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© Alan John Ward

What's on your spelling list?

May 16, 2018

I've done it again. Sat staring at the screen typing wild variations of the word "embarrassment". In that moment I fought not to lower myself to the use of the spellcheck to find the correct spelling, despite the angry red line underneath the hash I've made of the word. 


We all have those words we never quite get. Even when we know we're spelling them wrong, that doesn't help us remember how to get them right.


I recall a very painful experience (as a child) staring for a long time at a word I'd just written: "ov". I knew I had it wrong. I sounded it out, but this incorrect spelling seemed to fit. Why would the word be spelt any other way? Surely there's not even another letter that could replace that v? But I knew it wasn't right and eventually, after a long while when the correct spelling hovered just out of my grasp, I got it.


I've never spelt "of" wrong again, but I remember the torture of that moment, and the wave of embarrassment (there's that word again) waiting to come crashing down on me when I realised my simple mistake.


Spellcheck helps when the brain freezes up. My computer has days when it almost won't let me get a word wrong – I have to really go to town to confuse the spellcheck to the point where it won't give me a valid suggestion, or (sometimes annoyingly) change it automatically to what it thinks I mean. Like everyone, I've noticed some hideous typos when I've had cause to look back at an old document for some reason. Think you know the difference between they're, their and there? Well, your fingers didn't when you were firing off that email six months ago.


Despite all this, I still regard myself as a pretty good proofreader. I did it professionally for years, and never let any howlers through to print. It's about knowing what types of words I struggle with, and then keeping an eye out for them. If I went back to having a spelling list,, these are the words I'd have to have on it – the ones I catch myself getting wrong most often:


  • instalment

  • permanent

  • comparison

  • separate

  • embarrass

  • governor

  • decomissioning

  • unnecessary


I've got them right here, but my fingers, left to their own devices, would type things like "permanant" or "embaress". It's like my brain got full just before these words entered my vocabulary and there's no room in there for how to spell them.


What would be on your spelling list? I'm pretty embarrassed to admit I don't know how to spell embarrassed...

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