If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 19 January 2012


OK, I'm going to boast now. I am very good indeed at spelling. It's not a great achievement, and it's not half as important as those people who can't spell like to think it is, but it's what I do well. It's about the only thing at school that I was actually good at, as opposed to being good at seeming to be good at. Lousy at sport, average in all the subjects, B-stream throughout, moderately well-behaved, not bad at music - but if there was any spelling to be done, I creamed it. I could spell better than most of the teachers, which did not win me many favours if I pointed it out. I learned to keep schtum.

Ask me to spell any word, and I will tell you. And I will be completely and utterly confident that I am right. It's possibly the only area of my life where I can say that, which is a bit pathetic really, but there you are.

Good spelling is not a mark of intelligence, any more than the ability to ride a bicycle is. But it is one of those things that people take as evidence of education, and I can't say that I am not happy to have the talent. It's one less thing* for people to beat you up about, if nothing else. I'm sure it's mainly a visual thing with me, as I am fairly good in tests that involve shapes, patterns and sequences. If I am ever unsure over which of two or three spellings is the right one, I just write them down and the correct spelling leaps off the page at me, shouting "Pick ME! Pick ME!" The right one looks right; the rest just look odd. No intellect involved.

There are a couple of problem areas. With words like 'weird' and 'shield', I can never remember whether they follow the rule or the exception. 'Sheild' always looks wrong, but 'weird/wierd' are about 50/50. I just have to remember that 'weird' is a bit weird, like Neil and Sheila. But there is one word I always have to look up. Always. And that is ...

fx: Goons-style retreating footsteps
fx: rapid riffling of dictionary pages
fx: Goons-style approaching footsteps

... Diarrhoea

It's a horrendous word - letters hardly relating to the sounds they represent, consonant and vowel clusters that are decidedly foreign (and, while we are at it, the American spelling missing the letter 'o' - diarrhea - improves matters by exactly three-fifths of bugger all and serves merely to confuse things**). The word is a speller's nightmare.

No longer. Tonight I was browsing through Sickipedia in an idle moment and I came across this gem:

Doesn't It Always Run Really Horribly Over Each Ankle?

Problem solved. I will never forget that.

Does anyone else have a spelling bête noire and a way of conquering it?

* That should be 'one fewer thing', I am sure, but that just sounds wrong.

** Yes, strictly it is the replacement of the 'œ' ligature or digraph with a single letter 'e', but let's not get testicle, shall we?


  1. The only mnemonic I really remember is one drummed into us by a helpful Chemistry teacher.

    Not a spelling one, just a memory aid to remembering the first 18 elements of the Periodic Table:

    How HE LIkes BEer But Can't Knock Off Froth. Newton's NAtty MaGnificent ALchemists SIt Pruning Some CLimbing ARtichokes.

    1. Men Very Easily Make Jugs Serve Useful Necessary Purposes, although Richard Of York Gives Battle In Vain.

      All good fun.

  2. Good spelling is necessary....Never Eat Cake Eat Salmon Sandwiches And Remain Young ;-)

  3. It is 'less' for volume and 'fewer' for number.
    Simple is it not?

    1. Simple indeed - less wine, fewer bottles. But sometimes the 'correct' thing doesn't sound natural. My 'ear' told me that 'one fewer thing' sounded pretentious and silly, so I broke the rule. I can't imagine even Brian Sewell saying "We've got the seating plan ready, so that's one fewer thing to worry about".

      Always room for disagreement though :)

    2. I suspect that "one fewer thing" sounded like a split infinitive, but that you would have been comfortable with "one thing fewer". Wouldn't Mr Sewell delegate something as mundane as a seating plan?

    3. 'One thing fewer' sounds good. Should've seen that.

  4. "But it one of those things"

    Getting the spelling right doesn't mean the sentence reads right lol.

    1. Thank you, Bob - you spotted the deliberate error :)

      Now corrected.

