Thursday, January 29, 2009

Word Play

It is fitting that misspelled often is.

Here are other common words prone to mistake:

accommodation, allotted, attendance, calendar, changeable, consensus, crucifixion, develop, ecstasy, forty, gauge, guttural, handkerchief, idiosyncrasy, inoculate, irrelevant, liaise, likable, liquefy, maintenance, mayonnaise, millennium, minuscule, moccasin, necklace, occasionally, occurred, pavilion, prairie, principal (versus principle), privilege, rarefy, repellent, resuscitate, rhythm, sacrilegious, separate, supersede, surprise, and withhold.

A few of these, like likable (likeable), have more than one accepted spelling. But most of the words appear only one way in dictionaries, and are butchered with noticeable regularity by those without the time, resources or motivation to check their guesses.

Good readers are not necessarily good spellers. Linguists have pointed out that the former is a more passive, receptive act while the latter is a more conscious, deliberate process that requires heightened “visual memory” to handle exceptions.

“It is possible to read by attending selectively to the cues in a text, recognizing just a few letters, and guessing the rest,” linguist David Crystal says. “It is not possible to spell in this way: spellers have to reproduce all the letters.”

Replacing every ‘o’ with an ‘x’ in a sentence underscores this: “Dx yxu just lxve a full mxxn?” The question about whether you loved the celestial body would probably still be understood.

A brain’s ability to fill in such gaps suggests that wrong or unusual spellings won’t necessarily prevent communication, although readers might have to wxrk hxrder tx figxre xut whxt the writxr meenz.

But sticking with a standard spelling is more than a gesture of courtesy. It can also telegraph a message about concern for accuracy, consistency, and seriousness of the message – an important consideration for many people, particularly if the message is meant for all time.

1 comment:

  1. I have problems with "fluorescent" and "camouflage". (Note: such problems I actually had to open Word and type them there first, before posting here.)
    Something to make all of us feel better, though: apparently, JK Rowling misspelled "apothecary" wrong through the entire manuscript of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I guess it's not always the words that count, it's how you use them!