A Really Bad Spell

bad_spellingThere are bad spellers, and then there are really bad spellers. Most of the time when we gripe about bad spellers we mean the first kind, who are actually for the most part pretty good.

It’s like the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, with its motto “Wretched writers welcome.” Wretched they may be, but they actually have to be  pretty skillful to come up with parodies of Bulwer-Lytton’s fulsome 19th-century prose. Here’s the 2014 contest winner, by Betsy Doorman:

“When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered – this had to mean land! – but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.”

The same goes for the International Imitation Hemingway Contest, with winners beginning like this:

“I rowed in the dark keeping the wind in my face. It was not a swell idea to force seven people into a small wooden boat that should only hold four. My beautiful Kate, the bald priest, the twins, two magicians and me. Then there were the waves.

“Kate waved at me from her end of the boat. … ”

As for prose, so for spelling. Lucy Ferriss’s recent contest in the May 7 Lingua Franca shows that student writers we consider bad spellers are actually close to being good.

Even the best spellers will wrestle with words like accommodate, supersede, consensus, perhaps missing the standard spelling by a letter or two. But among good spellers I also include those who have trouble with more ordinary words like definitely, occurred, tomorrow, to mention some on Lucy’s list. They too miss by only a letter or two, and computer spell-checkers easily wrestle them away from the misspellings definately, occured, tommorow.

Truly bad spellers, on the other hand, don’t even come close. And we aren’t aware of them, for the most part, because their bad examples never come close to being published.

Some are dyslexics. Through no fault of their own, they aren’t able to process spelling, so when they write, their sentences are barely comprehensible. Regular spell-checkers can handle tomorrow but don’t know what to do with sentences produced by dyslexics. Fortunately a website for dyslexics, run by a dyslexic, has developed software known as Ghotit that translates dyslexic writing into standard English. It offers these examples:

Amzanig huh yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt. (Amazing how you and I always thought spelling was important.)

Socheal networking is all about conecting pepole to there pears and too there famalys. (Social networking is all about connecting people to their peers and to their families.)

Whin I waz gust a little buy I axed my moder what wuld I be? (When I was just a little boy I asked my mother what will I be?)

Now those are examples of truly bad spelling. It’s hard for an ordinary writer who isn’t dyslexic to produce anything like that, even by trying. Instead, a typical good writer pretending to be bad will substitute K for C at the beginning of words and spell others phonetically, as in Thuh Kat ayt may Kandie. Not  quite!

In other words, if you’re a really bad speller, it’s hard to spell good. But if you’re a good speller, it’s almost as hard to really spell bad.



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