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Short Articles

A Casebook of Misspellings, with Observations

In each set the first row contains the correct spelling, in full caps.

The second row contains the number of times the word was spelled correctly out of a leveled total of 100 spelling attempts. Thus, the first word, accessory, was spelled correctly 40 times.

The third row contains the number of mistokens — that is, the number of times the word was misspelled in a leveled total of 100 attempts. Thus, accessory was misspelled 60 times, or, saying it another way, there were 60 mistokens. The sum of the correct spellings in row 2 and the mistokens in row 3 always equals 100.

The fourth row contains the number of mistypes — that is, the number of different types of mistokens. Thus, the 60 mistokens of accessory were spread over 28 different ways of misspelling the word, or 28 different mistypes.

The mistypes given in the remaining lines of the set are listed alphabetically with the number of mistokens of each mistype given in the right column.

These fifty words were given to college-age students, most of whom were known to have spelling problems. Some were ESL students; some had learning disabilities. The words were given as a pretest with no advance preparation. The list is from the diagnostic test for the program Mechanics of Spelling.

The attempts were arbitrarily leveled to 100 because in the early days of the tally no accurate record was kept of the number of correct spellings. The figures for mistokens and mistypes are accurate. The number of correct spellings, always equal to 100 minus the number of mistokens, simply provides an arbitrary scaling figure.

(Skip the list of misspelled words and continue with the article.)

Misspelled words:
accessory
alignment
amplifier
aspirin
bracket
canal
chrome*
claim
compelling
conscientious
defying
dismissing
dredger
eligible
exploit
forgotten
freight
furlough
glared
halves
intrigue
itemize
jarring
knack
neutral
opaque
orientation
paralyzed
patrolling*
phonograph*
picnicking
receipt
residue
reversible*
separate*
serviceable
shoveling
skip
spacing
spaghetti
spiny
thorough
trek
unique
vacuum
wasteful
 
 
  ACCESSORY  
  Total correct spellings: 40
  Total mistokens: 60
  Total mistypes: 28
1 accesary 3
2 accesery 2
3 accesorie 3
4 accesory 11
5 accessary 4
6 accessery 4
7 accessorie 2
8 acessorie 1
9 acessory 4
10 acsesory 2
11 acsessary 1
12 acsessory 2
13 acsessory 1
14 acssorie 1
15 actcecciery 1
16 assesory 1
17 assessory 1
18 axcerese 1
19 axcessorie 1
20 axsesarey 1
21 exceesary 1
22 excesery 1
23 excessary 2
24 excessory 5
25 exsery 1
26 exsesory 1
27 exsessory 1
28 exssery 1
  back to word list  
      
  ALIGNMENT  
  Total correct spellings: 49
  Total mistokens: 51
  Total mistypes: 16
1 alainment 1
2 aleignment 1
3 alienment 3
4 alighnment 2
5 aligment 1
6 alignement 1
7 aligniment 1
8 aliment 1
9 alinament 1
10 alinement 12
11 alinment 4
12 allienment 1
13 allignment 17
14 allinement 2
15 allinment 2
16 elinment 1
  back to word list  
      
  AMPLIFIER  
  Total correct spellings: 48
  Total mistokens: 52
  Total mistypes: 25
1 ampaphier 1
2 amperflyer 1
3 amphier 1
4 amphlafier 1
5 amphlifier 1
6 ampifier 1
7 ampiler 1
8 amplafier 2
9 amplaphier 2
10 amplaphire 1
11 amplefire 1
12 amplephier 1
13 amplerra 1
14 amplhipher 1
15 ampliafier 1
16 ampliefer 1
17 amplifer 1
18 amplifire 4
19 ampliflier 1
20 amplifyer 1
21 amplipher 6
22 ampliphiar 2
23 ampliphier 17
24 ampliphire 1
25 amplyfer 1
  back to word list  
      
  ASPIRIN  
  Total correct spellings: 37
  Total mistokens: 63
  Total mistypes: 14
1 asiprin 1
2 aspain 1
3 asperan 2
4 asperin 4
5 aspin 2
6 aspine 1
7 aspiran 3
8 aspirane 1
9 asprain 2
10 asprian 1
11 asprin 37
12 asprine 5
13 aspurine 1
14 assprin 2
  back to word list  
      
