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LOOK IT UP! SPELLING REALLY DOES MATTER

Several years ago a fellow in Florida invented a device to calculate the tip on a restaurant check. He sent out a press release.

On the first line he misspelled "restaurant." On the fifth line he misspelled "divided" and "different." On the sixth line he misspelled "desperately." He misspelled "calculator" and "function," and then he misspelled "restaurant" a different way.

One business editor ringed the errors in red and sent the press release along to me. Other editors, you may be certain, filed it in the round file. They reasonably assumed that if the guy's spelling was lousy, his invention probably was lousy too, so why give him space? I tell you, misspellings matter.

I have a theory. The theory holds that in retaliation for all the criticism they get from the press, the public schools have conspired to stop teaching children how to spell. In some devious fashion the very worst spellers are then channeled to newspapers, and there they wind up with jobs at the counter for classified ads.

How else can one explain an ad in Tennessee under the heading of "livestock"? It read: "1-yr. Old Philly. Broke to pull wagon. $500." From Florida comes an ad for "All Touraine tires." In a different Florida city an advertiser offers "chicken coups," an interesting thought.

A couple of months ago I cited a classified ad for a "Dunkin Pfife mahogany dropleaf table." Poor old Phyfe! He appeared in a suburban Seattle paper as "5 phyfe ducan" and in Georgia as "Duncan 5." A different Seattle weekly offered a coffee table in "imitation Chip and Dale style." A pet shop in Florida advertised "MCCAW, blue and gold, talks, with cage, $1,000." OK, so the bird talks. But can he spell?

Thus we find "liason" in Dilbert, "diety" in Crock, "accidently" in Crankshaft, "break" for "brake" in Shoe, "beats" for "beets" in Marvin, "you're" for "your" in Belvedere, and "your" for "you're" in Marmaduke. Not long ago Prince Valiant was defeating the brutish Picts: He had them caught in a vice. Don't nobody read proof on these guys?

Because I am a kindly old codger, a fellow who is all heart, I forgive the errant placement of only a single letter in the news columns. Under the crushing pressure of a deadline, typographical errors are bound to occur. Even so, tolerance has its limits. A correspondent for The Providence (R.I.) Journal-Bulletin covered the Wimbledon tennis matches in July. He referred to the Dutchess of Kent. She was a dutchess a second time, and such is the perverse nature of consistency, she was still a dutchess the third time around. An old Amsterdam family, no doubt.

Somewhere I read that misspellings are really not the writer's fault. It's a genetic problem. Could be, but I would look for a simpler explanation. When "mourning" dove comes out as "morning" dove, and "croquet" comes out as "crouquette," and "hardscrabble" comes out as "hardscrapple," someone is falling down on the job.

When in doubt, as I've said a hundred times before, writers must go to the dictionary to check the spelling of an unfamiliar word. This will make it 103 times: Look it up! Look it up! Look it up!

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