I used to be a great speller. I could rattle off the letters to long words without a second thought in Primary school. Before I even got words to paper, I could tell if it looked wrong in my head. The longer words were my forté, whereas the shorter, less complicated words would confound me for hour-long minutes.
I distinctly remember having a written spelling test in Primary school and working my way through every word the teacher uttered. (We don’t have Spelling Bees in the UK.) Then she said, “flew”. I stared at my paper and the tip of my pencil, perhaps hoping for some sort of inspiration. Then my eyes floated out the window as I concentrated in the word. Floo. No, that looks wrong. Flue? No, that’s not it either. What then? Flou? Long after that word was gone and the test was almost to a close, I remember whispering to a classmate, “how do you spell flew?” Having given her many answers to tests before, I felt bad for having to ask her, but not bad enough to feel guilty. She pointed to the word and suddenly the moment of clarity hit me like a ton of bricks.
That was one of only a few tests that I truly aced at the age of nine. I was the only one in the class to get 100%, and suddenly the girl who constantly copied me was furious that she had helped me get there.
I’ve never been much of a fan of misspelled words. There’s a school teacher in me somewhere brandishing a red pen and pursed lips. I remember for part of my graphic design course in College, we had to take English and Maths classes. I handed in a paper and when I got it back, he had crossed out a word I had misspelled and corrected it for me. I was mortified! What was the offending word? Embarrassed. He’d lined mine out and penned in ’embarassed’ directly above it. I privately called him out on it, stating confidently that he was wrong. He took it to the class, but no-one else was willing to back me up on take him up on the challenge. So I persisted. “Look, I know I spelt it right and I can prove it.”
I was freshly out of high school and wondered how much slack he would give me before setting a boundary. Undeterred and determine to vindicate myself, I ran down the flights of stairs to the library and grabbed the dictionary, photocopied the page and took it back to class.
“Looks like I’m going to have to change some papers I marked over the summer…” he remarked sheepishly.
Admittedly, there was one word I had been spelling wrong for years and never really realised it until I looked it up. Definitely. Too many rules and too many words spelt similarly. So, until I was 21, it was definately.
Since arriving in the States almost nine years ago now, I’ve noticed the sudden decline in my ability to spell correctly, especially off the top of my head. Is it my own demise from not using a pen and paper so much and ultimately relying on a instant spell checker as I type (and not realising it)?
I also think part of it is living in a nation where common – and perhaps not so common – things are spelt differently than Britain. I lived through three-and-a-half years in the American workforce and was compelled to spell things wrong – or different or remove hyphens where they once were.
You probably already know about words like realise, colour, harbour, honour, armour, behaviour, centre, theatre, litre, themometre and aluminium. But did you know about:
Theorise, Socialise, Analyse
Cosy, Practise (verb; noun is practice)
Defence, Licence (noun; verb is license)
Cancellation (lots more like this of adding double consonants to final roots)
Co-ordinate and Co-operation?
And don’t get me started on words I have to completely change, just to be understood a little better. It’s no wonder I can’t articulate my words as easily as I used to when I get in a group of people. With constantly keeping the words and spellings of two nations straight in my head, I’m not surprised confusion has set in, but more surprised my brain hasn’t imploded.