Does spelling matter?

Posted April 7, 2015 by Lory in discussions / 43 Comments

English spelling is a nightmare, and spell check does a miserable job of correcting it — because there are so many homophones, words that sound the same but have different meanings and different spellings. It seems as though every time I read something on the Internet, I come across homophone errors, and they are driving me crazy. They’re increasingly leaking into print publications as well; many books seem to have been proofread entirely by computer, which is a disaster.

But does it matter? Shouldn’t we, along with Humpty Dumpty, be able to force a word to mean whatever we want it to? Isn’t it true that we mostly only notice the first and last letters of a word anyway? If our readers can figure out what we are saying from context, do we need to bother about spelling?

Well, I don’t know about you, but it matters to me. I feel that making the effort to remember some distinctions is important for those who work with words. It reflects clarity and distinctness in our thinking, without which everything becomes a big sloppy mess.

I know that spelling is easier for some people than others, due to differences in how our brains work, and fully appreciate that our English orthography sometimes seems to make no sense. But learning new things is good for your brain, and understanding what you are talking about is even better. If I were able to spread awareness and correct usage of at least the four word-groupings below, I and spelling-conscious readers everywhere would rejoice. Will you indulge me?

it’s/its
This one has plagued me since my school days. It’s really very simple:

it’s = it is or it has

Use “it’s” ONLY when you can replace the contraction with “it is” or “it has,” not when you mean that something belongs to “it.” You don’t write “hi’s,” or “he’r,” do you? No! You write “his,” “her,” and “its.” Thank you, everyone!

This is a palette, not a palate.

palette/palate/pallet
I see these confused more and more, even in printed books. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad, because the writers often seem to be proud of using such a sophisticated word — only it doesn’t mean what they think it does. Please, write these on your arm, put post-it notes on your computer, whatever you need to remember the difference:

palette: a range of paints or colors, as in an artist’s palette
palate: the roof of your mouth; by extension, the sense of taste (a gourmet’s palate)
pallet: a flat structure made of wooden slats; alternatively, a crude mattress

Now come on, can’t you see what nonsense it is to talk about loading some boxes onto the roof of your mouth, or having a meal that is pleasing to your set of paints? It might help to remember that “palate” has “ate” in it.

peak/peek
These words are easy to confuse. Only one little vowel is different! Maybe it would help to remember that you use peek when you are seeing something, looking briefly into it. Not peak — that means the top, the pinnacle of something. The peak of a mountain is shaped like an A.

pouring/poring – pore/pour
There’s no one who is more enthusiastic than I am about poring over a book. That means that you are closely examining it. But please, please don’t say that you are pouring over it. Whatever you are pouring (water? lemonade? Champagne?) you’ll get it wet and probably not be able to enjoy it any more! A mnemonic for this: you pore over tomes of ancient lore.

What do you think? Am I making a big fuss over nothing? Or do you, too, have spelling pet peeves that keep you awake at night? 

Posted for the 2015 Book Blog Discussion Challenge, hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight.  

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43 responses to “Does spelling matter?

  1. It matters to me as well! My pet peeves are incorrect apostrophes and using hyphens instead of en-dashes. Sometimes it bugs me that I can't turn off the editor in me, but when I see obvious errors in publications that should have been proofread, it irks me big time.

    • Proofreaders can make mistakes, of course (I'm sure I have), but when I see a printed book that has errors on almost every page it makes me want to scream.

  2. I'm with you. Spelling completely matters. Your and you're…there, their and they're. Come on, people. Learn to spell! 🙂 (But then I'm also a huge fan of the Scripps National Spelling Bee…those kids know how to spell.)

    • Maybe there should be a National Homophone Bee? I think that could be a great incentive to learn to use these words correctly!

  3. Spelling matters to me! It keeps the universe in order. I could write an entire blog about spelling and the history behind why we spell certain words a particular way. (This is a topic that's very near and dear to my heart.)

    The two mistakes that really irritate me are to/two/too and your/you're. It especially bothers me when people say something is "to funny." I think, "Well, are you going to find funny or something?" When people say "your awesome" I always think "My awesome what?"

    I know that sometimes spelling mistakes happen. Sometimes I (a self-proclaimed spelling and grammar enthusiast) don't catch those types of errors. It's when these problems are consistent that it irritates me.

    • Yes! Our conscious use of language helps to keep the universe in order. Mistakes happen, of course, but it's the seemingly widespread lack of awareness that bugs me.

  4. It bothers me too, especially when I find errors by book bloggers who really should know and appreciate the meaning and the use of words and punctuation. You're and your and missing apostrophes are the things I notice most.

    That said, the best advice I was given was to always read anything I wrote aloud, following the punctuation, because it you could read it comfortably it should be easily read by others.

    • Reading aloud is an excellent practice. I had a very strong experience not long ago when I was editing a story book. I thought I had proofread it fairly well but then I read some of the stories aloud to my son and found tons of errors! That said, one has to know the differences between words to detect the mistakes by whatever method.

  5. Cat

    I think it matters and I tend to notice mistakes. My pet peeves are also you're/your and there/their with the first one seeming to appear far too often.

  6. Oh, gosh yes, misspelled words drive me up the wall! All of the above, plus affect/effect, there/their/they're, forward/foreward, and apostrophes in plurals (when said plurals are not possessive.) Great post – thank you!

  7. This is one of my biggest pet peeves and one of the reasons I've stopped reading many independently published works. Your/you're, their/there/they're, and so many more! Sometimes I feel like I was the only one not sleeping through English class. It also bothers me when commas aren't used correctly. I'm guilty of this myself from time to time, but it's amazing how the placement of a comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

    • Not only independently published works, but ones from the major houses as well! I remember when I read Great Books by David Denby (Simon and Schuster), a book one would expect to be properly proofread, there were spelling mistakes on almost every other page. Embarrassing!