  BRACKET  
  Total correct spellings: 91
  Total mistokens: 9
  Total mistypes: 5
1 brachet 1
2 bracquet 1
3 braket 4
4 braquet 2
5 raquett 1
  back to word list  
      
  CANAL  
  Total correct spellings: 75
  Total mistokens: 25
  Total mistypes: 9
1 canale 1
2 canel 5
3 cannal 8
4 canneal 1
5 cannel 6
6 conail 1
7 conale 1
8 connal 1
9 cunal 1
  back to word list  
      
  CHROME  
  Total correct spellings: 59
  Total mistokens: 41
  Total mistypes: 7
1 chrom 2
2 comb 1
3 croam 1
4 cromb 1
5 crome 34
6 cron 1
7 krome 1
  back to word list  
      
  CLAIM  
  Total correct spellings: 97
  Total mistokens: 3
  Total mistypes: 3
1 claimed 1
2 clam 1
3 clame 1
  back to word list  
      
  COMPELLING  
  Total correct spellings: 84
  Total mistokens: 16
  Total mistypes: 6
1 compailing 1
2 compeling 11
3 compleing 1
4 compling 1
5 conpelling 1
6 pumpelling 1
  back to word list  
      
  CONSCIENTIOUS  
  Total correct spellings: 12
  Total mistokens: 88
  Total mistypes: 54
1 con 1
2 conceicse 1
3 conceinious 1
4 concenation 1
5 concences 1
6 concencicous 1
7 concencious 1
8 concensious 1
9 concensous 1
10 concheanch 1
11 conchienchus 1
12 conchientious 1
13 conchientsus 1
14 conchinious 1
15 conciances 1
16 conciencious 9
17 conciencous 2
18 concienious 1
19 concienous 1
20 conciensious 1
21 conciensous 2
22 concientious 4
23 concientous 1
24 concietious 1
25 concinious 1
26 conciouises 1
27 conciousious 1
28 concisious 1
29 connciouss 1
30 consceince 1
31 conscience 2
32 conscienceous 2
33 consciences 2
34 consciencess 1
35 consciencious 8
36 consciencous 8
37 consciensious 1
38 conscientous 1
39 conscientus 1
40 conscieous 1
41 consciesious 1
42 consciouness 1
43 consensious 1
44 conshenshius 1
45 conshiences 1
46 consicenous 1
47 consienious 1
48 consiensus 1
49 contenious 1
50 contiencious 1
51 contientant 1
52 contientious 3
53 contientous 1
54 contintious 1
  back to word list  
      
  DEFYING  
  Total correct spellings: 67
  Total mistokens: 33
  Total mistypes: 12
1 defeing 3
2 defeying 1
3 deffine 1
4 deffing 2
5 defied 1
6 defieing 4
7 define 1
8 defing 10
9 defining 5
10 deflying 3
11 dephying 1
12 difying 1
  back to word list  
      
  DISMISSING  
  Total correct spellings: 90
  Total mistokens: 10
  Total mistypes: 3
1 dismising 1
2 dissmising 4
3 dissmissing 5
  back to word list  
      
  DREDGER  
  Total correct spellings: 72
  Total mistokens: 28
  Total mistypes: 11
1 dreader 1
2 dreadger 5
3 dreager 1
4 dregder 1
5 dreger 5
6 dreggar 1
7 dregger 9
8 dreudger 1
9 drigger 1
10 grader 1
11 greder 2
  back to word list  
      
  ELIGIBLE  
  Total correct spellings: 29
  Total mistokens: 71
  Total mistypes: 25
1 elagable 2
2 elageble 1
3 elagible 1
4 elegable 3
5 elegiable 1
6 elegible 1
7 eleigeable 1
8 elible 2
9 elidgable 1
10 eliegiable 1
11 eligable 21
12 eligble 1
13 eligeale 1
14 eligelable 1
15 eliglable 2
16 ellageable 1
17 ellagiable 1
18 elledible 1
19 ellegable 3
20 ellible 1
21 elligable 16
22 elligeable 1
23 elligible 5
24 ilegable 1
25 uliable 1
  back to word list  
      
