Further information on viewing conditions, site index and the site Google search facility
Frost's Meditations Logo

My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.”
A.A. Milne

The importance of correct spelling

I before E?
Lecturer calls for spelling amnesty
America's Spelling bee
Further information
See also

‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’. Or maybe not
Alexandra Frean. Aug 7, 2008

For those who have always struggled to remember the exceptions to the “i” before “e” spelling rule: don’t bother.

One university lecturer has become so fed up with correcting his students’ atrocious spelling that he has launched a crusade for the most common “variant spellings” - otherwise known as spelling mistakes - to be fully accepted into common usage.

Instead of complaining about the state of education as he corrects the same spelling mistakes in undergraduate essays year after year, Ken Smith, a criminologist at Bucks New University, has a much simpler solution.

“Either we go on beating ourselves and our students up over this problem, or we simply give everyone a break and accept these variant spellings as such,” he suggests today in an article in The Times Higher Education Supplement.

Seeing that the spelling of the word “judgement”, for example, is now widely accepted as a variant of “judgment”, why can’t “truely” also be accepted as a variant spelling of “truly”? Dr Smith asks. “I am not asking [people] to learn to spell these words differently. All I am suggesting is that we might well put 20 or so of the most commonly misspelt words in the English language on the same footing as those other words that have a widely accepted variant spelling.”

As a starting point he suggests the ten words most commonly misspelt by his students (see panel). To these he would also add the word “misspelt” itself and all those that break the “i” before “e” rule (weird, seize, leisure, neighbour, foreign).

Dr Smith’s suggestion was warmly welcomed yesterday by Jack Bovill, chairman of the Spelling Society, which has advocated a simplified, more phonetic, approach to spelling since 1908.

Given that English often spells identical sounds in several ways, it is little wonder that English-speaking adults always come near the bottom in international studies on literacy, he says.

The ee-sound, for example can be spelt as in: seem, team, convene, sardine, protein, fiend, people, he, key, ski, debris and quay. Yet there are no rules for deciding when to use which, so why not just spell the ee-sound simply as “ee”? To ease the switch from current spelling to a more phonetic system, the Spelling Society advocates a period of transition in which traditional and new forms are used together.

Others are less keen. John Simpson, the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, believes that Dr Smith is fighting a losing battle.

“There are enormous advantages in having a coherent system of spelling. It makes it easier to communicate. Maybe during a learning phase there is some scope for error, but I would hope that by the time people get to university they have learnt to spell,” he said.

He accepts, however, that some spellings do change over time. “Fifty years ago ‘alright’ was one word and now it is two,” he said.

As spelt by Dr Smith

Arguement for argument
Why drop the “e” in argument (and judgment) but not management?

Ignor for ignore
Ignore comes from the Latin ignorare, meaning “to know”, and ignarus, meaning “ignorant”. Neither of these words has an “e” after the “r”, so why do we?

Occured for occurred
There is no second “r” in the words “occur” or “occurs” and that is why nearly everyone misspells this word

Opertunity for opportunity
In Latin this word refers to the timely arrival at a harbour - Latin portus. But the Latin spelling is obportus, not opportus, so, if we were being consistent, we should spell “opportunity” as “obportunity”

Que for queue, or better yet cue or even kew
Where did we get the second “ue” in the word “queue” and why do we need it?

Speach for speech

We spell “speak” with an “ea”. We do not have to but we do. Since we do, let us then spell “speech” with an “a” too

Thier for their
(or better still, why not just drop the word their altogether in favour of there?) It does not make any difference to the meaning of a sentence if you spell “their” as “thier” or “there”, so why insist on “their”?

Truely for truly
We don’t spell the adverb “surely” as “surly” because this would make another word, so why is the adverb of “true” spelt “truly”?

Twelth as twelfth
Twelf is related to the Frisian tweli, but why should we care? You would not dream of spelling “stealth” or “wealth” with an “f” so why do it in “twelfth”?


The spell is broken: Lecturer calls for spelling amnesty on students' top 20 errors
By Laura Clark 7th August 2008

Faced with a flood of basic spelling mistakes, you might expect a university lecturer to demand his students pay more attention to the dictionary. But one don is so fed up with having to correct his undergraduates' errors that he is calling for something rather more unorthodox  -  a spelling amnesty.

Dr Ken Smith is urging colleagues to turn a blind eye to the 20 most common slips  -  such as 'Febuary', 'ignor' and 'speach'  -  and view them instead as variants of standard spellings.

Writing in the Times Higher Education magazine, the senior lecturer in criminology at Buckinghamshire New University said: 'Teaching a large first-year course at a British university, I am fed up with correcting my students' atrocious spelling. Aren't we all? 'But why must we suffer? Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I've got a better idea. 'University teachers should simply accept as variant spellings those words our students most commonly misspell.'

He added: 'Either we go on beating ourselves and our students up over this problem or we simply give everyone a break and accept these variant spellings as such. 'All I am suggesting is that we might well put 20 or so of the most commonly misspelt words in the English language on the same footing as those other words that have a widely accepted variant spelling.'

