Bad speling ‘should be accepted’

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. BBC

Hat tip Virgil Samms

I second the motion.


  1. #1 Ben Zvan
    August 7, 2008

    Thats “I second teh moshun”, Gregg.

  2. #2 Peter Mc
    August 7, 2008

    This is making my rant glands secrete. I know things were always better ‘in my day’, but when we did ‘o’ levels (age 16) we lost marks for poor spelling.

    15-20% of kids leave primary school (age 11) funcionally illiterate or innumerate. My Ma was a primary school teacher who retired about 15 years ago, and when I asked her how many left her inner city working class school unable to read or write she said ‘none’. Standards have slipped.

  3. #3 Jeff Rosenberg
    August 7, 2008

    I don’t understand this at all. There’s a right way and a wrong way to spell things, and that’s how it goes. Smith’s apparent contention that this would somehow fix the problems with our education system is particularly silly.

    Maybe we should just accept intelligent design as a “variant theory.”

  4. #4 James Hrynyshyn
    August 7, 2008

    And who decides what is a common variant and what is the result of lazy or ignorant spelling? At what point should the student be docked marks because they haven’t learned to respect the language in which they are tasked with working?

    Correct spelling is there for a reason. Among other things, in an educational context it ensures fairness.

    Sorry, Greg, but with today’s spell checkers, there is simply no excuse for poor spelling.

  5. #5 Joe Shelby
    August 7, 2008

    James: you sure they’re isn’t? I’m sure their’s a reason for some of our problems out there…

  6. #6 kevin
    August 7, 2008

    Damn straight Jeff. If God wanted us to spell it “colour”, He wouldn’t have handed William Bradford the governership of the Plymouth Colony so he could have a daughter Mercy who married Noah Webster (Sr.), who He could then cause to have a son Noah, who He could then in turn inspire to write a dictionary laying out His Own Devine Rules of Spelling. He works in mistereous ways, indeed.

  7. #7 Stephanie Z
    August 7, 2008

    [Taking bait.]

    Of course, these are words that a spellchecker will pick up for you, which means finding them in a paper is already a fair hint at the level of care invested in the work. And how many university professors are really grading tests and problem sets based on spelling? Is pointing out misspellings damaging the students in some way? Is the guy just tired of listening to other profs bitch?

    This strikes me as a press-grabbing non-issue. Language evolves on its own. It doesn’t need some guy (because if he speaks English, he’s an expert, of course) to stand up and tell us how he thinks it should be done, especially when an educational “braking system” actually helps us to understand each other across time. Read any 16th or 17th century literature lately?

    Just for the record, this is also the school that decided Buckinghamshire was just too much for its students to deal with as a name.

  8. #8 James F
    August 7, 2008

    Improving education: UR DOIN IT RONG

  9. #9 Kevin
    August 7, 2008

    Other things that are commonly used / thought that maybe we should start to accept as alternate truths as they are commonly thought to be true:

    “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction”
    “Saddam Hussein was involved with 9-11”
    “White is the lack of color while black is the combination of all colors” – I read this on a blog post the other day I think

    Misconceptions and Misuses of terms should not justify their acceptance in society.

    How many of the misspellings posted above could have been solved by pressing the spell-check button? How about we just teach people how to be competent and thoughtful about things rather than accepting their ignorance or inability to take the time to run the spell-checker.

  10. #10 Ghost of Minnesota
    August 7, 2008

    If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards?

    If the rest of the English-speaking world wants to lower their standards, that’s fine. But I’m not going to lower mine. Which, it turns out, will work out rather well for me. I will officially be better than everyone else, and I won’t even have to work at it.

  11. #11 Scott Belyea
    August 7, 2008

    “We was pleased to meet with youse yesterday.”

    Well, why not? Variant spelling … variant grammar.

    That way lies madness.

  12. #12 Ken Shabby
    August 7, 2008

    The biggest the problem with misspellings is that unless you are familiar with the regional accent of the writer, you may find some puzzles you cannot figure out. At that point, you are stumped: the intended meaning escapes you, so you must give up.

    With correct spelling, no one can tell if you’re from Lawn Guyland, Massippah, Jojuh, or New Joisey.

  13. #13 Stephanie Z
    August 7, 2008

    Scott, “youse” is a regional standard, like “y’all” and “all y’all.” Although we use a different region to define the national standard, this doesn’t make the regionalisms wrong.

  14. #14 Chris (The Book Swede)
    August 7, 2008

    Well, we have some variant spelling already in English — and I don’t just mean the differences between English English and American English, or differences in time.

