The Other I

January 22, 2015

Bad spelling: right/write!

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:29 pm

During most of the time I taught in university, texting was not yet a known form of communication.  But what I called bad spelling was common, and I deducted points for papers that contained uncorrected spelling and typographical errors.  In one classic example, I remember identifying 122 errors.  (I did give the student a chance to re-write the paper.)

But I’m not so black-and-white anymore about spelling.  First of all, there now is texting, which involves quite a clever way of communicating with a reduced number of letters.  And there are also increasing numbers of people, educated and non-so-educated, for whom English is a second language, and for whom the arcane and often inconsistent spelling rules in English are a mine-field.  And yet it is perfectly possible to know what the person is trying to say.

A much bigger communication problem than mis-spellings is the inter-cultural communication problem I touched on in my post yesterday.  We can usually identify the words a person is using;  it’s the meaning of the message that we so often misconstrue.

And so if I were still teaching, I would suggest to my students that what we have traditionally called “correct spelling” is one of the languages we need to learn.  If you want to submit a job application or research paper, or a letter of complaint, using this language is apt to be more effective than more original, phonetically-correct spellings that are less traditional.  In less formal situations, let’s delight in creativity.

So their!  or  they’re!  or there!  My version is thair!

But you can spell is ther! if you want.

I know what you mean meen.



  1. Anything goes in today’s times – right spelling hampers productivity:-)


    Comment by tskraghu — January 23, 2015 @ 2:28 am | Reply

  2. I find ‘american’ a lazy form of Correct English thanks to Mr Webster!. I have a friend in China who speaks and writes in English English if she can master our alien [to her] alphabet them so should we all! Having said that she once had a problem understanding why I should want to ‘toast’ her on New Years Eve!


    Comment by lairdglencairn — January 23, 2015 @ 9:18 am | Reply

    • According to the ethnologists with whom I am acquainted, the biggest reason English is globally so widespread is because it is so flexible. Far more than the French, for instance, who are even stunting its spread by trying to legislate how words are to be spelled.

      And what you call English English is hardly static. It has evolved with the arrival of the Vikings, the Normans, the Saxons, the Celts, and with words brought back from around the world – India, Africa, the mid-East, all the Americas. Why should that evolution stop once the language has emigrated to other countries?

      I also suspect that “English English” is not as clear-cut as it might sound. My husband – who is, I assure you, 100% English, told me the story of being in the car as a child with his father in the Lake District. When they got lost, his father stopped and asked for directions, which were given with much gesticulation and received with expressions of gratitude. But when he got back in the car, his father said “I didn’t understand a bl…y word he said.” My husband also said that his father and grandfather used to talk in the local dialect, which he could barely understand.

      Today the BBC has an explicit policy of avoiding the use of “posh English” and using more colloquial words.

      But I didn’t start this. Your George Bernard Shaw, and HG Wells both argued for spelling. reform.

      Personally, I think language is rather like our children. We give them life. But in the end, we have to let them live the lives we shared with them. And I suspect spelling reform would help increase literacy, which is essential to education, and on which, as we have already agreed, is one of the bedrocks of democracy.

      On Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 9:18 AM, The Other I wrote:



      Comment by Terry Sissons — January 23, 2015 @ 11:16 am | Reply

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