Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When You Can't Spell C-T-A, I mean, C-A-T

I have a dirty little secret.

I am a horrid speller. Is it neice or niece? Stilletto or stiletto?

Lots of people ask me how on earth I can be a writer and not be able to spell. More importantly, how can I be a former elementary school spelling teacher and not be able to spell? (So true. I hang my head in shame.) Isn't spelling ... I dunno, required?

No. One does not always get bitten by both the writing bug and the spelling bee. Especially if one is, well, me.

Don't get me wrong. I can spell most things. But my writer's vocabulary too often outstrips my speller's vocabulary. If I just wrote only the words that I knew how to spell ... aack. Sometimes I can't even get through a blog post without thinking, "That doesn't look right."

Spell check is great ... if it can guess what word it is that I'm murdering. But too many times, it can't.

There's the dictionary, of course. If you're like me, though, a former nerdy little kid who passed the time on rainy days by reading the dictionary, Webster's can offer more distractions than all those tempting Facebook games I dare not try. I start looking up one word, and suddenly I find this other juicy word that I've never heard of, and that makes me think of another word ... well, you get the picture. I'm fairly easy to amuse.

Last year, though, a writer friend, Lee Cheek, gifted me with the best little book. Bad spellers everywhere should have a copy.

It's The Word Book, published by Houghton-Mifflin, and it's based on The American Heritage Dictionary. It boasts that it has 40,000 words spelled and divided.

More importantly?

It has no definitions. Just words. I can't get side-tracked by meanings. There are fewer pages, so chances are, I find my word very quickly.

Unfortunately, I believe it is out of print, but it can still be had on-line.

I use my copy daily, much to the delight of my former spelling teachers!

(BTW, the cute little Miss-Speller came via Funny English, which has an amusing Ode To The Spelling Checker.)


Charmaine Clancy said...

I was just speaking to a friend today who claimed she wouldn't be able to write fiction because she left school quite early. I think structure and grammar rules can scare would be writers off. I say forget the little details like punctuation and spelling, just write anyway. All the rest can be worked on in the edits. I told my friend it's just like cooking, quilting or mechanics, you get better the more you do it.
I like your reference suggestion :-)

Piedmont Writer said...

I love the dictionary. I also love my thesaurus.

However lately, I think with middle age really settling in, I'm beginning to find I can't spell words like I used to. Like yesterday, exaggerated, I thought only had one 'g'. Ugh! I hate getting older.

Jody Hedlund said...

Never heard of the book, but it sounds like a wonderful resource!!

Cynthia Reese said...

Charmaine, you're so right! Yes, mechanics are important, but I've seen grammatically perfect writing that has a vapid voice. Grammar can be learned, spelling can be checked. You just have to understand your limitations and be committed to improving them.

Anne, you mean, I can blame my bad-spelling on middle age? Who knew? I'm finding 40 QUITE liberating!

Jodt, it's a marvelous resource -- I'd never heard of it before receiving it as a gift, but what a difference it has made!

Michelle McLean said...

Ooo I think I may need to get that book :D I hang around with my thesaurus pretty often, but a Word Book sounds fun :D

Anonymous said...

The dictionary is addictive. I enjoy looking through it and learning new words, even with the online version.

Al said...

Spell checker is my friend.

Grammar, all I can say is "thank goodness for editors".


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