Common misspellings and the role of the spellchecker

Many of us have often read newspaper and magazine articles, or seen reports on TV news programmes, of a decline in the literacy and numeracy standards in our schools, a fact that is often bemoaned by businesses taking on school leavers and universities:

School leavers ‘lacking basic skills’, say business leaders
Top companies are struggling to recruit teenagers with basic skills because schools have been turned into little more than “exam factories”, business leaders warned today. [Headline from The Telegraph, 23 April 2015]

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/clearing/10239980/School-leavers-lacking-basic-skills-say-business-leaders.html

This concern is not limited to employers as universities have had similar concerns for quite some time:

http://www.le.ac.uk/ssds/esac/employability_writtencommunication.html

To quote from the report from a study carried out by Imperial College, London:

“More than a quarter of British students did not know the difference between ‘complementary’ and ‘complimentary’, a mistake not made by any of the overseas undergraduates. 53% of British students misspelt ‘separate’ as ‘seperate’ but all the foreign students got it right.” [The Telegraph, 2 March 2006]

So what words are the most commonly misspelt? According to the Oxford Dictionaries these misspellings include the following:

7K0A0116

Correct spelling / Common misspelling
accommodate / accomodate
achieve / acheive (remember the i before e rule)
apparently / apparantly
basically / basicly
believe / beleive, belive
calendar / calender
cemetery / cemetary
dilemma / dilemna
embarrass / embarass
further / futher
government / goverment
harass / harrass
honorary / honourary
immediately / immediatly
interrupt / interupt
knowledge / knowlege
liaise / liase
millennium / millenium
necessary / neccessary
occurred / occured
piece / peice
really / realy
referred / refered
separate / seperate
threshold / threshhold
until / untill
wherever / whereever

The above examples are taken from:

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/common-misspellings

It is perhaps tempting to say does it matter? People can use the spellcheckers on their computers or smartphones. They could, but the spellchecker would not be able to differentiate words used in the wrong context, e.g. there or their, were or where, bow or bough. Spellcheckers also have a bias towards American English such as traveling rather than travelling. If the writer were foolish enough to leave Autocorrect switched on and not review its amendments, then all manner of horrors could result:

7K0A0108

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/technology-blog/autocorrect-error-causes-school-lockdown-fear-gunman-midst-232332774.html

The limitation of traditional spellcheckers is demonstrated by an anonymously authored poem “Ode to My Spell Checker”:

Eye halve a spelling checker
It came with my pea sea.
It plainly marks four my revue miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a quay and type a word and weight for it to say
Weather eye yam wrong oar write.
It shows me strait a weigh as soon as a mist ache is maid.
It nose bee fore two long and eye can put the error rite.
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it,
I am shore your pleased to no.
Its letter perfect awl the way.
My checker told me sew.

All the above words in the poem would pass muster through a spellchecker but it is clearly littered with errors.

The lesson here is not to rely too much on technology and to carry out proper proofreading.

Posted in: literacy

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