Friday, June 30, 2006

Spelling Chequers!

Ever since Mr. Noah Webster decided that Americans should have their own system of spelling in defiance of the boringly venerable Englishman, Dr. Johnson’s, confusion has reigned. U.S. schoolchildren should be relieved that the suggestion, by the otherwise sensible and pragmatic Ben Franklin, to add a few extra letters to the alphabet was rejected.

If you write, as I do, in Oxford English, your American editor will complain of the number of spelling errors you have committed. Equally, if you use Mr. Webster’s system, English editors will look disparagingly at your efforts and suggest “corrections.”

It’s a no-win situation for the writer and it really does not make a bag of beans difference, to use an Americanism. Whichever system you elect to use, your readers will understand.

I always feel that you should stick to one language or the other, but even so, having lived and worked in both countries, I find it’s easy to get confused (having a wife from Texas is not much of a help either!). And here we come to the Spell checker which came with your word processor. Almost certainly it will be a programme written by a U.S. company and, not unreasonably, so will be the dictionary that comes with it. Training this gizmo to use your language is a bit of a lost cause – you’ll bound to miss a few things and wind up with an orthographic mish-mash.

But bearing in mind its limitations, it makes sense to run your work through the device provided commonsense is used – because it does not find an error does not mean your work is perfect, the error you committed may just happen to be the spelling for another word and will thus be ignored. You still need to read and re-read – and, as Murphy is always at the writer’s elbow, you’ll still miss a few errors.

And of course, no one should be out of reach of a good dictionary.

The best advice I can think of was contained in a little rhyme I ran across some time ago. Unfortunately I have no idea of the identity of the author but it should strike a chord with any writer:

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.


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