January 28, 2004

I can remember the elementary school teacher, one who pursued the “whole language” approach to learning to write, who scoffed at a child’s interest in spelling. The kids would always have computers to spellcheck for them. The poetic justice is that the very computers that lured people into thinking they didn’t need to bother to learn to spell anymore are now taking their revenge. Diana Jean Schemo writes on the front page of today’s NYT of the hapless bad spellers who end up selling their goods for next to nothing on eBay. Most buyers never find these folks, but there are people trolling eBay for “bycicles, telefones, dimonds, mother of perl, cuttlery, bedroom suits and loads of antiks.”
David Scroggins … operates his entire business by laptop computers, having bought three Compaqs for a pittance simply by asking for Compacts instead.
Why don't people selling on eBay use the computer spellcheck? They are obviously on the computer when they make their mistakes. Consider the woman who wanted to sell a pair of chandelier earrings:
[S]he knew she was on shaky ground when she set out to spell chandelier. But instead of flipping through a dictionary, she did an Internet search for chandaleer and came up with 85 or so listings.

She never guessed, she said, that results like that meant she was groping in the spelling wilderness. Chandelier, spelled right, turns up 715,000 times.
According to Schemo--I love that name--people are getting used to seeing misspellings, because of the Internet:
[E]xperts say the Internet — with its discussion boards, blogs and self-published articles — is a treasure trove of bad spelling.
(Thanks, experts!)

How do we learn how to spell right? Mostly by seeing words spelled right as we read. Some words we make a point of learning, and some we look up, but our sense of what looks right is created by looking at things--in the case of words, by reading. But if you're reading that chaotic mass of words that is the Internet--and you are--you are getting a distorted sense of what is right. And Scroggins is waiting for you to trip up.

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