the 13 different ways the sound
"sh" can be written:
International Paper asked John Irving,
author of "The World According to Garp,"
"The Hotel New Hampshire," and "Set-
ting Free the Bears, " among other novels-
and once a hopelessly bad speller himself-
to teach you how to improve your spelling.
Let's begin with the bad news.
If youre a bad speller, you
probably think you always will be.
There are exceptions to every
spelling rule, and the rules them-
selves are easy to forget. George
Bernard Shaw demonstrated how
ridiculous some spelling rules are.
By following the rules, he said,
we could spell fish this way: ghoti.
The "f' as it sounds in enough,
the "i" as it sounds in women, and
the "sh" as it sounds in fiction.
With such rules to follow, no
one should feel stupid for being
a bad speller. But there are ways
to improve. Start by acknowledg-
ing the mess that English spelling
is in-but have sympathy: English
spelling changed with foreign
influences. Chaucer wrote "gesse,"
but "guess," imported earlier by
the Norman invaders, finally
replaced it. Most early printers
in England came from Holland;
they brought "ghost" and "gherkin"
If you'd like to intimidate your-
self-and remain a bad speller
forever-just try to remember
Now the good news
The good news is that 90 per-
cent of all writing consists of 1,000
basic words. There is, also, a
method to most English spelling
and a great number of how-to-spell
books. Remarkably, all these books
propose learning the same rules!
Not surprisingly, most of these
books are humorless.
Just keep this in mind: If you're
familiar with the words you use,
you'll probably spell them cor-
rectly-and you shouldn't be writ-
ing words you're unfamiliar with
anyway. USE a word-out loud, and
more than once-before you try
writing it, and make sure (with a
new word) that you know what it
means before you use it. This
means you'll have to look it up in
a dictionary, where you'll not only
learn what it means, but you'll see
how it's spelled. Choose a
dictionary you enjoy browsing
in, and guard it as you would
a diary. You wouldn't lend
a diary, would you?
Beside every word I look up more
than once, I write a note to myself
-about WHY I looked it up. I have
looked up "strictly" 14 times since
1964. I prefer to spell it with a k-
as in "stricktly." I have looked up
"ubiquitous" a dozen times. I can't
remember what it means.
Another good way to use your g
dictionary: When you have to look
up a word, for any reason, learn-
and learn to spell-a new word at
the same time. It can be any useful
word on the same page as the word
you looked up. Put the date beside
this new word and see how quickly,
or in what way, you forget it. Even-
tually, you'll learn it.
Almost as important as know-
ing what a word means (in order
to spell it) is knowing how it's pro-
nounced. It's government, not
goverment. It's February, not
Febuary. And if you know that
anti- means against, you should
know how to spell antidote and
antibiotic and antifreeze. If you
know that ante- means before, you
shouldn't have trouble spelling
antechamber or antecedent.
Some rules, exceptions, and
I don't have room to
touch on all the rules here.
It would take a book to
do that. But I can share
a few that help me
What about -ary or .
-ery? When a word
has a primary accent on
the first syllable and a
secondary accent on
tar'y), it usu-
ally ends in
t -ary. Only
end in -ery: