13 April 2024

Adventures In Spelling (Or, An Author Gives Up)

Words. They're kind of important in writing. Words are comprised of letters, optimally in the correct order. I'm a liberal arts major and know these things. And yet. The mind and typing fingers can struggle.

I'm actually a darn good speller, or I was. I hung in there on spelling bees as a kid, and nobody geeked out more on PSAT vocabulary than this guy. One thing the young me could've learned better was typing. My mom considered typing a life skill and made us take runs at her IBM Selectric. A sweet machine, the Selectric. The clack of keys, the thump of ball element, precision stuff engineered to sequence manual keystrokes just right, and it never stood a chance. Not with me and my pecking method impervious to parental correction.  

Not all letter combinations are kind to the pecking method. Here are the dreaded words that get me every time.


Every time. Every time I want to type camouflage, I type "camoflage." If I'm overthinking my dropped vowel, I type "camoflague." Maybe it's an extension of living in the South, all these folks in daywear camos. Maybe it's the pronunciation. Said lazily, it can come out as all different kinds of ways. Said correctly, there's no "o" in there anywhere. It's a sneaky little unstressed "uh" vowel that, ironically, blends in with mastermind stealth. YouTube has videos on this pronunciation trick. 

Or maybe lifestyle is my problem. It's not a word that comes up much. I try to live a life neither hiding from anyone nor fixing to bushwhack them, either.


This is less of a misspelling routine than willful disregard. I understand full well the English language contains both the words "farther" and my habitual "further." Farther, a grammarist will tell you, means at a greater distance or to a greater extent. Further covers that but goes, well, further. The adverb and adjectival forms denote something additionally or an additional amount, to include extents and distances. 

This distinction can become fighting stuff, but only for word nerds. Many people go through entire lives not caring about nearly interchangeable word nuance. The difference doesn't matter when writing dialogue unless the character is a fellow word nerd. I hear "further" much more than "farther" in conversation, but that could be a personal filter. "Further" sounds everyday. "Farther" sounds like Thurston Howell asking if you have Grey Poupon.


This is a simple enough word. 9 letters. Pronounced how spelled. And yet. My fingers type it "hypocrasy" or "hypocricy" or the double-up "hypocracy." I'm old enough to know when things aren't gonna get better. It wouldn't be honest to skip this on my typing issues list.


I literally just mistyped that subtitle as "manuever." Frankly, I'm not sure I'm to blame. The second syllable of maneuver (I just mistyped that, too) rhymes with true and blue. Same diacritical marks. The U before the E? Nope, and maybe just what I expected the spelling to do. Anyway, thanks spell check.


"Publically." In the hunt and peck storm, "publically" is what flows. The hodgepodge we call the English language has a rule. A rule, folks, and it says adverbs made from adjectives ending in "ic" get an "ally." A rule, specifically. Except. Oh, the exception. I give you the adverb "publicly." The real lesson is to avoid adverbs. Except in speech because people use adverbs non-stop in speech. And dialogue is done publicly. I have to edit hard, is what I'm saying.


This one is a different glitch. It's tactical somehow, like how my hand positioning gets pulled wide chasing each next letter. Whenever I hunt-and-peck any word with the prefix "semi," things go haywire. The "semi" part is fine. What comes next breaks down into stray characters. The entire remaining word plunges into babble until a rally when some vague semblance of meaning returns. But too devoid of meaning for spell check to fathom. Microsoft Word flags the babble as if a hell-if-I-know shrug. 

If anyone out there wonders who is holding natural language algorithms back from brilliant adoption of "semi" words, it's me. Not sure I can explain it. Only semi-sure I should explore it.


True story. 

Once, I argued at length that superseded was--and could only ever be--spelled "superceded." This wasn't in the spelling bee or PSAT days, either. I was then a young paid professional with a liberal arts education, and I was arguing the pure necessity of "superceded" in my workpapers. "Super," of course, meant the act of revising or replacing. "Ceded" meant the ceding of that ground. I could not have been more wrong. What has me laughing years later isn't that. It's that my boss didn't interrupt. She let me go on. 

Superseded is correct spelling. I know that now. I knew it then, too, except in the moment my better judgment was revised or replaced. The struggle is real and continues. My left index finger--the one in charge of "c"--still gets the itch. 

There It Is, Then

I crank through the typing well enough. With corrections. Sometimes, the head gets in the way, or the method. Sometimes, it's a mental thing, the misspelled word so engrained that I'm head-cased and doom-looped. But some words are writer kryptonite, and I've given up pretending otherwise. Writing is nothing if not a learning process, and that includes accepting the trick words.


  1. Thanks, Bob. It's nice to know I'm not alone out here.

  2. Got a kick out of this, Bob! I taught grammar at college (oh boy, you don't want to know...) and have Oxford annotated dictionary on the coffee table! Refer to it every day, I bet. Love your Publicly example! I grumble at that one regularly. Are we geeks, do you think? Melodie

  3. Absolutely. This is a fun, and true, post.

    Daniel C. Bartlett

  4. Bob, I've been thinking of an article along the same lines because I experience some of the same problems, often with words of French origin: silhouette, liaison,etc.

    Bless your mother: She knew a life skill when she saw one. Approximately when did your mother get her Selectric? During the clash of Bush Sr and Dan Rather, the claim was made the Selectric didn't exist then. I happened to work for IBM at that time and we had Selectrics in office and attached to computers as a console, but I was pretty certain they were publicly available.


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