There are various stories doing the rounds in Britain about the consequences of confusing the terms "paedophile" and "paediatrician". It seems that early in this decade, a female paediatrician came home one night to her house in South Wales to find her home vandalised and the word "Paedo" sprayed on a wall. How ironic that a skilled professional doing her best to help children in need should be confused with those warped individuals who prey on kids. Growing out of this tale came rumours about a fatal assault upon a paediatrician in Portsmouth and various other similar stories. What is interesting about all of this is the embedded implication that ignorance and inaccuracy in the field of spelling can have dire consequences.
I have always been brilliant at spelling. I might not be brilliant at a long list of other things - from mental arithmetic to fixing engines but spelling I can do. Hey that doesn't mean I never make mistakes because I do and it doesn't mean I am a pedant who is chiefly interested in the nuts and bolts of writing. What matters is meaning and though I have fortunately been blessed with the ability to spell very accurately, this doesn't mean I look down on less gifted spellers or scorn their writing in any way.
Eleven years ago presidential hopeful Dan Quayle (left) scuppered his political fortunes by telling this little boy that potato needed an "e" on the end.
What does piss me off is people who seem personally offended when their mis-spellings are pointed out to them and people who dismiss the importance of good spelling - "What does it matter?" I see mis-spelling all around me - in shop windows, in newspapers, in TV credits and official forms, holiday brochures, web pages, blogs and magazines. Mis-spellings that have evaded proof readers of novels glare out at me.
I think that if we are inaccurate in our use of language we are very likely inaccurate in other aspects of life. If we shrug our shoulders at correctness how can we measure anything?
My place of work and punishment is near a suburb of Sheffield called Grenoside which computer spell checkers usually correct to "genocide"! Thinking about the untrustworthiness of spell checkers, somebody called Janet Minor wrote this:-
I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC;
It plainly marks four my revue
Mistakes I cannot sea.
I've run this poem threw it,
I'm sure your pleased too no,
Its letter perfect in it's weigh,
My checker tolled me sew.