Today it gives me great pleasure to host this poem by writer and adult literacy expert  Hugo Kerr. Hugo has published several books on the subject and is a wonderful exponent of just write it – it’ll be right!

He says on his website I love to debate with like-minds of like-enthusiasms. It has been my experience that great fruitfulness often results. Sometimes heat is generated, but so is light. If you want to discuss literacy with me you are very welcome to write to me via hkerr@aol.com
Over to you, Hugo…


Some people find it hard to spell
While others do it very well.
The latter can be very quick
To criticise; they get a kick
From knowing how to spell a word
Of which most people haven’t heard.

They like to think this proves they’re clever,
Although they practically never
Stop to think if this is true
Or not. I recommend that you
And I should give some thought
To what it means to spell; we ought
To look at history – this will tell
That William Shakespeare couldn’t spell
For peanuts, and his royal queen
(H.R.H. Liz one, I mean)
Was twice as bad. One can tell at a
Glance, though, that it didn’t matter!

Dr Johnson hadn’t yet
Thrown his stiff, pedantic net
Over the language; he had not
Invented standard spelling – what
You wrote was what you thought looked best;
You simply wrote and left the rest.

You left the reading to the reader
Who, at this time, didn’t need a
Massive dictionary. (Which was
As well, you understand, because
There wasn’t one as yet.) You see
A writer, way back then, was free
To spell exactly how he liked.
His writing had not yet been spiked
By the debilitating fear
That folk might giggle, sniff or sneer
At what he’d written – for no better
Reason than they thought his letter
Patterns were a little odd
Compared to those laid down by God
(Or was it Dr Johnson) for
A standard spelling, evermore.
A “spellist” age we live in now,
Where you are often judged by how
You spell liaise or guarantee,
People or Arachnidae.

It’s very easy to admit
You have more than a little bit
Of problem with your maths, and yet
There is no way that you would let
The knowledge that your spelling’s bad
Get out at any price.

It’s sad
To say this, but we know
That spelling well just doesn’t show
Intelligence, for any fool
Can learn to spell in infant school –
Given the chance

For reasons why
Some don’t achieve this we should try
Examining the wider picture,
Which would make our theory richer.

As well as this, though, we should learn
How negative it is to spurn
A person (just as though he smells)
Simply because of how he spells.

Spelling is spelling, nothing more.
It isn’t “authorship” and nor
Does it equate to writing; it
Isn’t wisdom, truth or wit.

It is an unimportant skill,
A simple, boring memory drill;
Nothing to do, as you can see,
With art, or creativity.

Writing that’s beautiful, or true,
Has its influence on you
Not, for heaven’s sake, because
Of how the bloody spelling was!


One thought on “SPELLISM

  1. I really loved this poem for making me step back a bit and realise that I’m a bit of a spelly freak. I hadn’t really thought about it before, even tho I’ve worked with a lot of dyslexic people in my life. I’ve always given them leeway for their disability and taught them tricks on ways to remember how to deal with some of the trickier words. Of course when we listen then there is no spelling only context. I’m an avid listener – especially radio 4 – but then there’s the whole other problem of pronunciation.


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