In the first contribution to this short series I mentioned that it was essential for you as a researcher to communicate the results of your work, and that the most effective way of doing that was to make them generally available in the form of the printed, the published wordthe old truth of Publish or perish. I also referred to the inconsistencies of English spelling and that it was essential to refer frequently to a good dictionary or at least the spellchecker on your PC.
marvels of the spellchecker
Before I sat down to compose these lines, Christopher Willis dashed my unshakeable belief in the computerised spellchecker with a poem I wish to share with you. The poet of this work of art is unknown but, judging by the pronunciation of words like dew and due, one may deduce that the poem originated on the other side of the Atlantic. And this is how it goes:
TO MY SPELLCHECKER
I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure real glad two no.
Its very polished in its weigh,
My checker tolled me sew.
A checker is a blessing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when aye rime.
Each frays comes posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours oer every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.
Bee fore a veiling checkers
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if were lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.
Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
There are know faults with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.
Now spelling does not phase me,
It does not bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped words fare as hear.
Too rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should be proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew floors are knot aloud.
Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
Andy shy eye brake in two averse
Buy righting wan to please.
Test your spelling power (without spellcheckers!)
Now that I have shattered your trust in you spellchecker as well, I want to give you the opportunity to check your unaided knowledge of English spelling. The list below comprises the most commonly misspelt (or misspelled) words in the English languagein my experience at least. Be warnedmost of them are misspelt! You are encouraged to write the correct version of every word in the blank spaces:
the River Vaal
pendent (a necklace)
exsert (make strenuous effort) ..
precede (go before)
procede (to advance)
Excell (the botanist)
excel (be superior to)
homogenous (a mass) .
homogenous (a group of species) ..
How did you shape? If you got more than 95% correct you are a star!
Other spelling traps
Seeing that we have spent so much time on spelling, we might as well devote this entire instalment to that tricky subject. Common sources of errors are the following:
U.K. vs U.S.
As you know, numerous words are written differently depending on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be. Some well known examples are: centre center, colour color, channelled channeled, flavour flavor, fibre fiber, grey gray, instalment installment, offence offense, travelling traveling, tunnelling tunneling. The second version is always the American one. Most of these differences can be traced to Noah Webster and the spelling he introduced in his American Dictionary (1828). In its nth edition, its successor, Websters Dictionary, is still the standard dictionary of American English.
Verbs ending on ise or ize
The spelling of these words has been a problem area for many a year. Learned books, especially the older ones, will tell you that if the ending is derived from the Greek izo, the word in question should take an ize ending, whereas all the others should take ise. On the other hand, even the great Oxford Dictionary leaves you the choice between the two. The majority of the staff of the NBI (now SANBI) have therefore recently decided to use the ending ise in all cases. If you follow this advice, however, the purists will criticise you, they may sermonise you in an attempt to proselytise you, and, if they fail, they may ostracise you, possibly even try to pulverise you and your heretical ideas! You have been warned!
Its or its?
Its is just an abbreviated form of it is. Therefore its its in the sentence Its nice to know you. Its indicates that something belongs to something or someone, as in the sentence The institute is transforming its image; or The child lost its ball. To prove to yourself that its easy to choose the right one, fill in the blanks in the following sentences:
.. a fact that most people get mixed up between . and and yet an easy problem to solve. . a fact that ..well known that the institute will put . house in order by telling .. employees that compulsory to remember the difference between . and ..
Two, too and to
These three little words with the same sound have a very different meaning. Fill in the blanks in the sentences below to prove to yourself that you know what they stand for:
The . women paused . peer through the window of the shop. It was . early stop for afternoon tea but their attention had been caught by a trolley laden with cakes which were tempting.. .. resist. What are you going . have, Kath? Im going go mad and have a chocolate Me . ...! said Kath. I might even have ..! If were going .. the devil, we might as well go happily!
Well, I hope thats not where you wish me to go with all my pitfalls. Instead Ill call it a day, and I hope that you will see me again with the next number to talk about punctuation, accents, signs and symbols.
Dr Otto Leistner
SABONET News 3.1: 5