Spelling Counts


s an instructor of literature, I love words. It is expressive and conveys our thoughts and feelings at a distance. There is nothing that can replace words and language. It is at once abstract and concrete. A word, such as… say, “grass” is made up of four different letters, five in all–g-r-a-s-s–each of which have nothing to do with “grass”, that green stuff covering the fairway of a golf course. And while it is an abstract comprised of totally unrelated “letters”, when put together in the right way and order, it can convey a specific, concrete and real image of the green vegetation that grows in your front yard or maybe even fills your stash.

Be that as it may, for class, I have students write papers, giving them an opportunity to express their thoughts on a particular literary piece. I tell them that they must write clearly, succinctly and properly. Usually, clear and succinct are not a problem, but “properly” sometimes becomes an issue. Handing in a single-spaced paper is not appreciated. A hand-written essay is returned promptly–I won’t even try to read it. And, of course, typos and spelling errors will bring a grade down significantly. As a paper written at home outside of class, the student has the opportunity to write and edit it without the immediate stress of a time limit, and so it should be perfect in this respect. It doesn’t matter if it is a typo or a misspelled word; in either case, it detracts from the paper. One typical error is to spell the word “cannot” at two words: can not. Bad, bad, bad! Another one I often see is the word “lose” spelled with two “o”s. It drives me crazy when I read an otherwise fine sentence, such as “Kikuchiyo does not realize that he will loose his life.”

“Loose his life”?!?

Does this mean all he needs to do is tighten it? When I see this, I want to scream, “One ‘O’!”.

“But it’s only spelling,” some will say. “Can’t you understand it by its context?” others argue. True. But it takes away from the reading experience. It is a bump in the road, and it is the students duty smooth the path for the reader. Besides, school is where you hone your skills, practice self-discipline in preparation of “real” work. Let’s say you get a job at a consulting firm, and you write a report for a client which includes the sentence, “Under these conditions, consumers will loose all interest in the product.” Do you think your boss will be happy with this misspelling? Do you think that the “you can understand it in context” excuse will fly? Hardly…

I recently read an article somewhere about a refugee from Cuba who came to the U.S., who became successful after he “defecated”. Okay, I’m sure the person meant “defected” instead of “shat”, but I think you’ll agree that certainly in this instance, spelling should count.

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