      (Jeepers, I checked the post 950 times for spelling and missed out a whole word. Wood, trees, etc.)

  5. "Problem solved. I will never forget that."

    And now, neither will I!

  6. I could spell better than most of the teachers, which did not win me many favours if I pointed it out.

    I went to a grammar school, where the weaker teachers stood out - we could run rings round them, intellectually. One stood out, a geography teacher who was a genuinely nice bloke, good at his subject, and very good at communicating it (I managed a "B"* at O level, despite it not being one of my strengths). He was, however, appalling at spelling and generally tended to mangle his English. We used to take delight in pointing out his (frequent) spelling mistakes, mainly because he so obviously didn't appreciate us doing so.

    Then, the day came when he noticed a spelling mistake in the work handed in by a good friend of mine. Striding confidently over, he pointed it out and proudly announced that "People in glass stones... shouldn't... errr... throw.... ummm"

    "Houses, Sir?"

    ::[checks comment for spelling mistakes]::

    ::[checks again just to make sure]::

    *in the dim and distant past, when just spelling your name right wasn't enough to guarantee an A* ;-)

    1. AOL 'me too!' /AOL

      I went to a grammar skool and I'm not sure I would class any of the teachers as truly intellectual. They were mainly decent chaps who could read out from a book of notes for us to copy down. Not much of a challenge, really.

      Glad you proof-read your comment carefully. I re-read the post many *many* times before posting. Schadenfreude is a dreadful thing.

  7. Richard - I'm aware of your spelling abilities and your gripe with incorrect spelling after reading your post about 'licence', 'license'.

    While writing my recent post about the TV licenc(s)e, I was becoming more and more paranoid about the spelling as I used that word many times :-) It was like you were looking over my shoulder with a red pen in hand.

    I don't have a spelling tip but I remember a helpful saying for remembering points of the compass.

    Never Eat Shredded Wheat.

    It's also very good breakfast time advice.

    1. This is something I have found very embarrassing, and one of the reasons I am glad am no longer a teacher. Although I appreciate correct spelling, I would never criticise someone for a mistake. It's rude, it makes you look a prick, and it's missing the point. I would no more criticise a fellow blogger's spelling than I would criticise his taste in women. Criticising standards generally is a different matter, but that's more to do with despair at a failing education system than getting one over on my fellow humans.

      However, I read your TV licence/license post, and I didn't spot any howlers, so the ghost over your shoulder did his stuff :)

    2. Like you I may need to compare different versions of a particular spelling to determine the correct one. However I have to confess that the PC's spell checker is beginning to make me lazy. Or perhaps it's my eyesight? Some times I try and sort it myself, but that often makes things worse, and I suffer a mental blockage if I still don't get it right! That's when I let technology give me some prompts.

      I am very fussy about composition, and frequently spend more time rewriting a letter or post (such as this one) than I did with the initial effort. This is clearly not a concern shared by many journalists these days, and I am always mentally tidying up the sloppy articles I read on a daily basis. I'm old enough to remember when newspapers were typeset on Linotype machines, not computers, and the difference is striking. In those days any misteaks were invariably spotted and corrected before the presses started rolling.

    3. Richard - Heh. I passed! :-)
      I dispair at the education system when they even let txt spk go unchallenged. I hate that with a passion.

    4. " I dispair at the education system"

      despair not dispair ;)

  8. Replies
    1. Yeah sorry Richard. It was an open goal though and I couldn't resist it.
      Back of the net !

    2. He shoots! He scores! (To my mind, the jury's out on whether it was a spello or a typo. Given the inability to post-edit anything in Blogger comments, it's all forgiveable. I usually make a typo in comments, and I have stopped bothering to correct them.)

  9. I'm just as bad myself. Typo's and spello's galore. I dispare sumthymes.
    I'd say spello here because of the 5 letter gap between 'e' and 'i'.

    1. You might think that; I couldn't possibly comment.


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