Who would have thought a drug bust would teach a lesson on the importance of spelling?
In searching two condos last week as part of a drug investigation that led to the arrest of three people, Victoria police found, among other things, a fake flashlight battery that concealed drugs. The battery looked realistic, except the label said “Durasell” instead of “Duracell.”
In addition to whatever other penalties are handed out, the perpetrators of this vile deed should get at least a sharp reprimand, maybe even a detention period or two added to their jail time.
The police undoubtedly already had plenty of clues in their investigation, but the bogus battery alone would have been enough to trigger suspicion.
Not all spelling errors have consequences of that gravity, but spelling still matters. Some blame the truncated language of texting, and that is probably a factor, but texting itself is an evolving language. Perhaps some day, its rules will be standardized.
Meanwhile, writing skills appear to be sliding ever downward, as more people fail to see the difference between “lose” and “loose,” “their” and “there,” “accept” and “except,” “affect” and “effect.” It isn’t merely a matter of propriety, it’s about effective communication.
Part of the problem is the complexity of the English language and its mixed heritage. Spelling in some languages isn’t a problem, because spelling rules are consistent with pronunciation. English has its rules, but as any newcomer to the language will tell you, the rules are complex and rife with exceptions. Proponents of phonetic spelling say the rules should be changed so that words are written as pronounced.
That might make spelling easier, but it muddies communication. “Rot” and “wrought” sound the same, but the meanings are entirely unrelated. If you write “rot iron” when you mean “wrought iron,” the railing on your deck might not have the durability you were expecting.
Spelling phonetically can have humorous consequences. One I know of occurred because a student journalist did not know she had heard a French term when she reported her interviewee’s favourite book was Lame Is Robb. Take that, Victor Hugo.
As an editor, I scratched my head for a few minutes over a phrase from a brand-new reporter who had covered a school board meeting and reported on a teacher who was given “10 year.” I wondered if perhaps we were downplaying a huge story on a teacher in trouble, when I realized the teacher had been given tenure.
Misspelling can be costly. I know from personal experience. I was on my school’s team in a regional spelling competition and went into the crucial match with confidence — I had yet to miss a word.
The competition was televised and contestants were required to write the words on a blackboard. I stepped up to the word and was given the word “stenographer.” I wrote it boldly, getting every letter right, but because I forgot to cross the T, it was counted as an error.
Bad enough, but when my next turn came and I was given the word “lieutenant,” I repeated the error, leaving both T’s uncrossed.
My absentmindedness cost our team the match. My share of the prize money would have been $50, considerable wealth for someone of my age in that era.
Worse than the loss of the money was the humiliation I had to endure for months.
Misspelling can have career consequences. In going through resumés from applicants for reporting positions, I would quickly thin out the field by doing a quick scan for spelling and grammar errors. Can’t spell? Choose another occupation.
That doesn’t mean errors don’t creep in. The fingers sometimes type faster than the brain can think, which provides entertainment for sharp-eyed readers who like to point out the mistakes. Bless them — I hope they never stop. They help slow the deterioration of the language, a laudable quest I support.
Which is why I’m glad the police spotted the misspelled battery label — it’s high time someone went to jail for bad spelling.
© Copyright 2013