Many Americans vexed by spelling
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Most Americans are in a similar state to that of Matthew Evans, 13, of
Albuquerque, N.M., who was favored to win the bee in his fifth and final
appearance at the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee in the District. Except
that while he misspelled "secernent," Americans misspell words such as "friend"
The nation is not letter perfect. Americans may be embarassed, even.
Make that "embarrassed" - it's among the common words that vex the
spell-challenged in an age of spell check.
According to a study released
Monday by the London-based Spelling Society, 62 percent of the nation can't
spell the dreaded e-word correctly, along with liaison, botched by 61 percent,
and millennium, misspelled by 52 percent.
And while women ultimately prevail as better spellers, members of both
sexes struggle with the configurations of such words as accommodation, separate,
definitely and accidentally.
Men were particularly mystified by friend; 78
percent misspelled the word on occasion, the survey found. For the ladies, more
than half could not get liaison right.
Almost two-thirds of us say that spelling among adults is on the
decline; a quarter acknowledged that they were simply bad spellers. About a
third said they got nervous filling out official forms or formal documents
without a computer-based spell checker or at least a dictionary.
One academic consultant for the project blames the nature of the
"We have different spellings for the same sound,
especially for vowels - silent letters, missing letters and a system which
reflects how English was spoken in the 13th to 15th centuries, not how it is
spoken today," said Edward Baranowski, a linguist with California State
University at Sacramento.
"So many sound changes have occurred in the language, which are not
reflected in modern spelling, that we are left with a 'fossilized' system.
Perhaps if English had had an effective language academy, such as those in
France or Spain, this would have been mitigated over time," he added.
The Spelling Society - founded in 1908 in Britain to raise awareness of
problems caused by irregularities in English spelling - is calling for a regular
spelling system for the U.S. and Britain.
"Let's allow people greater
freedom to spell logically," said John Wells, a linguist with the University
College London. "It's time to remove the fetish that says that correct spelling
is a principal mark of being educated. Let's spell logically just as you do in
Spanish, Italian or Swedish."
Is a little dumbing down in order, then?
The survey found that 40 percent of the respondents would support
updating words that "typically" caused problems while 16 percent opposed the
idea. A blase 31 percent said it didn't matter.
Spelling, however, appears to be a family affair: 71 percent said it
was a parent's responsibility to help children with lousy spelling, 54 percent
said the task rested with teachers and 10 percent said that government should
take up the matter.
The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted for the project by Ipsos MORI, a
British-based organization, from Jan. 15 to 20.
Meanwhile, commonly misspelled words have drawn the ire of dictionary
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, words
such as address, beautiful, immediate and skillful are worries for would-be
perfectionists. In the Collins Dictionary, supersede is the worst word of all,
followed by conscience, indict and foreign. The "Dumbtionary," - an online
source of the most misspelled words - has amassed more than 10,000 of the
I've seen "lose" spelled "loose" more often than I can count, by morons online and by "professional" writers.