Jules is a friend and colleague; she volunteers her time and energy to run FirstSigns with me, and it’s great to have her perspectives on writing and communication here at kilobox communiqué.
My dictionary (I just had to glance at it to check whether it’s spelt ‘ary’ or ‘ery’) is very dear to me. There’s not a day goes by when I don’t flick through it for something or other. I know that these days it’s easy to use on-line resources for such things, but the internet will never replace the printed word for me.
But just how important is spelling when it comes to communicating? I’m a perfectionist and I hate to spell things incorrectly, but then I come from an era when it did matter. I was shocked to discover that in the UK these days, spelling isn’t really taken into account when students are graded for their English exams.
Oxbridge educated Richard Wade, a former producer for the BBC, suggests that:
If you can’t remember how to spel a word, spel it how you would like to spel it.
I cringed when I first saw this, but maybe he has a point, and maybe the examining boards do too. Maybe it really is just the content or message that matter.
When I receive emails and letters I don’t worry about spelling in the slightest. I’m not a great speller myself, as the well worn pages of my dictionary prove. But when I’ve paid for a magazine or a book, I expect perfection. When I notice a spelling mistake it bothers me. I wonder why it hasn’t been noticed by someone, I feel a little aggrieved and ask myself ‘who allowed this to happen – give me their job now!’
If an advertisement leaflet contains spelling errors, I question the company or business as a whole. The message I receive about the product or service is clouded by my perception of their reliability to deliver what they promise. I mean, if they can’t even get the leaflet right….!
But I fear I may be wrong. Surely it’s the words themselves, and not how they are spelt, that matters? Is it ludicrous that a simple spelling error should be relevant, when the overall message and communication of a piece is fantastic? Shouldn’t I just be grateful that we haven’t all declined into permanent ‘text talk’?
I worry that my concern for spelling is outdated and really rather arrogant.
Spelling, after all, isn’t easy. The English language is notoriously difficult to master, and that’s largely because our words are unpredictable and confusing. As The Spelling Society amusingly point out, the ‘EE’ sound can be spelt in very many ways:
seem, team, convene; sardine, protein, fiend; people, he, key, ski; debris, quay.
No wonder English is so difficult to learn!
What do you think? Is accurate spelling an important indication of quality and professionalism, or is it an overrated antiquity?
About the author
Jules runs the largest eraser emporium in the world (AFAIK) and you can find out more at originalerasers.co.uk
Jules also runs FirstSigns with me, and is a keen writer with an eye for detail like an electron microscope.