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Being Letter-Perfect Casts Its Spell

Rob Kyff on

Duz speling evan mattar enymore?

After all, you knew what I meant, right? Companies deliberately misspell brand names (Froot Loops, Tumblr, Chick-fil-A). TV news graphics are rife with errors ("high tempertures," "choaos in streets"). And don't even get me started on emails, texts and internet posts.

That spelling autocorrect feature doesn't help either. Not only does it make us lazy because we don't have to learn correct spellings, but it often replaces the word we want with a bizarre doppelganger. A recent newspaper story, for instance, reported that an image of a tree was a city's "albumen" (instead of "emblem"). Thanks, spellcheck!

Amid today's raging sea of fake news, alternative facts and half-truths, spelling is our Rock of Gibraltar. In no other realm of English do experts reach such a level of consensus. Grammar has gray areas (it isn't always wrong to say, "It's me"). Usage rules are squishy (it's kinda, like, maybe OK to use "enormity" to mean "vast size" instead of "monstrous evil"). And pronunciation can be divisive (you say "di-VY-siv," I say "di-VIS-iv").

By contrast, spelling is our linguistic terra firma (which, by the way, my spellchecker wants to render "terra forma"). Oh, sure, the spellings of many words have changed dramatically over the centuries and some still have distinctly different American and British spellings (honor/honour). And there remain a few words in American English with equally acceptable alternative spellings: e.g., ax/axe, doughnut/donut, gray/grey, lambaste/lambast, moveable/movable, sulfur/sulphur.

By and large, however, the spellings of words in American English are set in stone. There is, indeed, only one way to spell "granite" or "slate" or "marble." I have a theory that spelling bees are so popular today because they showcase one of the few sets of facts upon which Americans actually agree.

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Speaking of spelling bees, did you think I was going to let you off the hook? See whether you can select the correct spelling of each of these tricky words:

1. A) aficionado B) afficionado 2. A) annoint B) anoint 3. A) flourescence B) fluorescence 4. A) grafitti B) graffiti 5. A) impressario B) impresario 6. A) inoculate B) innoculate 7. A) miniscule B) minuscule 8. A) millenium B) millennium 9. A) mischievous B) mischievious 10. A) occurring B) occuring 11. A) poinsettia B) pointsettia 12. A) threshold B) threshhold

Answers: 1. A 2. B 3. B 4. B 5. B 6. A 7. B 8. B 9. A 10. A 11. A 12. A

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Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to WordGuy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2019 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

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