    With the advent of the Internet, we are definitely seeing more spelling variation, and some looseness in grammar and spelling, but as long as it doesn’t descend into the chaos of the Middle Ages, many linguist see it as a very interesting thing, and not necessarily a bad thing.

    Rules must still exist, and I don’t quite agree that just because the student can’t spell something, that should be OK — flexibility, but not laziness.

    Just my decadent, unable-to-speel-properly teenage thoughts 😉

  15. #15 Rev Matt
    August 7, 2008

    Part of the point of school is to prepare students for the real world. In the real world in many instances spelling does count.

  16. #16 Rev Matt
    August 7, 2008

    Grr, hit enter too soon. Certainly there are plenty of jobs where spelling doesn’t matter and it won’t make you look bad to not know how to spell. But as you move up the economic ladder it becomes more and more critical to have at least a basic understanding of spelling and grammar.

    And even for jobs where you don’t need to be able to spell to do the job, you may not even get interviewed if you resume is full of errors.

    Beyond that there is the issue of effective communication. If you are trying to communicate with someone and they don’t understand what you’re writing because either they or you don’t know how to spell then that’s going to result in problems as well.

  17. #17 (((Billy))) The Atheist
    August 7, 2008

    President Roosevelt (the first one (Bully!)) was very enthusiastic about simplified spelling. He even ordered the Public Printer (I think it is now the GPO (Government Printing Office)) to use the Simplified Spelling Board’s new and simpler spellings of some 300 words. His Secretary of State, Elihu Root, once wrote him a note saying “Dere Theodor, Pleas rede this thru & giv it bak.” The new rules didn’t fly then and I hope they don’t fly now.

    See, studying history can be useful.

  18. #18 Peter Borah
    August 7, 2008

    I think it’s interesting watching people talk about this sort of issue. Scientists tend to believe that “rules is rules”, and that any change or relaxation in spelling or grammar is an abomination.

    People who are familiar with linguistics, on the other hand, generally think it’s pretty funny that language evolution is considered a bad thing, and that the “rules” a couple of uptight white guys in the 1800s invented are now considered inviolable.

    I think that the rule of thumb in communication should be (drumroll please)… communication. If your audience will have any trouble at all understanding it, don’t do it. Why have any more formal rules than that?

  19. #19 Scott Belyea
    August 7, 2008

    Scott, “youse” is a regional standard, like “y’all” and “all y’all.” Although we use a different region to define the national standard, this doesn’t make the regionalisms wrong.

    Have a couple of folks submit job applications which include “youse” and see how they do.

    The point is that written communication is not the same as spoken. When you write it down, it stands alone without your presence and charm to support it. In my experience, sloppy spelling amd grammar is a common early rejection filter.

    I don’t believe that schools are doing students any favours by pretending that “twelth,” “youse,” and verbs that don’t agree with subjects are just fine.

  20. #20 Mr_P
    August 7, 2008

    Are they going to do this for math too? Something like 2+2=5 being close enough but 2+2=6 is wrong?
    Maybe pi=3?

  21. #21 decrepitoldfool
    August 7, 2008

    I think peoples shoud always correct they’re speling and gramer. After all some wrds meening is difrnt acording to if their spelled 1 way or teh other way.

    Nope, sorry, I just can’t countenance this. Even spell-check isn’t enough; I’ve seen any number of college papers in which the wrong (correctly spelled) word was used. I do my best to derive the writer’s meaning even when spelling is bad, but I appreciate the effort to communicate in standard or at least consistent terms. I’m lazy about washing my car but being lazy about communication is just ugly.

    English/US spelling variability doesn’t bug me, though.

    (Yes, I know it’s a losing battle. In the future spelling is likely to be text messaging-derived).

  22. #22 lylebot
    August 7, 2008

    When a word becomes very common, it becomes part of the language. Eventually it starts appearing in dictionaries, but that’s usually long after it has become an accepted word—dictionaries are fundamentally conservative about language. Why shouldn’t spelling variants be any different? The only issue is what “very common” means, and obviously everyone will have their own opinion about that.

    In fact, it’s already the case that very common spelling mistakes become part of the language, it’s just also the case that the threshold for “very common” is very, very high.

  23. #23 Ben Zvan
    August 7, 2008

    @Peter: Because rules are what make sure everyone has the same understanding of words. If everyone assumed that the person on the other end would read their letter the same way they wrote it, we’d have even more issues with communication than we do now.

