Mind Your Grammars, Please

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.


28 responses to “Mind Your Grammars, Please

  1. I was once in a daze and forgot how to spell the word ‘of’. I’m totally serious. I was sitting there thinking, ‘ov’-no. ‘uv’? no. Then it came to me and I nearly smacked myself in the face. haha.

  2. Yeah, ya know, you guys over dere gotta learn better English.

  3. Tru dat. Yo mama di’unt lern you proper spellin or sum’in. Know what I’m sayin’.

  4. I learned to read using something called ITA – spellings were different, and there were 44 letters in the alphabet. Really! I think ‘of’ actually was written ‘ov’! No wonder they dropped that reading scheme!

    I’m usually good at spelling too – ‘definitely’ being one of the few I’ve always had a hard time with. Trying to remember which is the correct spelling in which country is difficult sometimes though!

  5. GREY

    The thing that drives me bananas is the incorrect use of apostrophes. Contractions vs. singular possessive vs. plural possessive … Let’s not even get started …

  6. Let’s just say that at work I’m known as the “Report Nazi”. Now that I’m a supervisor and have to approve reports, I’m in my glory. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said the phrase, “Where’s my red pen?”

    I’m a bit backwards from you though…I was a horrible speller when I was younger and picked it up as I got older. I’m a visual learner, so I usually have to write the word out (as opposed to spelling it out loud) but I usually get it right. Another often used phrase at work is, “Where’s my dictionary?” I look stuff up all the time just to double check. I think that’s probably how I learned to spell so well!

  7. I’d forgotten about grey. Ahhh yes, Anne. The misuse of the apostrophe hits a raw nerve with me too. Come to think of it, I don’t know why I didn’t bother going into teaching in the first place…

  8. oh argh!! as someone who works with language — and making it proper — on a daily basis, i feel your pain.

    i copy-edit billboards in my head as i drive by. you can’t take me anywhere.

  9. Great post. You expressed my sentiments on spelling exactly! I still will write out yoghurt! I wanted to spell Logan with an ‘H’ but hubby said we should make it easy for the masses! LOL

    Now, have you started saying garaaaage yet or is it still pronounced garidge??

  10. Oh no! I would be a complete mess trying to sort through the two countries spellings! I’m bad enough the way it is.
    There are certain words that always catch me up. Like embarrass. Although after your story I think I should remember. Two r’s two s’s.
    Oh. And exercise. I ALWAYS get that wrong. As a matter of fact I just looked it up to see if I had spelled it right and I hadn’t. Good grief.

  11. Even when I was a little girl, I loved British writers and tended to read them more than Americans. Now and since childhood, I struggle with correct spellings of words like “travelled.” My spell check hates me!

  12. Oh it can get even more confusing up here in Canada where sometimes it’s the British spelling that is taught, other times it’s the US. And sometimes its either or both! I still get Centre and center mixed up all the time.

    I was a spelling freak as a kid; even now if I go through some of my older posts and I pick up typos I literally cringe!

  13. I never knew that about ‘practise’ and ‘practice’. Funnily enough, just last night I wrote ‘kurb’ and then thought about ‘Curb your enthusiasm’ and thought it was one of those words I had wrong…

  14. Re the definitely/definately…. I suspect it’s cos lots of Westies pronounce the words as definATEly…! Wish I had a pound for every time I’ve had to correct that spelling from a student fae the West…!

  15. Siobhan,
    I once was handed back a paper that was graded zero because I wrote: “he must of died.” I learned the hard way about the use of words and their spelling. But there was one word that I always misspelled. That word, like you, was definitely.

  16. You do have so much more to keep straight. I like to think I am a good speller but bad typist. I certainly have lost many writing skills since I was in school. I am also much too dependent on spell check and Firefox which helps keep me straight since it spell checks everything I type online. Yet I still make mistakes on a regular basis! I am glad you don’t have a red pen to use on my blog or comments. ; )

  17. I think you would be a wonderful teacher. It isn’t too late to sign up… wink wink

  18. The first time I saw the word ‘tyre’ written with a ‘y’ I thought, “No, surely that can’t be right.” And I still can’t write ‘curb’ with a ‘k’ – it just seems so…wrong.

  19. Definitely always gets me, too!

    I loved “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”, but was surprised by how many grammatical differences there are between British English and American English. Of course, I still use too many commas!

  20. You know what? I am a grammar failure. But, I can only imagine what it’s like to learn to spell English one way and then get plopped in a country that spells it totally different. I knew quite a few of them – but not encyclopedia. And, was it in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant said something about Kebabs? It makes more sense the way he said KEE babs with that spelling.

  21. I am Just. Like. You. I spot spelling mistakes a mile a way and get extremely aggravated when I see–in books, no less–“accept” used in place of “except” or “effect” used instead of “affect”. Drives me BATTY!
    Oh, and for the record, I definitely did not see this entry before I published my latest. Honest. Cross my fingers and hope to die honest. 😉

  22. Talk about making a bold statement! Jeesh!

  23. It would help if they didn’t make up words all the time though. A few years ago I swear one of the CNN reporters said they were “efforting” to bring us pictures of something or other as soon as possible. “Efforting?”

  24. I have a 1940’s edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary (English English) in which words like
    realise, generalise are spelt with a z (that’s zed, not zee).

    I also have a 1964 edition of the same dictionary in which these same words can be spelt with an s or a z. So I guess language is always in a state of flux.

  25. Sometimes I just write “am” instead of “I am”… Is that bad?

    You missed ‘doughnut’.

    They just don’t spell like they used to. *sigh*

  26. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one! My school district is telling us not to teach spelling *or* grammar, and half the teachers about had a heart attack. I said they can write me up for it because my certificate says I have the right to practice the art of teaching, and not teaching those is just bad teaching!!!

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