Friday, January 28, 2011

The Old Grey Mare, She Ain't What She Used To Be


I remember the first time I learned to spell. I was probably three or four years old, watching a preschool video that was all about words*, then running into the kitchen yelling, "Mom, MOM! Guess what?! C-A-T spells CAT!!!"

It was a simpler time. When a mere three letters was all you needed. Cat. Hat. Dog. Rug. Mom. Dad. Imagine my excitement when I learned how to spell my five-letter name!

And five was only the beginning. Soon I came across longer and longer words. Spelling became a gateway to reading and writing. And reading and writing were a gateway to creativity, to possibilities, to growing up...

But somewhere along the line, spelling became a lot more complicated. Well, when you're dealing with 11-letter words like "complicated", it's pretty inevitable.

You learn the rules. About how certain letters only make certain sounds (G always goes "guh" while J always goes "juh"), how it's always I before E (...except after C...or when it sounds like I), that T or S plus H makes a whole new sound (but it doesn't effect W at all), how E is a big bully that always makes the other vowels change when it's close**, and how these rules are concrete and non-negotiable.

Yeah. Right.

Lessons quickly shift from "these are the rules" to "forget the rules, they don't apply here". For, you see, there are double letters, and silent letters, and words (or names***) that inexplicably defy the rules. Still, you put your time in and studied your pants off for those spelling quizzes. You're writing words backwards and upside-down, left-handedly or in a mirror, using them in sentences that probably don't even make sense...****

And then, even after all that, you still manage to get some wrong.

For the longest time, I was sure that I had "andswered" a question. It wasn't until I started typing things up (OMG SPELL-CHECK!!!) that I was corrected. Then there's "defence", which is obviously spelled the same way fence is spelled, otherwise they wouldn't hold up those signs at basketball games. And, of course, as highlighted in the title, I've had problems with grey vs gray.

I believe my first encounters with the word were g-r-e-y. Whether that was on crayons or from a sing-along video*****, that was how I learned it. But once I decided to start using the word myself, that pesky red spell-check line would always show up. Even now Firefox insists that I change grey to gray. And yet, I'm still consistently writing grey. It just looks more...more mysterious, edgier, grittier, and at the same time more professional to me.

And I've acquiesced to it's request for the better part of my life. Until now.

For you see, in college I discovered the true scope of the internet. How it stretched across to different countries. Countries that seem to enjoy adding U to certain words, or having Z instead of S. Where defence is the norm instead of defense. Apparently Americans have their own way of doing things, even when it comes to spelling.

Now, I won't be changing my tune (or my typing) on all things—most of the differences are still pretty jarring when I come across them—but I have decided that grey (which is apparently much more common across the pond) will now go unedited. I'll be ignoring that pesky red line and leaving it be from now on.

So, what are some of your commonly misspelled words? Do you ever feel more at home with another country's spelling? And what about the rumors that silent letters are really French ninjas?

*Seriously one of my favorite movies growing up. And I can't even remember the name of it! It starred a dog named Groucho and an ostrich who were trying to find a friend and this treasure out in the dessert. They helped alphabetize animals at a watering hole, they helped the ghost of King Tut clean his pyramid by spelling what was in the displays... Man, I kinda wish we hadn't sold it/given it away/lost it.

**No joke, I literally learned the "rules" of E that way

***One kid in my class was Jeff while another was Geoff...yeah, try explaining that to 1st-graders!

****Each week we had to complete 5 exercises with our spelling words. These are a few that I remember. I guess it worked?

*****Wee Sing: The Wee Sing Train included the song The Old Grey/Gray Mare.