The spelling gene

The spelling gene

Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 6:47 pm

The Messenger 09.15.10

In a lot of ways I’m like my dad. Opinionated. Stubborn. Outgoing. I don’t consider it a curse because Dad and I are only stubborn and opinionated when we’re right. So, that can hardly be considered a character flaw, right? My mom is a different creature completely. Mom was born to be a diplomat. Calm. Contemplative. Introverted.
But, there is one genetic trait I definitely inherited from my mom. The spelling gene. Before you start regarding this as a blessing, just hear me out. This is the gene which causes me to act in bizarre and uncontrollable ways regarding the spelling of words. I pass by church signs and cringe. “Honey, they missed the ‘e’ in congregation. Should I call them and tell them?” My husband, a college professor without the spelling gene, just smiles. When I get those ridiculous forwarded e-mails, I’m tempted to send them back with an attachment which reads, “Corrections.”
The truth of the matter is that most people are either spellers or non-spellers. I know. I know. We can teach children in ways which foster better spelling. We can be pro-active in teaching spelling in school. But, at the end of the day, there are people who are bothered by the misspelled church sign and people who are not. There are people who look at the grocery store flyer which says, “Chocolate Desert on sale for $4.99” and cringe, whispering under their breath, “A desert is dry land with few plants and little rainfall.” There are other people who look at the flyer and say, “Yum. Chocolate sounds great right now.” Incidentally, the flyer should read “dessert.” The fact that I had to write that is simply another symptom of the grave illness.
I’m blessed with many brilliant non-spellers in my family. I’m sure all of you realize that spelling is not an issue of intelligence. Some of the brightest minds in the world don’t care about the difference between words which signify dry land with few plants and little rainfall versus words which describe chocolate. It’s insignificant to them. I understand that. I embrace that. Spelling English words really doesn’t make sense anyway. It’s all a strange shot in the dark. For example, “imagine” is spelled with an “i” while “embarrassing” is spelled with an “e” even though we make the same sound for both. Then there’s that whole “i before e except after c” rule. What about the word “either”? Someone forgot to tell “either” about the “i before e except after c” rule. And yet, we let him remain in the English language without embarrassment or punishment for his rule-breaking ways.
If you’re a non-speller, be encouraged. Most non-spellers are math whizzes and gifted in many other ways. Just do the Spelling Police a favor. If you’re in charge of putting up the church sign, ask a speller to check it. That act alone will add years to our lives. And for those of you who carry a red pen around, just remember that spelling is not the most important thing in life. Far from it. My genetic propensity toward accurate spelling hasn’t helped me understand fifth grade math, the periodic table, car mechanics or how to find my car in parking lots. In fact, my sense of direction is so poor that if I were stranded in the middle of the Mojave Desert, I’d die of dehydration before I’d ever find my way out … but at least I’d know how to spell where I died. I know. I need medication.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker.
Her book “The Smartt View:  Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for  $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225.
She can be reached by e-mail at
For more information about Lisa Smartt, visit her website


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