  24. #24 decrepitoldfool
    August 7, 2008

    Mr.P, math and spelling are not good analogues. Spelling is cultural, though it would be best if the rate of change is relatively slow for reasons I’ve mentioned. But math is less so. I’m pretty sure that if 10-fingered aliens ever land here, we can count on them thinking that 2+2=4, and that pi=223/71.

  25. #25 Elf Eye
    August 7, 2008

    James, I was very interested in this sentence in your comment: “At what point should the student be docked marks because they haven’t learned to respect the language in which they are tasked with working?” You use the pronoun ‘they’ as a substitute for the noun ‘student’. Once upon a time, a teacher would have been marked that as an error. Now, however, the usage has become widely accepted. I imagine some spelling errors will follow the some route to acceptance.

  26. #26 travc
    August 7, 2008

    Second to Peter Borah’s final point. Though the ‘scientists think rules are rules’ thing is way off base in my experience.

    Effective communication is the key. I’m a horrible speller; almost failed a grade due just to an average in the 20s (out of a 100) on spelling tests. However, my reading comp level was ‘post-high-school’ since grade school.

    Regionalisms typically just piss me off. Throwing them in when context makes it clear what their meanings are is OK for colour, but relaying on them leads to near unintelligible crap. I hated Twain’s novels for that reason actually.

    Some regionalisms naturally become generally popular and can be assumed to be intelligible by your audience. Many typos and spelling mistakes don’t really effect the meaning and should be considered ‘no big deal’… though in context can indicate a lack of proof-reading or general sloppiness, which can be a big deal.

    ‘Proper’ spelling is generally unimportant, intelligible writing (with due diligence paid to the intended audience) is very important. Taking off marks for each misspelled word is pretty dumb, giving a C of F for writing like shit is perfectly reasonable.

    PS: Yeah, I tend to use ‘our’ in colour… makes sense since it is a different sound, but probably really originates in my programming BASIC graphics on an English computer and watching far too much BBC as a kid (I’m American though). Using program and programme to mean different things is also really useful IMO, along with some other oddities.

  27. #27 Anne Gilbert
    August 7, 2008

    I don’t know whether to rant or cheer. I was brought up with very “prescriptivist” notions about how things should be spoken and written. These are notions I have never entirely been able to shake off, though I have done a pretty good job, of dumping most of them.

    However, I don’t think just saying “we should allow variant spellings” is going to solve anything. True, it doesn’t matter whether something is misspelled when the meaning is reasonably clear. But what about things like the confusion between “prophecy”(noun) and “prophesy”(verb)? I’ve seen this a lot in the past few years, even from people who supposedly know how to write. They just don’t “see” the difference(technically, they’re even pronounced differently). Engish is complicated, and it’s not phonetic like some languages. There are historical reasons for this and I think we should just accept them and teach the “rules” as best we can. “Variant” speech, however, is another thing entirely, and we shouldn’t confuse that with “variant spellings”.
    Anne G

  28. #28 Stephanie Z
    August 7, 2008

    Chris, you spiel pretty well, for what it’s worth.

    Scott, frankly, if I’m reading a cover letter on a resume (which I do), “youse” and “y’all” would be minor issues at worst. If someone could carry off a conversational tone and still get across why they were the right person for the job, I’d be all over that. Compentence is more than just following the small rules.

    Of course, the cover letter for my current job told them flat out they wouldn’t find anyone who was better qualified. Turned out they agreed with me, but arrogance is a risk in a cover letter too.

  29. #29 Anne Gilbert
    August 7, 2008

    I forgot to add that “prophesy”(verb) and “prophecy”(noun), are hardly the only confusions of this kind I’ve seen in recent years. There are plenty of others, but I just can’t think of them right now.
    anne G

  30. #30 Scott Belyea
    August 7, 2008

    Final thought – effective and unambiguous written communication is hard work. Why handicap yourself with lousy spelling/grammar/usage?

  31. #31 Chaaas
    August 7, 2008

    i don c whut the trubl n fus iz alaboot

  32. #32 Jay
    August 7, 2008

    I really enjoyed spelling, so for me this seems like a step backward, BUT the article just says that variant spellings should be “accepted”. What does that mean? If it means that an essay about history or biology makes all the right points and communicates well, then I don’t think they should get marks off for spelling. It’d be nice if they were corrected with some mark-ups though (even if it doesn’t affect the mark). If it’s a spelling test, or even an english or literature paper, then spelling/grammar should probably be a factor.

