Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Spellings you can throw out

Language is changing. It's its thing.

My favourite example is the word ‘tart’ which used to mean sweetheart... it doesn’t anymore in any shape or form, so don’t use it that way and think you’re being an endearing hipster! Another relatable example is the use of ‘queer’ in the first Harry Potter book – it’s not so politically correct now, although was perfectly acceptable when it was originally published in 1997. And lastly, it’s a good thing that Enid Blyton’s characters have been renamed. If you’ve read The Magic Faraway Tree series, which I fondly remember reading with my nan, you’ll know why. Kids with those names would get rather bullied in this day and age...

We as writers may not like the changes, but sometimes it’s better to adapt and avoid premature aging of your novel. Here are some current words to keep in mind:


Smelt, spilt, spelt – This issue cropped up in a manuscript I’m currently editing. The word in question was ‘smelt’ as the past tense of ‘to smell’. I advised them to change it to ‘smelled’ to preserve the youth of the book. In this case, ‘smelt’ has a second meaning which is more attributed to the spelling. The use of ‘t’ instead of ‘ed’ on some verbs is slowly evolving so that English becomes more standardised.

Sulphur – Sulfur: I attended a lecture by Nature Chemistry’s Editor who pointed out their recent editorial on why you should ‘f’ it, and how there is no etymological reason or hidden benefit behind ‘ph’. You can read the article for free here. It’s just a matter of time before Sulphur is no more.

Whom – This is a tricky one, but ‘whom’ is apparently unfashionable. I read an article which suggested to use ‘who’ if ever in doubt because few care about the distinction. This seems a bit messy to me as I like to know my stuff. It’s one to watch, and many individuals (especially those strong-willed tykes who managed to wrap their brains around the distinction) still regard it as a grave mistake to miss out on that ‘m’ action.


At the moment, these changes aren’t enforced by the grammar police. Just be aware that in a few years you may get a warning for sticking by these words. As always, I’d love to hear your views. Any words you think might disappear in 20 years time? Are you going to stick by ‘whom’ and other older words or do you believe writers should adapt? Post below!