The Foibles of Phonetics and Dialect

How we pronounce words influences our ability to spell them correctly. I’ve moved around enough to pick up and combine a number of dialects. There have been times I’ve spelled a word so wrong that I cannot even find it in the dictionary. This is a highly embarrassing situation to find yourself in, especially in a work environment where people are watching your every move and wondering how come you haven’t finished typing the bosses letter yet.

The word spelled is a case in point. By now, I know the correct way to spell spelled is spelled, yet I type spelt instead, because that’s what I’d say if I was speaking instead of typing, as in, “I spelt it wrong.” By now I know that spelt is something people make bread out of and has nothing to do with spelling, and I catch myself in time to correct my “mistake” unless, for some reason within my story, I purposely leave it as is.

The word “business” is another. That’s the word that tripped me up while typing the bosses letter. He saw the mistake—I’d spelt it  “bizness”—or something similar to that—and he pointed it out to me. I asked him how it was supposed to be spelt. He told me to look it up and walked away. I took down that handy dandy little Webster’s Dictionary he had on a shelf in the office and began my search. I looked and I looked and I looked. No brownie points for zero results.  There was nothing even close in the “biz” part of the dictionary. The boss finally caved in and gave me a few hints. How was I to know to look under the “BU’s?” (What’s another way I could write that last sentence?) We say bizness, not bizyness and certainly no one in their right mind would expect the word to be spelt with a U, S, and I instead of a I, Z, and Y.

While homeschooling one of our kids, I purchased what I’d heard was a great set of curriculum books from Bob Jones University Press. (Spendy too, but not as expensive as the most expensive—expensif—one.) My kid pointed out discrepancies within the BJU spelling book and our dictionary. I couldn’t imagine what he found to be so wrong but then I saw it and I understood what happened. I looked up the address of the publisher, saw it was in the South, and gave them a long distance call. If I couldn’t get away with spelling things via my phonetically-compiled dialect, by golly, neither could they.

I’ve lived in Indiana, Ideehoho, Alabama, Alaska, Warshington D.C. and Warshington State, South Caryline-ah, and Californe-ii-ayee. (Like yippie kiye yiye yaye.) I’ve even spent no small amount of time with French-accented and Spanish speakers. It takes me less than a week to pick up a dialect, especially the Oklahoma drawl that probably (probly/prolly) began in the Caryline-ah’s crept across the country during the Trail of Tears and eventually on up to Ideeho and other places. Tho’ tis not ta neglect me grrandpa, a Scottsman rraised on Irish moss ‘n tales. When ya stir up all those manner-o’-speech-isms, yagetta fairly unique gibberish known as “the way I talk.” But I canna write like thaugh. T’ would drive ya nuts.

As writers, we must be aware of our phonetic and dialectic tendencies and know when to hold ’em in check and when to go ahead and use them to sprinkle a wee bit-o’ enhancement into our characterizations.This is especially true when writing our family histories. To not write what someone says as they would speak it takes away from their character. We don’t want to overdo it but, we do want the reader to get an opportunity to know these people.

But to pull dialect off for characterization the writer must also know how to spell things wrong. This is a strange conundrum if ever there was one. If you purposely spell a word wrong, ya better do it right.

(If you can spell any words I’ve used here wrongly better, oh how can I write this sentence? If you know of a better way to incorrectly spell one of the words I’ve used here, please, leave a comment with your suggestion. (Rather than scratch my head about wording that right I’ll trust the reader to know what I’m attempting to say and go ahead and post this.))

And there’s a song that helps me when seasoning such characterizations, one my daddio used to play and sing to a lot.

Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive.

What about you? What are some words you still want to spell the way you say ’em?

Halloween’s coming up and Pumpkin’s another one of those words. Pumkin or pumpkin? I’ve never pronounced that second “p” and was very surprised to find it there. Who says it? Who? PumPkin sounds way too heavy. I know it as a much softer word. At least I had the “m” right, cause what I say is punken, real quick-like. How about you?


10 thoughts on “The Foibles of Phonetics and Dialect

  1. When I go and visit a new place in a different part of the world, I sometimes find it hard to understand what they are saying. It is amazing how an accent can put emphasis on the dialect of one word.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dialect is one thing, and some phrases have totally different meanings across the country. I’ve lived in five different states and have ended up embarrassing myself at least once with every move, simply by saying something that’s fairly benign in my former home state yet is somewhat off-color where I’m currently living.

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  3. I’m curious what those phrases are so we don’t make the same mistake. Will you share some with us? Phrases can be “click” oriented too. For instance “pull” in our “group” means “eat” a lot. Like in the food’s really good. Food’s so good, you “pull” it into your mouth.


  4. I speak and write in English only and I am always doing the same thing. My brain just can’t get it right a lot of the time.
    I also type as fast as I think. Too bad I hit the wrong keys.
    I know sister is spelled just like I wrote it there.
    Yet, most of the time it comes out as (I can’t do it now that I am thinking about it…LOL) sissitor or something like that.
    Remember is a word I have to redo over and over… It’s easy of I just SLOW DOWN.
    Rememeber……Rememebr Get the picture….Almost every tine,
    Time is another. I get in a hurry and it comes out like it did above…..”Alomst every tine….is what I wrote. Without meaning to. Now long at the sentence. Almost is alomst……..
    Long instead of look…..

    I just noticed Of instead of if.
    I have to constantly correct everything . Some fibro fog days are a lot worse…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand. It happens to me more when I speak aloud. Canada always has more to it when I say it than when I write it. Cananadada. Typing, my biggest foible (besides the occasional transposed letters) if having a lazy keystroke between t and h. T he Then t hat the then that. I typed killed instead of liked once. Same letters. Different places. Huge difference. And my eyes did not catch that error. Of course Word didn’t catch it. Do I have dyslexic fingers? (Dyslexia from the middle outward even?) It must be a common ailment for writers to acquire. Maybe it spreads like flu. Argh! It would be so sweet to have enough money to hire my very own 24/7 pro-editor. Other people hire me. I need a clone with their own set of better eyes, at least. Ah, what a dream what a dream.


  5. I hope you can muddle through what I was saying above. Every once in awhile someone will write and tell me to proofread what I write before I hit the send button. What they don’t realize is that I have already done that a number of times.

    I was a good teacher so I know more than anyone how often I mess up…

    So I understand everything you wrote.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yeah. I believe you were a wonderful teacher. 🙂 I catch a lot more after I hit publish. On other papers, I set them aside for a few days at least. Not the blog. I spit these posts out pretty fast. Maybe I should slow down posting and /or time things out better. But if I wait, I hear an old mentor whispering in my ear, “Strike while the anvil is hot!” So . . . I can get on with other things.


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