Everybody's spelling bee

Next week the National Spelling Bee once more reminds America that someone still cares whether "irresistible" or "irresistable" is right. Perhaps a spectacle of juvenile triumph or humiliation is not the world's best pedagogical instrument. But presumably a lot of children have learned a few more words during the elimination contests on the way to Washington, and possibly a little new attention has been drawn to more effective methods of teaching spelling -- such as those noted by Monitor education editor Cynthia Parsons in "Learn to spell by talking, hearing, feeling, and writing" (March 23).

If there really is the decline in spelling deplored by members of the older generation, it is not confined to English speakers. An editor from Japan sat in our office a while ago lamenting similar shortcomings among the hundreds of college-trained applicants for employment in his large newspaper chain.

But has there ever been a generation anywhere that proclaimed, "Wow, the young folks these days sure are spelling better than wem did"?

English over the centuries has moved from acceptance of considerable freedom in spelling to pride in dictionary correctness, with misspelling as a perennial source of humor, to the audio-visual age's temptation to overlook mere verbal accuracy as long as you get the idea.

In other words, spelling is not something exactly carved in stone. Neither is it some kind of character trait as implied by those who categorize themselves as poor spellers and let it go at that without repentance, regeneration, or reform.

Spelling is simply something that comes in handy when you're reading or writing. To get it right in the spelling bee of daily life is one of those victories that leave nobody a loser.

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