeply offensive.

Veritably perfuntoroxymornicalitacious!

August 13, 2008 7:31 AM  
Anonymous svelte_brunette said...

Your problem with “phonics”
is replete with histrionics.

I find it quite questionable
that such an innocuous word
is so utterly objectionable.


Cynthia ;)

August 13, 2008 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Mo Co Mum said...

As a professional writer and at least 50% curmudgeonly, I find it highly irritating that advertising spelling is moving into the accepted list (I also cannot stand "thru" for "through"). But I am also 50% "hip" in that I prefer email to E-mail and other "new" words. Bottom line? Language does what it will and those of us who are paid to use it will linger in the "rules" – without it we could devolve into a lack of communication. The reason the rules slide less right now is because we are dealing with a MUCH larger audience and one that may only speak English in a limited way. That means that having and sticking to rules promotes cross-cultural communication. It is also why teenagers ALWAYS have their own language – so it validates their claims that we "just don't understand!"

August 22, 2008 3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you the same Mo Co Mum who spelled "legal" as "leagal?"

August 23, 2008 11:31 AM  

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