In Defense of Good Spelling

I did a quick Google search and confirmed my sneaking suspicion: Good spelling is no longer important in America.

Enter ‘”why good spelling is important” and you’ll see what I mean. Four entries are retrieved, and not a single one of them is truly a defense of good spelling.

Maybe it’s the fact that I won the spelling bee in elementary school–triumphantly taking home my very own hardback copy of a red fabric-bound Webster’s Dictionary— but I really do still believe that good spelling is important. I find people like Jeff Deck and his Typo Eradication Advancement League to be nothing short of heroic.

I know. I’m nerdy.

As I’ve been thinking about why good spelling is important, none of the predictable, conventional explanations seem too relevant anymore. One doesn’t necessarily need to spell well to communicate his or her message. In fact, the sad fact seems to be that few people notice or care when a word is spelled incorrectly. Increasingly, no one buys the argument that good spelling reflects anything important about one’s intelligence, and few people accept the idea that good spelling indicates, at the very least, that the writer isn’t lazy and can at least run a document through spell check.

But here’s why I think good spelling is important. Good spelling affirms that you respect yourself, your reader, and your subject. Spelling well shows that you’ve taken the time to review your document, that you want to present your ideas in the clearest manner possible, and that you care about the reader’s standards (even if they’re low).

Above all, spelling well shows your respect for the power of language, its power to name and describe and explain. No, the world won’t fall apart (hell, it might not even notice) when you write “it’s” when you really mean “its,” but trust me, the world does become a little bit clearer when your spelling is as powerful and as precise as the message you want to convey.

For a few quick guides to common spelling errors–and how to avoid them–click here, here, and here.

Photo: dawn m. arfield (creative commons)