They’re hell to spell

barearms

I don’t know about you, but there are a few words that I can never spell right – especially when it comes to a handful of homophone pairs with different spellings (I always seem to choose the wrong one). Is the woman pictured above defending her right to bear arms or to bare arms? Apparently both, in her case, but it’s curious to see how often the implication of nudity tends to trump that of grizzly critters when referring to America’s dangerous second amendment. (It should, in fact, make you think of shooting furry animals rather than naked intruders.)

One pair that always gets me is past and passed, especially when you’ve just walked past someone but you’ve also passed them in the street. Right? And although I can tell the difference between a bear hug and a bare hug (yes, I’m one of the above), I’m verbally challenged in this department. Another one that crops up less frequently in everyday use but always has me reaching for the dictionary is horde and hoard. Compliment and complement can get tricky, especially when they’re complementary, and why doesn’t indiscretion mean you haven’t been discrete?

I have no problem with the most common and known offenders: their, there and they’re; your and you’re; its and it’s; weather and whether. Confusing peek and peak is a classic clanger; there’s even a tweeter called Stealth Mountain who warns of his or her mission: “I alert twitter users that they typed sneak peak when they meant sneak peek. I live a sad life.” Fortunately I don’t think I’ll ever become a Stealth Mountain victim — and that’s not just because I hardly ever tweet.

But it’s not just homophones that stop us in our spelling tracks with annoying and debilitating frequency. The exceptions to spelling rules that make the English language so impossible affect most of us, however fluently we might think we’ve mastered our native tongue. I trip up in all the following categories, and I’m the first to admit it. Here are some of the many reasons God sent us Microsoft Word’s red squiggly lines (although watch out for homophones: they’re good linguistic escape artists when it comes to spellcheckers):

Double trouble: Is spelling Caribbean a form of harassment that causes embarrassment? We might find it easy to accommodate, assimilate, or even to assassinate, but how hard is each word to spell, especially if the occurrence is millennial?

The -ents and -ants are apparently incessant problems, no matter how independent, non-existent, reluctant, intolerant or persistent your thinking might be.

The -ibles and -ables can be improbable too: who spells susceptible or irresistible without pause …?

I before e except after c“, our teachers always told us. But what about weird? Is that weird?

It’s practically impossible to spell publicly logically. And a good politician will politicly be politically correct.

And what’s with supersede? I don’t think it’s what polygamists’ wives are doing to each other, although their husbands might well be doing it to them collectively — albeit with a different spelling …

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An earlier Glossophilia post looked at the world of homophones and homonyms (know the difference?), and here’s more on my horde/hoard blind spot.

2 thoughts on “They’re hell to spell

  1. Jeff Spurgeon

    Four ewe, Lou ease. Sore sun own. Eye got tit years uh go from June Lebell.

    Eye halve a spelling chequer
    It came with my pea sea
    It plainly marques four my revue
    Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

    Eye strike a key and type a word
    And weight four it two say
    Weather eye am wrong oar write
    It shows me strait a weigh.

    As soon as a mist ache is maid
    It nose bee fore two long
    And eye can put the error rite
    Its rare lea ever wrong.

    Eye have run this poem threw it
    I am shore your pleased two no
    Its letter perfect awl the weigh
    My chequer tolled me sew.

    Reply

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