‘We can definately seperate this in one manouver.’
Does the above make you bristle just a little?
The Telegraph reported last week that 'separate' is the most commonly misspelt word, followed by definitely and manoeuvre, according to a study of 3,500 Britons. I have ranted before about how much constant misspelling bothers me, but ‘definately/definatley’ is certainly the blunder that I see the most. I think I’m a good speller for a few reasons: reading a lot (i.e. constant exposure to correctly-spelled words), genes (both my parents are pretty immaculate spellers) and a slightly photographic memory. I tend to be able to memorise phrases and passages word-for-word fairly easily, which made English a natural subject to continue with after school.
Separate is interesting though, as it’s one I remember being corrected by spellcheck and teachers in my teens, by which point I had most words pretty well absorbed. Some words definitely take longer to stick, especially in a language full of exceptions and quirks. It’s usually a phonetic issue, for instance we do say ‘sep-er-ate’, so the logical written form might well have an e where there is an a. This doesn't work for everything - by the same logic, definitely would be spelt 'definutly'. But I had some good teachers who offered me ways to remember the right spelling (I remember someone pointing out that ‘finite’ was the root of definitely, and I never forgot it.) Surprise is another one; we tend to omit the first 'r' from its pronunciation and thus 'suprise' makes much more sense. I am interested in the words in our hotchpotch of a language, I like to know where they come from and how they are linked internationally and to Latin, Greek and Scandinavian roots.
I do sometimes wish I was someone who is blissfully oblivious to the little errors of spelling and speech, I do recognise in an out-of-body way how annoyingly pedantic it is. There is a Mitchell and Webb sketch where David Mitchell’s character casually shoots people in a meeting for referring to espresso as ‘expresso’ and saying ‘pacific’ instead of specific. It’s so true though, for some people it just feels like an itch that needs scratching. I apologise for myself and the others, but let us correct you – we need to – and then go about your business, probably thinking slightly less of us. For now, be thankful you are not this particular young (I hope) Facebooker: