Spelling Rage

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From Head Trip for 7/6/2006, someone who feels strongly about spelling:

It's not entirely clear to me whether Mal is angry with users of simplified spellings, or with those who propose spelling reform of a more official variety. So here are some other examples of both kinds of Spelling Rage:

"Editorial terrorism", 6/2/2013
"Angry linguistic mobs with torches", 4/16/2008
"Pioneers of word rage", 3/5/2006
"Spell simply and carry a big stick", 12/21/2005
"State-ordered dyslexia", 8/7/2004
"Reads, zaps and digresses", 6/21/2004
"A soul candidly acknowleging it's fault", 6/9/2004

And, from the other side, "'Ghoti' before Shaw", 4/23/2008.


  1. richardelguru said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 8:38 am

    When it comes to orthography, I always say one should compare Orrm to Shakespeare (however you spell him).

  2. Nathan said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    Is there anything that has been spelled the same way "for hundreds of years"?

  3. Faldone said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 10:29 am

    Speaking of spelling however you deem fit:


  4. Corey B said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    I've never really understood the extent of spelling and grammar rage, but it's clear that it justifies the use of hellish torture to enforce/punish it, so it must be at least as awful as terrorism or child abuse in some people's minds.

    As for me, I just make a mental note that the person made a mistake while appreciating the fact that so few linguistic mistakes are made during the course of normal human conversation. How else could the occasional lapse of a simple rule can become such a loathesome object of hatred?

  5. Corey B said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    Note: Unfortunately, I just noticed the referent of the third "it" in my first sentence is missing, so said "it" should be replaced with "their being broken," but I also mixed my infinitives, so it should actually be "enforce them (the rules)/punish them (the rule-breakers)" …. OH MY GOD I'VE BECOME ONE OF THEM….

    Oh, sorry, I forgot, we were only talking about spelling, right? Sigh of relief.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 11:27 am

    I am a bit puzzled by the target of the rage here – the set-up seems to assume the sort of reformers who are tossing out the good old inherited orthographic conventions in favor of crackpot/rationalistic/whatever new alternatives which would become equally mandatory if adopted, but then some of the wording seems to assume anarchists and/or premodern revivalists who deny that any fixed orthographic conventions ought to be considered mandatory (which I'm not sure is a substantial constituency these days). In either event, this seems to be not so much rage directed at any poor sucker who makes a spelling error (as we all do from time to time) but rather rage against the more select group of Jacobin intellectuals who deny that errors are in fact errors. (Of course, even the sort of wild and wooly descriptivists found at LL do not deny that "error" is a meaningful category; they simply disagree with certain prescriptivsts as to whether certain usages are correctly categorized as errors.)

  7. Ben Zimmer said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 11:38 am

    Murderous rage over spelling reform is nothing new — and neither are comic-strip depictions of such rage. Check out the 1906 installment of "The Outbursts of Everett True" that I included in my post "Pioneers of word rage."

  8. Chris said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    J.W. Brewer: In either event, this seems to be not so much rage directed at any poor sucker who makes a spelling error (as we all do from time to time) but rather rage against the more select group of Jacobin intellectuals who deny that errors are in fact errors.

    I suspect the real source of rage is that if someone does not stabilize and proclaim a Right Way of Spelling, then anyone risks Doing It Rong. And it appears that to many people's minds, Doing it Rong while writing English is something to be greatly and constantly feared.

    I believe I've heard that speakers of English are more or less unique in having this fear. I don't actually know whether in other languages the fear of using one's native language "wrong" is instilled as early, or as strongly, as it seems to be in (American, at least) English, or whether being "wrong" carries such heavy moral implications or attracts a similar degree of opprobation from Those In the Know. But there does seem to be a whole lot of not-so-hidden emotion that emerges whenever such things are discussed.

    It's a shame, but seems to be the reality, that the fear of being labeled evil, lazy, ignorant, stupid, careless, or slatternly prevents so many people from writing.

