Monday, December 20, 2010

THE PERILS OF ENGLISH SPELLING

Do you know that one of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language is--"misspelled"? That sneaky double s has tripped more than a few people.

Just as most misspellings of proper names are due to variations from the "regular" spellings, other frequently misspelled words achieve that status by violating convention. Remember the grade-school spelling rule "i before e except after c or when sounded like a as in neighbor and weigh"? But... how do you spell "height"?

You form plurals by adding s; but then how do you explain "mouse" and "mice"? Or "woman" and "women"? Or "goose" and "geese"--and for that matter, why is the plural of "mongoose" still “mongooses”?

And what about words that are spelled one way and pronounced another--and letter combinations for which there seem to be no conventional pronunciations? Why does "knife" have a k in it? Why doesn't "dough" rhyme with "rough," nor "key" with "obey," nor "plow" with "tow"?

Be grateful if you learned English in toddlerhood. The more-or-less-official tongue of international business is perhaps the hardest language in the world for adults to master. Blame a centuries-long habit of freely adopting words from other languages, no doubt aided and abetted by the British Empire period.

Nonetheless, and like it or not, people still see sloppy spelling as a sign of ignorance or carelessness or both. Blind faith in your spell checker is not an advisable solution: few computers can tell the difference between "twenty-four resources" and "twenty for Resources." At times, we all have to revert to the ancient "look it up" method.

However, no dictionary can help if you're so uncertain of a spelling that you can’t find it in the alphabetical list or keyword search, or if you're like the college student who lamented, "My professors say I have to learn to look up words when I'm in doubt--but I'm never in doubt!" The only thing resembling preventive medicine is to review likely-to-be-misspelled words until the correct spelling is burned into your memory. Do you have "misspelled" straight? Good; now here are ten more words to memorize before drafting your next business proposal:
1. Accidentally
2. Calendar
3. Consensus
4. Guarantee
5. Indispensable
6. License
7. Occurrence
8. Personnel
9. Relevant
10. Stationery (as in "writing paper," not to be confused with stationary, which means "motionless")

When you have all those right, visit the "Most Often Misspelled Words" page at yourdictionary.com for a top-100 list and some useful memory aids....

...the word for which is spelled M-N-E-M-O-N-I-C-S and pronounced “knee-MAWN-iks.”


© Katherine Swarts
http://gwigb.blogspot.com/

Katherine Swarts, Spread the Word's founder, owner, and head copywriter, has been writing professionally for more than ten years—and reading voraciously for as long as she can remember.

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Besides having over 100 article  credits, Katherine is a writer of Christian and inspirational poetry. Visit her blog.

25 comments :

  1. I don't envy anyone trying to learn English as a second language. So many almost-the-same words, and rules with exceptions! For some reason my most troublesome word has always been camaraderie, maybe because I don't pronounce it correctly. I make frequent use of MSWord's dictionary but it's not a lot of help when I can't come up with a clue to the spelling.

    Thanks for an interesting post, Katherine.

    "In other news...," how is that lake of yours doing today, Joylene? Has the ice closed in? This is my last-chance day!

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  2. Interesting!
    I've actually just bought my first dictionary since childhood because I'm constantly struggling with spelling.
    Thanks Katherine,I'm now going to visit your blog.

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  3. I agree with Carol G., and don't envy a person who is trying to learn English as a second language.

    Even for those of us who have been raised in the language, it is confusing.

    Interesting post!

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  4. Hi Carol. I'm not telling! hee hee
    As for spelling, my mother went to grade 8 and yet I, (SFU graduate) was constantly asking her how to spell a certain word. I have problems with a few, like: welcome. I never know if it's "You're welcome." Or "You're welcome." That's just one example.

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  5. Hi Paul. I can attest to just how helpful Katherine has been. She and Phyllis are God sent.

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  6. Hi Carol. I grew up in a house where two languages were spoken, and I struggled with both of them all my life. But it's been fun. I still say something every once in a while that cracks up my family. My mother did the same. "Mum, what are you having for breakfast?" "Hmm, pieces of toast, I think." haha.

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  7. Joylene, you can say (or write) that again!

    If the western world thinks it has difficulty with the language, imagine us in the Far East! Yes, we certainly have our share of nightmares with her.

