*Spellings That Don't Matter Much

Spelling is important. Right? Anyone will tell you that.

Except the thing is, sometimes it isn’t. And, when it’s not, sometimes it’s my job to act like it is anyway, which makes me feel like a bit of a schmuck.

Case in point: Not long ago, one of the section editors I work for mentioned “accoutrements” in an article headline. Spell check didn’t have any problem with it. So it was printed and laid out on the page before it landed under my nose.

I whipped out my red pen and swapped out the R with the first E, changing A-C-C-O-U-T-R-E … to  A-C-C-O-U-T-E-R … accouterments.

The original spelling wasn’t wrong. It just didn’t happen to be the preferred spelling in the dictionary we use, Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

I’ve been an even bigger schmuck about “ambience.” For years, every time I saw that in an article I changed it to “ambiance” because that’s what a quick check of Webster’s New World’s online edition led me to believe was the preferred form. When another editor finally questioned me about it, I explained that the A spelling was the preferred form, at which point she opened the hard copy of Webster’s New World and showed me that, now “ambiance” is the alternate spelling. The preferred form is “ambience.”

Then there’s the world-famous “doughnuts” vs. “donuts” issue. Both are right. But at the newspaper I always change “donuts” to the longer form because that’s the official, preferred spelling.

So sometimes spelling doesn’t matter … unless, of course, you’re paid to be pettier than the pettiest person alive …

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One Response to “*Spellings That Don't Matter Much”

  1. That's just the difference between UK and US English. Brits have it all the time. Go with whichever your style guide states. Although accouterments is just horrible.