    I don’t think that the TEACHING of how to spell words should be relaxed, or that when you are learning the word “argument” you also learn the variant spelling “arguement”. Why confuse people? So basically if this is just a passive thing in which grading is not so strict on spelling (if it isn’t a core requirement of the paper/exam/test) then I reckon it’s a good idea. If it’s pushing for an active teaching of variant spellings then I can’t see that as being helpful.


  33. #33 Matt Springer
    August 7, 2008

    Language is at least partially standardized for a reason. If everyone starts saying whatever they feel like, greater and greater confusion can happen. It’s abuse of notation.

    There’s a difference between a language evolving naturally, and everyone evolving their own personal and mutually incomprehensible languages.

  34. #34 Karl
    August 7, 2008

    I’m sorry I can’t resist.
    This comment: “Sorry, Greg, but with today’s spell checkers, there is simply no excuse for poor spelling”
    from a guy whose last name is Rinshin.

  35. #35 IBY
    August 7, 2008

    I really don’t like bad spelling, but I think it is for the better to second the motion. After all, if most people are spelling something another way, then, it might as well become part of the language. As long as it is not overdone, I think it is okay.

  36. #36 BJN
    August 7, 2008

    Sheer (not shear) idiocy.

    I’m all for variant math, however.

  37. #37 sailor
    August 7, 2008

    English, Spanish, Portugese and French were all once Latin. Languages, like organisms evolve into different forms. Words change, meanings change and sometimes multiply with time (Think “cool” for example. Once, probably before most of you were born, that only referred to temperature). Interestingly, once you have a written language the rate of evolution slows down, because you have provided a static yard stick from which to judge – but it still does not stop. So hell, I like evolution, I am on board with Greg this time round, but that does not mean EVERY alternate spelling should be accepted, only those that come in general use. Even the internet is creating new words: LOL and WTF for example. Regionalism is just a fresh step towards a different language – if the populations get isolated enough it becomes one. Some people speak today with differences that are between languages and dialects – say Norwegian and Swedish. So loosen up grammer police, language is part of human behaviour and part of nature. It changes.

  38. #38 Badger3k
    August 7, 2008

    I know that here at Scienceblogs there are posts on everything, but I find it ironic that anyone would promote sloppy thinking. I’ve had to correct students who write their answers with the texting shorthand. I’d like to see a grant proposal written like that. She just wasn’t thinking it through. This year I’ll probably be teaching some English, and spelling will count.

    The fact that a spell checker will not flag words that are written correctly but used wrong (their/there) simply means that the writer has to know what he is writing. Failure to recognize that the word is wrong is a failure. Pure and simple.

    Perhaps in the future, that may be the way that people write. But it isn’t now. And hopefully “functionally illiterate” does not become the standard in the developed world.

    But, if you want misspelled words as perfectly fine, why not just go further and eliminate the vowels? Mn, wh nt g wth ths s th stndrd – mst ppl cn rd t, s wh wst tm wrtng ltrs tht r nt ndd?

  39. #39 Badger3k
    August 7, 2008

    Thinking about this makes me think of ‘spelling relativism’ – after all, why is one spelling correct and another not? Sure is damn elitist to have all that specific spelling for everything. Actually, wasn’t there an attempt at something like this already, except aimed at kindergartners?

  40. #40 sailor
    August 7, 2008

    “But, if you want misspelled words as perfectly fine, why not just go further and eliminate the vowels? Mn, wh nt g wth ths s th stndrd – mst ppl cn rd t, s wh wst tm wrtng ltrs tht r nt ndd?”
    Badger, the thing about language is that it changes on its own, and you can contribute but not force it. If you wrote as in that last sentence, people would not bother to read what you wrote so your ability to communicate would become diminished, so there are rules, but they are not fixed language rules, just the rules of how you can get along with others. If you think of language as being fixed and right or wrong, I suggest you try reading Shakespeare and then tell me is he correct or are we correct in our usage?

  41. #41 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    August 7, 2008

    Spelling and grammar are important to writing. The way I see it, writing is an art. It’s not always done well, nor always artistically. Ignoring spelling mistakes is as bad as sending a painting out for reproduction without cleaning out the stray brush hairs. It’s glaring and it’s jolting to my eye; which is why deliberate misspelling is used in advertising so often. It’s effective at grabbing the reader’s attention.

