The Thing About Spelling

Some people equate spelling with morality. Good spellers, good people. The sheeps and goats in the New Testament? Good and bad spellers. Spelling’s importance is a topic capable of producing more heat than Adrian Peterson’s parenting, Scottish independence, and Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Parents worry incessantly that their children are destined to always be poor spellers. What kind of lives will they live? Will people whisper about us? Heaven help children with dyslexia.

This week the New York Times ran this lead front and center on their website, “A geneticist wins a prestigious Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation award and uses the spotlight to all for much wider genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancer.” Technically that’s a typo, but the Spelling Police don’t distinguish. The Spelling Police LOVE reading things like that. It gives them a purpose for being. And makes them feel superior. “Know that I am among those that can spell.” They despise any variance from what they deem to be “writing conventions”. Like when people start sentences with “And”.

Before determining if spelling is a life or death matter, we have to distinguish between drafts and final copies. Most of what we write and read, like electronic messages, are drafts. In fact, where does the constantly updating front page of the New York Times fall on that continuum? Irregardless, many would read that lead and think less of The Grey Lady. I would too if it happened with any regularity, but it doesn’t. Doesn’t matter, short of perfection, the Spelling Police pounce. If only they’d save their righteous indignation for final drafts.

Like teachers’ letters to parents. Nothing gets the Spelling Police more fired up than teachers’ letters to parents. Full. Riot. Gear. Misspell a word, lose your life right to teach my child ever again.

I’m not advocating for laissez faire (damn, got that right on the first try) creative spelling. Instead of seeing every spelling error as an opportunity to assert their spelling prowess, maybe the Spelling Police could take a second or two to consider whether the error is part of a larger pattern or not. If not, maybe you could try the impossible. Letting that one error on the third grade paper go, or the one in the newspaper, or heaven help us, the one in the parent letter.

Sometimes, okay, a lot of the times, I amaze myself—fore hundred and six words and not a single mispelling.




4 thoughts on “The Thing About Spelling

  1. I agree. It’s language and how we use it tell a story that should get our attention. Not some fanatical guidelines that worries about every “I” being dotted and every “T” crossed

    If someone misspelled a word in a great story no one really suffers. But when all of the nice big words are put together without an error among them and we can’t really tell what the writer is talking about, then I would be upset that I have wasted my time.

    Tautological circumlocutions are so annoying don’t you think? ;-)

  2. I thought my tolerance of late has been remarkable! I haven’t got on anyone for spelling errors for several weeks. I adopted the policies you espouse in this post without having had the benefit of previously reading your well-reasoned explanation. Keep up the good work!

    P.S. Notice how I let the “fore” and the “mispelling” in your last sentence go unmentioned. I know it’s your sense of humor . . . but I included this P.S. because I just wanted to make sure you knew I didn’t miss them!

    • You did not inspire the post. It was a convo with two mothers at a Friday night football game. When they found out I teach writing, they started complaining about their daughter’s spelling. You’ve spent time on the Spelling Police Force, but it’s not your fault, your mother is a Lieutenant.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s