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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spelling Confidence Deflators: June Casagrande, Spell Checker and Art Teachers

A few weeks ago I was inspired by June Casagrande's column, A Word Please. It appears in the Glendale News-Press, an affliate of the LA Times) weekly. I often clip her columns to read later or to follow up on her inspiration--later, of course.

This particular column I clipped was on spelling. You know, stuff like spelling bees and how brilliant kids can humiliate adults in certain arenas. On how Brits spell differently from Americans. That reminded me of how us Americans nurtured on British literature so many problems. I still can't get "grey" right.

But it also reminded me of what a great speller I am. Or thought I was. As a child I was pretty darn good at those spelling bees myself. Got straight As in English and on and on. Then, one day I spelled a word wrong--in an art class of all places! My teacher asked me to look at the word. Nothing but "Duhhh."

Then he asked some of my classmates to look at the word. I can't even tell you what the word was. Maybe something like "definitely" because it had something to do with an "i" and "a." None of my classmates had a clue either. So the teacher says--or rather rants, "See, see? That's why we have dictionaries!"

Suddenly my confidence went down the proverbial drain. In this case the drain of spelling awareness. He made me nervous. Now, even when I know I'm right, I fear I'm not. Do I remember the "before" when I spelled a word wrong, or the "after" when I had checked to see if I had it right. Were they the same when I checked? Different? So I have to go back to the dictionary again. Geesht. Such a waste of time and brain power.

One of those before and after words for me is "recommendation." Two "c's" and two "m's" or only one "c" and... Well, you get the idea. There are times that Word's spell checker is a Godsend. I have it on autopilot. It doesn't even tell me when I spell "recommendation" wrong. It just corrects it. Which is probably one of the reasons that I can't remember. Someone/thing is doing my work for me.

So today's editing tip? Straight from The Frugal Editor ( Spell checkers can be very good aids. But we can't depend on them. Add to that, they may do their job too well.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.


Annette Gisby said...

Not spelling as such, but I do tend to mistype "and" as "adn" quite frequently, Carolyn :) My brain is faster than my typing fingers sometimes.

Nina M. Osier said...

I thought I was the only American writer with "nurtured on Brit lit" problems, Carolyn! You've made me smile.

Good article.

Donna M. McDine said...

Terrific post. Many times a word looks wrong and it is actually right. Yes, spell check is my friend as well as my dictionary.


Earl Staggs said...

Good article, Carolyn. Like you, I've always been good at spelling, but I still have to check certain things -- like how many many m's in some words.

Crystal Clear Proofing said...

Carolyn, thank you for this post! I too, even when I KNOW I'm right, will question myself and will inevitably look something up yet AGAIN.

Spell checker is wonderful, but it can get you into trouble if you've used one word but meant another. The first that comes to mind is typing form rather than from.

The ones that really "get me" are when a word or phrase is acceptable, but one version is preferred in American English, and another in British English. Honestly sometimes I am convinced I'm having past-life regression because even as a child in school, I used to spell words the British way, e.g., colour, favourite, theatre - you get the idea. Now where would a young girl in grade school come up with spellings like that? That piece of "who Crystal is" is STILL a mystery to me...

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