  9. Dave said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

    Since so many people, when they write, speak and otherwise act in the world, reveal themselves to be evil, lazy, ignorant, stupid, careless, or slatternly, anything which stems the tide should surely be welcomed?

  10. Atombrecher said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

    >Fellow member of the British Workers Grammatical Party

    I personally hate when they take to replacing the s with zeds (not "zees") or omitting the u where they belong.
    The nerves of some people.

  11. Eric said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

    Dave –
    On the contrary – I find that anything that reveals evil, laziness, ignorance, stupidity, or carelessness to be a Good Thing, and its application is to be welcomed.

    Poor grammar and/or spelling typically reveals laziness and/or ignorance, and as such is a vital clue as to whether further intellectual effort is needed.

  12. marie-lucie said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

    Was I the only person who followed "click to embiggen" but found the picture besmalled instead?)

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

    I think Chris may have it semi-backwards; if no one other than Anglophones worries about Doing It Rong, why does wikipedia have articles like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_spelling_reform_of_1996?

  14. Eric P Smith said,

    June 6, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

    @marie-lucie That depends on your browser settings. The HTML markup for the page asks that the image be displayed at a width of 490 pixels, but your browser settings may override that. Clicking the image displays it at a width of 635 pixels come what may.

  15. eva said,

    June 7, 2013 @ 2:02 am

    @J.W. Brewer – From what I can see, I think it's not quite wrong to say that strong feelings about spelling are more prevalent in the anglosphere than in Germany, at least they are different. It might have to do with German having less systematic spelling issues (like night vs. nite, or interchanging homophones), so it's not as easy to say that certain spellings make you "one of those people" (if I'm making any sense here).
    What I can say for sure, though, is that it baffles me every time that I hear someone still blame said spelling reform (that took place in the early years of my own literacy, and in my opinion mostly made a lot of sense) for the "confusion" and bad performance of grade schoolers today.

  16. Lars said,

    June 7, 2013 @ 2:21 am

    @Eric P Smith: It's not the browser settings, it's the height of the browser viewport — the wp-fancyzoom plugin reduces the image to fit in the window height (less 90 pixels) which may indeed turn out to reduce it relative to the inline copy.

    Now that we're talking CSS: To avoid the see-through margins on three sides of the pop-out images — which are there because the styling for inline images hasn't been restricted to the post content — the stylesheet could do with something like

    #ZoomImage { padding: 0; }

    for just the box-shadow, or for a white border:

    #ZoomImage { padding: 12px; background: white; }

  17. Bathrobe said,

    June 7, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    Actually, I didn't understand the point of the comic at all, until I looked at others in the series. Normally, if this girl does or says something evil, a devil comes to get her.

    Well, in this case, the devils are saying that her peeve about spelling (whatever it is) is completely justified, so there's no need to go and put her in a basket. In other words, it's not only Malory (the character) but also the author of the strip who gets really peeved about spelling.

    (Am I spelling something out that everyone else saw immediately?)

  18. Bob Ladd said,

    June 7, 2013 @ 2:58 pm

    @Chris, Eva, JW Brewer: In French, spelling certainly serves the same social function it serves in English, i.e. if you can't do it right you are a lesser person in the eyes of many. And in some ways it's even harder to do it right in French – in English it's mostly a matter of memorising (or memorizing, if you prefer) a lot of irregularities and exceptions, whereas in French you also actually have to understand quite a bit about grammar to do it right.

    As for German, I agree with Eva that the fuss about the new orthography was not quite the same thing, but it is also true that there are many passionately held views about Großschreibung (capitalisation, or capitalization, especially of nouns) among German speakers, views that are not unlike some of the passionately held views about correct spelling in English or French.

  19. Keith M Ellis said,

    June 8, 2013 @ 3:58 am

    "…but rather rage against the more select group of Jacobin intellectuals who deny that errors are in fact errors."

