Welcome to the first in a series of three hundred and forty-seven posts on “Important Skills for Writers.” In this episode we discuss spelling.
Growing up, my dad used to tell this story of a time when he was in grade school. He created a very artistic cover for an English spelling folder. He was always proud of his eye for design, and this was not an opportunity he could pass up. He ended up putting so much time and effort into the presentation, that he never realized he’d written: “My Sellping Book.”
(Ironically, I’m not sure if I even spelled that correctly. He always just told us the story and I never knew how he actually sellped it.)
So why is correct spelling so important? To be honest, I have no idea. Spelling things correctly (in English) is a relatively recent phenomenon: only about five centuries or so. And when I say “correctly” I really just mean “consistently.” Before then, spelling wasn’t standardized. Spelling would drastically change from region to region, from person to person, and even from page to page in the writing of a single individual. Chaucer himself wrote, “This I telle you, the thyng what I needeth: is more cow belle. A fever hath I. And there is but one prescription: more cow bell.”
But how about in modern times? What if we just spelled things any way we wanted to? Like so:
Kawshun. Water may b akros rode way at hi tydez or adverse wether condishuns.
You can read it, right? Sure, it looks awkward, but the primary purpose (BY FAR) of writing is simply to communicate. It’s about the closest thing humans have to both telepathy and time travel.
So then, if I have successfully communicated a thought, who really cares if I write, “Nothing compares 2 u” instead of “Nothing compares to you”?
I’ll tell you who cares: I do.
And I’ll tell you why: writing “2 u” looks stupid.
Sorry, Prince. But it does. Spelling words correctly (consistently) is just that final touch that says one thing: I care about this. And if you don’t care about your writing, why should I care to spend the time reading it?
Fortunately we have something today that Chaucer could have only dreamed of: spellcheckers. These amazing and infallible tools give us that caring touch for free. After all, check out this spell-checked excerpt from one of my novels:
Phil: What’s are speed, Gym? Our Wii even moving atoll?
Jim: We’re down too just one not, Fill!
Phil: Worse, we’ve lost site of land.
Jim: Don’t worry, Fill. I’ll safe us!
Now you might assume, given how important this is to me, that I can spell any word thrown at me. Well, if that’s your assumption, then you’re wrong. There are dozens and dozens of words that I simply cannot spell no matter how many times I try. Eventually I get it, solely because of that red squiggly line. But it’s never on the first, second, or sixth tries.
- Compatability (Actually, any word with -ility
- Spring (if this doesn’t look misspelled to you, it’s because I was trying to type Sprint)
- Traffice (It’s just “traffic” stupid.)
I could continue, but this sad post has already gone on 2 long. But if you made it this far, leave a comment with any words that give you trouble. One lucky winner will win a free link to my next blog post.