Saturday, February 06, 2016

Spelling woes

"I fully expect Donna-Lane to have a secretary," Principal Miss Graham told my mother who'd complained my spelling could be improved. I was in fifth grade.

"And how will she know if her secretary is correct?" my mother asked, went home an enlisted my grandmother to work with me.

It helped.


At 16 I was a cub reporter for the Lawrence Eagle Tribune. My mother was a full reporter.

"So Dot," George Gellineau, another reporter, asked my mom, "How do we know you don't write most of your kid's copy?"

From the back of the city room Editor Fred Cole, who could have been a stand-in for Spenser Tracey at his grumpiest called. "Kid writes own copy. Kid can't spell. Mother can spell."

I did improve but with my first job in Switzerland I was expected to write British English. My second post was a combination with most English spellings but with the s and (zed) z being American.

At the University of Glamorgan in Wales where I did my masters in creative writing I had permission to write the novel in American English, but my thesis, Repeated Symbolism in John Irving's Books had to be in English. By then word offered spell check in a variety of national Englishes. Thank goodness.

When my agent wanted two manuscripts, one in English-English and one in American-English it was easy to change curb to kerb, theater to theatre. Global changes can be tricky as I had learned when I changed a character's name from Lou to Gino and came up with spellings like bginose  where blouse had been and Ginoisiana for Louisiana so an extra proofing was necessary.

For seven years I published a newsletter for Canadian clients in Canadian-English as I was writing novels in American-English. Sometimes I'd forget to switch the spell check and end up with tons of red-lined words.

I've also battled French spelling. For a long time I had a written and a spoken French. I'd say "tempe" too bad but there was another phrase I used"tant pis" until someone explained they were one and the same once they stopped laughing at me.

And I've more or less mastered which address has one or two ds in each language.

But this week my heart stopped when I read that the French are changing the spellings of some 2000+ words. Worse the circumflex that cute little hat perched on vowels will disappear in many, many words. I've used it as a guide that it usually means in old French there was an s. The é at the start of a verb means in English there is an s thus étage becomes stage and so on.

It's not fair.

Both English and French are spelling nightmares with many letter combinations for the same sound or the same spelling but different pronunciations. And with spell check it is easy to get lazy.

I like lazy.

1 comment:

Maria said...

I like lazy, too. But I seem to have a photographic memory for spelling, which helps in Spanish since I never studied the rules. Though I still get caught up on some words. Sometimes I have to stop and think (and check) words like "occasional". My memory did help with spelling bees, though.