I never give congratulations in restaurants...
March 20, 2007 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Spelling filter: Why do I ALWAYS struggle with the same few particular words?

I realize the question is *similar* to here, and here, all of which I enjoyed reading, but never found much related to my *specific* question...(bear with me)

I can't spell "restaraunt." I want to put the "u" after the second "a," not the first, and its ALWAYS been this way. As much as I concentrate on this word, I can't get it right, every time I want to type it I have to pause and think really hard (basically think through most of what I've typed up to this point), and only then can I get it right.

There are a few other words I consistently mis-spell. In particular: congratulations (default: congradulations - replacing the "t" with a "d"), also refrigerator (default: refridgerator - inserting an unnecessary "d"). These are the primary words I can't get, although there may be a couple others. Its only a few, though, and generally a similar problem as above - I get all/most of the right letters in the word, but not in the right places, and usually its just one letter that's transposed to the wrong place. I have almost zero trouble with the "i" before "e" rule, it generally seems random as to whether it happens with consonants or vowels.

I write a lot, consider myself pretty damn good with spelling and grammar over all (I haven't had to go back and correct one word yet in this question, for instance), but I still can't spell restaurant. There, that time I concentrated as I wrote it.

So, finally, my questions:

A) Is there a term for this? I don't think I have any kind of dyslexia or anything like that, but who knows - maybe a mild form?

B) Does this happen to anyone else? If so, with what words?

C) Is there any hope for ever being able to type restaurant or congratulations without thinking about it, like I do for 99% of the other words that are germane to my daily vocabulary?
posted by allkindsoftime to Writing & Language (43 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ironically enough, my word like that is "similar." I always want it to be "similiar." (Ironic because you use the word in the first sentence of your 'more inside.')
posted by TonyRobots at 5:37 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: I think everyone has words that are consistently problematic. I know of two ways around it: either learn the component parts and roots/etymplogy of your problem words (example) or make up your own fast mnemonic device for each one, which will, in time, become natural.

Restaurant: At Denny's you either rest-a-u-rant (rest or you rant).
Refrigerator: The friggin' refrigerator is on the fritz.
Congratulatons: Congrats, buddy!
posted by littlegreenlights at 5:49 PM on March 20, 2007

I think everybody has a few words that always trip them up. I always have to think about accommodation - why should it have double 'c' AND double 'm'? That's just greedy. And when I type the name Dustin I often have to backspace because I've added a 'g' at the end. This must be a case of "finger memory" - so many words end in -ing.

English has a particular spelling system that results in people reading and thinking in terms of whole words rather than combinations of letters (unlike, say, Spanish). Because of this, once you've learnt to spell a word one way, it's very hard to change that. Unless you get into the habit of typing a word correctly right form the start, the best you can hope for is that "double-take" every time you type it.

Is there a term for this? I don't know of one, and would be interested to hear if anyone does.
posted by nomis at 5:51 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: I always had trouble with "restaurant". What happened to me, and to you, is that we learned it wrong, and have to unlearn the wrong spelling and relearn the right noe. What I did for that word was to memorize a bizarre pronunciation of it, "ress-tah-oo-rant" (with the final "rant" rhyming with "man") and whenever I wanted to write the word I'd harken back to that pronunciation as a mnemonic for how it should be spelled.

When I left college I, like so many others, was in the habit of spelling separate wrong. It took a year of constant nagging by a coworker, who pointed it out ever time I got it wrong, to finally fix it. Ultimately I did the same thing: "seh-pah-rate".

I had the same problem with "similar" as TonyRoberts. Same deal; you just got to work on unlearning your bad habit, and if it's something you learned as a kid it's damned hard.

For "refrigerator", try memorizing it with a hard "g" (e.g. as in "go") instead of a soft "g" (the "j" sound) as a mnemonic for how it should be spelled. Sure, it'll sound funny, but no one besides you will hear it (you inside your head) and it'll help you remember. For "congratulations", try saying it with "too" instead of "choo" in the middle.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:53 PM on March 20, 2007

Why does it happen? I don't know; I'm a pretty good speller, and have a solid vocab, but I still bluff my way through a few words.

I suspect it's a failure of generalization—either the misapplication of generally good internal rules (explicit and intuitive) to outliers, or the incorrect resolution of conflicting rules to a word that could fit both.


