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?