Sorry? Can you spell that, please?

If it hadn't been for my son, I would never last week have come across a word that it is impossible to spell.

Impossible to spell satisfactorily, that is.

Can you think of a word that cannot be spelt satisfactorily? Apart from Popocatepetl? And "millennium"? And all those other words which always look wrong no matter how you spell them? Like "ipecacuanha"? Seems unlikely, doesn't it?

I had never come across a word which I could not think of a spelling for. Before my son put me on the track.

Well, I already know of one word that is impossible to write down in an acceptable way, but it is an abbreviation, so not really a whole word.

It is the shortened form of "casual".

"Casual" is not quite the simple word it seems to be. For a start, as you must know, it has at least two functions. One is as a misprint for "causal". Whenever a sub-editor sees the word "causal", he changes it automatically to "casual", just as the word "Bermudian" tends to be changed (wrongly) to "Bermudan" and the word "discrete" tends to be altered to "discreet". Mark you, I shouldn't be risking annoying my sub-editors so early in a piece, and if you find any puzzling things later on in this column, you will know that it is merely a case of a sub-editor taking his revenge.

But "casual" can also refer to sex and violence and clothes, and in the context of clothes ("casual jacket", "casual wear") it is sometimes shortened in a joky sort of way to a word that sounds a bit like "cadge" or perhaps "cash", but is actually if anything "cazh". See what I mean?

There is no generally accepted way of writing that sound down, so that word is never written down.

Right. We now come to last week when my son took me to the cinema. He is nine years old and he wanted to see Mars Attacks. Mars Attacks is a new joky science fiction film by Tim Burton, which also happens to be a "12" certificate. I explained to my nine-year-old that nine-year-olds cannot attend "12" films, and that there is a very good set of reasons behind the grading of films. He agreed but still demanded to be taken, so I took him. Despite one awkward moment (when he whispered out loud at the cinema cash till: "Don't forget to pretend I'm 12, Dad!"), we got in without trouble and left without being depraved. It was a very funny and imaginative film and I am glad I saw it rather than Independence Day.

Right. We now come to a day or two later when there was an interview with film-maker Tim Burton on BBC radio, which I listened to with interest as a new convert to Burton's films, and somewhere during the interview, the questioner asked Tim Burton if it was true, as he had heard, that Burton sometimes did without a script and storyboard and got his actors to improvise on screen. "Sure," said Burton. "Many of my performers have an improv comedy background, and quite a few of the scenes in some films are not written down - they are actually improv'd."

This shook me. I am used to "impro" or "improv" being used as an abbreviation for improvisation, in a theatre or comedy context, but I have never heard either of them being used as a verb before. What's the point? There is a perfectly good verb "improvise" already, so why say that an actor can "improv" a scene? Even in jazz, where people improvise the whole time, they tend not to use the word - the commonest word in jazz parlance for "improvise" is not "improvise" but "busk". I have never heard the word "improv" or "impro" used by a jazz artist.

But there is Tim Burton saying that some of his scenes are improv'd, and I say this. The reason you should not use the word is that you cannot write it down. You could write that "some of the scenes are improved", but you should not, because that means something else, namely, that some of the scenes are made better. And to improv is not necessarily to improve.

So how do you write the past tense of this peculiar new verb to "improv"? Do you inaccurately write "improv'd", as I have tried? Do you write "improvved"? Do you ban the use of the word "improv" as a verb at all, just to avoid problems like that?

Or do you just say: "firhsgqo bdnsk kkkwo hgingo oooow doftoonn5e8f8gjjsl------^*d- <</p>

Sorry. Sub-editors at workn

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Y1 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Y1 Teacher required for a So...

Senior Financial Services Associate - City

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - FINANCIAL SERVICES - Senior...

Residential Property

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Residential Conveyancer - Wiltshire We have a...

Y5 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Long term position for a KS2...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week