  EXPLOIT  
  Total correct spellings: 79
  Total mistokens: 21
  Total mistypes: 9
1 expliot 1
2 expliote 1
3 exploight 1
4 exploite 5
5 explot 3
6 explote 6
7 exployt 2
8 exployte 1
9 expoit 1
  back to word list  
      
  FORGOTTEN  
  Total correct spellings: 87
  Total mistokens: 13
  Total mistypes: 6
1 foregotten 1
2 forgetten 1
3 forggoten 1
4 forgoten 9
5 forgotton 1
6 fourgoton 1
  back to word list  
      
  FREIGHT  
  Total correct spellings: 59
  Total mistokens: 41
  Total mistypes: 12
1 feight 1
2 fieght 1
3 flate 1
4 fraet 1
5 fraght 1
6 fraight 3
7 frait 2
8 frate 5
9 fraught 1
10 fretgh 1
11 frieght 21
12 phrate 3
  back to word list  
      
  FURLOUGH  
  Total correct spellings: 26
  Total mistokens: 74
  Total mistypes: 18
1 berlow 1
2 ferlo 2
3 ferloe 1
4 ferlow 14
5 fero 1
6 ferrlow 1
7 fourlo 1
8 furllow 2
9 furlo 5
10 furlow 38
11 furough 1
12 furow 1
13 furrlow 1
14 pherlo 1
15 pherlow 1
16 phurlo 1
17 thorolo 1
18 thoughool 1
  back to word list  
      
  GLARED  
  Total correct spellings: 81
  Total mistokens: 19
  Total mistypes: 6
1 garrled 1
2 glair 1
3 glaired 2
4 glarded 1
5 glarred 13
6 glear 1
  back to word list  
      
  HALVES  
  Total correct spellings: 80
  Total mistokens: 20
  Total mistypes: 6
1 half's 1
2 halfs 11
3 halfves 1
4 halve 1
5 haves 5
6 havles 1
  back to word list  
      
  INTRIGUE  
  Total correct spellings: 43
  Total mistokens: 57
  Total mistypes: 19
1 entigek 1
2 entreage 2
3 entrege 1
4 entrique 4
5 interge 1
6 intery 1
7 intreag 1
8 intreage 2
9 intreague 2
10 intreg 5
11 intrege 8
12 intregu 1
13 intreque 9
14 intriege 3
15 intriegh 1
16 intriegue 1
17 intrig 2
18 intrige 12
19 intriuge 2
  back to word list  
      
  ITEMIZE  
  Total correct spellings: 83
  Total mistokens: 17
  Total mistypes: 13
1 atomized 1
2 autmise 1
3 idemize 2
4 idimize 1
5 idomise 1
6 idumize 1
7 itamize 2
8 iteamize 1
9 itemes 1
10 itemise 1
11 itemmize 1
12 itimize 3
13 itomice 1
  back to word list  
      
  JARRING  
  Total correct spellings: 79
  Total mistokens: 21
  Total mistypes: 4
1 garring 3
2 jaring 16
3 jarying 1
4 jouring 1
  back to word list  
      
  KNACK  
  Total correct spellings: 51
  Total mistokens: 49
  Total mistypes: 10
1 knac 1
2 knak 1
3 knake 1
4 knath 1
5 nac 2
6 nache 1
7 nack 36
8 nak 4
9 naqack 1
10 neck 1
  back to word list  
      
  NEUTRAL  
  Total correct spellings: 64
  Total mistokens: 36
  Total mistypes: 11
1 neautral 1
2 netral 1
3 netrul 1
4 netural 2
5 neutear 1
6 neutrale 1
7 neutrile 1
8 newtro 1
9 nuetral 15
10 nuetrall 1
11 nutral 11
  back to word list  
      
