Jane here, wondering how much it matters these days whether people spell correctly. I’ve started my stint judging short stories, and so far the standard is extremely high; but now and then I’m spotting spelling mistakes, and I can’t help marking the story down a few points because of it.
Mind you, there are plenty of people around who say it doesn’t matter one bit nowadays. We’ve got computers to correct our spelling, if we need it corrected, but surely, they say, we don’t. We should not be bound by arbitrary rules, especially in a language like English, whose complex roots make spelling a nightmare anyway.
Shakespeare, this reasoning runs, didn’t fret about consistent spelling; he followed the practice of his time and spelt words any which way he pleased. And look what happened to him! I’ve never been lucky enough to read an original MS by the Bard, so I hope this much-used argument is true. If it is, why should we lesser mortals fret about it?
I must admit I’ve some sympathy with this view. It’s true that words like accomodation…diferent…plesant…are quite understandable, even though I’ve got those irritating little lines under each because my word processor disapproves of their looks and is ordering me to correct them. Why should I, if you can understand what I’m writing?
Nor do I subscribe to the idea that if people can’t spell, they must obviously be stupid. Rubbish! If you are in any doubt, go and work for an organisation which receives plenty of letters or emails, and requires you to contact their senders. I was in this position at the BBC, where listeners’ correspondence was an important ingredient of the programmes we made; we knew, or we very soon learned, that some of the best ones were written by bright people whose thoughts were original and who could articulate them brilliantly. They just happened not to be able to spel for tofee.
And yet…and yet…
Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, and can’t forget how important spelling was thought to be when I was at school. Maybe I’m just a nit-picker, and have gone through one too many manuscripts or ARCs with a fine-tooth comb. But I find myself a little put off a text, whether I’m reading it on the Internet or in print, if it’s full of spelling mistakes. The odd error – OK, we’re all guilty of that. But there’s really no excuse for a lot of inaccurate spelling, especially in these computerised times. It makes me feel the author hasn’t cared enough about the final effect her work will have to add that extra bit of spit-and-polish.
So I’ll continue to reflect my old-fashioned quest for
correctness as I mark this interesting crop of short stories. I have to
whittle the entries down to my Top Ten before I then compare notes with the
other judges. And of course if I find stories that I consider works of genius
no matter how they are spelt, I’ll say so.
Meanwhile, I’d better run my spell checker over this post…