Friday, September 24, 2021

Insight: Spelling it out

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

As an editor, through the years I’ve had my share of mail pointing out typos and spelling mistakes that have appeared in the newspaper. But the best one came from a high school English teacher who wrote me to say that “the only way incorrectly is spelled incorrectly is by spelling it incorrectly.”

Spelling continues to be one of my pet peeves and although I don’t profess to know how to spell every single word properly, I do try to make the effort to look up how to spell words I’m not overly familiar with. But I do see many spelling mistakes on social media posts and my wife even showed me several typos and simple spelling errors in a best-selling mystery novel that I had purchased for her from Amazon.

In the age of COVID-19, many festivals and concerts are called off by virus outbreaks and organizers of those events inevitably will send a notice to the newspaper letting us know that their event has been “Cancelled.” However, I learned a long time ago that the preferred spelling of the word here in America is “canceled” and I remove the extra “l” before publication.

Others words I see commonly “mispelled” are misspelled; “broccholi” instead of broccoli; “entreprenuer” instead of entrepreneur; “accomodate” instead of accommodate; and “embarassing” instead of embarrassing. For the latter, I have to confess to the readers of this article that I was genuinely embarrassed when a headline I wrote as a reporter for a business story that appeared in my college newspaper contained “entreprenuer” and I never forgot how to spell it correctly after being chewed out by the editor.

No matter how many times I see certain words in editing articles, they always seem to send me scrambling for a dictionary to ensure they are spelled accurately. Some of those words are occurrence; unnecessary; referred; connoisseur; conscience; and parallel. Nowadays my iPhone autocorrect fixes quite a few misspelled blunders I might make when texting someone, but in editing news stories, I usually have my dictionary handy when I run across those words.

My fascination with spelling goes all the way back to first and second grades when every Friday afternoon my teachers would pass out those large pieces of wring paper with dotted lines and our class would take a spelling test. It was always one of my better subjects in school when the report cards were issued.

Since I was promoted from reporter to an editor role with the newspaper a while ago, I’ve seen all kinds of incorrect spellings for a variety of words such as liaison; publicly, separate; occurred; exaggerate; miniature; mischievous; rhythm; and perseverance.

And if you think any of the commonly misspelled words that I’ve already mentioned here are troublesome, pity the students who compete every year in the National Spelling Bee.

To win the 2005 National Spelling Bee, Anurag Kashyap of California had to correctly spell "appoggiatura," a word for an embellishing musical note, while Sukanya Roy of Pennsylvania won the 2011 National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling "cymotrichous," a way to describe wavy hair.

Despite possessing a college degree and having spent 46 years working for newspapers, there’s no way imaginable that I would have been able to spell those words, or 2021’s winning word, "murraya," a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees spelled correctly by 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde of Louisiana.

A recent check of a popular social media fan site for a major league baseball team I follow revealed numerous of spelling errors on posts. One used “dessert” to describe a barren landscape, another used “conscious” to say that a certain general manager did not have a conscience, and someone posted that a team in last place was accustomed to “loosing” instead of correctly spelling losing.

Through the experience of having to write headlines for a daily newspaper on deadline late at night nearing the end of an eight-hour shift, I learned through mistakes of how to properly spell dilemma, hemorrhage, millennium and one I’ll never forget after spelling it wrong in two different headlines in the same newspaper edition – threshold.

I take great pride in being able to spell many words correctly, but it still didn’t land me a spot as a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune” when I tried out for that television show in the 1980s. It was a timed test and I only guessed 11 of 20 possible words missing letters before a minute had expired.

When it comes to spelling, the best advice I can offer to anyone is what was given to me on my first day of Journalism 101 class by my college professor Dr. Harry Lancaster way back in September 1971.

He told our class that to avoid making a spelling mistake, follow a simple rule. That rule is, if you don’t know how to spell a word correctly, don’t use it and choose a word you are confident you know how to spell correctly.

I found it to be some very sound and practical advice that I’ve tried to use throughout my career. <

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