Dear Friends and Readers:
If you are paying attention, you will sometimes find that I play fast and loose with the way I spell the word that is pronounced luz. I usually correct the mistake quickly, but it is one of my most frequent errors when writing. As a child, the way in which I learned to read is known as the "look say" method. In contrast to those taught by the "phonetic" method, which involves the memorization of both spelling and pronunciation rules, I have always struggled to spell certain words correctly. That being said, I have had many years of reading, spelling and speaking to overcome this disadvantage and; I can hardly claim to be a "victim" of a poor education. Nonetheless, I am, by nature, lazy when it comes to memorizing just about anything.
As is true of most people, there are some things which naturally stick in my mind. I have a theory that all intelligent people have at least one freakish ability when it comes to memory. I had a boyfriend once who, at any given moment, could tell you the date that almost any building in New York City was built, or recite the words to any poem or song he had ever read or heard. Freakish. Of course, remembering the details of a conversation we had had the week before was well beyond his reach.
My memory has its freakish abilities as well. I remember the details of the lives of thousands of strangers I've met over the years. I can tell you how their parents met, what incident made them fear dogs; I can even tell you where we were standing when they told me what happened to them at the party they had attended the night before. Any story someone has told me, no matter how many years ago, is burned into my brain in exceptional detail. My mind easily recalls many of the most insignificant conversations I've ever had, where they took place and what my impressions were of the person at the time. On the other hand, remembering the name of someone, with whom I've had a conversation, is often quite difficult for me. And then there are numbers...it took me months to memorize my own mobile number.
In grade school, I was one of the kids who had to sit in the hall to continue memorizing my times-tables, long after the rest of the class had passed the quiz, proving they had mastered this task. It was something we all had to do before taking a placement test, which would determine our cognitive level in math. Until we were all at the same starting point, in terms of memorizing the multiplication tables; it was impossible to determine where we each fell, in terms of dealing with the conceptual aspects of mathematics. Once I finally passed the quiz, returned to the classroom, and took the placement test, I was placed in the highest math group. The only other kids in that group were the two who had been the first to pass the times-table quiz. To this day, my ability to remember numbers or combinations of numbers is sadly lacking. As an adult, this weakness has served me well, when I've needed to show restraint in calling a new love interest. Since it generally takes me weeks to memorize a phone number, I never have to struggle with myself not to call a new guy too often.
On the other hand, I am perfectly capable of committing things to memory when I decide to. It just doesn't come naturally. So, in the end, I return to the fact that I am lazy and; I haven't bothered to memorize the way every word I've read is spelled. As someone who is compulsive about language, this often causes me difficulties. Spell-check is my favorite writing tool.
As an aside, my favorite story about relying too heavily on spell-check is from college. I was writing a term paper on Citizen Kane, remarking on the fact that the main character was often in the public eye. At the time, my keyboard had a sticky "L," which sometimes didn't work. Relying on the spell-check to proof my paper resulted in the following sentence: "Citizen Kane was often in the pubic eye." Much to my chagrin, the professor circled "pubic eye" and commented, "interesting image."
So...back to spelling. The words with which I have the most trouble, are words with phonemes that can be spelled in multiple ways. These words include the ones that end in the sound "-buhl," but are spelled with "i-b-l-e," like responsible (rɪˈspɒnsəbəl). For some reason, my mind wants to spell any word ending with that sound with "a-b-l-e." This is correct for many such words, like capable (keɪpəbəl,) but certainly not all. The other words, with which I have difficulty, are those with double occurrences of a single vowel...at least they seem like they should. These include words like precede (prɪˈsid.) Now why wouldn't that word be spelled "p-r-e-c-e-e-d?" In most cases where the "e" is pronounced as a long vowel, the word is spelled by doubling the vowel, as in proceed (proʊsid.)
The most difficult by far, however, are the words where the spelling of the vowel sound does not change the sound of the vowel. Instead it changes the pronunciation of the consonant that follows. The two that always give me the most trouble are the words "lose" (luz) and "loose" (lus.) The central phoneme in both words is the "u," but doubling the "o" changes the pronunciation of the "s," from a "z" to a soft "s." Confusing! English is a fucked up language...I love it, but I find some of its idiosyncrasies to be difficult to remember.
As someone with a loose understanding of the rules of spelling, the only thing that saves me from appearing to be a loser, who can't spell, is my obsessive need to check the spelling of everything I write. Perhaps I should spend some of that energy on memorizing more of the rules of spelling. Since it is not likely that I will be doing that in the near future, it is a good thing that my mind works the way it does. The exercise of writing this post will serve to burn the correct spelling, of all the words I've mentioned above, permanently into my memory.
Some day I'll have to write about comma usage, the other bane of my existence...maybe then I'll be able to remember those rules.