Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is Spelling a Lost Art? by Shawna Blumenschein

Spelling used to be an essential skill. Before the age of personal computers when a person’s only recourse was a typewriter, or pen and paper, or quill and ink, making a spelling error meant one of a few things. In the case of handwritten documents it meant either messily scratching out the error, letting it stand, or starting over. In the case of typewriters, and before the invention of whiteout, it meant either starting over or letting the error stand. Leaving a spelling mistake in a document is never an attractive choice because at best it presents a sloppy image and at worst compromises the document’s coherency.

Now, though, when more homes have personal computers than do not and the very nature of word processors allows for automatic corrections at any time, there is little impetus to learn to spell new and complex words. Given this perfect storm of circumstances it is not outside the realm of possibility that spelling could at some point be considered a complete waste of time. With the rationalization that machines can and will perform in this arena as well or better than the average person, would time not be better spent on other subjects?

Abandoning spelling to rely solely on technology would be a grave error, if only because technology is a human construct. People compose the dictionary files that spell check programs consult and people write the algorithms that determine what words should be suggested to correct an error. Because of the nature of their creators, neither of these things can be considered exhaustive, infallible, or error-free. The most potent example of the pitfalls of spell check is the auto-correct feature that can make incorrect corrections, as discussed by Rena. Furthermore, given the speed at which the English language constantly changes and evolves – one must only look to the advent of text speak and slang words such as those housed at Urban Dictionary – it is not long before static spell check dictionaries become out of date and thus mark perfectly legitimate words or names as errors.

Despite how convenient and easy it is to depend on a spell check program, it is a mistake to become complacent in regards to spelling. For every piece of paperwork that might be required by a job, every hand-written exam a student will take, and every casual note or e-mail a person will write, having the ability to check and correct one’s own spelling independent of anyone or anything else is worth the effort.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I agree completely with your statement about the evolution of the English language. People are beginning to resort to discarding words to replace them with more frequently used words like slang or abbreviations. You have many great opinions about this matter.

  3. I absolutely agree with your argument. Word processors and spell-check make it easier to correct errors and find proper spellings, but it is still very important to understand spelling. Being able to properly spell words without the use of technology is very important, because as you said, technology is not always available, and the language is evolving.