B) I had horrible trouble with "necessary", still bugger "restaurant", "separate", "relevant", and a number of others.

C) I can do necessary without thinking about it these days. I only got there through brute force—I memorized the mnemonic "one c, two s's" and chanted it when in doubt. I no longer have to do this, but will probably never forget about having trouble with the word.

I've got restaurant ("rest OW! rant") down, pretty much, and have recently gotten pretty much on board with separate ("e then a"), but reinforcement of the rote rule is the only reason.
posted by cortex at 5:54 PM on March 20, 2007

The words you cite are hard to spell. All three are words I also have to think a little harder to spell.

Restaurant became easier for me once I learned the Spanish cognate back in high school--restaurante. Since you pronounce each letter in the Spanish word, it's easier to remember where the U goes.

Congratulations is easier if you think of the abbreviation, Congrats. You wouldn't say congrads.

I don't have a trick for refrigerator. I just typed a d and deleted it when I typed it just then.
posted by lampoil at 5:55 PM on March 20, 2007

By the way, after five or ten years of doing that trick with the strange mnemonic pronunciations inside my head, the right spellings became natural and I didn't have to work on them any more. But it did take years.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:55 PM on March 20, 2007

I always had trouble with hemmorhage and quadriplegic. My solution was to always open up a word processor when I was typing, even when I was filling out internet forms like this one, and quickly type the word into the word processer and run spell check. After awhile, I just learned it.

Another thing I did was write the word onto an index card and tape it on the wall near my computer. After staring at it so often and referencing it every time I typed the word, I learned how it looks when it's right.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:58 PM on March 20, 2007

Some words are difficult to spell because they would 'make phonetic sense' written more then one way. Even if someone were to spell it the 'wrong' way, you would still know exactly how to pronounce it, and you may not even notice that they made a mistake.

My problem words?

corporate (corperate)
recommend (reccomend)
irrelevant (irrelivant)
separate (seperate)
posted by Afroblanco at 6:03 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: What I did for that word was to memorize a bizarre pronunciation of it

That was going to be my tip. It was good for a lot of my ESL students, too.

You can also train your spelling memory by writing the word and immediately covering it with your hand. Then look back in a couple seconds and check. If you do this half a dozen times, you will start automatically writing it right, and you are on the right track. (Learned that trick from Korean students - they had a lot of study tricks.) If you relapse, try this trick one or two more times to help it really sink in.
posted by Listener at 6:05 PM on March 20, 2007

I'm a terrible speller, and I think I'm getting worse with age, perhaps because I'm letting myself get worse. I hate that, but I do think it has to do with not learning the correct spellings of problem words in the first place, so long ago, and relying increasingly, for years, first on erratic English spelling "rules," rather than rote memorization, and later, on software spelling checkers.

I do think that spelling properly is a skill worth working to achieve. I thought, too, that I only had a few, perhaps a dozen, "problem" words. But for the last couple of months, I've been keeping a list of words I see myself misspelling consistently, and you know what? Right now, I have 306 words that I've noticed myself misspelling, more than once, in the last 87 days.

Damn. I really can't spell. But if scoping a problem is the first step in fixing it, I'm deep into that first step, at least.
posted by paulsc at 6:14 PM on March 20, 2007

Here's a different mnemonic: "Conn-kenn-suss is wrong. Conn-sen-suss is right." (Amazing how many people spell consensus with 2 c's and 2 s's.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:24 PM on March 20, 2007

Another word I used to have trouble with was "sergeant" because I kept trying to write it "sargent". So... "serr-jee-ant", and then I was set. Likewise "lee-oo-ten-ant" for "lieutenant".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:30 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: The term you might be looking for is Dysgraphic. I was tested for learning disabilities in College and that's what they came up with. Basically your brain may know what you want but your fingers don't obey, whether you're writing with a pen or typing.

I have more words than I can count that give me problems. Mostly I depend on spellcheck and proofreaders. If something does make it through I make a joke out of it, laugh and move on.
posted by lysdexic at 6:37 PM on March 20, 2007

Trying to spell these words makes me feel like I'm 4 years old: tongue, embarrass, judgment, harassment.

I used to spell bizarre as "bizzare" (which just seems more logical in my head), but I spent a long time trying to correct it. I can now spell it with no problem, but it's still relatively conscious. (Wow, "conscious" stumped me for a second, too.)
posted by Hankins at 6:44 PM on March 20, 2007

Understand why they're spelt like that (etymology) and you'll never spell them wrong again.

