Is spelling overrated?

If I were to list out my strengths spelling wouldn’t come anywhere near the top of the list. The construct of letters to make words has always been an unfathomable mystery. So I was really interested to read an article in Wired Magazine by Anne Trubek suggesting that we all loosen up a bit:

English spelling is a terrible mess anyway, full of arbitrary contrivances and exceptions that outnumber rules. Why receipt but deceit? Water but daughter? Daughter but laughter? What is the logic behind the ough in through, dough, and cough? Instead of trying to get the letters right with imperfect tools, it would be far better to loosen our idea of correct spelling.

Anne then goes on to say:

So who shud tell us how to spel? Ourselves. Language is not static—or constantly degenerating, as many claim. It is ever evolving, and spelling evolves, too, as we create new words, styles, and guidelines (rules governing use of the semicolon date to the 18th century, meaning they’re a more recent innovation than the steam engine). The most widely used American word in the world, OK, was invented during the age of the telegraph because it was concise. No one considers it, or abbreviations like ASAP and IOU, a sign of corruption. More recent textisms signal a similarly creative, bottom-up play with language: “won” becomes “1,” “later” becomes “l8r.” After all, new technology creates new inertia for change: The apostrophe requires an additional step on an iPhone, so we send text messages using “your” (or “UR”) instead of “you’re.” And it doesn’t matter—the messagee will still understand our message.

I have a lot of sympathy for this point of view, even my surname is an example of how the language has shifted. "Chastney" isn’t how it was originally spelled, it’s not even how it was originally said, neither is "Chesney", "Chasney", "Chasnet", "Cheney" and the many other derivatives. Are these all wrong? Are any of them wrong?

(The comment stream at the bottom of the article are exactly what I would expect. This subject bring out very strong opinions in people for reasons that are beyond my understanding.)

2 thoughts on “Is spelling overrated?”

  1. Language does evolve, but at what cost? Do we risk losing certain words? I’m sure I make many grammatical and spelling errors but try hard to follow ‘accepted’ conventions. I don’t see ‘laziness’ as a reason to accept the evolution of language; “l8r” is like looking at graffiti on a work of art, (and I don’t mean of the “banksy” persuasion!) words to describe ‘new’ things are necessary but not by violation of existing words. I also dislike the use of acronyms beyond those of Latin foundation.

    You can take my colours but you’ll never take my “u”

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