    One problem that I have is self-editing. Even if I read through my posts two or three times before hitting “Publish,” I manage to glance past an occasional error. This is where the perception of the writer over-rides the reality of the characters on the screen. Since I know the content I am reading, my mind doesn’t see the errors until someone else points them out. The reader doesn’t know the writer’s intent in using a particular word or phrase, and so misspelling stands out to the reader where it didn’t to the writer.

    Spelling should remain somewhat standardized, or too soon we start reciting the Preamble to the Constitution as “Eeb Plub Nista.”

    And Greg, I believe you meant to say “I second that emotion.”

  42. #42 Karl
    August 7, 2008

    Badger3k: That’s what Hebrew is like.

  43. #43 Pierce R. Butler
    August 7, 2008

    What kind of recommendations does Ken Smith offer in his krimonologee lectures at Bux Nu Yu?

  44. #44 Escuerd
    August 8, 2008

    Decrepitoldfool wrote:

    I’m pretty sure that if 10-fingered aliens ever land here, we can count on them thinking that 2+2=4, and that pi=223/71.

    Why should they need to be ten-fingered? I think the general belief is that it’s because we have ten fingers that we use a decimal number system, but plenty of others have been used by other ten-fingered people, and the same mathematical truths still held.

    By the way, pi is not equal to 223/71. 🙂

    P.S. I agree that math (or science, or any other subject that deals primarily with truth, for that matter) does not lend itself to analogies with “proper language”. Standards and truth should not be confused with one another. Nonetheless, arbitrary standards are an important part of education just as much as learning about universal truths. Hence teaching kids the decimal system, right hand rule, order of operations, etc.

  45. #45 Dunc
    August 8, 2008

    English, Spanish, Portugese and French were all once Latin.

    No – English is a Germanic language.

  46. #46 Lassi Hippeläinen
    August 8, 2008

    “By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed.” – George Orwell

    As a non-native English speaker I would appreciate if you wouldn’t mess with the language.

  47. #47 sailor
    August 8, 2008

    “No – English is a Germanic language.”
    You are right, though it does have quite a lot of Latin influence.

  48. #48 Pat Silver
    August 8, 2008

    I am fascinated by some of the word-morphs I encounter online. I know people who think that the word really is “curly Q” and who are amazed that their lunch is not spelled “sammich.”

  49. #49 Speedwell
    August 8, 2008

    I just received the following e-mail (verbatim) from the “Guest Relations Coordinator” of a national restaurant chain:

    Just an FYI to you [Speedwell], if you can call me i just found out that the HOT GARLIC is avaiable
    and approved.
    please give me call at your when you can please.

    Would you hire that woman for an executive position at YOUR company?

  50. #50 tony
    August 8, 2008

    I’m not so hung up on spelling, per se, but I do think it matters greatly when meaning and intent are critical.

    When I write a proposal, or a contract, or a ‘letter of solicitation’ introducing my company, I need to be certain that my meaning is conveyed as I intend. SHould I choose to write in anything other than standard english, i.e. use regionalisms, variant spelling, or personal grammar, then I would be doing myself and my audience a disservice.

    If I’m writing a response to a blog post, then formalism matters less – although clarity is still key. But in a blog I have an opportunity for dialog, which allows less formal, more fuzzy ‘verbalizations’ to pass.

    In the communications I mentioned earlier, I usually get one shot. So they had better be as perfect as I can make them.

    On a side note: Spelling does matter – I like to get compliments. When I get a complement – I want to ask – of what.

  51. #51 D
    August 8, 2008

    “Are they going to do this for math too? Something like 2+2=5 being close enough but 2+2=6 is wrong? Maybe pi=3?”

    Jeez, I know some people (self included) get riled when people talk of too many facts being socially constructed, but surely everyone can accept that there isn’t a platonic Truth to the matter of whether ‘a lot’ or ‘alot’ is right.

  52. #52 lylebot
    August 8, 2008

    You prescriptivists seem to be missing the qualifier “common”. Nobody said all spelling errors should be accepted. Nobody said that you can spell a word however you want to. Like I said above, it’s already true that common spelling errors become accepted; it’s just that there is a very, very high threshold for what “common” is.

    If you don’t believe me, look at Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English. You’ll see plenty of words that are pronounced roughly the same as we say them today, but spelled differently. A prescriptivist Chaucer would’ve called your spellings wrong. Look at Shakespeare. You’ll see fewer words that are spelled differently, but there are still some. A prescriptivist Shakespeare would’ve called your spellings wrong.

    I shouldn’t read these sorts of threads because they really get me riled up. I seriously can’t understand how people who are interested in science can have a view of language that is essentially creationist. Language evolves. Today’s “error” is tomorrow’s standard form. That’s how it works.

