Monday, February 09, 2009

Oh, How

This comes from the Times of London. We love the statistic that Americans spell just one word better than Brits--"definitely." Is it just us, or does that sort of certainty feel very 2005?

Spelling embarrassment doesn't spare our blushes
More than half of us cannot spell “embarrassed”, according to a poll
Alexandra Frean, Education Editor

Are you embarrassed by your spelling? If so, you're not alone. More than half of us cannot spell “embarrassed” — 54 per cent have trouble with it, according to a poll of 1,000 adults. Even more troublesome is “millennium”, which 60 per cent get wrong.

The poll, commissioned by the Spelling Society, compared abilities in Britain with those in the US.

Adults in the US performed less well. The only word that the Americans definitely spelt better than the Brits was . . . “definitely”. In both countries men performed less well than women, except on one word — “liaison”.

Jack Bovill, the chairman of the Spelling Society, said the problem lay with irregularities in English. The society has been campaigning for 100 years to reform English spelling, and Mr Bovill called on governments on both sides of the Atlantic to introduce a more simplified, phonetic system. “What is holding the UK and the USA back is the irregular spelling system,” Mr Bovill said.

Edward Baranowski, of California State University, also criticised the “fossilised system”. He said: “We have different spellings for the same sound, silent letters, missing letters, and basically a system which reflects how English was spoken in the 13th to 15th centuries, not how it is spoken today. So many sound changes have occurred that are not reflected in modern spelling, that we are left with a fossilised system.”

ICD Research/ID Factor polled 1,000 adults of 18 to 80 across Britain in April last year. Ipsos MORI questioned 1,000 adults aged 18 to 80 in the US last month.

— The Times is organising the first national school spelling contest for children aged 11 and 12. Live heats between school teams begin in March. The contest is one of a series of nationwide initiatives to help to inspire children and to support teachers. Readers can get a taste for the competition and practise their own spelling using our online spelling games at

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