  OPAQUE  
  Total correct spellings: 54
  Total mistokens: 46
  Total mistypes: 22
1 opac 3
2 opacac 1
3 opace 1
4 opacet 1
5 opack 2
6 opague 1
7 opaic 1
8 opake 11
9 opaqe 2
10 opate 1
11 opauqe 1
12 opeac 1
13 opeak 2
14 opec 2
15 opeck 3
16 opeique 1
17 opeque 5
18 opique 1
19 oplate 1
20 oppeac 1
21 opque 3
22 oqupac 1
  back to word list  
      
  ORIENTATION  
  Total correct spellings: 71
  Total mistokens: 29
  Total mistypes: 12
1 oreantaion 1
2 oreantation 1
3 oreintation 2
4 orentation 9
5 oriantation 4
6 oriention 1
7 orination 1
8 oringtation 1
9 orinitation 2
10 orintation 3
11 orrientation 3
12 ortaction 1
  back to word list  
      
  PARALYZED  
  Total correct spellings: 24
  Total mistokens: 76
  Total mistypes: 17
1 pairalized 1
2 pairized 1
3 paralised 1
4 paralize 6
5 paralized 51
6 paralizzed 1
7 parallized 4
8 paralyed 1
9 paralyized 1
10 paralyse 1
11 paralysed 1
12 parazled 1
13 parelized 1
14 parilized 2
15 parolized 1
16 parralize 1
17 parrelized 1
  back to word list  
      
  PATROLLING  
  Total correct spellings: 48
  Total mistokens: 52
  Total mistypes: 9
1 controling 1
2 partrolling 1
3 patroling 43
4 pattroling 1
5 pattrolling 1
6 pedtrolling 1
7 petroling 2
8 petrolling 1
9 portaling 1
  back to word list  
      
  PHONOGRAPH  
  Total correct spellings: 85
  Total mistokens: 15
  Total mistypes: 8
1 phograph 1
2 phonagraph 5
3 phonegraph 3
4 phoneograph 2
5 phonoghraph 1
6 phonogragh 1
7 phonograth 1
8 photograph 1
  back to word list  
      
  PICNICKING  
  Total correct spellings: 21
  Total mistokens: 79
  Total mistypes: 10
1 picincing 1
2 picinicing 1
3 picknecking 2
4 pickneking 1
5 picknicing 5
6 picknicking 6
7 pickniking 8
8 picnicing 52
9 picniking 2
10 pinicing 2
  back to word list  
      
  RECEIPT  
  Total correct spellings: 54
  Total mistokens: 46
  Total mistypes: 10
1 receit 4
2 recept 6
3 recieped 1
4 reciept 24
5 reciepts 1
6 reciet 1
7 recipet 1
8 recipt 6
9 reicit 1
10 reicpt 1
  back to word list  
      
  RESIDUE  
  Total correct spellings: 70
  Total mistokens: 30
  Total mistypes: 15
1 re'sude 1
2 resadew 4
3 resadue 8
4 resedue 2
5 residew 5
6 resiudu 1
7 ressedue 1
8 restado 1
9 resude 1
10 resudue 1
11 rezadew 1
12 rezedew 1
13 rezedue 1
14 rezidue 2
15 riesdew 1
  back to word list  
      
  REVERSIBLE  
  Total correct spellings: 28
  Total mistokens: 72
  Total mistypes: 8
1 revearsable 1
2 revercable 2
3 reverisable 1
4 reversable 51
5 reverseable 13
6 reverseble 1
7 reversiable 2
8 revreable 1
  back to word list  
      
  SEPARATE  
  Total correct spellings: 44
  Total mistokens: 56
  Total mistypes: 7
1 separte 1
2 seperat 1
3 seperate 49
4 seporate 1
5 sepperate 2
6 sepreat 1
7 serparate 1
  back to word list  
      
  SERVICEABLE  
  Total correct spellings: 49
  Total mistokens: 51
  Total mistypes: 14
1 cervisable 1
2 servable 1
3 servasable 1
4 servesable 1
5 servicable 36
6 serviceble 1
7 servicible 3
8 servisable 1
9 sevasabale 1
10 sevicible 1
11 survicable 1
12 surviceable 1
13 survisable 1
14 suvisable 1
  back to word list  
      