Or, honestly? Make a list of them and learn them.
posted by unSane at 6:59 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Those specific words are all a bit irregular, or at least odd:
  • Refrigerator is just as often abbreviated fridge, which explains where you got the 'D.'
  • Restaurant comes to us from French, but we English-speakers mangle the pronunciation of our French loan-words so that it doesn't logically match up with the spelling.
  • American Heritage lists kən-grăch'ə-lā'shən as the first pronunciation for congratulations, but everyone I know uses the alternate pronunciation -grăj'-, which sounds like it should should be spelled with a "grad." (For this one, I remember the abbreviated form "congrats" to remind me how to spell the whole word.)
Of course, lots of words in English are just as irregular. But not everyone can hope to remember all of them.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:05 PM on March 20, 2007

I think you rely on phonetic clues when spelling. When I pronounce restaurant, congratulations and refrigerator, they sound exactly like how you spell them, even though that's not how they're actually spelled. It may require you to relearn how you say the words to be able to remember how to spell them properly.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:10 PM on March 20, 2007

"Dysgraphia" was an interesting link, but I think we're looking for a word describing something less than a learning disability. To me, the phenomenon in question is more like the spelling version of blind spot, just like the visiual blind spots in the rearview mirror of your car. You know they are there. They don't go away, but you can change your car or change your driving habits so that they don't screw you up all the time.

I'm haunted by the spelling demon "spreadhseet" which insistently takes the place of "spreadsheet". I blame it on the way I type and the QWERTY keyboard.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:10 PM on March 20, 2007

One word: cheetsheetTwo words: cheetcheat sheet.

From an editor.
posted by YamwotIam at 7:25 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Are you by any chance a strongly aural person? I'm not a professional in this area by any measure, but I am a very hearing-and-visual learner, and even though I'm a very good speller, if I write freely, sometimes I'll write something phonetically without thinking about it. "Restaurant" is a good example, because most people I know pronounce it "rest-uh-ront" or "rest-ront" and "au" fits better with the "o" sound than with the "uh" sound.

And then there's "maybe," which I once wrote as "mabye" to an assistant principal in middle school and has caused me unpredictable but unexpectedly strong anxiety every few times I have to type it. The brain's a funny thing.
posted by socratic at 7:34 PM on March 20, 2007

I do the "think of a really weird pronunciation and then spell it that way" thing that a lot of other people have mentioned. For restaurant I think "res-tau(like the Greek letter)-rant". For separate, I use a mnemonic that I read in a book: a woman sees a rat and says to her husband Sep, "Sep, a rat!!! EEEEE!"
posted by MsMolly at 7:59 PM on March 20, 2007

Yeah, maybe the learning disability angle is a little much, but I figured I had to be the one to bring it up. :)

We could also go with this: It's not anybody's fault!
posted by lysdexic at 8:12 PM on March 20, 2007

For separate, I use a mnemonic that I read in a book: a woman sees a rat and says to her husband Sep, "Sep, a rat!!! EEEEE!"

Oh god. Now I'm going to be stuck with that mnemonic for the rest of my life. The worst thing is, I already knew how to spell "separate."
posted by YamwotIam at 8:26 PM on March 20, 2007

Just when you have restaurant down, restaurateur comes along (without the 'n') and unduly complicates things further!
posted by umbú at 8:50 PM on March 20, 2007

Use some sort of mnemonic to help you remember.

I'm not an expert, but I doubt it's a learning disability, unless there's a long list of words with which you struggle. I have trouble with vacuum and accommodation. (I'm getting better with accommodation, but I just had to look up vacuum and remove a c.) I scored in the 99th percentile of the verbal section of the GMAT, I work as a professional writer/editor and I have an English degree. I honestly think that we sometimes run into blocks with words because we're trying to use another rule we learned along the way. English is far from predictable.
posted by acoutu at 8:57 PM on March 20, 2007

Best answer: When people use the word "definately" in print, I immediately disqualify them in my head as someone I want to talk to. I shouldn't, but there it is. Same with your instead of you're. *shudder*

Meanwhile, I can't for the life of me get "committment" right, and am being disqualified silently day after day. I swear to God there used to be double t's in that word. It took that movie about the Irish band to set me straight. Thought I was so smart when I found their typo.

