Eighth-grader Thomas Hurley III knew the right answer, er, question, in his Jeopardy round was Emancipation Proclamation, but he misspelled it and lost some three thousand dollars. He added an extra “t”, making it “emanciptation”. Oops.
When I first heard about this I thought Master Hurley had been wronged. I thought that Alex Trebek and company had given other contestants slack on this in the past, but if so, they didn’t this time. After mulling this over a bit I’ve decided that Jeopardy was right. Spelling does matter, and perhaps more than ever in this digital age where acronymic substitution is supplanting cursive communication in daily life.
Since I’ve been blogging these several years I’ve noticed that correspondents generally fall into one of two categories, those who display obvious editing in their posts and comments and those who don’t. There isn’t much middle ground so far as I can see. This matters in that errors in spelling, grammar and syntax correlate inversely, in my experience, with quality of thought and the seriousness of the correspondent. Some on the other hand seem to take a sort of pride in speed over care. In at least one case this may be an intentional cover for dyslexia, sprinkling many errors to hide an inability to eliminate a few. Otherwise,would it be so hard to engage the ubiquitous spell checker? Then too, WordPress itself, which most of us use, contains such software. In any case, I find it hard to take seriously any blogging post or comment that shows carelessness. If the author doesn’t take his words seriously, why should I? It’s a matter of respect for the person you’re talking to, isn’t it?
It is my understanding that the mechanics of composition are much less rigorous in the schools now than in the past, including spelling, diagramming of sentences, and of course cursive writing as discussed in the previous post. This may have come about because of the availability of software like spelling and grammar checkers, but I think its redolent of a general disaffection with rote learning. Rote learning isn’t cool, and I think that’s a mistake. Rote learning is useful because it promotes a reservoir of readily-available material to the mind, builds confidence, and carves thought pathways that otherwise do not exist. And don’t hope to succeed in Jeopardy if you don’t know your Presidents. And how to spell them.
Attention to detail is important to clear thinking. I blew the dust off some of my old references and came up with this list of words that might be easily confused by spelling errors:
adapt, adept, adopt
marital, martial (sometimes the same, however)
Spelling does matter, doesn’t it? And especially in our language, English, that polyglot stew of parts taken from ever so many other languages and cultures. I have read that other languages like Spanish and French have much more definite rules for grammar and pronunciation than English, but they also have far fewer words and less power of nuance. Do those languages even have crossword puzzles?
Good luck to you, Thomas Hurley. It just might be that your Jeopardy spelling lesson might be worth more than $3,000 to your future!
- Alex Trebek Faces Backlash Following ‘Harsh’ Treatment Of Jeopardy! Kids Week Contestant (contactmusic.com)
- Diatribe: Thomas Hurley III Wasn’t “Cheated”, He Was Wrong. (diatribesandovations.com)