Saturday, October 01, 2005

Spelling Eros

An issue that goes hand-in-glove with the cause of Vocabulary Reclamation is that of spelling. Putting small characters in rows. Assembling interrelated puzzles from memory. Demonstrating your linguistic superiority.


The very word can make one a pariah, shutting down jovial conversations instantaneously and separating close friends. Professors have been known to blanch when their spelling is questioned in the classroom. But just the same, some people love it. Probably because they are good at it, and the value of this accomplishment is enhanced by the bitter stares of the non-spellers.

At this point, rather than provide a detailed discussion of which camp I fall in, I prefer to submit this open question:
To what degree is spelling prowess necessary to a strong vocabulary?

Let the fight begin.


Blogger Erin said...

I think vocabulary and spelling are two separate issues.

A person can hold a perfectly intelligent conversation using advanced vocabulary, with complete understanding of the meaning and context of the words they use, but not be able to spell them, and no one would be aware of the fact that the speaker was a lousy speller. Spelling only comes into play when that conversation is translated into text.

In my opinion, the advent of the internet has caused spelling to come to the forefront because of the fact that so many of our interpersonal discussions are now text-based, and I think that misspellings have come to be equal to a spoken mispronunciation or incorrect usage, because we can’t 'hear' when a person mispronounces a word.

From my point of view, misspelling a word doesn't necessarily signify a lack of knowledge on the part of the user, but instead strikes me as a sign of laziness, in that they can't be bothered to use a spell check program. I typically assume, unless the word is obviously misused, that the user knows the meaning of the word, but didn’t care enough about the impression they were making on the person or people they were speaking to to take the time to correctly spell it.

The unfortunate by-product being that misspellings are becoming more accepted, and the importance of correct spelling is suffering in the same way that vocabulary has suffered with the introduction of slang language. I find it very difficult to read anything on a forum or blog where the 'speaker' is of the mind that spelling isn't important. It's difficult for me to lend any weight or importance to what they speak of. I feel like if the subject isn't important enough to them for them to spell correctly when discussing it, it most likely isn't worth it to me to try to decipher what they’ve said.

With that said, I'll add that when speaking to a person who uses words incorrectly or says them incorrectly, I also find it difficult to take them seriously. I'd rather they use a less intellectual word correctly than use a "big" word incorrectly.

So basically, my opinion is that they actually have little to do with one another, but can have the same effect on the listener or reader when done poorly.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Belinda said...

I agree with Erin, and will only summarize my thoughts: What has spelling to do with vocabulary? When speaking, as long as the words are pronounced and used correctly, nothing. When writing, however, I feel there is a connection. (Ironically, I just abandoned the word I intended to use there and replaced it, because I couldn't remember how to spell the original word. That's what I usually do, being too lazy to look it up and despising "spellcheck" as I do.)

Typos and common spelling slip-ups, I can ignore (though they niggle at me). But when a misspelling creates an entirely different, valid word, well, that's a separate issue--i.e. "spelling eros", wherein spelling is enjoyed lasciviously?

I have found that the ability to spell well seems to be innate, like a gift for mathematics--you either have it or you don't. I know absolutely genius folk who can't spell worth a darn. I'm not sure whether I know any really unintelligent people who spell well.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Andrew Simone said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Andrew Simone said...

Langauge, by definition, is for the sake of communication. Spelling nazis miss the point when they get emtionally involved with a word's spelling. Communication requires meaning, meaning needs convention, and convention desires consistancy. Thus, spelling is only important when the meaning could become garbled and communication would break down. Spelling, therefore, is simply a means to an end and should be treated as such. So, we must correct when neccessary and forgive when possible. After all, is it not the Christian's duty?

9:46 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

"Langauge (sic), by definition, is for the sake of communication"

I agree, with one small clarification: Language, by definition, is for the sake of successful communication. Communication requires at least two people, and each person has a job to do in order for the process to work.

If one person has a point to make or a message to be conveyed, it is his responsibility to take the time and energy to be clear and concise - and spell correctly, and make their message accessible to the listener, otherwise the message is muddled, and perhaps the meaning lost. It is also the speaker's responsibility to convince the listener that said message is worthy of receiving.

The listener or reader should listen (or read) with the proper amount of attention and diligence, but should not be expected to assume that this message is important enough to put forth the extra effort to decipher it.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Andrew Simone said...


I agree whole-heartedly with your qualification: True communication requires connectedness. I would argue that the semantical range of "communication" includes "successful connection between two persons" but either way we agree. While spelling is important one should not be too strict about spelling as langauge's rules are primary descriptive rather than prescriptive.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

Erin's opening salvo got my attention:

"From my point of view, misspelling a word doesn't necessarily signify a lack of knowledge on the part of the user, but instead strikes me as a sign of laziness, in that they can't be bothered to use a spell check program."

Generally speaking, this is where I come down as well. I'm not a total hard-liner, but a misspelled comment tends to strike me as hasty...and the same time. Less worthy of respect, in any case.

The wildcard factor in this discussion was noted earlier by Belinda: "I have found that the ability to spell well seems to be innate, like a gift for mathematics--you either have it or you don't."

