August 18th, 2008
Join Date: May 2008
Spelling "truely atrosious," says academic
Embaressed by yor spelling? Never you mind.
Fed up with his students' complete inability to spell common English correctly, a British academic has suggested it may be time to accept "variant spellings" as legitimate.
Rather than grammarians getting in a huff about "argument" being spelled "arguement" or "opportunity" as "opertunity," why not accept anything that's phonetically (fonetickly anyone?) correct as long as it can be understood?
"Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I've got a better idea," Ken Smith, a criminology lecturer at Bucks New University, wrote in the Times Higher Education Supplement.
"University teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell."
To kickstart his proposal, Smith suggested 10 common misspellings that should immediately be accepted into the pantheon of variants, including "ignor," "occured," "thier," "truely," "speach" and "twelth" (it should be "twelfth").
Then of course there are words like "misspelt" (often spelled "mispelt"), not to mention "varient," a commonly used variant of "variant."
And that doesn't even begin to delve into all the problems English people have with words that use the letters "i" and "e" together, like weird, seize, leisure, foreign and neighbor.
The rhyme "i before e except after c" may be on the lips of every schoolchild in Britain, but that doesn't mean they remember the rule by the time they get to university.
Of course, such proposals have been made in the past. The advent of text messaging turned many students into spelling neanderthals as phrases such as "wot r u doin 2nite?" became socially, if not academically, acceptable.
Despite Smith's suggestion, language mavens are unconvinced. John Simpson, the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, says rules are rules and they are there for good reason.
"There are enormous advantages in having a coherent system of spelling," he told the Times newspaper.
"It makes it easier to communicate. Maybe during a learning phase there is some scope for error, but I would hope that by the time people get to university they have learnt to spell."
Yet even some of Britain's greatest wordsmiths have acknowledged it's a language with irritating quirkiness.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw was fond of pointing out that the word "ghoti" could just as well be pronounced "fish" if you followed common pronunciation: 'gh' as in "tough," 'o' as in "women" and 'ti' as in "nation."
And he was a playright.