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Commonly Misspelled Words in Patriotic English

February 9, 2021

“The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” – U.S. Constitution

In the closing sentence of Section 2 to the Constitution of the United States of America, lies one of the today’s most commonly searched for misspellings. However, purists must recognize that the word “chuse” was an acceptable alternative to “choose” during the 18th century in America. In fact, the word “chusing” was preferred by our forefathers over the modern-day spelling of “choosing”. The spelling as chuse inexplicably died out during the 19th century leaving us with only one choice today. Another less obvious mistake, but one we are all guilty of making, was the use of the word “it’s” (for it is) in Article 1, Section 10 in a sentence that needed the possessive determiner "its" rather than a contraction.

Influence of a Melting Pot of Native Tongues

An orthographer or orthographist (your choice) is a linguist who studies every aspect of how a word is correctly spelled according to its usage. In proof reading many of our nation’s most patriotic documents, objects, and locations, it is essential that you consider the timeline for which the word was used as well as the ancestry of the original author(s). Moreover, the American spelling of words during the American Revolution was inconsistent and many words borrowed spellings from British English, such as “defence”, “controul”, and “labour” instead of “defense”, “control”, and “labor”. Other examples of our European heritage can be seen in the use of words like “insure” rather than “ensure” to mean remove doubt and “encreased” instead of “increased” as being greater in amount, intensity, or degree.

Most linguists give the delegates that gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention a lot of slack when it comes to misspellings, grammatical infringements, and punctuation errors. After all, the original framers of the Constitution had 116 days to revise America’s founding document, the Articles of Confederation, which gave the Confederation Congress its initial power. Rushed by the limited timeframe, our forefathers worked deligently to legitimize our nation as having a documented form of government. And... excepting a single use of the British-inspired spelling of “defence” in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, the remaining Bill of Rights was published error free. Often incorrectly pointed out by visitors to Philadelphia as a gross misspelling of “Pensylvania” (using a single N), this was also an accepted spelling at that time and appeared as such on the Liberty Bell as well as in our Constitution.

Even the Word Spelled Can Be Spelt Two Ways

This is true; the past tense of the verb “spell” can be spelled (or spelt) in two ways. In today’s American English the past tense of "spell" is “spelled”. But, in other varieties of English, both “spelled” and “spelt” are commonly used. Inconsistencies are so common in American English you can likely build a reasonable argument for any current spelling as well as one for more defunct spellings based on the era or origin of the document. Although the Anti-Federalists fought hard against the ratification of the Constitution, none of their objections centered around the purported miscapitalization of words that are neither proper nouns nor the first word of a sentence. This can be witnessed throughout the Constitution in statements like “…the United States shall be a Party to Controversies between two or more States and Citizens of the same…”. To avoid oversight in the assignment of liabilities and disclaimers, however, legal documents have long been written with words in all-caps or capitalized first letter of words to be highlighted due to their importance to the reader.

It is easy to see how words used in American English have evolved from the British, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, and French scribes over the past thousand years. As history continued to bring change, it was also responsible for many strange ways of spelling words. For example, the invention of the printing press had a major impact on many languages as native printers would change how they spelt words to suit their own needs. The more literate people became, the more common books were, and the less spelling changed from one generation to the next. Nowadays, most changes in the acceptance of how a word is spelled involves accommodating a common misspelling that has become so widely used that the misspelt word is simply accepted. Still, there will always be confusing oddities in American English, such as homophones, homographs, homonyms, and spelling inconsistencies. Nonetheless, being comfortable with spelling variants can lead to more confidence in all aspects of your literacy and the lost art of correctly assembling words from letters is still one of the key components for successful writing. 

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