Since this does, in fact, seem to be the case, I can't help but pity the poor souls who have to really slave over spelling. (Admittedly, I'm not one of them.) And because they have to work harder than me, I'm willing to give grace. But hey, I had to slave over my math skills, and I did - so spelling grace must be granted in limited quantities.

On a lighter note, I'm wondering how many misspellings will occur in this exchange before it's over. The pressure is ON! ;)

2:26 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

lol Ariel - I can spot more than a handful of misspellings already ;)

4:53 PM  
Blogger Andrew Simone said...

I will heartily admit to being the chief sinner without even looking at every post. I am terrible with spelling. I rush far too much.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Sprittibee said...

I am some what of a spelling nazi (as mentioned above). I also quite often abandon words "I intended to use" because at the moment, I can't "remember how to spell" them. Misspelled words grate on me like sandpaper. I tend to correct newspaper articles, other blogs, and even some books when I find errors. I am my own worst critic. I am not sure why I have aquired this habit. I guess I have allowed myself to keep it because it is beneficial when writing for others or turning in work for others to read.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

I'm a "spelling Nazi" too, and drive myself (and my husband) insane critiquing the spelling (and grammar etc...) of everything from the menu at a restaurant, to the newspaper, to the subtitles on the news.

I'm also guilty of choosing a different word if I'm not sure I've spelled it correctly - and the fact that I can't edit blog comments drives me crazy because I can't correct typos!

9:50 AM  
Blogger Ariel said...

On a daily basis, blog comments will cause a certain number of people to pull their hair out - precisely because you can't correct your spelling until it's too late.

This is why I comment with great circumspection. ;)

It appears that the VRP has been quietly playing host to several spelling nazis, and I suspect there are more who have not yet stepped out of the closet. Don't be shy, you're among friends here.

On a housekeeping note: Has anyone else noticed this blog displaying poorly in IE browsers? The sidebar content seems to be displaced. Since I normally use Firefox, it's possible this condition is the norm for some of you...?

7:55 AM  
Blogger martin said...

Spellcheck programmes do no favours to those who wish to depart from the obvious core vocabulary- as a UK writer, I have to routinely disregard 'errors' such as programme for program (in the UK, the latter form is used for software applications, the former for TV shows, event timetables etc.) and the whol -ise -ize thing. It's noticeable that web text becomes significantly more prone to error with homophones- so 'their' for 'there' and 'its' for 'it's' would sneak past anyway. I remember suggesting to a colleague (after a hard day correcting text) that someone who could develop a spellchecker whose only function was to identify the correct use of principal/principle and it's/its would amke a fortune!

As a reader, I am hyper-critical of spelling, for all the reasons Erin has mentioned. But as a person, I am a hypocrite, since as a writer (certainly as a web writer), I care a bit, but not enough to correct typos. I'd rather (within limits) try to get the thoughts down and out there, rather than hone them and leave them unsaid.

I should perhaps say that I am naturally a good speller, and can therefore shout out that poor spelling does NOT mean that someone is stupid or uneducated or even just careless, and so perhaps (as with the mispronunciation issue) the approach is not to condemen in other but not to sin oneself.

On a final language point, I must admit I am uneasy about the jocular use of "Nazi", a word with associations which would normally preclude any such use. I know Seinfeld and the Soup Nazi sort of worked, but I think there there was still the recognition that to be a Nazi was an unequivocally bad thing, rather than a minor quirk. (Something about VRP seems to bring out a portentous side to my character I didn't know existed!)

12:42 PM  
Blogger Andrew Simone said...

Regarding the side bar, I have noticed the same problem Ariel

2:39 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Yes sir the side bar has sunk, and I believe it has to do with the google ads you've added to the top because it never used to be that way. I think what happened is that the ad is too wide to fit side by side with the sidebar, and the main content takes precedence and pushes the sidebar down to the bottom. (Ah the joys of tables!)

Try moving the ad code to the area at the bottom of the title box, between the two borders?

4:15 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

"I am uneasy about the jocular use of "Nazi"

I sense an upcoming post about the ethical use of loaded terms...

On the housekeeping front, the template is being uncooperative. I removed the ads, then moved the ads - with no effect. The sidebar content stubbornly remains below everything else. Any more suggestions? We need an HTML expert to sign on here...

This must be an annoying quirk for you IE users, and I'll try and figure out the issue.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

have you changed anything else in the template recently? Anything maybe with your column widths? Normally this is a simple issue of not having the room for everything to fit horizontally within the set parameters. It'll often happen if there's a picture posted that is too wide (not the case here) or if you have your text wrap turned off in the settings (also, I don't think, the issue here...)

I'm at a loss lol, and I keep trying to view the source and see if I can spot the problem, but this blog for some reason won't allow me to view it.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Belinda said...

Ariel, what happened with your sidebar here is precisely what happened to me every time I tried to install a VRP button in MY sidebar. Every time. I finally, at your suggestion, just put it in my links.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Ariel said...

HTML update

For anyone interested, I'm still troubleshooting the weird IE sidebar-display issue. Erin has been giving me some great tech advice, but we haven't figured out the problem yet. Ads have been pulled, columns have been resized...nada.

But fear not, I'll persevere until I get this fixed. Call it a case of display eros.

2:10 PM  

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