Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Think before you spell

I didn't follow (or blog about) the Scripps National Spelling Bee this year as I did in 2006, but I was prompted to think about it when I found out that a friend's daughter had been eliminated in one of the early rounds. I was still happy for her, as I never made it to the nationals myself. The farthest I ever got was the state bee of Kansas back in 1988, when I stumbled on the word "jaundiced", spelling it "jaundist".

There are many instances in which I think people would spell better if they actually understood what they were spelling. I had never heard the word "jaundiced" before, and when I asked for a sentence I was given the context, "He held a jaundiced view of...", using the meaning of "prejudiced". I spelled it incorrectly because I associated the word with other world views like "socialist" and "capitalist", and to this day I'm satisfied that I went through that reasoning process even though it ultimately failed me. If I'd been given instead the sentence, "The baby's face was jaundiced", perhaps I'd have guessed the correct spelling.

I'm still puzzled by the number of people who misspell "deodorant" as "deoderant", though they surely can spell the word "odor". Do they not realize that the words are related? One can tell a lot about how a person is thinking (or not) about the meaning of an expression when he substitutes a nonsensical homonym; I recall a tae kwon do classmate asking if anyone was planning to participate in the "Beta Breakers" race. It's actually "Bay to Breakers", a course that begins at the edge of the San Francisco Bay!

I noted in one of my very first blog entries that the letters V and B are pronounced identically in Spanish. A common Spanish expression is "A ver", frequently written incorrectly as the infinitive verb "Haber". But the expression means "Let's see", which should serve as an easy reminder for the word "ver", which means "to see". Again, I don't see how anyone who is aware of what he's writing can make this mistake.

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