A study of the 20 most common spelling errors made by the British reveals that mixing up vowels leads to many of them. Contributing factors are said to be spell checkers, predictive texting and laziness.
“And he respects Owl, because you can't help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count.” From The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne, 1928.
Milne is still widely read today because of his knack of creating almost believable make-believe worlds for both children and adults alike. Unfortunately for us mere real-world mortals however there are no days off for our spelling ability and you need only ask a journalist or blogger to know how sharp is the eagle eye of those people who are only too ready to gleefully point out – and not without a certain malice – our errors.
A recent survey by online survey company OnePoll.com asked 3,500 people to submit their most common errors and The Telegraph has published the top twenty culprits.
One word which definitely causes lots of problems is ‘definitely’, which contains many traps for the unwary including mixing up the second ‘I’ with ‘A’ and leaving out the final ‘E’. That word came second.
In third place came ‘manoeuvre’, with its diabolical combination of 'OE' and' U'. Americans don’t have that problem of course, preferring as they do the more manageable ‘maneuver’. ‘Embarrass’ came in an honorable fourth thanks to its uncanny habit of mysteriously losing either an 'R' or an 'S' (but surely not both?) on its way to completion.
Confusion over how many 'C’s' and 'R’s' should be used meant that ‘occurrence’ managed to snatch fifth place.
A OnePoll spokesman observed that “A common mistake many make is writing a word the way it sounds which leaves us muddling up one letter with another and getting it wrong.” He added that two-thirds of survey participants admitted that using computer spell checkers had made them lazy, leading to errors when writing by hand. One in six people were honest enough to admit that their spelling can be so bad sometimes that their computer doesn’t even recognize the word they are trying to type. Predictive text messaging was a blame factor for 20%.
Spell checkers also confuse the issue by not recognizing certain errors because certain words can be spelt (or spelled, according to taste, but that’s another issue) in different ways. This was eloquently pointed out by ‘Anonymous’, who wrote – or more probably typed – these famous words;
“I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC
It plainly marks for my revue
Mistakes I cannot sea
I've run this poem threw it
I'm sure your please to no,
It's letter perfect in its weigh,
My checker tolled me sew”
Two of this writer’s bugbear words – ‘bureaucracy’ and ‘connoisseur’ - came in 11th and 14th respectively, with the tricky ‘unnecessary’ running up a good seventh ranking.
Although spelling errors are frequent, a whopping 77% of people consider their spelling to be “good” or “very good”. That probably helps to explain why 46% of people judge others on their ability to spell correctly and almost 30% say that people who spell badly are “thick”.
Three out of ten said they were embarrassed by their poor spelling ability whereas one in ten (only one in ten?) admitted that they correct the bad spelling of others.
The OnePoll spokesman concluded by pointing out that “The fact that we judge other people's intelligence by their written word, yet don't like to be judged ourselves, means we should all pick up a dictionary once in a while.''
Below is the complete Top 20 list of errors, at the top of which you will see that the champion is the ever-problematic-yet-seemingly-so-simple ‘seperate’. Sorry, my spell checker just reminded me that I should have typed ‘separate’.
1. Separate 2. Definitely 3. Manoeuvre 4. Embarrass 5. Occurrence 6. Consensus 7. Unnecessary 8. Acceptable 9. Broccoli 10. Referred 11. Bureaucracy 12. Supersede 13. Questionnaire 14. Connoisseur 15. A lot 16. Entrepreneur 17. Particularly 18. Liquify 19. Conscience 20. Parallel
Finally, if reading this article has made you lose all hope of ever becoming a good speller, may I console you by pointing out that you are in good company. After all, Mark Twain, a goodish scribbler if ever there was one, once famously wrote, "I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way."