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Me thinks 1

I was struck by the very great difference in the standard of the two letters (Letters, 14 August) you published last week in response to my article on variant spelling ("Just spell it like it is", 7 August).

William Gibson, of Oxford Brookes University, employs a form of argument known in philosophy as a reductio ad absurdum in which a proposition is disproved by showing that logically it leads to absurd conclusions.

But nothing in what I said in my article implied that my argument could logically be extended to mathematics or history, and no reasonable person could infer that it did. So is this then what passes for scholarship at Oxford Brookes?

But congratulations and very well done indeed to Keith Haines of Belfast for spotting that my name is a near anagram of the word "mistaken"; absolutely brilliant, I thought.

What is it about spelling that seems to bring out the best and the worst in people? I would have thought that mine was a remarkably modest proposal. I am not advocating that the poor of Ireland should have more babies so that the rich have something to eat.

All I am saying is that since we already have in the English language some widely accepted variant spellings we might well allow a few more, especially where this reflects current usage.

Written communication, and indeed civilisation as we know it, has not come to an end despite the existence of the variant spellings we already allow, and we have no reason to suppose that it would if we allowed a few more.

In case you did not work it out for yourselves, and I know Haines was way ahead of me, "Me thinks" is also an anagram of my name.

Ken Smith, Bucks New University.

Readers' comments (2)

  • It's "I think", not "me thinks" ("me thinks" cannot stand alone as a declaration in its own right).

    Since we're all in the business of education, surely we should all recognize the importance of correct spelling where the spelling gives some clues to the meaning and derivation of the word?

    If only Ken Smith would recognize the difference between variant spellings which logically stem from the same point of origin, and spelling errors, which arise out of ignorance or misconceptions on the part of students.

    When MY criminal psychology students write "effect" instead of "affect" because they don't know the difference, should I accept the error because it's a common one, or should I educate them to know the difference? Am I excepted from teaching them proper English because I am a criminology tutor, or am I obliged to correct them because it is my professional duty as an educator?

    Students of mine have written "of their own violation" because they have never used the word "volition" before. Am I letting them down if I don't attempt to expand their vocabulary? She knows what she means, and I know what she means. Is that good enough, or should I teach her the correct word, when she's actually using the wrong one?

    What about the student who wrote a very good essay about the ethical dimensions of "electoral-convulsive therapy"? She was grateful to have the error pointed out to her, and it made her laugh like a drain. It is a very short step from poor spelling and inadequate proof-reading to loss of meaning and poor intelligibility. By encouraging your students to think that any old crap will do, you are doing them no favours. You'll end up either marking them down for poorly executed work or else giving them high grades they don't deserve, either of which will undermine the benefits to them of their learning experience.

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  • 'me thinks' is slang, thus does not fall under any spelling rules, me thinks..

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