Writers may be perceived as master wordsmiths by the general population who do not have to deal with them. Their editors, on the other hand, may well be privy to the reality of their skills.
In this era of technological reliance, the foundations of a writer’s career are undoubtedly reinforced with the help of the automatic spell-check in Microsoft Word. For all the brilliance writers possess in their wordplay, some can fall prey to a dependency on it. After all, there is less of an urge or necessity to learn how to spell right when a function exists to correct you in a jiffy.
The Geography of Word Searches
To bring my fellow peers down a peg, I did a quick search on commonly misspelt words, to see how we writers fare in comparison to the hoi polloi. An Oxford Dictionaries blog post lists several prevalent literary lapses: weird, accommodate, handkerchief, cemetery, embarrass, millennium, convalesce, ecstasy, and Arctic, among many others.
More interestingly, US residents in specific territories in a country obsessed with spelling bees commit similar faux pas. In 2015, MarketWatch asked Google Trends to find out the top “how to spell” searches for words that users make in each state.
The results were somewhat amusing, if not baffling. Do Hawaiian residents use “pterodactyl” on a regular basis, so much so that it is a highly ranked search word? Similarly, are residents of Idaho that obsessed with “antelope(s)”? Residents of Wyoming may constantly feel “jelous” of people in neighbouring states who can spell “jealous” right. And clearly, residents of California, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and Virginia have decided to use British English when it comes to the word “grey” (“gray” in American spelling).
Fast forward a year and it would seem that US residents now have their heads wrapped around different words. Google Trends released new data last month on the new words Americans have trouble spelling. Arkansas and Utah folks are curious about “leprechauns”; “banana” may be a favourite fruit of those in Ohio whereas “broccoli” may be a familiar item on menus in Minnesota diners; “pneumonia” seems to be on the forefront of people’s consciousness in Washington and Missouri but it is “diarrhoea” (or “diarrhea” in American spelling) occupying the minds of people in Arizona and New Hampshire; residents of Massachusetts have no idea how to spell their home state; and “grey” is still a matter of consternation for folks in South Dakota, Oklahoma and Michigan.
But even those who have received an education in the Queen’s English are not innocent of making mistakes out of “embarrassment”, “fluorescent”, “accommodate”, and “psychiatrist”, according to a survey on top misspelt words.
A Spelling Survey
While none of the words above obfuscate me, my personal aberrations include “silhouette”, “manoeuvre” and “mischievous”.
But surely I am not the only writer with flaws in my handwritten notes. I surveyed the scene at Novus Asia to check on the misspelt words we so easily dismiss that could otherwise be learning points for us to become true wordsmiths:
Joseph Jones, director of Content Strategy: acquisition
Will Chin, senior writer: manoeuvre
Dan Seifert, assistant editor: receive
Siti Rohani, editor: occasionally
Shanti Morai, writer: itinerary
Amala Pillai, senior business writer: amateur, supersede
Howard James, director of Business Content: Mediterranean
From writers to editors to directors, all of us who write are indeed fallible in our craft. I am proud to say though, that typing the word “silhouette” above needed no correction by spell-check, which suggests I might be improving — hooray for small victories, right?
But if we are moving from words to punctuation and my consistent failure to use en and em dashes* properly… Well, that topic is reserved for another (lengthy) blog post!
*Confused? An en dash (–) is bigger than a hyphen (-) but smaller than an em dash (—). Think of it this way: the letter ‘n’ is narrower than the letter ‘m’.
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