AskDefine | Define spelling

Dictionary Definition

spelling n : forming words with letters according to the principles underlying accepted usage

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. present participle of spell


  • Spanish: deletreando


  1. an arrangement of letters that form a word or part of a word.
  2. the process of forming words by putting letters together.
  3. the study of how words are spelled.



arrangement of letters that form a word or part of a word
  • Finnish: oikeinkirjoitus, tavaus
  • Hungarian: betűzés
  • Japanese: 綴り, 文字綴り, スペル
process of forming words by putting letters together
  • Finnish: oikeinkirjoitus
  • Hungarian: írás
  • Japanese: 綴り
study of how words are spelled
  • Finnish: ortografia
  • Hungarian: helyesírás
  • Russian: правописание, орфография

Extensive Definition

Spelling is the writing of a word or words with all necessary letters and diacritics present in an accepted standard order. It is one of the elements of orthography and a prescriptive element of language. Most spellings attempt to approximate a transcribing of the sounds of the language into alphabetic letters; however, completely phonetic spellings are often the exception, due to drifts in pronunciations over time and irregular spellings adopted through common usage.

Spelling standards and conventions

Whereas uniformity in the spelling of words is one of the features of a standard language in modern times, and official languages usually prescribe standard spelling, minority languages and regional languages often lack this trait. Furthermore, it is a relatively recent development in various major languages in national contexts, linked to the compiling of dictionaries, the founding of national academies, and other institutions of language maintenance, including compulsory mass education.
In countries such as the U.S. and U.K. without official spelling policies, many vestigial and foreign spelling conventions work simultaneously. In countries where there is a national language maintenance policy, such as France, the Netherlands and Germany, reforms were driven to make spelling a better index of pronunciation. Spelling often evolves for simple reasons of alphabetic thrift, as when British English "catalogue" becomes American English "catalog".

Methods used to teach and learn spelling

Learning proper spelling by rote is a traditional element of elementary education. In the U.S., the ubiquity of the phonics method of teaching reading, which emphasizes the importance of "sounding out" spelling in learning to read, also puts a premium on the prescriptive learning of spelling. For these reasons, divergence from standard spelling is often perceived as an index of stupidity, illiteracy, or lower class standing. The intelligence of Dan Quayle, for instance, was repeatedly disparaged for his correcting a student's spelling of "potato" as the now non-standard "potatoe" (C15th spelling, O.E.D.) at an elementary school spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey on June 15, 1992.
The opposite view was held when spelling began to be standardized, and was voiced by President Andrew Jackson who stated "It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word."
Since traditional language teaching methods emphasize written language over spoken language, a second-language speaker may have a better spelling ability than a native speaker despite having a poorer command of the language.
Spelling tests are usually used to assess a student's mastery over the words in the spelling lessons he has received so far. They can also be an effective practice method. There are many free spelling tests on websites on the Internet.
Spelling bees are competitions to determine the best speller of a group. Such events have grown in popularity and are often televised, particularly in the U.S..

Divergent spelling

Divergent spelling is a popular advertising technique, used to attract attention or to render a trademark "suggestive" rather than "merely descriptive." The pastry chains Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, for example, employ non-standard spellings. The same technique is also popular among recording artists.

The word itself

Spelling is a notable word; it is sometimes humorously spelled as "speeling" when drawing attention to poor spelling. The past tense and past participle of spell (only in the word-related sense) have both a regular form in spelled and an irregular form in spelt. British English allows both irregular and regular forms; in American English, the irregular forms are rarely used.


While some words admit multiple spellings, some spellings are clearly incorrect and thus labeled as misspellings. A misspelled word can be a series of letters that represents no correctly spelled word of the same language at all (such as "liek" for "like") or a correct spelling of another word (such as writing "here" when one means "hear", or "now" when one means "know"). Misspellings of the latter type can easily make their way into printed material because they are not caught by simple computerised spell checkers.
Misspellings may be due to either typos (e.g. typing teh for the), or lack of knowledge of the correct spelling. Whether or not a word is misspelled may depend on context, such as American / British English distinctions. Misspelling can also be a matter of opinion when variant spellings are accepted by some and not by others. For example "miniscule" (for "minuscule") is a misspelling to many, and yet it is listed as a legitimate variant in a number of dictionaries.
A well-known Internet scam involves the registration of domain names that are deliberate misspellings of well-known corporate names in order to mislead or defraud. The practice is commonly known as "typosquatting".

Notable misspellings

  • Cleveland, Ohio – the leader of the crew that surveyed the town's territory was Gen. Moses Cleaveland, and the region was named in his honor; reportedly the town's first newspaper could not fit the town's name in its masthead without removing the first "a" from the name.
  • Cocoa – from cacao. Many foreign languages and foreigners speaking English still use "cacao".
  • Google – accidental misspelling of googol. According to Google's vice president, as quoted on a BBC The Money Programme documentary, January 2006, the founders – noted for their poor spelling – registered Google as a trademark and web address before someone pointed out that it was not correct. However having a new non-word is actually an advantage for a trademark or brand name, like Kodak before it.
  • Hebrides is an 18th Century misunderstanding of the classical Latin name Hebudes, where u was read ri (see Hebrides#Name).
  • Middlesbrough, a town in the north-east of England. It is apocryphally suggested that it is missing a second 'o' due to a clerk typing the town's registration form incorrectly (making the "correct" spelling "Middlesborough").
  • Montezuma – erroneous spelling of the Aztec emperor's name, Moctezuma. The commonly used name is more easily pronounced by English speakers.
  • Nome, a town in western Alaska. A British cartographer wrote "Name ?" on a map, as a request to clarify the region's name. The map's transcribers mistook the side note as the name of the cape adjacent to the region and misinterpreted "Name" as "Nome".
  • Ovaltine, a popular bedtime drink in the UK, came about because someone misspelled the original name Ovomaltine on the trademark documentation.
  • Referer – common misspelling of the word referrer. It is so common, in fact, that it made it into the official specification of HTTP – the communication protocol of the World Wide Web – and has therefore become the standard industry spelling when discussing HTTP referers.
  • Quartzsite, a mining town in Arizona, had its name spelled incorrectly. It should be Quartzite, after the mineral quartzite.
  • Zenith – Arabic zamt was misread; in Latin letters, at the time, the letter i was never dotted, so "m" looked like "ni".


See also

External links

*, an online spell checker
spelling in German: Orthographie
spelling in Spanish: ortografía
spelling in French: orthographe
spelling in Hebrew: כתיב
spelling in Dutch: spelling
spelling in Japanese: 綴り字
spelling in Norwegian Nynorsk: stava
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