By Sarah-Ann Binning

Queue Cue spotlight, front and center. The white light blinds my eyes as I step to the microphone. Beads of sweat form at my brow, threatening to drip down my face and stain the collar of my freshly pressed blouse.

I find my place in front of the mic and the pronouncer calls out my word. “Ms. Binning, your word is liaison.”

“Liaison?” I say it slowly to buy myself the extra millisecond to think. “May I have the definition please?”

The pronouncer reads the definition. Not that it helps me figure out how to spell liaison. I scribble a guess on the back of my name tag. Looks good to me.  I begin to stammer out the letters “L-I-A-I-Z-O-N.”

A moment of complete silence before the pronouncer utters those dreaded words, “I’m sorry but that is incorrect.”

The auditorium fills with laughter. I drop to my knees, arms stretched to the heavens, “NOOO!” I scream. I bolt upright and awake from the dream, still covered in the sweat from the spotlight on my spelling failure.

Spelling Bees were my biggest nightmare as a child. I was (and still am) a horrible speller.  I worked hard for my grades in school. But when someone found out how atrocious my spelling was, I could feel him or her instantly judging me … thinking less than me.

My inability to spell is a problem. I was the student who raised her hand before a fill-in-the-blank exam to ask, “Does spelling count?”  But I had to face my fears, and face the problem head-on, and nip it in the butt before it could nip me. My experience throughout my undergrad studies taught me, YES, spelling always counts.

To hammer home my point that spelling correctly IS important, I’ve dedicated all of this week’s blogs to Spelling! Look forward to tips and tools for improving your own spelling skills, as well preview information about the upcoming 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee (held in Washington DC).

To kick off Spelling Week, let’s discuss commonly misspelled English words.

Does anyone else find it humorous that “misspell” and “definitely” are among the list of 100 most misspelled words?  Seems to me that misspell is just destined to be spelled incorrectly. It’s that darned double “s” that trips people up. Is there anything more embarrassing than misspelling the word misspell?

Below I’ve selected a few more commonly misspelled words and I’ll give my two cents for remembering how to spell them.

Accommodate: The word is long because you need to accommodate the double ”c” and double “m.”

Changeable: Just remember that you are ABLE to CHANGE. Or … that your mom is asking you to CHANGE ABLE’s diaper.

Grateful: Those tricksters! This word gave me so much trouble. I kept thinking grateful is a happy word, so shouldn’t it be great. WRONG. Grateful is NOT GREAT.

License: I rarely used this word until I was hired as student coordinator at Jefferson. I had to help students complete their payroll paperwork and I could never remember how to spell license. I knew there are an “s” and a “c” but I couldn’t remember which came first. Then I realized, they’re alphabetical. “C “comes before “S” in the alphabet.  liCenSe

I am a musical and linguistic learner. For me personally, the best way to learn how to spell is through a cute little riddle, poem or a sing-song. The perfect example of this is the “Difficulty” poem Miss Honey teaches her class in the 1996 movie “Matilda.”

The scene unfolds like this:

Miss Trunchbull: [pointing at Amanda] Can you spell?
Amanda: Miss Honey taught us how to spell a long word yesterday. We can spell “difficulty”.
You couldn’t spell “difficulty” if your life depended on it.
Amanda: She taught us with a poem.
Miss Trunchbull: [mimicking Amanda with a high-pitched tone] A poem? How sweet. What poem would that be?
Amanda: Mrs. D, Mrs. I…
[students join in]
Amanda: [chanting with the rest of the class] Mrs. F-F-I. Mrs. C, Mrs. U., Mrs. L-T-Y!
Miss Trunchbull: [strikes a desktop with her riding crop and all the children instantly face forward] WHY ARE ALL THESE WOMEN MARRIED?
Miss Trunchbull: Mrs. D? Mrs. I? You’re supposed to be teaching SPELLING! Not poetry!

I love that movie … and the book too. My sister and I still chant the poem (and various other memorable quotes from “Matilda”).

What about you? Do you have a favorite poem or song that helped you learn how to spell a word? Post a comment or send me a tweet (ispygrammar) and I’ll post or discuss them later this week.

For more information on commonly misspelled English words I suggest looking here and here.