|Nothing says "ignorant" like poor spelling. For
sum reason, when U write like this, people just assume your a ignorant
moran. But interestingly, "correct" spelling is a relatively recent
invention. Just 150 years ago, even the most educated and talented
writers followed rather arbitrary spelling rules. There were regional
differences in spelling, and many authors just adopted spelling rules
that they deemed appropriate. Some authors had such loose control over
spelling conventions they would actually spell the same word several
different ways within the same body of text.
Noah Webster is usually credited for imposing standards and conventions
for spelling with the publication of his dictionary in 1828, but really
his wasn't the first dictionary published. Webster's dictionary was
just more exhaustive and complete than predecessors. And with his dictionary,
Webster also deliberately introduced the concept of spelling "reform," stating
that there were "faults" and "inconveniences" in the English language that
needed to be fixed. In Webster's dictionary, colour
became color, centre became center, and waggon
Spelling was increasingly becoming more standardized at that time, and
Webster did make a valuable contribution. But about the same time major
publications such as London Times were beginning to adopt and follow style
manuals for publication which specified spelling standards for certain words.
Around the middle of the 19th century, as printing became cheaper and text
became much more ubiquitous, standardized conventions in spelling just
caught on. Gradually, proper spelling instruction became a centerpiece
of American and European primary education.
Really, in the grand scheme of things, proper spelling is not all that
important -- at least not "advanced" spelling skills. The ability to
read and write proficiently is really not that strongly associated with advanced
spelling skills. Children who perform well in spelling bees are no
more likely to succeed in college and in life than their comparably-educated
True, people who read voluminously tend to be better spellers, but teaching
spelling skills does not necessarily help people to read more proficiently
or voluminously. Past a point, over-emphasizing spelling in instruction
probably takes valuable instructional time away from other, more important
reading and writing skills. I say "past a point" because children
do need to learn basic spelling skills in the sense that they need to learn
that there are conventional relationships between letters and phonemes. They
also need to learn to apply their knowledge of these spelling-sound conventions
to "attack" or "sound out" unfamiliar words. But in the grand scheme
of things, it doesn't really matter if they misspell words like loose
and lose. That is a reflection of word-specific spelling problems,
not general spelling probems, and word-specific spelling problems really
don't matter much in the world of reading and literacy.
Still, there is a stigma attached to poor spelling -- poor spelling
is seen as a sign of ignorance or stupidity. A well-organized argument
can be completely unravelled by poor grammar and spelling -- the credibility
of an author is tainted when that author writes something like, "I think
your mistaken." For some reason, people just assume that if the author
can't spell, he or she probably isn't all that bright.
I must confess, I had problems with word-specific spelling in high school
and college. Looking back at papers I wrote (heaven knows why I kept
them), my writing was peppered with grammatical errors, and it was rife
with misspelled words. My poor spelling did not have anything to do
with the content of the paper or the logic of my arguments, but I must confess,
reading them now, even I find myself questioning the credibility of my own
work. I frequently confused it's and its, and I apparently
did not know at the time the difference between to and too
(although to my credit, I did not confuse either spelling with two).
I also kept a lot of mail correspondence over the years -- my informal
writing was considerably worse then my formal writing. I still have
an e-mail from my brother, obviously exasperated with my poor spelling,
that said, "Okay, I'm just going to say this once, and hopefully it will
stick -- Old MacDonnald sure was WEIRD, E-I-E-I-o."
Sure enough, I never misspelled the word weird again.
Other than mnemonics like the one my brother shared with me, what helped
my spelling the most was a simple adjustment I made to my computer when
I was in graduate school. Most computers are set up to automatically
correct misspelled words, so if you write teh, the computer automatically
corrects the spelling to the. I think that just reinforces bad
Several years ago, I turned that feature off, and it has made all the
difference for me. Instead, I set up the computer to simply underline
misspelled words. As I write, the computer highlights the misspelled
words, bringing them to my attention, and I have to examine them and figure
out why they are misspelled. This still doesn't help me if I accidentally
type the word their when I meant to type they're
(a stupid mistake I sometimes make when I'm in a hurry) but it has helped
immensely with most commonly misspelled words. And the more I have
to correct myself, the better my spelling gets. Of course, this little
trick only works because I write voluminously -- if you are a teacher, this
trick would probably work with your students, but only if you also expect
them to use a computer to write every day.
Basic spelling -- what I would describe as "phonetic spelling" -- is
important for young children learning to read and write. They need
to learn very well the relationships between letters and sounds. They
need to sound-out unfamiliar words, and they need to attempt to spell words
phonetically as they write. If a young child writes the sentence, "I
lik pitsa," that child is learning the regular relationships between letters
and phonemes. That's a good thing -- it is a stepping stone along the
road to proficient reading and writing skills. If a high-school student
writes that same sentence, then that's not such a good thing. But
if a high-school student writes "This technology afords many benifits to
the user," I'm really not all that concerned. Those are fairly harmless
spelling errors. That is the difference between basic and advanced
Kathy Ganske created an assessment of spelling that every reading and
language arts teacher should be familiar with. It is called the Developmental
Spelling Analysis, and it is a very quick and easy way to determine the
stage of spelling development any particular student is in. In her
the assessment is provided, and Ganske also offers guidance about
appropriate instruction for different stages of spelling
development. If you are interested in the relationship between
spelling and learning to read, I heartily recommend Kathy's book.
Here we have a classic case of the pot calling the kettle
Well, now that'ts just good advice...
These guys sell handburgers... what do they know about
... But RENTY is definitely allowed...
Hopefully pilot's won't be distracted as they enter the runway...
And while you're at it, you should probably teach them
a little spelling, too... Heaven knows we don't want them to look
ignorant when they grow up...
OH, THE IRONY!!!
My brother Nicholas compiled a great list of spelling errors that he has
encountered. Some are actually amusing (e.g. volumptuous), and most
are fairly harmless -- silly mistakes that don't really affect meaning much.
They are mostly noteworthy because people who make these mistakes
are usually literate, educated people who should know better.
But as my brother points out, "to air is human, to foregive devine."
loose (confused with lose)
your (confused with you're)
It's (confused with its)
to (confused with too)
their (confused with there and they're)
then (instead of than)
that (instead of than)
alot or allot (instead of "a lot" which usually wouldn't be correct either)
cite, site, and sight (all confused for each other)
censor (instead of censure)
formally (confused with formerly)
lessor of two evils
advice (confused with advise)
rack and ruin
on the lamb
petal to the medal
fit of peek (or peak)
into the breech
a burden born with grace
tow the line
proving his metal (or medal)
that jives with what he said (instead of jibe)
right of passage
elicit (confused with illicit)
capitol (confused with capital)
principal (confused with principle)
complement (confused with compliment)
excepted (confused with accepted)
libel to forget
And of course, the most ironic -- grammer