Tuesday, June 11, 2013

*Confessions of a Word Geek

Way back when, when I lived in Virginia and was a student in junior high, I had the privilege of competing in the school spelling bees.  Oh, what a fun event that was for someone like myself! Until.  UNTIL that moment when the competition was down to the final two:  my brother Kevin and me.  (This would be a good time to tell you that I was in 8th grade; he was in 7th.)  The word I was given was PLASTIC.  I had this!  The trophy would be mine, mine, mine!  We had a box of cutlery, PLASTIK brand cutlery, in our pantry that I had seen on a daily basis for the last couple of years. 

Oh!  This was too perfect.  How could I get such an EASY word after all of the challenging words we had spelled to get to this point?  Needless to say, when that irritating DING of the bell reached my ears, I was in utter disbelief.  Kevin not only spelled PLASTIC, but he went on to spell his word correctly and won the spelling bee.  And I learned a little humility.

One evening when I was a freshman at BYU, the girls in my apartment were sitting around the table.  I must have been looking at my geography book, or perhaps a map, when I blundered into the conversation with confidence, asking where the Red Buttes were. Here, let me assist you.  I didn't ask about the (byoots), I asked about the (butts).  Everyone howled with laughter.  In my defense, I was from Virginia.  We don't have buttes and "cricks."  We have hollers and crEEks.  Yes, thank you, I will have a little slice of that humble pie.

It wasn't until later in college that I made the mortifying discovery when writing out a check that I had been misspelling FORTY all of my life.  "Fourty" made perfect sense, and I had never questioned it.  Glad I caught it BEFORE I became a teacher.

Marley on the CHAISE LONGUE
A couple of years ago, I was enjoying my summer vacation reading magazines.  By the way, I'm not one of those teachers who zealously attacks student work with a red pen, circling with devilish glee spelling errors, but I LOVE finding spelling errors in print, so it was with great satisfaction I detected "chaise longue" in the Oprah magazine, of all places. Then, with some reflection, I wondered if there were a chance that I could be wrong. I Googled the spelling on my phone and discovered, much to my dismay, that indeed, CHAISE LONGUE is correct, but as Americans, we have misspelled the word as CHAISE LOUNGE so much, there is actually a dictionary entry for it, incorrect as it may be!  If I had only used my French minor degree, I would have understood the connection:  a long chair is a CHAISE LONGUE.  I just thought it was a chair for lounging, and a "chase lounge," as I said it, sounded correct to me!

Just recently, I embarrassed myself with a pronunciation faux pas in the presence of friends, one of whom worked for a newspaper and is a bit of a word geek himself.  I used this particular word without hesitation, having seen it in print sporadically throughout my life, but when said newsman heard it, he did an obvious double-take and repeated the word with a big fat question mark at the end. The word in question was BROOCH.  Now I know how to say POOCH and MOOCH, so I assumed I knew how to say BROOCH.  Ha ha ha!  Oh, dear.  I stood corrected. 

These are the stories I share with my students, who have these little A-HA moments on a regular basis.  I let them know we are all still learning, even old gals like me.  I will forever be honing my word skills, it seems.  How can someone who knows so MANY words well,  perform so miserably with a certain few?  I'm human.  And luckily, I have a sense of humor about my weaknesses.

At rare times, I proceed with caution with words about which I am unsure.  In the privacy of my home, with access to my trusty dictionary and the internet, I reassure myself and double-check meanings and pronunciations and spellings.  But when I'm in PUBLIC, and I am speaking, I just do the best I can.  Do I still make mistakes?  Oh, certainly.  It gives me something to think about, and as long as I'm still learning, I can keep my pride in check. 


  1. I remember that lung disease word and must say that it still is part of discussions today...and though I am not a teacher I am a reader of more books than stars in the sky (just a slight exaggeration) and used to be a little cocky know it all and boy did I make mistakes (I try know to only be cocky around my family, ha, ha).

    Love your post!

    1. Thank you! I have to watch myself so as not to offend. What is fun for me is torture for some. Luckily, my children share my passion for detecting errors; we think of it as a sporting event!

  2. Spell check is both my friend and enemy!
    Did I tell you about my first book? At the last minute I went back and credited DirtMan for a photograph and pushed publish...I did not catch the error nor did their computers. Haste makes waste; I misspelled his company name, argh. However, instead of correcting it on the paperback version, I left it as a reminder to me that perfectionism is highly overrated!

    1. According to Native American legends, the weavers always intentionally add a flaw to their work. They feel that it is improper to claim any handmade item is perfect, apparently. My whole life is a tapestry of flaws; why not own them? : )


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