  SHOVELING  
  Total correct spellings: 76
  Total mistokens: 24
  Total mistypes: 12
1 sholvling 1
2 shouveling 1
3 shovelling 8
4 shoving 1
5 shovling 3
6 shufling 1
7 shulving 1
8 shuveling 3
9 shuvelling 1
10 shuvleing 1
11 shuvling 3
12 sovelling 1
  back to word list  
      
  SKIP  
  Total correct spellings: 100
  Total mistokens: 0
  Total mistypes: 0
  back to word list  
      
  SPACING  
  Total correct spellings: 87
  Total mistokens: 13
  Total mistypes: 2
1 spaccing 1
2 spaceing 12
  back to word list  
      
  SPAGHETTI  
  Total correct spellings: 36
  Total mistokens: 64
  Total mistypes: 22
1 sfagetti 1
2 spagehetti 2
3 spageti 1
4 spagette 1
5 spagetti 21
6 spagettie 3
7 spaggetti 4
8 spaggitti 1
9 spaghate 1
10 spagheti 3
11 spattight 1
12 spegetti 9
13 spegettie 2
14 speggehti 1
15 speggetti 1
16 speggittie 1
17 speghetti 5
18 spegitti 1
19 spegtti 1
20 sphgatti 1
21 spigetti 1
22 spugetty 2
  back to word list  
      
  SPINY  
  Total correct spellings: 49
  Total mistokens: 51
  Total mistypes: 6
1 spiney 27
2 spinie 3
3 spining 4
4 spinney 5
5 spinning 1
6 spinny 11
  back to word list  
      
  THOROUGH  
  Total correct spellings: 39
  Total mistokens: 61
  Total mistypes: 24
1 thero 2
2 therough 2
3 tho 1
4 thogh 1
5 thorou 1
6 though 1
7 thoural 1
8 thourgh 2
9 thourgho 1
10 thourogh 5
11 thourough 10
12 thourow 2
13 throrough 1
14 throu 1
15 through 13
16 throughal 1
17 throughero 1
18 throughow 1
19 throught 1
20 thuro 2
21 thuroght 1
22 thuroue 1
23 thurough 9
24 turough 1
  back to word list  
      
  TREK  
  Total correct spellings: 79
  Total mistokens: 21
  Total mistypes: 4
1 track 5
2 trec 1
3 treck 14
4 truek 1
  back to word list  
      
  UNIQUE  
  Total correct spellings: 87
  Total mistokens: 13
  Total mistypes: 11
1 eunique 2
2 u 1
3 uneack 1
4 uneck 1
5 uneque 1
6 unicke 1
7 unicuqe 1
8 unik 1
9 uniqe 1
10 uniquie 1
11 unquie 2
  back to word list  
      
  VACUUM  
  Total correct spellings: 30
  Total mistokens: 70
  Total mistypes: 11
1 vaccoom 1
2 vaccum 18
3 vaccume 19
4 vaccumme 1
5 vaccumn 1
6 vaccuum 2
7 vacoom 1
8 vacum 8
9 vacume 18
10 vacumn 1
11 vacumum 1
  back to word list  
      
  WASTEFUL  
  Total correct spellings: 72
  Total mistokens: 28
  Total mistypes: 6
1 waisteful 2
2 waistful 6
3 waistfull 1
4 wastefull 10
5 wastful 8
6 wastfull 2

  

Some Miscellaneous Observations on Misspellings and Difficulty

1. The empirical ideal would be to give the entire English lexicon to the entire group of English-literates, tallying their various misspellings. This would give (a la the Iowa Spelling Scale) an empirical index of difficulty: The higher percentage of people who missed a word, the harder the word would be to spell.

2. However, there is the question of the nearness of the miss. Some spellings are just barely wrong; some are massively wrong. One could argue that words that generated massively wrong misspellings are in some sense more difficult than words that generate several near misses. This, of course, gets us into the question of how we measure the nearness of the miss. Empirically, if informed readers find it difficult to figure out what the word was supposed to be by looking at the misspelling, we could argue that that misspelling is a further miss than one in which they could tell immediately what the intended spelling was. Thus *suffitiently is a very near miss of sufficiently. *Undaughtably (for undoubtedly) could be seen as a further miss. On the other hand, *sufishuntly seems somehow a further miss than does *suffitiently, even though, being relentlessly phonetic, it is fairly easy to identify. Some words seem to generate a lot of far misses, way out, unintegrated misspellings.

