It’s difficult to miss the contradiction. Earlier this year, the British Home office unveiled a tough new English test for migrants. In the process, they goofed up on a spelling in the heading of their announcement on the department’s website which read: ‘New English langauge test for family route migrants.’
Obviously, ridicule poured in from all sides. In response, Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesperson said: “I think all of us are open to mistakes at times. The Prime Minister is pretty confident that his team speaks English competently.”
Accepted that to err is human. But the general reaction to this otherwise innocuous slip of finger (on the keyboard) was not misplaced since an official website in the land of Queen’s English can hardly afford to get its spellings wrong.
The incident, however, went on to prove a significant point about the language that spellings could prove to be an Achilles heel of even the brightest of students.
From school and college answer sheets to newspapers and magazines, spelling errors are aplenty. This is more common today, in the age of Internet and the social media, when the written words have found new meanings and forms. But the problem is universal and has been there since the time English became the de facto lingua franca of the world.
Apart from the lack of attention, one reason why people stumble on spellings is that the language has been a crucible of languages, modern and ancient, from the various lands and climes.
Though it’s impossible to make a list of difficult spellings, here’s a list of words that you should be careful about while using them in your day-to-day written communication: atheist, accommodate, bellwether, cemetery, conscientious, drunkenness, dumbbell, embarrass, exhilarate, harass, indispensable, liaison, manoeuvre, memento, minuscule, occasionally, occurrence, playwright, supersede, vacuum. It could be particularly embarrassing to spell the word misspell wrongly. Regular use and a knowledge of etymology will help one to get the spellings right. For example, a play writer in Old English was called a ‘play worker’ and ‘wright’ is from an old form of work (for example, wrought iron). So someone who writes play is a playwright.
Then there are the names of countries and cities which may prove dicey to spell like: the Philippines, Reykjavik, Kazakhstan, the Caribbean islands, Luxemburg, Caracas, Seychelles, Leipzig, etc.
Also while using a word which has a homophone, do not depend much on the spell check because while you may get the spelling right, you can get the meaning awfully wrong in a context. Here are a few sets of homonyms you should be careful about: diffuse/defuse, lose/loose, seize/cease, toe/tow, bogey/bogie, break/brake, their/there, hair/hare, mail/male, site/sight, gait/gate. There are a whole lot of them and they can catch you unawares.
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