Stoopid Words

Woman reading Homicide in HardcoverThe English language is rich and colorful, constantly changing. New words are invented, old words are repurposed. Tracing the etymology of a word is fascinating. Our language has been influenced by nearly every other language in the world, living and dead. With skill and a passion for vocabulary, writers can communicate the most delicate of nuances, evoking emotions in a reader who is miles – or generations – away.

As writers and readers, by our very natures we have a great appreciation for the English language. But ya gotta admit… sometimes it’s stoopid. Spelling and pronunciation in English are only occasionally intuitive. Every rule has a hundred exceptions. It must be frustrating for people learning English as a second language because there’s no logic to it – we’re forced to memorize each exception as it comes. An impossible task for many native speakers!

Eight is pronounced “ate,” and yet sleight is pronounced “slite.” Take off the T and make it sleigh, and we pronounce it “slay.” Why? Because I said so.

“I knead bread” means something completely different from “I need bread.” Can you guess which is the sentence I would never use? Evidently, I’m not alone. Kneading is so rare these days that Microsoft Word gave me the blue squiggly line, asking, “Really? You knead? Yeah, right! Who are you kidding?!”


I knead bread.

Not the dreaded misplaced apostrophe! I’m convinced that the ability to spell is innate. (I had to look that one up – I couldn’t remember whether there was one N or two in innate.) Those who are born without the gene can still learn to spell, but it takes great effort. I’m fortunate that way. Spelling comes pretty easily to me, but I sympathize deeply with those for whom it doesn’t and have learned over the years not to take a spelling error as an indicator of intelligence. Some of the smartest people I know say “their” when they mean “there.” (My own personal nemesis is “here” when I mean “hear.” I get it wrong every time!)

Still, I’ll confess. It makes me cringe every time I see someone make a mistake like that, but it doesn’t make me think less of them. “It’s” when they mean “its,” on the other hand…

Were you born with the good spelling gene? What words give you trouble? What words do you see frequently misspelled, that drive you crazy?

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  • Helen says:

    He must be liking the heat over here

    Have Fun

  • Helen says:


    I have to agree LOL there are so many words that are pronounced the same but spelt different ways. I would not say I am a great speller I do have difficulty sometimes but I am pretty good at getting their and there and also here and hear right. These are two words for me that I see often wrongly used and most of the time in books that I read I suppose it has a lot to do with spell check which is used so often these days.

    We have put the Christmas tree up today and it is soo hot over here the aircon has been on since about 9-00 this morning the GR had better behave himself around it Jayden and Hayley put a lot of work into decorating it LOL

    Have Fun

    • I 100%, top-to-bottom, know the right time to use “here” and “hear.” And yet… I still make that mistake consistently. It’s a weird brain glitch. And frustrating! I should probably make a practice of doing a global search for “here” and “hear” before sending the book to my editor just to make sure I caught all my mistakes. It’s embarrassing!

      I helped my mom put up her tree over the Thanksgiving weekend. Just love seeing the house all decorated!

  • Jane says:

    I had a good spelling gene, but I think the spell check on computers has made me less diligent. I often see separate misspelled. Mostly I see people mixing up loose and lose and its and it’s.

    • Separate is one that a lot of people have trouble with. I have a tough time with camaraderie. I always have to remind myself that it’s not started the same as “camera.”

  • Kate, what a fun piece! There’s a great rhyme doing the rounds about bough and bow and through and drought. And boxes and oxen. Pretty much all the bugbears of English. It’s even more confusing for me because in Australia we use UK spelling whereas I write book for the American market. So I’m feeling extremely multiple personalitied about how to spell stuff. And I hate to say it, but some of the American stuff just strikes me as WRONG. Pardon me, my American friends, but isn’t ‘plow’ an ugly word? Plough is MUCH better!

    • Plough is much better, no question! (Although my computer just underlined it in squiggly red, so clearly it doesn’t agree.)

      Just last night, they were doing a piece on the news about the space shuttle Endeavour, and they spelled it with the U, in the British fashion. But it’s the U.S.S. Endeavour. Wouldn’t you think that NASA would choose the U.S. spelling?

      • Kate, I think the Endeavour was actually named after Captain Cook’s ship (which discovered the east coast of Australia). So the ‘u’ is deliberate. I’m sure I heard that somewhere.

