I read an article in The Sydney Morning Herald today that talked about a poll conducted by Galaxy. They asked 400 people in Sydney and Melbourne aged over 16 to spell eight commonly mis-spelled words. The words in question were:

embarrass
accommodation
accessory
February
guarantee
opportunity
eighth
receipt

According the article, people should be red faced about their inability to spell. Apparently around two thirds couldn’t spell embarrass, seventy per cent couldn’t spell accommodation and a quarter couldn’t spell February.

Galaxy found that women did better than men and only 7 per cent of respondents spelled everything right; 25-34 year olds ranked among the worst spellers.

I don’t find it all that surprising. Given the list of words, they’re commonly mis-spelled for a reason. Eighth is just a bastard of a word when you see it written down. There are examples of the double letter problem, like accommodation. It doesn’t look too bad spelled acommodation or accomodation but both are wrong. When you compare it to accommodation, however, nothing stands out as being obviously correct. Receipt is a good example of the old “i before e except after c” rule, but even that presents issues. This is partly due to only half a rule being known. Words like “sufficient” and “weird” prove that “i before e except after c” is not a true rule. It should be “i before e except after c when the sound is ee”. See this Language Log article for more. But I digress.

My point is that these are hard words to spell. The part of the article that really annoyed me though was this:

The children’s author Deborah Abela said spell check and text message abbreviations were harming people’s spelling skills.

Shouldn’t that be childrens’ author? Anyway, what she says is bollocks. I would wager that this same Galaxy poll conducted 20 years ago would have had the same results. Some people are good at spelling, some people learn to spell well and some are just atrocious at it. I don’t think that new technology is making people into worse spellers at all.

I watched an doco on SBS recently that followed a bunch of American kids that took part in national spelling bees. Those kids were crazy good at spelling, given their age, and they studied with a kind of rabid fervour. And that’s what it boils down to. Encouraging kids to learn is more important than looking for scapegoats like spellcheck and text messaging.

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