Michael Williams: Readers' editor

Our medieval spelling is no larfing matter


The Independent titles don't exist, I was told last week. "Yes, really," an official from one of Britain's leading lobby groups informed me. "We've been sending emails to you and they just keep bouncing back." I don't need to repeat the famous words of Mark Twain to reassure you that we are very much alive and well! Sadly, it turns out that my correspondent is suffering from an affliction increasingly rife in the UK – the inability to spell some of the most common words in the language. Such as "independent".

Around half of British adults, according to a new survey, are unable to spell everyday words such as "embarrassed", "liaison" or "millennium". More than a quarter of us struggle with "definitely", "accidentally" and "separate". In the survey, 1,000 adults were asked to spell 10 common words – and every one was wrongly spelt by someone, including such a simple word as "friend". No doubt it would have been easier if our founders had chosen one of the other titles that were considered for the newspaper, such as "The Examiner" or "The Chronicle". As it is, we may have to live with increasing numbers of people who seem to believe "independent" is spelt with an "a".

Or do we? Last week I came across a man with a plan. John Gledhill, secretary of The Spelling Society, wants to reform the English spelling system so that words are written as they are pronounced. At the society's conference at Coventry University next weekend, speakers will argue that £18m is "wasted" annually teaching 15th-century spellings to 21st-century schoolchildren. This is based on a calculation that teaching spelling in primary schools costs £556 per teacher per year, based on the average salary of a primary-school teacher and the typical time spent teaching spelling.

"The Spanish and Italians, who write as they speak, are laughing at us," claims Dr Gledhill, who was behind the commissioning of the spelling survey. So what about "independent"? Is it "-ant" or "-ent"? "Etymologically," he tells me, "both are identical. It's just that different versions have sprung up over the centuries. You can have one or the other – not both."

Fair enough. But under Dr Gledhill's rules we'd surely end up with the "wrong" one. Which would be unlikely to please all you sticklers out there, who are never backward in pointing out the error of our ways. Here is reader David Stansfield, who writes from Limehouse, East London, to complain about our item last week on the illness of Senator Edward Kennedy: "According to United Nations statistics, the average life expectancy of an American man is 75.6 years. As Senator Kennedy was born in 1932, even if he died now, his life will have been of average length. How can this be consistent with your headline 'The Kennedy Curse Strikes Again'? Even the Kennedys have to die." Quite so, Mr Stansfield.

Message Board: Has cost made you cut down on going by car?

As the price of petrol goes through the roof, readers swapped tips on getting from A to B without driving:

Franky T

It takes me 20 minutes to drive 12 miles to work. Taking the bus will mean a four-fold increase in my journey. Even buses run on oil and fares will inevitably rocket at some point. Time to dust down the bike.


I have cut my car journeys – I shop locally, I work from home and I live close enough to my children's schools that we can walk to school. We've all spread out too much; we need to suck ourselves in a bit.


Stopped using a car many years ago. Have had a much better quality of life, much healthier and little stress. I think all of us will be far better off and healthier when car use is reduced.

Phil Quinton

I have been panicking about oil prices but I think a greater good will come of the pain. The world is never going to voluntarily go green in time to prevent total catastrophe. I look forward to the new technology.


I've made some lolly and have bought a Land Rover, which is useful for my business (farming and forestry) and is NOT an SUV, even though it looks like one – and guess what? I share it.


It will amaze generations to come that town-dwellers were regularly conveyed short distances in mechanised carriages, polluting the air while making themselves morbidly obese. Car pools are the answer.


The electrically assisted bike is worth a look for the aged with bad knees and too many hills! Unfortunately the quality is still uneven, and the latest batteries are very expensive.


I have always cycled and it is the best way to get around town. But for trips in the country, public transport has to be more extensive and affordable so that rural dwellers are not trapped in car use.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Members of the media listen to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on the Scottish referendum  

Forget devolution, the only thing that matters in Westminster is the next General Election

Steve Richards
Labour leader Ed Miliband with Liverpool City Council leader Joe Anderson, raising a Saltire on Liverpool waterfront on Tuesday  

Scottish referendum: How did Labour manage to end up on the losing side?

Andrew Grice
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