My picky friends have pointed out that this blog is full of idiosyncratic spelling mistakes. I plead visual impairment!
Early attempts at reading were centred around the adventures of Peter and Jane who rolled around in the front seat of the family car, chased moving buses and took to an inflatable raft in only their pants. The more I read the better it got. By the time I was becoming an independent reader the expanding cast of characters were dipping their fingers in boiling water, setting fires and testing for an electrical current with their tongues.
I can’t pretend to have ever given much thought to the individual components of words. Sight impairment meant that it was impossible to know, from looking, how many “m”s were in “tomorrow” and whether “silly” had one “l” of two. They all merged into one as far as I could see. No one ever bothered to teach me the rules because no one could imagine that I really couldn’t see what I was reading and I never bothered to tell them.
What I, and many others like me, were doing, was sight reading. I was looking at the shape of the word and making an educated guess, given the context of the story. It’s how I still read. I look at the shape of a world and make an educated guess.
Then came a major shock. It came in the form of spelling lists which had to be learnt by heart. Turned out that spelling was an altogether riskier business than reading. A wrong spelling on the Friday morning test resulted in writing the word out ten time. A second failure resulted in a slap across the palm with a ruler. If Peter could stick his tongue on a live electrical cable I could take a beating.
While I was a print reader I lapped it up. Nancy Dew took risks that surpassed even Peter and Jane. With her catch phrase of “Where is Sir Lock Holmes?” she was the gal to model myself on. Was it a spelling mistake or a clever play on words? She was someone to aspire to. Solving crime seemed a better prospect than the endless mystery of of how many “M”s in tomorrow.
This approach has got me into big trouble. It’s got me into trouble because the apparent contradiction of being able to read without being able to see what is written on the page is a belief too far for most people. It’s got me into trouble because these days I don’t even bother to attempt to write text messages. I dictate them and then I read them back at break neck speed. A knock knock joke turned itself into an unintended expression of romantic intent. An offer to cook supper became an aggressive carnal overture. Is it luck that my friends assume it’s a typo?
If I haven’t seen the word in its component parts, and even if I have, but have forgotten, then much of the new language of the digital world is pure guess work. As I’m writing, I make a mental note to look it up later but somehow it gets forgotten in the detail of a good story.
The spellchecker is my friend, but even friends can misunderstand your intentions or let you down. An explanation of relative values turned me from Joes “niece” to Joe’s “nice”. It turned Joe from my “uncle” to my “ankle”. Twisted ay!
I suspect that Peter and Jane have long since met a sticky end. Biff, Chip and Kipper are oh so dull by comparison and are much more likely to suffer death from social pho par than from life’s real adventures. I’d rather wire a plug.