Thursday, 12 August 2010

Stung by the Spelling Bee

‘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:

1 comment:

  1. Oh this is so me! I'm constantly correcting people when they spell definitely with an 'a'! Surely in an age when most people are typing rather than writing, therefore getting that little red squiggly line under their spelling mistake wherever they go, one would be more aware. Maybe this makes people more lazy, I don't know. Anyway, glad to see I'm not alone is this annoyance!