Cheque your spelling
Once, as editor of a magazine, I inherited a journalist who couldn’t spell. She was a 26-year-old graduate who definitely wasn’t dyslexic. She had just never been taught how to spell. Throughout her school and university careers, she had been told, “Don’t you worry about spelling, dear, it’s your ideas that are important.”
True, your ideas are important, but when I was handed articles telling me that “the police dog followed the cent” or “the building had isles of files”, I was not very impressed. I suggested she used a dictionary. Another article, more spelling mistakes. “Didn’t you look that word up?” I asked. “Yes,” she said proudly, “it was there.”
So, lesson one was on how to use a dictionary. At first, I felt a bit foolish, teaching a grown woman how to spell like you would a kid in primary school, but it had to be done. Every time she handed in a piece of writing, I would give it back and make her correct every mistake. It worked. I can honestly say that by the time she moved on, she was almost as fanatical as I was about good spelling and grammar.
I confess, too, that whenever I was recruiting, all application forms and CVs with spelling mistakes were discarded immediately. Harsh? Perhaps, but I think if you aspire to be a writer or a journalist, you should make sure you can spell. Would you employ an accountant who couldn’t add up? Thought not.
But was I right? Does it matter so much? I believe that when you write, you showcase your language. But I wondered again today as I read the Daily Mail online and almost threw my iPad across the room as I came across yet another “focussed” instead of “focused”; another “who” instead of “whom”. I’m fed up seeing “accomodation” instead of “accommodation” and “liason” instead of “liaison”. And why, nowadays, do journalists write sentences such as, “David Cameron met with President Obama”. What purpose does the “with” serve? I’ve had enough too of “She was the person that won the lottery”. Since when has “who” turned into “that”? I’ve read several pieces recently that have talked about “two twins”. Sorry, but how many twins did you expect? Three? Four? I’d better not start on that newspaper favourite, a new initiative — an initiative is, by definition, new, so let’s use a more imaginative adjective.
And nowadays, it’s perfectly fine your infinitive to creatively split, and start sentences with “and” and “but”. However, my pet hate has me writing irate letters to the editor, signed “Disgusted of St Antonin Noble Val, France”: “it’s” and “its”. “It’s” means “it is” (the apostrophe signifies a missing letter), whereas “its” is the possessive. Excuse me for a moment, I have to go and pick some apple’s.
Perhaps the French have got it right. Here, the Académie Francaise scrupulously polices the French language; it has just launched a new section on its website. Called “Dire, ne pas dire” [Say, don’t say], so far there are only two Anglicisms on it that the Académie wants to ban. Bizarrely, these are “best-of” (complete with hyphen) and “impacter” [http://www.academie-francaise.fr/langue/dire_nepasdire/dire1.html]. I’m sure more will be added.
The Académie, obviously aware of the falling standards of literacy in the UK, also helpfully informs us that “best-of” often appears as “best-off”.
Even in these days of text-speak, where btw, pmsl and bff rule, surely it’s not too much to ask that professional writers and sub-editors keep standards up and make sure spelling and grammar are correct? There is Spellcheck, after all. On second thoughts, that must also be treated with care. I remember once reading in a newspaper about trouble on the Champs Eyelashes (that’s Spellcheck for you). On a Iighter note, I came across this poem recently, which I think sums it up:
Eye have a spelling chequer, It came with my Pea Sea. It plane lee marks four my revue Miss Steaks I can knot sea.
Eye strike the quays and type a whirred
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am write oar wrong
It tells me straight a weigh.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your shore real glad two no.
Its vary polished in its weigh.
My chequer tolled me sew.
All I can say to finish is: LOL!