  • Along with it’s and its, your when you mean you’re drives me crazy and it has become ubiquitous.

    Knowing spelling/grammar is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.

  • Fedora says:

    LOL! I’ve got a so-so spelling gene, but catching typos has been part of my job, so I am a stickler… My sister definitely has the spelling gene, and when we were younger, I would always be asking, “Hey, how do you spell…” 😉

    • It’s important to have someone like that in your life, a go-to wordsmith. I have served that role for others, but still have friends who are much, much better than I.

  • Pat Cochran says:

    Have to admit that I was blessed with that
    good spelling gene,. I was in the Spelling
    Bee in elementary school, was the fifth
    grade champ. The ei/ie words give me the
    willies when I see how they are always mis-

    Pat C.

    • I was a spelling champ, too, Pat! But not nearly at the level that you see when they show clips from the big spelling bees. Those kids are astonishing, aren’t they?

  • Mary Preston says:

    I have the Australian spelling gene, but my computer thinks it’s American. We tussle it out each & every day. Sometimes I let it win, just to keep up the diplomatic relations.

    • LOL There’s an option on Facebook to have your language set to English (Pirate). So I suppose in that case, the computer would insist that “they are” should be spelled “they arrrrgh”!

  • Carol Cork says:

    I used to be gifted with the good spelling gene but it seems to be getting weaker as I’m getting older. The dictionary comes into play more and more these days. I do have trouble with its and it’s a lot these days. I’m continually putting it’s when I mean its.

    Mary, I sympathise with you because my computer must be American as well!

    • And in America, we spell that “sympathize.” 😉 See, this is another reason we shouldn’t judge someone for a spelling mistake. It might not be a mistake at all, but rather a regional distinction.

  • Annie West says:

    I rather the like some of the arcane words in English, even though it means spelling isn’t regular or predictable. It’s always fun, too, finding out the often strange route by which a word arrived in its current state. As for spelling, I’m not too bad, but I find lately my typing must be getting worse as I find all sorts of strange things in my blog posts! Argh! Like Anna, I find the difference between UK?Australian spelling and American interesting.

    • I find it interesting, too, Annie. I wonder when the differences began to appear, and why. There are so many subtle differences. I know Benjamin Franklin was an early American printer and a proponent of simplified, phonetic spelling. Perhaps he was one of the first to drop the U in words ending with “our”?

  • Actually, I’m a good speller – but, at times, an awful typer (one of these days I’ll learn to edit my own typing). If I apologized every time I typed something wrong and hit “send” my outgoing mail would increase ten fold – so I let it lie and let people question my intelligence 🙂

    While the there, their, they’re – trip me up in typing. The you’re and your mixups are hot buttons in reading for me. Also plague and plaque – I always have to stop and think which one means a possible death before honor and which one is a commemoration of honor after death.

    • Or a dental build-up!

      For me, I don’t think it’s so much a typing problem as it is a brain problem. I *know* how words are spelled (usually), but my brain doesn’t produce the correct spelling in the fast flow of writing fiction. And then I often don’t notice it in re-reading my work because my eyes gloss over the mistake.

  • Mozette says:

    I annoy the living crud out of my family with how we speak, spell and write. My niece isn’t good at English and I’ve been a good Aunty and given her books on how to improve her spelling and vocabulary; and she’s grateful too! If she wants to go into advertising, she needs to no how to spell! 😛

    Well, I guess you picked up that little error in the last line and it’s just killing me not to correct it! o.O

    But I hate it when I’m in a group – or I’m watching television – and I hear people talking and they get their grammar wrong. Automatically, I correct them and they give me a look of: ‘what hell! Don’t tell me how to speak!’ or they actually tell me. Normally, I don’t apologise and tell them that it’s just a shows others that they (the person talking) doesn’t care how they sound to others and even if they are very intelligent, the way they speak will pull them forever downwards. I get another ‘What the hell?!’ look from them before they quickly shake their head and continue speaking as before… ignoring what I said; but the rest of the group give me a quick glance realising something they hadn’t noticed about their friend before.

