I’ve thought of something I can say to Jacqueline Winspear the next time I see her, only I probably won’t say it. But at least my mind won’t be a blank. What I’d like to say is, “Don’t you have any control over the spelling in your books?”
I recently finished reading An Incomplete Revenge and, while I thought it was pretty good, I was constantly distracted by the following fake word masquerading as real:
I know that ‘alright’ is a misspelling that has been around for a long time – over 100 years, I believe – and that it’s an easy mistake to make because of words like ‘already’ and ‘altogether’, which are real words. I have no problem with it, or I pretend not to have one, when I encounter it in private usage. But having it appear numerous times in a published book is just wrong.
The reason I probably won’t say anything to Ms Winspear, though, is that I think it’s kind of embarrassing for the focus of everyone’s attention to be corrected in public. Unless it’s a really egregious error, like spelling something wrong.
I wonder why we’re so nervous as adults to point out someone’s error. Maybe because we’re afraid someone will point out ours. Maybe because peace and harmony are more desirable than the truth. There’s a little saying that I hear now and then. I heard it just a couple of months ago in a lesson at church, in reference to marital disagreements: one should ask oneself, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” I always want to respond, “Yeah, but being right makes me happy.”
Children and teenagers certainly aren’t reticent to point out adults’ errors. When I used to substitute teach, the students were always trying to catch me in a mistake. It turns out they were wrong and I was right, but that didn’t stop them. I think if a teacher is really wrong, though, you should say something about it.
Parent-teacher conferences for me are now a thing of the past, and they were pretty much always the same kind of thing. Usually, the teachers would spend most of the time telling me how wonderful and bright and quiet my children were. I was always kind of shocked at hearing that, but I wasn’t going to say anything to the contrary. Anyway, I’ve already mentioned one exception to these pleasant encounters, but there’s another that sticks out in my memory. Adrien’s third grade teacher, after telling me how wonderful and bright my daughter was, mentioned that there was a little problem with Adrien speaking out in class.
How unusual, I thought. “What does she say?”
“She corrects my spelling,” said the teacher.
“Yes, I had something written on the board, and she said one of the words was spelled wrong. That’s happened a couple of times.”
“Was it spelled wrong?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the teacher, and paused. “She’s a very smart little girl.”
Perhaps I should mention here that Adrien skipped most of first grade and, because of that, spent the majority of her school career in classes with students a year older than she was.
The teacher continued: “But it’s distracting to have her correct me.”
“Well,” I said, trying to be tactful, “I don’t think I should tell her to ignore mistakes. If something’s wrong, it should be corrected.”
The teacher looked at me with something a little like despair. I was thinking, “You’re a teacher; you should know how to spell.” But I took pity on her.
"All right, I’ll tell Adrien that if she wants to correct you, she should do it in private and not in front of the class.”
The teacher thanked me.
I know that spelling is not necessarily essential to one’s salvation, but neither is party politics, sports franchises, talk shows, or the Indiana Jones movies (and just try making an error there and see what happens). Also, I expect a degree of latitude in one’s spelling in informal settings (personal letters, journals, texting, etc). I myself consistently misspell ‘weird’, I think because it doesn’t follow the ‘i before e’ rule. But when someone puts a message out for public consumption – in newspapers or advertising signs or books or whatever – some responsible person should take pains to ensure that the spelling and grammar are standardized.
So, Jacqueline Winspear needs to know that either a) someone is not proofing her work very carefully, or b) someone is actually laboring under the delusion that "alright" is a real word. The next time I go to one of Ms Winspear's book signings, I think I'll take Adrien with me.