Spelling confessions: The super-frustrating words we still mess up

Even language lovers struggle with spelling sometimes

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Tomorrow are the semi-final and final rounds of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Talented orthographers aged 8 to 14 will be tasked with spelling difficult words such as last year's winner, guetapens, or the winner from 2012, cymotrichous.

However, many of us still have difficulty spelling even the simplest of words. We asked our followers on Twitter and fellow Reverbers what kinds of words still trip them up.

Double consonants were a common culprit. Words such as accommodate, disappointed, embarrassed, occurrence, unnecessary, immediately, and of course misspell, sent many folks to Google and dictionaries (such as [cough] Wordnik [cough]). Mischievous received a couple of votes with that pesky alternate pronunciation that adds an extra i in the penultimate syllable.

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French-derived words, often with silent vowels, were the bane of many an existence, including bourgeois and bourgeoisie, bureau, bureaucracy, and bureaucrat, guarantee, nausea and nauseous, restaurant and restaurateur. "'Restaurant' I'm fine with," said Drew Mackie, "but 'restaurateur' I bungle. Dumb, vanishing 'n.'" We agree.

For others, silent consonants were the tricksters in words like Buddhist, lasagna, rhythm, silhouette, and surprise. "Is there an r or isn't there?!!!!!!!" asked @miarose. There is, as Jim Nabors knows.

Sometimes it's our fingers that do the misspellings. One Reverb developer noted that he often spells password as passwd "because of too much time with Apache," while another used to constantly misspell myself as mysql. One New England native confessed that he often writes main as maine, while another Reverber's fingers type reasearch when she very well knows it's research.

Other words are simply too much alike. Who hasn't spelled weather as wheather ("a bad spell of weather," as a Reverber put it), or whether as wether? As David Habib noted, "'Wether' is a word and always passes spellcheck."

For still others, the variant is more well-known. Several of us were astounded to learn that the correct spelling of supercede is actually supersede, and one Reverber relayed how he lost a spelling bee by spelling doughnut as donut, which we all agreed was wholly unfair.

And damn all those alike-sounding vowels! Is it anomalous or anamolous, anomaly or anamoly, anonymity or anonimity? How about definitely or definately, privilege or privelege, separate or seperate? (The first word is right for all those by the way.)

We've just about given up on learning how to spell these words correctly, and will leave the art of orthography to the experts.

Happy (mis)spelling!

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Angela Tung's essays on language and culture have appeared at Mental Floss, Quartz, Salon, The Week, The Weeklings, and Wordnik. Her personal essays have appeared at The Frisky, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere.