Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Spelling Police

I'm a bad speller. It's not that I'm stupid or lazy. It's just that there are memorizers and there are non-memorizers and I'm not a memorizer. And the memorizers seem to be of the opinion that they're geniuses because they can look at a word once and remember it. Yet, they don't seem to realize it and think they've deciphered some grand scheme of the English language. And they'll tell you the "rules" they use to spell good, which they imagine you're too stupid or lazy to use.

But it's all bunkum, because there are no rules to spelling in our language. For every "rule" you can form, you can find countless exceptions to it. There are just too many silent letters and weirdly pronounced words for any such rules. Tomb, comb, bomb? Where's the sense here? And the reason is because there are too many sources for our language: Primarily Latin, German, and French, all of which have been blended together; as well as any other odd word we've picked up over the years. These rules didn't apply when we adopted these words, so they're unlikely to help now.

And so I was glad to read that the British government is telling folks to stop teaching the inane "i before e" rule, which has too many exceptions to it (eg, 'sufficient,' 'veil' and 'their'). And yet, it appears the Spelling Police like this one too much, and the article says that some think they should keep it because it's so easy to remember. Sure, the rule doesn't really work, but hey, kids remember the rule that doesn't work, so it must have merit.

And the next step is for them to stop punishing all of us non-memorizers by dropping the stringent requirement of being expert spellers. In our modern age of computer writing and spell checkers, it has far less relevance than before; and it should be remembered that exact spelling only became a virtue in the last hundred years or so; thanks largely to the memorizers who became school teachers. This is all just a ruse that the memorizers use to punish the rest of us and make us do poorly in English class.

I can't remember the last time I wrote anything without the benefit of a computer, and I certainly didn't get graded on it. Some day, people will see perfect spelling as being a weird artifact of a stupid era in education; when obedience and memorization trumped actual knowledge.


Mike Goldman said...

Hm. I'm a nearly perfect speller without being as you describe. I was never particularly obedient nor do I memorize. I read a lot, and spelling is natural to me.

Not that I care if you have the same skill, since you write clearly, and that's a more important skill. Just because someone knows how to spell Arlen doesn't make them a genius.

Mark Pennington said...

You spell poorly because you were taught only to memorize. Applying spelling patterns and, yes, the spelling rules do improve spelling. Rules always have exceptions. However, it is easier to "look for the fastball and just to the curve," rather than the reverse.

I have a nice list of the spelling rules with examples and MP3s of spelling rule songs and raps to check out at Spelling Rules Songs and Raps.