Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why We Can't Spell

Recently, Wade reminded me of the tragic epidemic of apostrophe abuse in our country. And walking through Target yesterday, I was reminded of another tragedy. Americans are forgetting how to spell.

(Oh! That reminds me! Global Bazaar has gone 30 percent off!)

Anyway, I think the fault partially lies in marketing. Let's make a cute little play on words and misspell a word on purpose to sell our product. But the problem is that these misspellings creep into our subconscious. Suddenly, we can't spell.

One example is the Stephen King classic, "Pet Sematary." Ever since this book came out over 20 years ago, no one can spell "cemetery." A-ha! You thought it had an "a", right? Nope. It never has. But don't feel bad. You've fallen victim to subliminal spelling disorder. It's not your fault.

Those of us who have read the book (or suffered through the gosh-awful movie), know the book's title is spelled that way because the sign at the pet cemetery in the book was made by children, who spelled it "sematary." But because the word was emblazoned across the front of a best-selling book and on display in bookstores across the nation during the mid-'80s, we are a nation forever confused about the spelling of "cemetery." Even people in the funeral home and cemetery business struggle with this. My dad works for a large funeral home in Houston, and he can't tell you how many times a memo or some letterhead has crossed his desk -- from higher-up, important, corporate-type people -- with "cemetary" printed on it.

So am I blaming Stephen King, a celebrated American author, for ruining the word "cemetery" for generations of Americans?

Of course I am.

And now, my beloved Target. I've been a little annoyed when I've gone in there lately. It's because the word "Goodbuy" is hanging all over the place. I know, I know -- it's part of their "Hello Goodbuy" marketing campaign. Another cute little play on words so we will buy stuff. But I know what's going to happen. All those "Goodbuy" signs are going to creep into our subconscious, and next time we go to write the word "goodbye," the "goodbuy" version is going to pop into our brains and try to tell us that's the right way to spell it. Our Target also has "Fabuless" signs hanging all over the place. Yet one more marketing ploy that will chip away at what's left of our literacy as a nation.

Of course I'll keep buying stuff at Target. The day Global Bazaar hits 75 percent off, you'd better get out of my way. But I think those of us who care about preserving the English language should send a message to corporate America, and that message is this: Literacy sells.

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  • At Tue Feb 12, 09:14:00 AM, Blogger chrylis said…

    "Sublimenal"? ;-)

  • At Tue Feb 12, 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Deana Nall said…

    See? It's happening to all of us!

  • At Tue Feb 12, 11:09:00 AM, Anonymous Leecy said…

    The thing that bothers me the most is the mixing up of the words:

    Their &


    You're & Your probably bug me the most.

    Also to and too.

  • At Tue Feb 12, 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Amy said…

    I've become paranoid about my apostrophe's, don't add spelling to the list! :)

  • At Wed Feb 13, 04:46:00 AM, Blogger HW said…

    The children's brand "Playskool."

    I hate that one. My brother actually tried to call the company once because it "will teach my daughter how to spell 'school' incorrectly...."

  • At Wed Feb 13, 10:39:00 AM, Blogger Susan said…

    One of my pet peeves is when business change a c to a k to be cute, as in Kountry Kitchen. But the worst I think I have ever seen was in Northwest Arkansas. They have 7-11 type stores there named, and I kid you not, Kum 'n Go. My sister and I agreed that we could never, ever shop there.

  • At Wed Feb 13, 11:21:00 AM, Blogger elizabeth said…

    The boys chose Fun-Dip for their Valentine's Day cards this year. Of course, I stole one and am eating it right now.

    I kid you not, I just looked down at the sugar dip stick, and it says, "Lik-a-Stix" on one side and "Stuck on U" on the other!


  • At Wed Feb 13, 01:24:00 PM, Blogger KentF said…

    Texting has something to do with it....and Myspace...and Facebook....and blogging in general. And, we've had a President for 8 years that can't speak. We're pretty much doomed.