    Much of peeving/rage makes a great deal more sense to me now from the lens of cultural capital than it did previously.

    It's especially the case that orthography would arouse strong feelings because it's more the province of formal education; which is itself (especially in the US) a primary means of cultural capital acquisition.

    So, in this view, spelling reform is a direct assault on the accumulated cultural capital of those who, for example, will in English be careful to refer to a male's hair as blond and a female's as blonde.

    Spelling reform is equivalent to land reform proposals that would confiscate land from property owners. Those proposing land reform are seen as enemies by landowners and so, too, are spelling reformers seen as enemies by those living on acreages of relatively high literacy.

  20. maidhc said,

    June 8, 2013 @ 4:49 am

    I can put up with a lot when it comes to spelling but some things drive me up the wall. For example, there is a very simple rule about sentences. At the end of a sentence you put a period. Then there is a space, and you start the next sentence. Or even two spaces, I don't care.

    People who do like this
    Here is Bob .Bob has a dog
    drive me up the wall.

    It is a very simple rule, why can you not comprehend it?

  21. Gpa said,

    June 8, 2013 @ 7:50 am

    How does anyone spell any word or name? The way they first hear it, it will be spelled [or spelt, which actually is "spell" plus the Scandinavian -t suffix for past tense, like dreamt instead of dreamed in English, used by most British people. Since it's spelled like it's Scandinavian, should we still call it English spelling?] A lot of people hear a t sound when the word actually is spelled with a d or the other way around also happens. Jon is short for Jonathan, but John is a different name. Why is John pronounced like Jon, when "oh" is like "Oh my G-d![not writing full word to respect some people]"

  22. Mark Dowson said,

    June 8, 2013 @ 7:54 am

    MAIDHC is oversimplifying (apart from sentences which end with a question or exclamation mark). For example, if a sentence ends with a quoted or parenthesized string which is in itself a complete sentence, should the quoted/parenthesized sentence end with a period? Should there then be a period follow the closing quote/parenthesis?

  23. Mark Dowson said,

    June 8, 2013 @ 7:55 am

    MAIDHC is oversimplifying (apart from sentences which end with a question or exclamation mark). For example, if a sentence ends with a quoted or parenthesized string which is in itself a complete sentence, should the quoted/parenthesized sentence end with a period? Should there then be a period following the closing quote/parenthesis?

  24. Gpa said,

    June 8, 2013 @ 7:58 am

    Why is beau and bow pronounced almost the same yet spelled differently [think of both words as English words]? And how do spell "Bo" [a personal name]?

    Is he William Shakespear [names starts with the letter "double u"]/William Shakespeare[names starts with the letter "double u"]/VVilliam Shakespear[names starts with 2 "V's" ]/VVilliam Shakespeare[names starts with 2 "V's"]? The playwright usually writes with 2 V's, and his last name when he likes it has an extra e at the end. Perhaps he wrote with two V's to make the letter "W" look wider [he didn't have different fonts to work with]?

  25. GAC said,

    June 8, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

    @Chris: I think linguistic insecurities are fairly common, though they might manifest in different ways. When speaking to Chinese friends, I've learned that sometimes mentioning differences of accent (when speaking Chinese), can be easily mistaken as a sort of insult — particularly pointing out something known to be different from standard Mandarin. What I see as an interesting dialectal difference is being taken as an "error" to them. (Another problem may be that I find it difficult to express that something is different in Chinese without also adding a negative connotation — not that it's impossible.)

    I've seen in both cultures the odd compliment "Your {my native language} is better than mine!" — which always strikes me as a bizarre hyperbole.

  26. Keith said,

    June 10, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

    Gpa, you're confusing the subject by comparing the word "beau" (borrowed from French very recently) with the word "bow"…

    It would make more sense to compare the "bow" used by the archer with the "bow" of a ship and to question why they have the same spelling but different pronunciation.

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