Tuesday, December 1, 2009


If there's one thing I have learned from all of the writing I've been doing recently it's that I can't spell. It can sometimes take me up to five tries before I give in and consult with Merriam-Webster on-line (I don't normally advocate for on-line reading--I struggle with it myself, but the subscription is well-worth it: no paging through a book, no having to replace the dictionary each year, plus several references in one place). Sometimes I am so off that even Merriam-Webster doesn't recognize the word.

When I was in Mrs. Abbott's second grade class at Hyde Elementary School in D.C., though, I thought I was hot shit because words like "geography" appeared on my weekly word lists, which we had to write sentences with, spell ten times over, and then make a story out of. I credit Mrs. Abbott with getting me started with creative writing. She also taught me how to spell dessert (rather than desert): there are two s's in dessert because everyone always wants a second helping.

During my writing in November, I kept track of the words I had a particularly troublesome time spelling. This list of twenty is dedicated to Mrs. Abbott:

1. Everyone misspells entrepreneur. I even misspelled it again writing this.

2. Behemoth sounds exactly like what it means, but spelling it isn't so natural.

3. The spelling of combative should be obvious, but for the longest time I thought it was "combatative." I think Cedar actually corrected me several times on this, but I wouldn't listen.

4. I'm not sure why I have trouble with charlatan, It's really a beautifully and perfectly spelled word, which is maybe why my tendency (there's another one that always gets me!) is to misspell it. Also the word reminds me of Charlemagne, who was no petty charlatan.

5. I first wrote ilk as elk. I mean, don't elk follow the herd mentality, too?

6. Foolproof went through various incarnations, like scientific studies aren't "full-proof."

7. I wasn't aware of the u in fluoride, probably because I never learned how to spell fluorine, probably because I didn't study much in my chemistry classes.

8. For the longest time I thought that acetaminophen was acetametaphin. It's so much catchier that way, isn't? There are also many opportunities to go wrong with the vowels in the -minophen chunk of the word.

9. The two p's, one r, and two s's in suppressed are too much to keep track of.

10. I should have been able to spell nutritious on my first try, but I tripped over the "iti" bit.

11. Is it dialogue or dialouge? I can never remember and probably won't remember a week from now.

12. Vacuum is a great word and one of my favorite activities, but I dread spelling it. Are there two c's? two u's? Two m's? I can never remember. Someone give me a pneumonic (spelled that one on the first try) device for this one. Please!

13. I just have to remember that accommodating can accommodate two c's and two m's. But that won't help me to remember to not try to put a's in the o's spots.

14. Why is it marshmallows? Who in God's name doesn't call them marshmellows? Nobody says marshmallow. I'd wager that majority of you just found out it was -mallow and not-mellow.

15. Ensconced fucked me up for a good day or two before I figured out how to spell it. Even once I had the correct spelling in front of me, I couldn't see where I had gone wrong. The first n is nearly silent, and then all of the soft c, soft s, and hard c sounds get all mixed up together.

16. It is hard enough to know when to use phenomenon or phenomena. I had to say to myself idiotically slowly: fe-no-me-non to spell it correctly.

17. Who knew about that sneaky little first i in plagiarizing? Not I.

18. Six years of French in junior high and high school, plus three in college including a year abroad in France and a French studies major and I still couldn't spell vinaigrette. The second i was a revelation to me.

19. I've bought balsalmic vinegar so many times, you'd think I could spell it by now. Why all of the toothless l's?

20. Exceedingly is part of the accede, antecede, cede, concede, intercede, precede, recede, secede, exceed, proceed, succeed, supersede group. Patricia O'Connor in Woe is I calls them words with "seedy endings." I agree.

I hope I don't learn to spell well anytime soon--I'll loose another one of my procrastination tecniques.

(photo by flickr user elginwx)