    One problem for beginners is the inconsistency in pronunciation: e.g argue vs tongue

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  8. Grandpa, I sympathize. I can't imagine learning an Asian language at my age. I have enough trouble with French. I think our strange configuration have a lot of to with the Latin, Celtic and Germany influfences.

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  9. And what's with BUSINESS? Someone learning English would probably think it was pronounced "Bus e ness" or possibly "Boo zee ness."Or maybe even "Busy-ness." How'd they ever get "Bis-ness"?

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  10. Haha, good point, Kasey. And what about: daiquiri, rendezvous, and sovereign?

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  11. And also, the misspelling of proper English. Color, neighborhood,
    humor, favorite...
    And, of course, 'embarrassment' is another commonly misspelt word. How embarrasssing:-)

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  12. Gary -- LOL

    You're British, so those words don't count. LOL Like how you snuck them in there though.

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  13. I often write occasionally incorrectly, in fact I did it as I was leaving this comment.(Thank goodness for spell check) Good grief, I just got through writing it out in the comment section on my blog so it was the first one that came to mind and I still didn't get it right. LOL! I don't know why we have these "rules." Rules should make sense, the English language often doesn't.

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  14. Laura, lol, I agree, there are too many rules. If it weren't for the spell-police I'd be a happy camper too.

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  15. Hello Joylene,
    I am British and Canadian eh. And when I went to school in Vancouver, Sir Winston Churchill high school, 'Go Bulldogs!'..... whoops...sorry...well, in school in Vancouver, we spelt English in English. Colour, neighbourhood, humour, favourite...
    And to heck with the rules, anyway. Grammar anarchy!! Take good care, Joylene:-)

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  16. Gary, we still do. And every single time one of my American buddies critiques my WIP, they highlight all those words as misspellings. LOL. I don't say anything. One of the few differences between Canadian and British spelling is we often use Z instead of S.

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  17. And, I assume, you pronounce the letter 'Z', 'zed' and not, 'zee',like our buddies to the South:-)

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  18. I do pronounce it as "Zed", and I usually get "the look". I'm always surprised when I hear someone say "Zee" too.

    Am I suppose to put the quotation marks outside the comma, or inside?

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  19. In this case, I would say that you put the quotation marks as you did. The comma on the outside, because the comma is not part of the quote. And, not all people put a comma after 'and'.
    Now, it's getting confusing. I think I'd better do some silly blog. Cheers:-)

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  20. Joylene, it is precisely those stuff you talked about with Gary that add to our confusion. Our children go to school that teaches completely in Malay, with (English) English as a subject. But they watch American movies and MTV's! So it's nither here nor there!

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  21. @Gary, there are just too many bloody rules. Thank you for clarifying. And now that I've confused you, have a great early morning. I'm betting it must be midnight there?

    @Grandpa, the great thing is your children are learning English and with that the tools to make their life adventurous and exciting. It's wonderful to have a second language. I wish I'd paid more attention to French and Spanish when I was young. Today I can fake it for a minute or two, but I can't carry on a decent conversation in either one of them.

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  22. Good post! Thank you both. I agree that we cannot rely completely on spell and grammar check - I've had similar situations. Sharp editing eyes are necessary, once you get past all our interesting rules...:)
    Happy Holidays,
    Karen

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  23. Hi Karen. Sharp editing -- Yes! Merry Christmas, Karen.

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  24. Hi Joylene .. I'd count your blessings about the British Empire, and before that Medieval English, Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Roman (Latin), Greek and Indo-European .. all blended to our modern English/American?! Otherwise you'd be learning something else ..

    Mongoose .. it is an Indo-Aryan language (west/central India)word .. the English form changing since about 1698 to its goose ending by folk-etymology ..

    I count myself very lucky to have been born in England!! & I can colour my words .. but the English language is incredibly rich .. especially when working through its roots ..

    But I loved this! Cheers Hilary

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  25. I'm very glad to be an English speaking person, Hilary, that's for sure. I think it's a beautiful language. I'd hate to be learning it at my age though. LOL. Boy, that would be tough.

    Merry Christmas, Hilary. Hope the weather warms up a bit for you.

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