Why spelling matters
Instead of boring you with my shortcomings, I will focus on one of the few things in which I take pride: spelling.
I could bore you with a long list of things I don’t do well. For starters, there’s swimming, car repair, and working with any technology introduced after the Bush administration (the first one).
But instead of boring you with my shortcomings, I will focus on one of the few things in which I take pride: spelling.
Yes, I’m that guy. Always nit-picking my co-workers about the “I before the E,” shaking my head at misspelled church signs (“Don’t give in to Satin”), and resisting the temptation to correct my Facebook friends (“All the Braves do is loose”).
My parents and older sisters taught me to read before I started school, and I have never stopped. I think constant reading results in good spelling habits, perhaps due to memory and recognition.
That’s why I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I drive by a school sign that reads, “Enjoy Your Spring Brake” or a store sign that invites you to “Transfur Your Prescriptions.”
I often think about the guy in the highway sign department who had one job, and ended up putting this sign on the road: “Yeild to Oncoming Traffic.” There’s that I before the E again. Except after C.
Before Facebook and texting, we really didn’t know if our friends were good spellers. Now it’s all out in the open. “You’re” becomes “Your,” especially in my all-time favorite Facebook post, “Your a idiot.” That dude just lost his argument.
Spell check, which didn’t exist back in the day, is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing when you just don’t have time to look up commonly misspelled words like criticize, accidentally, or embarrass. As in, “That know-it-all David Carroll sure likes to criticize and embarrass me when I accidentally misspell a word!”
But spell check can be a curse when it substitutes a correctly spelled word for the word you actually intend to use. If you’re complaining about the head of the school, spell check can’t help you if you write, “That mean principle kept my son after school today.” It also didn’t help the person who offered this opinion about a superintendent search: “I hope they get a good one this time, because the steaks are really high.” (It was hard to argue with that one, because steaks really are expensive.) Or the proud mom who posted a new baby picture: “I have the most precious little angle.”
Sometimes we know how to spell, but we just get in a hurry. One of the most important jobs in a TV newsroom is the graphics operator. He or she is the person who puts the words on the screen. It could be a written statement from an elected official, or merely the name of the person who is speaking. We once had a guest who called himself “The Singing Cowboy.” Unfortunately, the graphics person made one little mistake. He was identified on screen as “The Sinning Cowboy.” Come to think of it, that may have encouraged some viewers to pay closer attention.
Many folks who are quite intelligent and successful struggle with commonly misspelled words that sound identical. Each day, I’ll overhear a debate about affect or effect; capital or capitol; insure or ensure; lead or led; trooper or trouper; pin or pen; ladder or latter; except or accept; and even words that don’t sound exactly alike, but are awfully close, like precede and proceed.
There are words we just make up, because we didn’t quite hear them right, and maybe we didn’t do a lot of yard work. That would explain why some people think that small cart with one wheel and two handles is a “wheel barrel.” It almost makes sense.
It’s not all the fault of spell check, of course. I can’t blame anyone but the author when I read that Uncle Fred is about to undergo a quadroople bypass. Or when a teenage girl brags about the pleasing scent her boyfriend is wearing: “I just love his colon!”
I’ve stopped rolling my eyes when someone excitedly invites me to enjoy the fall colors: “Hurry and enjoy the scenery, it’s peek season!” I must admit, I do want to take a peek. Same goes when our weather man gets asked about winter temperatures. “How low is the windshield factor?” Well, that may determine how long it will take to scrape off the ice in the morning.
And, there’s this. I saw a sign, directed at employees behind a customer service counter. “No Talking Aloud On Cell Phones, or You Will Be Wrote Up.” We could talk all day about that one.
So kids, study hard, and become a proficient speller. Maybe you’ll end up as the top student of your senior class. And I don’t mean the “valid Victorian.”