3. Another dimension in all of this is something we can call spread, which refers to the number of misspelling types a word will accumulate, with or without many tokens of each type. Some words accumulate very few misspelling types but a lot of tokens of those few types. Thus reversible comes out *reversable or *reverseable about two and a half times as often as the correct reversible, with very few other misspelling types. Reversible, then, is a word with a narrow spread of misspellings. Other words have immense spreads, generating many different misspelling types, sometimes with very few tokens per type.

Further, we can talk about not just narrow vs. wide spread, but also about quick vs. slow spread. A word with a quick spread will accumulate many different misspelling types in sometimes surprisingly few total misspelling tokens. The "Casebook of Misspellings" contains words with quite wide, quick spreads — conscientious, for instance.

The type/token ratio seems important here, too. Notice amplifier's 25/52 (48%), spaghetti's 22/64 (34%), and unique's 11/13 (85%!). This suggests another dimension that might be called thin vs. thick spread. The spread gets thinner as the type/token ratio goes down; it gets thicker as the ratio goes up. A thin spread has very few tokens in each type on average; a thick spread averages many tokens per type.

4. All of the foregoing have been essentially empirical, inductive observations — or at least observations based on data arrived at empirically and inductively. You could get at the questions of nearness of miss and of orthographic difficulty in a more deductive way, a way that is more system-centered than use-centered. Thus, given a catalog of procedural and tactical rules, you could analyze a misspelling in terms of the number of such rules to which it does violence. Thus, we could say that *suffitiently is a very near miss indeed. Sufficiently is orthographically a complex, though tidy, word:

‹su/b + f + fic/e + ient› + ly›

It contains the ‹suf- assimilation of the prefix ‹sub-, plus the terminative bound base +fice, plus an instance of silent final <e> deletion, plus the selection of the -ient› expansion of -ent› consistent with the palatalization rule for the [sh] = <c> correspondence, plus the suffix -ly›, affixed via simple addition. Again, complex, but tidy — or regular and ruly.

The misspelling *suffitiently gets all of this complexity right — except that it includes (apparently) the terminative bound base +fit, as in profit. And +fit is cognate with +fice, both deriving from Latin facere. The misspelling *suffitiently thus has all of the rules and patterns correct, and three of the four elements properly selected. It simply contains a cousin of the correct base — or another way of putting it would be to say that the speller missed the helpful connection between sufficiently and its prime suffice, in which the spelling <fit> would be clearly inappropriate.

Because of its fundamental correctness in terms of elements, procedures, and rules *suffitiently also gets the sound-to-spelling correspondences correct, too. In fact, it does better here than in the selection of elements, rules, and procedures, because although <fit> is an inappropriate spelling for the base of a word that derives from suffice, <t> is a perfectly acceptable spelling of [sh] in this palatalized setting. Indeed, [sh] = <t> more times than [sh] = <c>. In fact, according to Hanna et al's Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences as Cues to Spelling Improvement (pp.1028-29), [sh] is spelled <t> more often than it is spelled any other single way. On the basis of this systematic analysis, then, we can say that *suffitiently is a near miss indeed, regardless of what we may or may not know about the ease with which informed readers recognize it as an attempt at sufficiently.

5. The foregoing analysis suggests another set of dimensions for discussing misspellings and orthographic difficulty, all of which are bound up with American English Spelling's distinction between well- and ill-formedness (pp. 26-27). Well-formedness involves concurrence with the following types of ruliness: Procedural ruliness, as in getting right the assimilation in the prefix, final <e> deletion, and the simple additions of the two suffixes. Selective ruliness, as in selecting the correct elements, except for the cognate form +fit in place of +fice. Sound-to-spelling ruliness, as in getting the sound-to-spelling correspondences right, or at least always plausible. And there must be tactical ruliness involved here, too. Tactical ruliness follows as a concomitant to all of the ruliness described so far. No violence is done to any of the known graphotactical rules or patterns.

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