    When I was a teen, I used to correct my brother and he’d get frustrated… but now, he thanks me because he knows how he speaks rubs off on his daughter. So, he’s happy I’m always trying to help her. 🙂

    However, the worse culprits are newspapers… sometimes, when I’m bored, I’ll get out ‘old red’ and correct a big article in The Sunday Mail 😀 Just for the fun of it! 😀

  • Lora Roberts says:

    Loved reading this. As I made my living for years typing for the principals of the company I worked for. I argued once about rein, rain and reign on how the guy was using it in the letter – had to explain horse, weather or king to him to see which he wanted to use. Changed careers and became a pharmacy technician. Now Facebook is my nemesis as I see people that were taught by the same teachers I was use grammar incorrectly and misspelled!

  • Lori Howe says:

    I probably shouldn’t admit I am one of those irritating people who sends a detailed note to webmasters pointing out the page with the error. If it is glaring to me, I figure it is probably glaring to others. (This usually happens at work..)

    • I don’t find that annoying, Lori. I think it’s helpful! It’s hard to catch every single mistake, and I’d rather have my website perfect. You have my permission to look it over with an eagle eye!

  • Louisa says:

    Ah! Helen, I wish I could sneak into the GR’s suitcase! It is 27 degrees here and a nice warm day in Oz with some Tim Tams and great company sounds a proper treat!

    I was a junior high spelling bee champ so I guess I got the spelling gene. I was fortunate in that my teachers had all of these cute little rules for those spelling errors that always trip people up. For separate one teacher said think of it is sep a rate (of course I have no idea what sepping is, but it works!) For the difference between principle and principal she said to think of the guy in the office at school as your “pal” and you would never mix those up.

    My brother went to British schools for his first few years of schooling and when we came back to the States he had trouble with teachers correcting his spelling of words like colour and theatre. It got rather ugly until my Mother went to the school and informed his teachers that he had learned English from the source and therefore he was correct!

    I have seen the quality of the writing in newspapers (at least locally) continue to slide and I fear spell-check, the internet generation and lower standards in schools may well be the culprit.

    • Your poor brother! That must’ve been very disconcerting for a young boy who’d always been good at spelling, to suddenly be told he was doing everything wrong. Hurrah to your mother for standing up for him! Loved “learned it from the source.” Snork! Clever woman!

  • catslady says:

    I always was a good speller. For some reason it came naturally to me. A lot of the time if you pronounce it correctly you can spell it but we do mispronounce words. But of course there are those exceptions lol. I do find though that the older I get the words just don’t come as easily any more. I would think today’s kids with spell check, never learn a lot of them to begin with. I still use a regular dictionary lol. And I know my children never do. And even in my reading, things seem to slip by now, especially if it’s really a word. I use to proofread in my line of work so I still can pick out mistakes. It doesn’t bother me when I read, luckily lol.

    • I sometimes use a regular dictionary but often turn to when I’m working on my computer because it’s easier. But the old-fashioned version is still much better. Much more fun to sit and browse, that’s for sure!

  • Connie Fischer says:

    I have always been a good speller mostly because my teachers in grammar school stressed it so heavily. The jobs I had during my career made it imperative that I spell well. I certainly understand how learning another language can be difficult. When we moved to Paris, I had no French language “under my belt.” However, I had taken several years of Latin in school which helped me to grasp the basics of not only French, but other European languages. Now that I am retired, I find that my spelling is starting to go to pot. However, as long as I have spellcheck on my computer, I’m good to go. I tend to roll my eyes often at the your, you’re thing. Good grief! How hard it is to keep that one straight?!

  • I wish I had studied Latin! I suppose it’s not too late, though, is it? It’s never too late! (Hmmm… I wonder how you would say that in Latin….)

  • Brenda Kirton says:

    The one I see the most often is to, too, and two. How hard can that be, but I see it all the time in emails.

  • Gail Nichols says:

    I have trouble spelling words that follow the “i before e except after c rule.

  • pjpuppymom says:

    I was born with the good spelling gene and English grammar was my favorite class in school. (Yes, I’m one of those weird people.) lol

    An error I see often is using an apostrophe to make a word plural (but not possessive). I’m finding more and more spelling and grammatical errors in current newspapers and books. I’m not sure if the cause is laziness or if spelling and grammar just aren’t priorities in education these days.

    I’m fascinated by the different spellings within the English language in U.S., Canada, UK and Australia. We all speak the same language and yet…we don’t. I wonder if the U.S. changes were perhaps a deliberate attempt to distance themselves from all things “English” (the country, not the language).