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Spelling is the writing of a word or words with the necessary letters and diacritics present in an accepted standard order. It is one of the elements of orthography and a prescriptive element of language. Most spellings attempt to approximate a transcribing of the sounds of the language into alphabetic letters; however, completely phonetic spellings are often the exception, due to drifts in pronunciations over time and irregular spellings adopted through common usage.[1]

Spelling standards and conventions

Whereas uniformity in the spelling of words is one of the features of a standard language in modern times, and official languages usually prescribe standard spelling, minority languages and regional languages often lack this trait. Furthermore, it is a relatively recent development in various major languages in national contexts, linked to the compiling of dictionaries, the founding of national academies, and other institutions of language maintenance, including compulsory mass education.

In countries such as the U.S. and U.K. without official spelling policies, many vestigial and foreign spelling conventions work simultaneously. In countries where there is a national language maintenance policy, such as France, the Netherlands and Germany, reforms were driven to make spelling a better index of pronunciation. Spelling often evolves for simple reasons of alphabetic thrift, as when British English "catalogue" becomes American English "catalog".

Methods used to teach and learn spelling

Learning proper spelling by rote is a traditional element of elementary education. In the U.S., the ubiquity of the phonics method of teaching reading, which emphasizes the importance of "sounding out" spelling in learning to read, also puts a premium on the prescriptive learning of spelling. For these reasons, divergence from standard spelling is often perceived as an index of stupidity, illiteracy, or lower class standing. The intelligence of Dan Quayle, for instance, was repeatedly disparaged for his correcting a student's spelling of "potato" as the now non-standard "potatoe" (C15th spelling, O.E.D.) at an elementary school spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey on June 15, 1992.[2]

The opposite viewpoint was voiced by President Andrew Jackson who stated "It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word."

Since traditional language teaching methods emphasize written language over spoken language, a second-language speaker may have a better spelling ability than a native speaker despite having a poorer command of the language.

Spelling tests are usually used to assess a student's mastery over the words in the spelling lessons s/he has received so far. They can also be an effective practice method. There are many free spelling tests on websites on the Internet. There are two major problems with spelling tests, however. First, many students "cram" the content into short term memory only to forget it immediately after the test. Secondly, although tests are great to determine which words are hard for a student, they do not ensure proper follow up. An effective remedy is often missing, especially since some students need much more support than others.

Spelling bees are competitions to determine the best speller of a group. Such events have grown in popularity and are often televised, particularly in the U.S..

Divergent spelling

Main article: Sensational spelling

Divergent spelling is a popular advertising technique, used to attract attention or to render a trademark "suggestive" rather than "merely descriptive." The pastry chains Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, for example, employ non-standard spellings. The same technique is also popular among some recording artists.



Misspelling of'Occasion' (Occassion [sic]) and 'Confectionery' (Confectionary [sic]) on a shopfront in the United Kingdom.

While some words admit multiple spellings, some spellings are clearly incorrect and thus labeled as misspellings. A misspelled word can be a series of letters that represents no correctly spelled word of the same language at all (such as "liek" for "like") or a correct spelling of another word (such as writing "here" when one means "hear", or "now" when one means "know"). Misspellings of the latter type can easily make their way into printed material because they are not caught by simple computerised spell checkers.

Misspellings may be due to either typing errors (e.g. typing teh for the), or lack of knowledge of the correct spelling. Whether or not a word is misspelled may depend on context, such as American / British English distinctions. Misspelling can also be a matter of opinion when variant spellings are accepted by some and not by others. For example "miniscule" (for "minuscule") is a misspelling to many, and yet it is listed as an 'alternative, less acceptable' variant in at least one dictionary.[3]

A well-known Internet scam involves the registration of domain names that are deliberate misspellings of well-known corporate names in order to mislead or defraud. The practice is sometimes referred to as "typosquatting".[4]

Notable misspellings


A misspelling of purchased on a service station sign.

  • Boadicea – the queen of the Iceni tribe of what is now known as East Anglia in the UK. She was, in fact, probably called something like "Boudica" or "Boudicca" but a mistranscription of Tacitus resulted in the erroneous spelling used until the late 20th century and still favored by many. The misspelling also results in a mispronuciation: IPA: /ˌboːdɪsˈeːə/. The Modern pronunciation is: IPA: /ˈbuːdɪkə/. Note the "s" sound and the primary stress on the third syllable in Boadicea and the "k" sound and primary stress on the first syllable in Boudica.
  • Cleveland, Ohio – the leader of the crew that surveyed the town's territory was Gen. Moses Cleaveland, and the region was named in his honor; reportedly the town's first newspaper could not fit the town's name in its masthead without removing the first "a" from the name.
  • Cocoa – from cacao. Many foreign languages and foreigners speaking English still use "cacao".
  • Google – accidental misspelling of googol. According to Google's vice president, as quoted on a BBC The Money Programme documentary, January 2006, the founders – noted for their poor spelling – registered Google as a trademark and web address before someone pointed out that it was not correct.

Misspelling of the word "Chop Suey" in a menu at a restaurant in Kandy, Sri Lanka

  • Hebrides is an 18th Century misunderstanding of the classical Latin name Hebudes, where u was read ri (see Hebrides#Name)[5].
  • Hercules- a misspelling of the Greek Heracles
  • Krakatoa – actually Krakatau in Indonesian. The origin of the spelling Krakatoa is unclear, but may have been the result of a typographical error made in a British source reporting on the massive eruption of 1883.
  • Montezuma – erroneous spelling of the Aztec emperor's name, Moctezuma. The commonly used name is more easily pronounced by English speakers.
  • Ovaltine, a popular bedtime drink in the UK, came about because someone misspelled the original name Ovomaltine on the trademark documentation.
  • Referer – common misspelling of the word referrer. It is so common, in fact, that it made it into the official specification of HTTP – the communication protocol of the World Wide Web – and has, therefore, become the standard industry spelling when discussing HTTP referers.[6]
  • Sequim, Washington, "In 1907, due to a Postal Official's error in reading an official report, the post office was titled 'Seguim' for approximately a month. With the next report, the Official read the letter 'g' as a 'q' and the post office here became known as 'Sequim.' The name change apparently did not worry the residents enough to protest. It has been known as Sequim ever since."[7]
  • Quartzsite, a mining town in Arizona, had its name spelled incorrectly. It should be Quartzite, after the mineral quartzite.
  • Zenith – Arabic zamt was misread; in Latin letters, at the time, the letter i was never dotted, so "m" looked like "ni".


  1. Definition-Definition
  2. 1992: Gaffe with an 'e' at the end, by Paul Mickle / The Trentonian
  3. [1993] The Chambers Dictionary, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.., p1067.
  4. "Typosquatters Act May Apply to Misspelling Domain Names to Mislead Surfers", Shari Claire Lewis, New York Law Journal, September 15, 2004
  5. Louis DEROY & Marianne MULON, 1992, Dictionnaire de noms de lieux, Paris: Le Robert, article "Hébrides"
  6. referer - Definitions from
  7. Robinson, J. (2005). Sequim History. Retrieved July 24, 2008, from City of Sequim, Washington Website

See also

English spelling

Other languages
  • List of language orthographies
  • French orthography
  • Hangul orthography
  • German orthography
  • Greek orthography
  • Latin spelling and pronunciation
  • Spanish orthography
  • Russian orthography

External links

Spell checkers
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