He said the word 'judgement' was already accepted as a variant of 'judgment', adding: 'So why can't "truely" be accepted as a variant spelling of "truly"?'

Dr Smith said there was no reason many commonly misspelt words were configured the way they were. The word 'twelfth', for example, would make more sense as 'twelth', he said. 'How on earth did that "f " get in there? You would not dream of spelling the words "stealth" or "wealth" with a "f" (as in 'stealfth' or "wealfth") so why insist on putting the "f" in twelfth?'.

Dr Smith is not calling for the words to be changed permanently. But his remarks will heighten concern over the literacy levels of undergraduates. They come after a lecturer at the prestigious Imperial College released the worst spelling and grammatical howlers by his students.

Dr Bernard Lamb claimed Britain's brightest undergraduates were worse at English than foreign students. He said home-grown students were more likely to write essays littered with mistakes such as 'there' instead of 'their' and 'been' instead of 'bean'.

Dr Lamb had become so concerned at poor English among undergraduates in genetics, he began to keep a diary of mistakes. In little over a term, he had covered 24 sides of A4. He blamed failings in the school system, declaring: 'There was little evidence of students having been taught the relevant rules at school, or of the students having been corrected for obvious and frequent errors.'

Jack Bovill, chairman of the Spelling Society, said its national survey had shown up to 54 per cent of people couldn't spell words such as ' embarrassed', 'separate', 'accommodation', 'millennium' and 'friend'. But he said the society did not advocate changing the spellings.

20 commonly missplelled words that could be accepted by universities:

Arguement for argument
Febuary for February
Wensday for Wednesday
Ignor for ignore
Occured for occurred
Opertunity for opportunity
Que, cue and kew for queue
Speach for speech
Thier, there for their
Truely for truly
Twelth for twelfth
Wierd for weird
Sieze for seize
Liesure for leisure
Nieghbour for neighbour
Foriegn for foreign
Mispelt for misspelt
America's Spelling bee

A spelling bee is a competition where contestants, usually children, are asked to spell English words. The concept originated in the United States, and is usually perceived to be a solely American practice; part of the reason could be that English has an exceptionally complex and arbitrary orthography

School spelling bees
Spelling bee students usually start competition in elementary schools or middle schools. For elementary schools, children usually have a class bee to select children for the school bee, and are given a list of words to study. For middle schools, a bee is usually given in one's English class, or is open for anyone. A list of words is also given to middle school students.

Usually, but not always, the student who places 1st place at their school bee goes on to a district or regional bee. There is no given list to study for at either. The top 10 children at the district bee, (ie. 1st place-10th place) goes on to the regional/state bee. Many schools in the country stop spellers at this point from continuing on to the national bee, mainly because of inexperience. The number of students who do head on to the national bee varies from state to state. If a student succeeds the regional bee, they usually hire tutors to help them prepare.


National spelling bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee logoSerious spelling bee competitors will study root words and etymologies, and often foreign languages from which English draws, in order to spell challenging words correctly. Spellers also study words used in previous bees; there are several preparatory materials published in connection with the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The previous resource was called the Paideia word list (from the Greek word meaning education and culture), and has since been discontinued.

In the year 2006-2007, the Scripps National Spelling Bee started publishing a new book of words called Spell it! Devoted spelling bee participants also use other reference books, which feature strategies, methods and lists to help the contestant further develop their spelling skills. Tutoring materials to aid spelling skills are also becoming available on the web.

For the first several decades, the Scripps' annual study booklet was named "Words of the Champions", and it offered 3,000 words in a list separated into beginning, intermediate, and advanced groupings. In the early 80s Hexco Academic started offering Valerie's Spelling Bee Supplement to spellers to give them a phonetic pronunciation and definition for each word. This product grew out of Valerie's own experience in working with the Scripps' word list, looking up the words, and committing them to her then TRS/80 computer. She was the youngster that prompted the company to offer "her notes" for sale to other spellers. From there the small company developed computer software, products for conducting bees, and ultimately a line of advanced study products. Every National Spelling Bee Champion since 2000 has used Hexco Academic study materials in preparation for the higher rungs of competitions, particularly Nat's Notes and Spelling Rules Book.

As Hexco began offering the only study materials available for preparation for the National Spelling Bee other than the 2,600 page "Webster's Third New International," spellers became more competitive, and the National Bee started using more and more difficult words to conduct their bees. In the mid-90s the annual study list changed to be "Paideia" which ultimately contained 4,100+ words, then again changed in 2006 to be the shorter list, entitled "Spell It!" Hexco has continued to provide annual products for studying the annual Scripps study list, and they continue to add advanced products to prepare spellers for the esoteric words spelled at the National Spelling Bee.

Further information
Test your spelling http://homepage.ntlworld.com/vivian.c/TestsFrame.htm
BBC Hard Spell http://www.bbc.co.uk/hardspell/starspell_game.shtml
Junior games http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/interactive/literacy.html#7

See also
Indirectly speaking
British Education: A Failure?
Text and speech
Failure to teach three Rs 'damaging economy'
School tests should be short and sharp
No end of them

Readers please email comments to: editorial AT martinfrost.ws including full name

Note: martinfrost.ws contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.