With the many forms of electronic communication, millions of people write notes, letters, emails, text messages, but not many spell well. Of course frequent written conversations have given way to slang (teh from common finger slip-ups…and one that I hate), and shortenings (thru for through, u for you), and acronyms (OMG=oh my god, TTYL=talk to you later, ROFL=rolling on the floor laughing). It has also increased many misspellings of words because we hear phonetically but the written word has some silent letters in it.
One set that is often easily confused are the little “Y” words: Yeah, Yay, Yea. When you are agree with someone but don’t use the more formal “I agree” or “yes” you might say instead, “Yeah.” The phonetic version, which has also crept into the written language as a slang vernacular is “yah.” Like the Beatles once sang, “I love you, yah yah yah (or yeah yeah yeah).
But I often see this written word used for a form of jubilation and cheer, which should be “Yay!” Pronounced like “hooray” yay is much the same in meaning. Yay for me and yay for you. But try and spellcheck this and it might come up as not a real word. English slang it is then but pretty common in our spoken language.
Yea is an older form of yes, and can also be seen as “aye,” (pronounced eye) which makes us think of sailors. Yea verily, yea is most often seen now in voting. All those who oppose voted nay and those for, voted yea. Yea is pronounced yay, but the meaning is very different. Yet yea’s meaning is the same as yeah and yes.
I know I might be fighting against the crumbling of the English language and any living language will evolve, but I can still try. “Yea verily, I will say yay if people use yeah correctly. Yah yah yah.
I’ve worked many years as a copy editor and have a fairly good memory for spelling. It’s amazing really that we ever standardized the English language, if you take into account that there’s British English (BE), American English (AE) and the bastard child of both, Canadian English (CE). AE and CE say “synchronize” instead of “synchronise”, but BE and CE say “neighbour” instead of “neighbor” and “travelled” instead of “traveled.” There are a few other odd words such as “jewellery” vs “jewelry.” But mostly we can understand each other even if Canadians say “zed” and Americans, “zee.” I’m an adamant proponent of continuing the “zed” pronunciation (being Canadian) and when some little tads corrected me with saying, “It’s zee.” I pretty much bit my lip and corrected them since they’re Canadian. Alas the invasion continues.
So, is it any wonder that there are so many misspelled words considering that Shakespear spelled his name so many different ways? Of course ,a lot of this had to to with relative illiteracy of the era. If you didn’t write regularly, even if you knew the rudiments, you weren’t very likely to spell words correctly.
As an editor, sometimes words are so often misspelled the same way that I start to doubt my own senses and then I have to look up words that I know are spelled incorrectly. Here are a few words of the modern age that are misspelled frequently:
- burgundy (not burgandy for color or wine)
- indefinitely (not indefinately, received three times last week) if it’s not finite then it’s indefinite like infinity .
- no one (not no-one nor noone; this might be different in England)
- its (the most misused word ever: if it is blue, then it’s blue. If the ball belongs to it (the dog), then it (the ball) is its (the dog). Its ball rolled into traffic.
- twenty, thirty-something (twenty-two not twenty two)
- would of, could of: People say this: I could’ve gone to the store. (which should really just be “could have”) But because of the way we hear it, I’ve seen it spelled could of. Wrong wrong wrong. Could have. I’ve seen this in books, which tells me either the copy editor was inexperienced or the publisher didn’t have a copy editor.
- yeah is an informal form of agreement (yes) and yay, which is a cheer: Yay! We win.
And then there are the similarly pronounced words that have different spellings and meanings, called homonyms. Some commonly misused ones are:
- consul (a consul general or Canadian consul) and console (to sympathize with someone, or a panel or case that holds an item like electronics)
- aisle (what is between two rows of bookshelves) and isle (where we all want to go for a tropical vacation)
- altar (where we put our objects to worship) and alter (how we change our appearance to escape the law)
- brooch (what you wear as a decoration) and broach (what you do when you want to raise a subject)
- complement (how many you have–a complement of soldiers) and compliment (to praise–my you look great in your uniform)
- council (a group of people) and counsel (the adviser/counsellor you get when your marriage is on the rocks)
- gorilla (these guys use bananas) and guerrilla (these guys use guns)
There are many homonyms and a very extensive list can be found here, even ones that I’ve never considered or known. http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html
I find it particularly bad when I read books that have many misspellings but it all depends on how good the publishers are at maintaining quality and if they care. Many small publishing houses do not even have copy editors and depend on (demand) the authors proofread their work. Of course everyone should always do that and hand in relatively clean copies. Still, when you’re looking at a story over and over again you are bound to miss some of your own typos. A second set of eyes is always best.
I sometimes think the internet will work at crumbling the English language (maybe others too) as people abbreviate words down to essential letters. We tend to get lazy at writing, leaving off capitalization and punctuation. Part of the advent of computers for everyone meant that many people have them but probably not everyone learned to type. And like our signatures that get messier the more we write them, our grammar goes to pot on the internet.
But English is a living and therefore evolving language so maybe the misspellings will take over the more people use them. In the meantime, misuses and typos will continue to drive the editors of the world crazy.