Today’s tiny achievement

I was commenting over at Katherine’s excellent Intermittently Rational blog (what do you mean you don’t read it?  You must!  It’s wonderful), and I managed to spell the word bureaucracy straight through, without pausing, and without getting it wrong.  (Obviously I had to check the spelling to be sure I had got it right, but still…)

I realise this will not seem particularly impressive to many of you, but the thing you have to understand is that my spelling always has been terrible.  With bureaucracy, for example, I’ve often managed to mangle the spelling so badly that even a spellchecker hasn’t been able to work out what I was trying to write.  I’m pretty sure there have been times when I’ve had at least one z in it.  Looking it up in a dictionary has always been tricky, because I’ve never been 100% clear on what the second letter is.  (And why this basic flaw in the concept of a dictionary – that you have to know how to spell a word in order to look up how to spell it – has never occurred to anyone I really can’t imagine.)

My spelling has improved a huge amount over recent years, thanks mainly to writing using a word-processor that highlights the words I’ve got wrong.  I always try to go back and correct the word for myself, rather than using auto-correct (and not just because the auto-correct suggestions are almost always wrong), and so I have, slowly and painfully, worked out the correct spellings for most words.

I still have to stop and imagine a newspaper headline about a public transport disaster when I want to spell business – the headline is ‘Bus in Ess!’, with the Ess being a river, naturally.  (Be kind to me, I was about 10 when I came up with this particular mnemonic.)  Still, I recently mastered privilege, which was another cause for celebration – I always wanted to put at least one d in it, for some reason.  (In the interests of full disclosure I should admit that my first attempt at spelling it there came out as privelige, which suggests I still have work to do.)  But still, if I’ve got a handle on bureaucracy, then that means there aren’t any words I use at all commonly that I am completely incapable of spelling, and that’s got to be worth some kind of a small sense of smugness.

[In the further interests of full disclosure, I should admit that I have gone to extraordinary lengths in this post to avoid using the words spelled (or possibly spelt) and learnt (or possibly learned) because I have, basically, bugger all idea when you use which spelling.  Words are hard…]

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6 Responses to Today’s tiny achievement

  1. Kate says:

    How uncanny. I have just spent my little detour home past the shop contemplating how it came about that I misspell certain words so obstinately. (I have my theories but it wouldn’t do to use your comment box to expound them).
    I have recently been cured of the ‘bureaucracy’ clanger through working for the Citizens advice Bureau (where I also learned to differentiate ‘advice’ from ‘advise’ and that the plural of Bureau is, quite logically, bureaux – something unknown to most spellcheckers).
    I might conclude that my work is fully complete when iIam able to spell haemorrage and diahorrea without a hitch.
    Oh yes, and I had a simular mnemonic for ‘business’ myself as a child. It’s too embarassing to mention here.
    K.x

  2. Lucy McGough says:

    You can use learnt or learned, spelt or spelled. Either one is correct.

    Dictionaries are to tell people the meanings, pronunciations and derivations of words – not necessarily the spelling.

    Oh, and well done :-)

  3. Katherine says:

    Congratulations on your orthographical orthodoxy! ;)

    You have made me blush all the way across the Atlantic with your glowing review of my blog. Thank you.

  4. lsnduck says:

    My Mother always used a Thesaurus (I had to check the spelling there) to check her spelling (before spell checks), and it makes a lot of sense to me.

  5. Astrid says:

    I would say it’s a problem that you apparently got so much practise with the word “bureaucracy” that you now spell it right. ;)

  6. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Kate – The plural ‘bureaux’ is certainly interesting [not least because the plural of ‘bureaucracy’ is ‘bureaucracies’ – and yes, yes i am just showing off now… ;o) ]. The weird thing is, even after i learned how to spell bureau, i still couldn’t work out how to spell ‘bureaucracy’. I think panic probably had something to do with it.

    Oh, and as for heamorr…er…bleeding a lot, and diahorre…the runs, i tend to try and find ways round using them… ;o)

    Lucy McGough – thanks for the information regarding alternative spellings. I guess the fact there isn’t a difference explains why i kept on coming across ‘authorities’ that insisted one or other was correct, but never the same one… :o) I think i have a preference for the ‘-ed’ ending in both cases – it looks nicer somehow – but if i was speaking aloud i would probably pronounce both with a ‘-t’ ending.

    Oh, and you’re absolutely right about dictionaries, naturally. :o)

    Katherine – thank you. And as for me saying nice things about your blog – well, i only said them because they’re true… :o)

    lsnduck – your mother is clearly a genius! That’s a truly inspired idea. :o)

    Astrid – it is a bit of a worry, isn’t it? :o)

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