14 July 2007


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.


  1. I'd like to think, that like Harry Potter.... I'm a good speller!!


    boom boom!!


  2. An old favourite of mine is the sign I saw some years ago on the window of a second-hand furniture shop in Hackney: "Chester Draws, £50"

  3. The first reading book my son had at primary school had the following printed on the back:-

    "Now you have read red book one, please read red book two."

    Now, if you can grasp that at the age of four, you can grasp anything.

  4. Qwite agree with you their. Bad spellers should be hung, drawn and qwatered.
    Come on YP, some idiot was going to do it sooner or later.

  5. Sometimes (always?) brains move faster than fingers, but that fingers fly in hope of correctness. I suspect spelling in longhand is consistently better than that created by keyboard, but the only thing I write by hand is my to do list and the shopping list. How sad is that?

  6. I like that poem - a publisher I did PR and proofreading for gave me a laminated copy.

    However, it pains me to point out that I spotted a faux pas on these very pages recently.

    How does one spell the words that start 'focus' and ends in 'ed' or 'ing'?

    That is my pet spelling mistake!!

  7. You might appreciate The Impotence of Proofreading:

  8. In Rutland there is a sign for the '5 County's showground'.
    And what is the answer to M&M's dilema?

  9. @themill, I know how to spell it - it's just a certain English teacher I know doesn't ..

  10. 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

    Me too! I find you've named my very deed of love. Only you come too short.

    The paedo debacle wasn't just a case of bad spelling. It was a case of bad vocabulary. Paediatrician is not a confused spelling of paedophile, it's a completely different word, albeit with the same root.

  11. Anonymous6:30 pm

    If people don't consider their writing worth the effort of spell checking, I'll automatically consider it not worth the effort of reading. I doubt I'll miss anything important by adhering to this principle.


Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.

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