A Life Of Fiction CXXIII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.


On Spelling: Perhaps I do not need such a blog post, in a world in which every budding novelist has a spell-checker built into Word. But I think that I have covered just about everything else in my blog, in the past, so I might as well have a single post ion the issue of spelling.

It is only in the past couple of hundred years that we really have had rules about the way in which words were supposed to be spelled. Before then words tended to be spelled in various different ways. Only three hundred years ago you would find different forms of the same word, even in the works of people who argued for orthographical standards: topick as well as topic; forein as well as foreign; confest as well as confessed; and thousands of other examples. People still tended to spell words the way that they sounded. Standardisation of spelling is something which is relatively recent.

Unfortunately for the Trans-Atlantic Accord the standardisation went in different ways on different sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In America you have humor, plow and smolder, for example; whereas in Standard English you have humour, plough and smoulder. We really are two countries divided by a common language, as George Bernard Shaw is alleged to have said.

For more on the history of spelling, and on the history of English in general, check out the excellent The Stories of English, by David Crystal, from which those examples are borrowed. ISBN 0-713-99752-4.

Even after standard orthographies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, however, there are still a few words which have variant spellings. Here I am thinking of words like wagon / waggon; or ageing / aging; or absinth / absinthe. And my idiot Word spell-checker is telling me that waggon is an incorrect spelling, despite it being in my Collins English Dictionary. There, I have added it to my Word Dictionary. Oh, and by the way, some of those examples were also courtesy of the David Crystal book. Any philologists out there should really check it out.

Neither of the spellings of the words above is incorrect. You should not be upbraided for using waggon instead of wagon. But, as a writer, what you should strive for is consistency. You should not use waggon and then, a few paragraphs later, use wagon instead, even though both are correct. Pick a spelling you like and stick with it. it looks better.

If you get published, anyway, you may find that your publisher has a house style which extends to spelling, and not just the way in which your precious words are laid out on the page. You might find that one publisher favours absinth, while another prefers absinthe instead. Go with the flow here, and don’t have an argument about a word with variable spellings.

Me? I just wished absinthe wasn’t so expensive…


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