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Is the Art of Spelling Dead?

It Started With a Cat.

A few days ago I received a text from my wife, informing me ‘the cat has passed its M.O.T.’ This surprised me on two counts. Firstly, we do not have a cat. Secondly, I was not aware of any recent legislation in the U.K where the roadworthiness of cats had become a legal requirement.

The whole episode ended over a conversation around spell checkers and idle thumbs. It got me thinking about the importance of spelling and, in this social media age, is the stress over a misspelt word worth the agony.

Recently, I have been encountering more online debates on the subject of spelling and grammar. Although the consensus err on the side of correctness, others suggest a good spelling mistake can add flavour to a piece of writing.

In his book, The Nuts and Bolts of Writing, the author Michael Legat wrote;

‘Nowadays, however, the ability to spell well is often regarded as a mild eccentricity, and many teachers feel that it is far more important to encourage children to express themselves in an interesting way than to bother about whether the words they use are properly spelt or not..’

I am in favour of a touch of mild eccentricity, and I also see the point he makes. If we look at the history and development of words, we find modern day words which, if written in the way they first appeared, would send the red pen brigade into a frenzy. Maybe spelling is as fluid as history itself?

An excellent example is the etymology of the name of the town Aylesbury , Buckinghamshire. Fifty-seven variations of the name are on record.

The historical development of the town name, Aylesbury.

History Littered with Bad Spellers

Whatever category of speller you fall into, it seems the ability to spell is not a bar to success. The inability to spell plagued some of the most influential people of our time. A former teacher of Winston Churchill, said of him, ‘writing is good, but terribly slow, spelling about as bad as it well can be.’ William Butler Yeats’ biographer wrote that ‘Yeats’ spelling, indeed, seems at times a matter of inherent guesswork,’ and the author, Agatha Christie admitted that ‘Writing and spelling were always terribly difficult for me.’ Although, in support of Yeats and Christie, both were believed to have suffered from dyslexia.

The Joy of a Blooper

If I am honest, I think a good misspelling brings with it a touch of zest and flavour. The shop sign reading, ‘Shoplifters will be prostituted,’; or the advertisement stating, ‘Now hiring smiling fences.’; or a notice board on a golf course warning, ‘Exorcising of dogs not allowed on the course area.’ How can they fail to bring a smile?

Today’s misspelling could be tomorrow’s next entry in the Oxford Dictionary. Culprit, despatch and syllabus were all slips of a pen which stayed from their original form.

It seems the art of spelling is not dead; it just changes with time. What do you think? I would value your thoughts.  

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