- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The nation is not letter perfect. Americans may be embarassed, even. Make that “embarrassed” - it’s among the common words that vex the spell-challenged in an age of spell check.

According to a study released Monday by the London-based Spelling Society, 62 percent of the nation can’t spell the dreaded e-word correctly, along with liaison, botched by 61 percent, and millennium, misspelled by 52 percent.

And while women ultimately prevail as better spellers, members of both sexes struggle with the configurations of such words as accommodation, separate, definitely and accidentally.

Men were particularly mystified by friend; 78 percent misspelled the word on occasion, the survey found. For the ladies, more than half could not get liaison right.

Almost two-thirds of us say that spelling among adults is on the decline; a quarter acknowledged that they were simply bad spellers. About a third said they got nervous filling out official forms or formal documents without a computer-based spell checker or at least a dictionary.

One academic consultant for the project blames the nature of the English language.

“We have different spellings for the same sound, especially for vowels - silent letters, missing letters and a system which reflects how English was spoken in the 13th to 15th centuries, not how it is spoken today,” said Edward Baranowski, a linguist with California State University at Sacramento.

“So many sound changes have occurred in the language, which are not reflected in modern spelling, that we are left with a ‘fossilized’ system. Perhaps if English had had an effective language academy, such as those in France or Spain, this would have been mitigated over time,” he added.

The Spelling Society - founded in 1908 in Britain to raise awareness of problems caused by irregularities in English spelling - is calling for a regular spelling system for the U.S. and Britain.

“Let’s allow people greater freedom to spell logically,” said John Wells, a linguist with the University College London. “It’s time to remove the fetish that says that correct spelling is a principal mark of being educated. Let’s spell logically just as you do in Spanish, Italian or Swedish.”

Is a little dumbing down in order, then?

The survey found that 40 percent of the respondents would support updating words that “typically” caused problems while 16 percent opposed the idea. A blase 31 percent said it didn’t matter.

Spelling, however, appears to be a family affair: 71 percent said it was a parent’s responsibility to help children with lousy spelling, 54 percent said the task rested with teachers and 10 percent said that government should take up the matter.

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted for the project by Ipsos MORI, a British-based organization, from Jan. 15 to 20.

Meanwhile, commonly misspelled words have drawn the ire of dictionary publishers.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, words such as address, beautiful, immediate and skillful are worries for would-be perfectionists. In the Collins Dictionary, supersede is the worst word of all, followed by conscience, indict and foreign. The “Dumbtionary,” - an online source of the most misspelled words - has amassed more than 10,000 of the culprits.

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