Resurrecting the art of spelling

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“No, that’s not it,” my fourth grade Sunday school teacher said. Squinting at the chalkboard, he continued confidently, “There’s gotta be an ‘i’ in there.”

According to Mr. Anthony, the letter ‘i’ definitely exists between “s” and “m” in the word “baptism.” He regards my carefully scrawled word with little more deliberation, then assumes its wrongness altogether. My word is dismissed, and the next student is called to the board to spell a choice assortment of Catholic terminology. Thus, my prospects at claiming first place during the class’s impromptu spelling bee are hopelessly dashed.

While my initial shock and horror resided with the ignorance of my once-respected Sunday school teacher, Mr. Anthony, the feelings of resentment that I carry to this day lie with my classmates who did not contest his judgement. Like Mr. Anthony, my classmates were dismissive of the proper spelling of “baptism,” either because they were truly ignorant or simply apathetic.

For young students, learning the spelling of simple words is prioritized because it ensures a strong foundation for the preparation of future learning. But as subjects grow more complicated, the triviality of proper spelling is often pushed aside to prioritize the understanding of concepts or the formation of new ideas. Students rarely cringe at a professor’s missing “e,” and a peer’s misspelling of random jargon is regarded as a common and understandable mistake. As long as the meaning of the word is preserved, the careful ordering of its letters can be overlooked.

Putting aside past traumas, I believe that to keep the precise and intentional sequence of a word’s letters in place is to find order in chaos, to recognize beauty in simplicity, to preserve sacredness in the ordinary. Aside from words with obvious playful or geographical variations, there is usually only one spelling of a word that can universally be regarded as correct. To commit this basic sequence to memory not only reinforces the fundamentals of language and communication but also celebrates, appreciates and respects a word’s culture, history and origins — all the while rightfully bestowing the victory of a young girl at her impromptu Sunday school spelling bee.

Contact Sydney Judilla at [email protected].