  • At Wed Feb 13, 05:25:00 PM, Blogger Shanta said…

    I can't tell you how many lawyers misspell "judgment" as "judgement."

  • At Thu Feb 14, 04:42:00 PM, Anonymous Paige said…

    Deana, I just sent this post to my boss, the head of the marketing department at Lee. Our new marketing campaign: Absolute*LEE!


    Love ya!
    Paige :-)

  • At Fri Feb 15, 08:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Another reason people have a hard time with apostrophes is the rules change. The new rule for adding 's to make a word possessive is you add 's to a singular noun EVEN if the word ends in s. Now, I know I was taught that you only add the apostrophe and the first 10+ years I taught school, that's also what I taught my students. Now, they (who are they anyway?!) have changed the rule. Of course you can google it and find a rule that will fit whichever you way you want it to be, but the new textbooks have changed the rule. No wonder no one can get it right!


  • At Fri Feb 15, 01:05:00 PM, Blogger chrylis said…

    (Now that I've actually got enough time to provide a thoughtful reply...)

    I actually pin the blame less on text messaging, online chat and the like than I do on spell check. That's right, spell check is ruining our spelling.

    It seems to me (as a recent college graduate) that people of all ages have become reliant on spell check to catch any errors they make. Unfortunately, correcting the error doesn't help them learn the accepted spelling (since they don't have to retype or rewrite the word, just click "OK"), and so when they are handwriting or using a program without spell check (most Web browsers, e-mail programs, and chat programs for Windows), they miss the misspelling. And, as a beloved poem reminds us, correct spelling hardly implies correct usage.

    It's also interesting to contemplate that the notion of "correct" spelling has only existed for 150 years or so, but that's another subject entirely...

  • At Mon Mar 03, 02:57:00 PM, Blogger ~ Stephanie. said…

    you and Lynne Truss . . . my herows!

  • At Fri Mar 21, 02:07:00 PM, Anonymous Martin (Netherlands) said…

    I often wonder why American's can't spell. I guess it's partly the education system (or arrangements, since it doesn't amount to a system), but mainly the tendency toward a pragmatic 'gestural' use of language, where things that don't usually change the sense aren't considered important.

    ...But I get sick of even US academics talking about 'geneology', and political commentators referring to 'pundints'. And I'm sick of Hillary and Condoleeza for various other reasons, and I guess they can't be blamed for their parent's spelling mistakes, but it somehow doesn't add to my respect for them and the pretencious crassness - or crass pretenciousness - they represent.

    ...Especially Hillary's hilarious attempts to explain her parents' (she'd probably write "parents's") mistake (added to her equally revealing confusion of nominative 'I' and accusative 'me'... why does she need to use 'I' twice as often as normal people, anyway?)

  • At Fri Mar 21, 02:10:00 PM, Anonymous Martin said…

    Bugger... parents' / pretentious, sorry.

    Hoist with my own petard...

  • At Mon Jan 04, 06:05:00 AM, Anonymous ELASTICA! said…

    I blame those stupid Santa Clause movies for all the many bloggers who now think that Santa Claus has an "e" stapled onto the end of it.

    Ditto for the many who confuse aisle/isle and loose/lose and can't spell definitely. It drives me CRAZY!

  • At Thu Sep 13, 10:17:00 AM, Blogger null said…

    I don't understand the whole "then, than" problem in the US. You have to actually TRY to confuse those. It must be the accent. I think that's also responsible for 'sence' as in, "Not sence the mid 90s" They mean 'since', obviously, but I think the nasally American accent produces the wrong vowel sound, and most Americans spell phonetically.

  • At Fri Jan 03, 10:24:00 AM, Blogger Maeve Maddox said…

    I love your name for it "subliminal spelling disorder. May I use it? I write about language at I've long bewailed this cutes attack on standard spelling and grammar in advertising, movie titles, and the like. I couldn't even bring myself to watch the one called *In Pursuit of Happyness.*

    Btw, I'm in Arkansas too--Fayetteville.
    Maeve Maddox


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