Can you tell your heteronyms from your homographs?

Lynne has a silent 'e' but fails to remain silent...

Lynne has a silent 'e' but fails to remain silent... - Credit: Archant

Children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, creator of Tracy Beaker, has had a pop at children’s spelling, saying her young overseas fans write more eloquently in English than our resident kids.

Bien sûr und natürlich.

“They’re writing in English, and apologising for their English, yet these letters will be more grammatical and spelt more properly than (those from) our own children. It’s quite extraordinary.”

Around 90% of children who write to her cannot even spell Jacqueline correctly, she said, saying that standards had slipped in the two decades that children had regularly written to her.

“Spelling doesn’t seem to be something that happens (at school). I don’t think it is being taught.”


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“Sometimes it is unintentionally and sweetly funny.”

She gives the example of “I want to be a famos ritter”.

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Tell us about it, Dame Jacqueline.

Cue the sound of jodphurs being squeezed over cellulite-heavy thighs as Lynne Mortimer mounts her favourite hobby horse... (no whip, what do you think this is, Fifty Shades?)

But who, today, is setting a good example?

Spelling is no longer deemed important. As long as we are prepared to put up with the ghastly versions of words and phrases churned out by the unthinking and/or untaught, the worse it will become.

“Could of done better,” is cause for despair.

When I applied to train as a journalist (aged 35... how young I was) there was a spelling test and I misspelled “accommodation”. Having considered myself a good speller, I was mortified. I have never again spelt it wrongly.

The worst transgression, in my not at all humble view, is misspelling a word you have in front of you. I have seen job applications in which the candidate has misspelled the job title, and this from people wanting to work in a highly-literate profession.

I’m not greatly enamoured of being addressed in writing as Lyn or Lynn or even Lin although I accept that there are too many silent letters in my name. It’s a very British thing. It takes a Briton to spell out Cholmondeley and pronounce it “chumley” or Happisburgh and Haysbro’.

There is a school of thought that we should spell as we speak but this would be a can of worms or, as they say in Scottish, can of wurrums. Spelling is the common denominator that keeps the users of a common language in touch, irrespective of regional accents. For obvious reasons, I do not include American English because of the issue over the letter ‘u’ in words like harbor and labor. (And I am happy to see my thoroughly English computer spell check has underlined both of those words.)

But bad spelling is not the preserve of the younger generation. American presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s facebook offered a “sneak-peak” of a new TV ad. Even spelt correctly, it is a term that should never be used. Vice-president Dan Quayle liked potato like I like Lynne, with an ‘e’ on the end.

Was Tony Blair’s 2001 “toomorrow” a mistake or just bad handwriting?

Mind you, even perfectly spelled English can get one’s undergarments in a twist,

This week, having only just recovered from an attack of the vapours brought on by a ghastly howler in a local election pamphlet (“their” instead of “they’re”) I was emailed a selection of homographs and heteronyms (you what?) which demonstrate the extraordinary flexibility of our language.

Without wishing to recreate an edition of Reader’s Digest-like Improve Your Word Power, I should explain that homographs are words with the same spelling but more than one meaning. A homograph that is also pronounced differently is a heteronym.

Here are some examples of each and both:

The bandage was wound around the wound.

The farm was used to produce produce.

The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

They were too close to the door to close it.

The buck does funny things when the does are present.

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

The compiler should take a bow and/or wear a bow. These really had my juices flowing... yes, I know, it’s an age thing again, isn’t it.

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