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4 Reasons to Forgive Yourself for Being a Bad Speller

#2. English Has No Regulatory Body

The central problem here is that, much like a rampaging elephant or the sea, no one's in control of the English language. There's no central committee that meets in a big room decorated in an alphabet motif deciding how English words should be spelled. And although the very concept of a group of bureaucrats who determine the way we talk sounds kind of Orwellian, it turns out to be a pretty common thing. Basically every language other than English has some group officially in charge of it, groups that I imagine have some pretty crazy meetings.

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But for English, the only people in charge of how words are spelled are the users, and as established, we're idiots. And if you've ever tried to get a bunch of idiots to agree on something, you'll know that consensus is pretty hard to reach, and the consensus that is reached isn't always the wisest choice.

But whether non-decisions made by a crowd of idiots are better than well meaning decisions made by lone idiots is debatable, when we see the impact of ...

#1. People Deliberately Screwing With English

I'm not (astoundingly) the first person to have noticed these spelling issues. In fact, people have been trying to reform English spelling for nearly as long as there's been English spelling. Typically these approaches have been to simplify vowel sounds, or to remove extra letters (e.g., "have" would become "hav"), or to just get rid of "Q" altogether. They're all well-meaning measures that would lead to some pretty crazy-looking writing:

Wikimedia Commons
Not a joke.

Now, if you don't see how an effort to fix spelling could make spelling even more complicated, I want you to, just for a moment, imagine you're a Canadian.

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Here's one.

So now that you're a Canadian, I want you to imagine that your dictionary has been taken from you because of Socialism, and that you have to figure out the proper spelling for the word "defence"/"defense." This cannot be done -- until I looked it up for the purpose of writing this article, I had no idea which was right. It turns out that "defence" is the preferred English/Canadian spelling, and "defense" is the preferred American spelling. (Incidentally, an easy way to remember this is to think of American football fans, who, being Americans and masters of American English, would never, ever make a mistake when spelling the American version of "defense" ...)

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Except when they do, all the time.

Where did this split between the two spellings come from? Well, it turns out that Americans used the "defence" version right up until about the early 20th century, when something caused them to change their minds:

Google Books

This is a pretty justifiable switch, in truth; "defense" is probably derived from the Latin root "defensus," so it makes a bit more sense to spell it with the "S." Noah Webster, famous for the dictionary he made and the heartwarming 1980s sitcom it inspired, was a big advocate for spelling reform and probably advocated the "defence" -> "defense" switch on this basis.

But, justified or not, can you see how confusing this is as a hypothetical Canadian? Depending on the website or newspaper or book you read, there are two different, totally valid, totally reasonable and defensible spellings of a word. Heck, even if you're a well-read American -- I'm confident you exist -- you'll have seen both these spellings when you read foreign websites. And all because 100 years ago some asshole tried to fix a problem and other assholes didn't listen.

Let's take another example where you don't even have to pretend to be Canadian. let's look at, oh, let's say, the word "scissoring."

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Unrelated photograph.

"Scissoring" doesn't have a "C" sound in it, does it? In fact, it probably used to be spelled "sissouring" or something similar. But some time around the 16th or 17th century, some dink decided to put the "C" back in to re-link it to its Latin root -- "scindere" -- which, whoops, turned out to not be "scissoring"'s Latin root at all. The spelling actually got harder because someone fucked with it!

So there you go, Internet. Not only do you now have a ready-built excuse when someone accuses you of spelling things wrong, but you've now got something fun to talk about while scissoring. You're welcome.



Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and your best friend. Join him on Facebook or Twitter, where you might be able to elicit him to share his illicit collection of scissoring photographs.

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