  8. The its/it's thing bothers me so much! The more so because when I was in second grade, we had a spelling test with the word "its" on it, and I spelled every word right except that one — I thought the teacher meant "it's" and she actually meant "its". She said if I was confused about which one it was, I should have asked her to use it in a sentence. (She did not like me.)

  9. I so agree with you – spelling is important! And I find it kind of fun to know all the intricacies of the English language, because as you say, it's a difficult language since our words come from different sources. But what really keeps me awake at night, is knowing that my blog posts may have spelling mistakes – it seems like no matter how many times I check it something can get by! 🙂

    • Oh, I know…I cringe whenever I find one on my blog. But at least we can correct them instantly! It's not so easy with printed books, which is why proofreading is rather important.

  10. Hmm, good question. Spelling matters to me, though I sometimes have a hard time justifying it. I'm always jarred by typos (and embarrassed when I catch them in my old blog posts). I really like how you said "it reflects clarity and distinctness in our thinking". That's a good explanation.

    On another embarrassing note, I didn't realize there was such a word as the verb pore!! I always thought the phrase ("'pouring' over a book") was a metaphor XD Like you were spilling your mind onto the book to absorb it all, hahaha. Well, you taught me something new today 🙂

    • I can understand how some of the mistakes proliferate when you see them made over and over; they acquire their own kind of logic. So glad to have clued you in about that one.

  11. Oh, it most definitely matters! Thank you for alerting the world to these because it is not hard to figure out the difference between its/it's. It's not a spelling issue, but the thing that is driving me crazy these days? Verbifying nouns. 🙂 Particularly the word impact. Now, I understand that we collectively as a society have decided that saying something "impacts" you is okay now, but it still sounds so wrong to me! Is it so hard to say "made an impact"? Or else just get rid of the word? And then to hear some reporter on NPR say "impactify"? Eeek!

    • Yikes! I'm not so sensitive to "impact" as a verb but "impactify" is definitely an unnecessary and ugly development.

  12. Kay

    I have to admit two things. I have spelling pet peeves as well. It's and its is a big one along with their and there, plus a few others. But my other confession… I do the best I can before letting a post go live on my blog but I sometimes still have at least one typo in my post. It is hard to catch them all and therefore I am lenient if I seem them on other blogs. I am a little more peeved when they happen in published books, but mistakes happen.

    • Considering the casual nature of blogging I have no problem with some typos. What bugs me is this confusion of words that mean different things. I'm pretty sure that most of the time the author thinks they're being used correctly when they are not.

  13. It definitely matters to me! I find typos like these will totally pull me out of a book. I keep reading, of course, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking, how did that slip by the copy editor?!

    • Yes, it's terribly distracting, a fact that should motivate authors and publishers to be a bit more careful.

  14. Grammar mistakes are things that can torture me to no end. Certainly, language grammar are things that are constantly changing, especially as technology continues to grow and change just how we communicate.

    While I can understand things changing in time, I think standard written English has remained relatively stable, as it should. Why? Because SWE is like a universal language that everyone can communicate in. My parents and grandparents can't read the "lol" "brb" chat-speak. I even struggle with it myself now that I'm in my 20's and well out of high school.

    Language can adapt to meet our needs, but we still very much need a universal English, and while mistakes are acceptable, especially considering the often-confusing rules that govern the English language, we still need SWE.

    • Yes, language can grow and change but it has to be a vehicle for our thoughts. That's where the mistakes can be a problem.

  15. I'm an editor, so these mistakes drive me crazy when I see them! Glad that it's not just me being overly sensitive. One that I see ALL the time in self-pubbed books is authors using lightening instead of lightning. As I'm sure you know, lightening means that something is getting lighter and lightning is that stuff in a sky during a storm – drives me crazy!!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  16. It bugs me when the wrong words are being used in something I'm reading. All the ones you listed, as well as "their/there/they're", and "bear/bare". I'm sure there are others, but those are what spring to mind.

    Oh! And recently I came across "breading" instead of "breeding". I was like, really? You're going to cover your horse in egg and bread crumbs?

  17. I'm training to be a copyeditor and proofreader… grammatical/spelling errors bug me like there's not tomorrow! (And once you've noticed them, you can't look away, can you?!) It does always feel a bit hypocritical though, as I don't proofread my own posts, so am probably misspelling everything there! I wouldn't dream of correcting someone on it though, because I think most people think incorrect spelling/grammar is petty and unimportant.
    Beth x
    http://www.thequietpeople.com

    • Everyone makes mistakes, myself included! When they're called to my attention, though, I do try to improve. It's hard for me to understand the people who find spelling and grammar petty and unimportant, but as you say, it seems to be a pretty prevalent attitude.

  18. I'm not nitpicky about spelling, but I do think that incorrect spelling shows a certain degree of laziness or rushing (and therefore lack of pride in one's work), especially if the words misspelled are ones that can be easily identified with spellchecker. If it's a homophone that spellchecker won't catch, I'm a little more tolerant.

    • I like the point about taking pride in our work. It doesn't have to be perfect, but we can try to do our best!

  19. Oooh, these are some good ones. They're some of the less common homonyms that people forget they need to care about. Thanks for bringing them up; spelling DOES matter, and I, for one, get tripped up if there are a lot of typos or words that are spelled like other words.

    • It makes me so frustrated, because once they are out of school, who is going to teach these writers to improve their spelling? Especially when they see the errors repeated everywhere.