Can never get diarrhea right. Diharrea. Same for buddha. Bhudda. Wait...

It was senior year in college when a friend told me I had it's and its reversed. I had been wrong (but absolutely consistently!) all that time. Now I have to fumble around like an idiot in my mental fog every time I want to write one.

Words that end in -ion have been ending in -oin for me instad for maybe 5 years now when I type. I think it is due to a mutant right ring finger. Because of its length or the angle it hits the key too soon.

To remember refrigerator, remember frigid, and it might be even easier to remember Frigidaire, which is where the modern abbreviation/nickname really comes from, I once read.

I just spelled abbreviation appreviation, which has never happened before. Thanks a lot, jerkface!
posted by kookoobirdz at 9:00 PM on March 20, 2007

I totally back Steve D. V. Beste. I had trouble with nearly the exact same words, and used nearly the exact same methods for overcoming them.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 PM on March 20, 2007

But, of course, I drunkenly munged his initials.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 PM on March 20, 2007

Is there any hope for ever being able to type restaurant or congratulations without thinking about it, like I do for 99% of the other words that are germane to my daily vocabulary?

Download TypeIt4Me, teach it your misspellings and forget about them forever.
posted by roofus at 2:44 AM on March 21, 2007

Necessary - Never Eat Cress, Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young.

I don't use that anymore, but I did for years until it rendered itself, funnily enough, unnecessary.

I still have trouble with 'definite' and 'separate', among others, but I tend to go with christinetheslp and type them into a Word Processor if unsure.
posted by MrMustard at 2:53 AM on March 21, 2007

Hmm, I have this same problem especially with "restaraunt" which I usually mangale so badly even spellcheck can not figure it out.
Congratulations used to get me at well but working in a bakery for several years straightened that out. I rarely went a day w/o being asked to put 'Congratulations ...' on a cake. If only there were more requests for 'Congratulations on the opening of your restaraunt..'.
posted by evilelf at 6:28 AM on March 21, 2007

Congratulations you can remember because it abbreviates to congrats, not congrads.

Refrigerator you should be able to remember if you can spell frigid (same root).

Dunno if I can help you with restaurant.
posted by dfan at 6:56 AM on March 21, 2007

discrepancy (I actually got it right here, but I think I spell it with another e instead of the a a lot of the time)
during (I want to put a double r in it for some reason)
recommend (i keep doubling the c instead of the m)

I don't have much written evidence to go on, but I'm pretty damn sure I mixed up "effect" and "affect" constantly until a few years ago.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:06 AM on March 21, 2007

I have trouble with Febuary and suprise - and surprise, i was born in February!
posted by pithy comment at 7:08 AM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: I'm astounded at how many words you guys have sourced that I also struggle with:

- accommodation
- relevant
- necessary
- recommend
- embarrass
- commitment
- surprise

(Embarrass was the only one I got right on the first try in that list, where I tried to type them without concentrating).

Although, I've never had problems with separate.

Anyway, thanks for the mnemonic idea, that seems helpful already. More thoughts welcome...
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:59 AM on March 21, 2007

I don't know but I always misspell restaurant ... it just seems so backwards compared to how it's pronounced.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:29 AM on March 21, 2007

I always have trouble with restaurant, and the error I make doesn't even make sense - restuarant. This only happens to me when I'm typing, though.

Thank God Google is smart and knows what I'm really looking for...
posted by nekton at 8:57 AM on March 21, 2007

nth-ing the "weird phonetic mnemonic" suggestion - decades after learning it, thinking "wed-ness-day" is still the only way I can spell Wednesday correctly.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2007

niece? neice? they both look fine to me. but i guess i'll have to go with the first one, since i is before e and it's not after c.

February is fun too! I say feb-rooo-ary, which just sounds dumb.
posted by pyjammy at 10:50 AM on March 21, 2007

Oh, yeah, "Feb-ru-ary."
posted by klangklangston at 11:10 AM on March 21, 2007

In the case of recommend, I had a teacher in high school who would refuse to give college recommendations to students who spelled recommendations wrong. That was the same Spanish teacher that drilled restaurant/restaurante into my head.
posted by lampoil at 2:10 PM on March 21, 2007

I think about half of all people misspell "weird." It's we-ird.
posted by mikeh at 3:30 PM on March 21, 2007

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