  53. #53 william e emba
    August 8, 2008

    Check out the Poor Spelling Zone.

  54. #54 william e emba
    August 8, 2008

    Aargh. Second try.

    Check out the Poor Spelling Zone.

  55. #55 mark
    August 8, 2008

    Folks at the Discomfortable Institute have the same attitude regarding getting their facts about biology correct.

  56. #56 prakash
    August 8, 2008

    now a days the bad spelling mistakes r taken in computers if u type mistake it take as correct word so it is take as bad spelling mistake.
    Ohio Treatment Centers

  57. #57 Tom L
    August 8, 2008

    It would help if our word spellings were actually consistent, rather than governed by of a few halfhearted rules with a million exceptions.

    Past tense of read: read
    Past tense of lead: led
    Past tense of lead: (oh, wait, there is no past tense. I’m talking about the metal.)

    The only reason why phonetic spellings look illiterate in print is because we have collectively agreed to use our current mudball of inconsistencies. That does not make the accepted spellings better. To someone whose language spelling is consistent (say German or Spanish), written English must look as weird and arbitrary as written Gaelic looks to an English speaker.

  58. #58 Tom L
    August 8, 2008

    Heh. I can spell, but I can’t edit.

  59. #59 Stephanie Z
    August 8, 2008

    Tom, I have to quibble. That’s not the only reason. Aside from our lovely weird and arbitrary irregular verbs (which you’ll have to pry from my cold, dead hands if you want them gone), many of our non-phonetic spellings contain information about meaning because they tell us about the history and derivation of the word. I will resist any attempt to take meaning away from my words.

    And I don’t think Gaelic is much more arbitrary than French, which is thoroughly phonetic, just without a single-letter to single-sound correspondence.

  60. #60 Zach Miller
    August 8, 2008

    As an English major, I’m flabbergasted and I hope this isn’t put into practice. I may not be the best speller in the world, but I pay attention to my spell-checker and try to get it right the next time. It’s SPELLING for Science’s sake! It’s a basic tenant. How horrible is it to remember that “RONG” has a “W” in front of it?

  61. #61 Tom L
    August 8, 2008

    I understand that the reason that some words follow different spelling rules is that they were borrowed from other languages, and carry the spelling rules with them. I’m just complaining about the way that corrupts systematic spelling. All the exceptions and helper rules are to cope with the phenomenon. A one-sound-one-character system would eliminate all the foolishness with helper letters. It would also eliminate foolishness where one glyph can represent umpteen different noises depending on context. (How many different sounds can you make using the letter ‘o’? How about “ough”?)

    I’m not necessarily advocating for doing away with current spellings. I just think we should recognize how thoroughly idiomatic (read: broken) is the systematization of spelling in English. It’s as if we created a common form of transportation by mashing together a car, a bicycle, a canoe, a 747, and one moccasin; and then we wonder why so many people drive it so poorly.

    For those of you making the math analogy, it is as if 2+2 actually did equal 5 at some point in the past in a particular country, that that fact is imported into our mathematical rules, and we now have to remember that fact when doing math problems within that particular context. Perfectly consistent spelling is a lot more like math, where 2+2=4 under all conditions. We put down our childrens’ spelling as illiterate when in reality it is merely logical.

    The one place where I agree that misspellings should be left at face value is in informal discussions like this one. Stopping to rant about poor spelling that doesn’t fall to the level of obscuring the meaning is generally a cheap rhetorical trick to attack the other person, and derails the conversation. This is particularly annoying when the respondent takes the tactic of “how can you expect to be taken seriously when you can’t even spell?” Computers can spell perfectly, but can they think?

    That said, I refuse to even respond to people who “wrt sf they wr txting” or who think tHaT RaNdoM cAPitAlIzAtIoN iS An aPpRoPrIaTe UsE oF ThE sHiFt KeY. Make it annoying enough to decipher, and I won’t bother trying.

  62. #62 Theo Bromine
    August 9, 2008

    As an English major, I’m flabbergasted and I hope this isn’t put into practice. I may not be the best speller in the world, but I pay attention to my spell-checker and try to get it right the next time. It’s SPELLING for Science’s sake! It’s a basic tenant.

    Um, Zach? Is your friend SPELLING renting a dwelling?

  63. #63 Fun stuff
    April 5, 2010

    eye eye!
    My dad was so smart with math and architecture, but he didn’t give 2 hoots about spelling.