By: James F. O’Neil
Does spelling ever matter? Well, does it ever matter after school’s out? Who cares about spelling as long as there is a spell-checker handy?
I have been reading a charming and fun book that has made me “Listen up!” Roy Peter Clark at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, has made me often remember my childhood and school days. The Glamour of Grammar has a section on words that had me laughing out loud, but taking notice, as I thought back upon spelling and the problems I had.
i before e,
Except after c,
Or when sounded as “a,”
As in neighbor and weigh.
Despite learning this rhyme, we had to learn (our teachers hoped) to be aware of so many exceptions, like seizure, heir, Keira [Knightley], geisha, and, of course, their (not such “big” words, either.)
Should we keep our own lists of MIS-SPELLED words to help us correct our mistakes, as Clark suggests? (Pink Floyd might suggest otherwise: “We don’t need no education.”) Clark’s Glamour book gives us “a guide to the magic and mystery of practical English”–including spelling. We need to know affect and effect, or public and pubic, and cleave (cut) and cleave (cling). So many words, so little time (eight years in school?).
So we could out-spell another student, or editor, or journalist, or the boss. We needed to come out ahead by spelling it right!
For what? To help me remember Eleanor Wagner.
She was always a better speller than I was. She always outlasted me in the spelling games we had, those infamous spelling bees of the bad old days. She always was the last one to sit down, or the last one standing. I despised her for that, for her mind.
(Sometimes, though, I envision that didn’t I throw it just to be able to sit down and watch her there alone by the board, wearing her blue pleated uniform skirt?) In addition, she really had quite a body for an eighth grader. I loved her, too. (In 8th grade?) She was my girlfriend for a while‑‑until she discovered big boys, those high-school types, those typecasts.
Eleanor also introduced me to From Here to Eternity, with the sexy beach scene all marked in her worn copy of the book which she passed along the row of desks to each of us lustful adolescents. We read it under the desks, on our laps, of course. Ah, a sexy beach scene from a sexy speller.
And the spelling books? Remember those spellers that listed words, fill-in-the-blanks, exercises that demanded much busy homework? I remember unfortunate. More than anything else, I remember the “tuna” in the word, the tuna that I “ate.” What happened to those spellers? And where is Eleanor?
So, spelling does matter. Especially, as one student of mine wrote, “In this “Doggy-Dog World we need spelling.” (That, of course, should be spelled as “dog-eat-dog.” Right?)
* * *
Here is a list of must-know words to be spelled correctly:
all right, similar, familiar, marriage, possession, Wednesday, February, separate, misspell, arithmetic, occur, occurrence, similar, villain, cemetery, forty, truly, fourth.
And what about these?
braggadocio (kidding about this braggart word), acquire, inoculate, grammar (put the first letter last, and it spells rammarg, that is, grammar spelled backwards), embarrass, weird, niece, definitely, college, knowledge, sacrilegious, deceive, friend
© James F. O’Neil 2013