Sunday, July 17, 2011

Upon spelling well

I'm a great speller, always have been. When I was a kid, I usually won classroom spelling bees. As a young man, I worked as a Linotype operator and really honed my skill. The printing trade was full of old guys with little education who could spell better than university-press copy editors.
I know some smart people who aren't good spellers but no good spellers who aren't smart people, though I know there must be idiot savants who can spell every word in Webster's Second – decent folks won't truck with Webster's Third – but can't use those words with any skill. I'm always a little taken aback by good writers who can't spell, as it seems somehow those two skills should go together. Words are, after all, the tools of a writer, and not knowing how to spell them is to use defective tools. I've quit remarking upon bad spelling in the Vicad, but it's still frequent. Picking on the Vicad is like stomping puppies, too easy.
Virginia Heffernan, blogging in the NYT, has some stuff to say about spelling:
Bad spellers are a breed apart from good ones. A writer with a mind that doesn’t register how words are spelled tends to see through the words he encounters — straight to the things, characters, ideas, images and emotions they conjure. A good speller, by contrast — the kind who never fails to clock the idiosyncratic orthography of “algorithm” or “Albert Pujols” — tends to see language as a system. Good spellers are often drawn to poetry and wordplay, while bad spellers, for whom language is a conduit and not an end in itself, can excel at representation and reportage.

Read all of her insightful comments here.


Edith Ann said...

Interesting read. I am a fanatic about spelling. I only wish I could always catch my own errors. I also love crosswords and anagrams and the ctyptoquip. I just love words and it's all Mr. Daley's fault.

Mr. Daley was the 8th grade English teacher forever in Refugio. Everyone had him and everyone was terrified of him. Except me. I loved him! I was a head taller than he was, but I knew we shared a love of words.

For punishment in his class, he would assign you 10 words from the dictionary, the old red, Thorndike Barnhart dictionary. First time out, he would always start you with the word 'run'. Well, 'run' goes for several PAGES. We had to copy every bit of text associated with the word. Then we still had 9 more words to copy! Talk about a vocabulary builder!

I frequently had to 'do words' for talking in class! (Go figure...) He'd yell "TEN WORDS, SMITH!!!" and you knew what you had to do. I had so many words that year, I finally ask if I could use his French-Spanish-English dictionary so I could broaden my scope!

Mr. Daley instilled a love of all things written including poetry. I still know most of "The Village Smithy" and "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere". "Evangeline", "The Raven". We learned it all.

I didn't have this kind of inspiration again until I had Robb Jackson for my writing classes.

Sorry to hijack your blog, but that's all YOUR fault for blogging about something that evokes such wonderful memories.

Thank you Mr. Loon!

Edith Ann said...

**Robb Jackson**--College writing classes at TAMUCC.

Edith Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pilot said...

I do my best, and on occasion, even use smellcheck.
"To some, I am a blessing, to others, I'm a curse
I'm a writer, not a fighter, I'm a person, not a purse
I may be just an easy touch and taken for a whore, But I just came to leave a little loving at your door.........."
Dave Mason, circa sometime when I was out of touch with "time". I do my best and I keep in my mind what Mrs. Hall would say if she read what I write. There are a couple more of you in my life that I try to not disappoint as well. What can I say? Despite the fact that to this day I hunt and peck......I acctually took a typing class at Calhoun to be near my little spelling Bea............