Spelling Test

Joe’s Post #164

I know I’m not the best speller in the world. I’m usually not even the best speller in a room filled with 2 year-olds. But I do know that spelling is important. So, I’m going to reblog a post from some weirdo I usually read. Spoiler alert, it’s me.

Spelling Test

Spelling maters

Spelling maters

Oh, the joy of spelling.

To be honest, I’m not the best speller in the world. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. It’s why I think that the greatest invention in the world was the spell-checker.

But The-Youngest doesn’t have the luxury of using that, yet. He has to learn to spell the old-fashioned way.

No, ‘not sound it out’ – whoever gave that advice has not read or listened to the English language… spell knight. Sound it out. Nite. No one would ever guess it has a silent k and let’s not even get started on the whole ‘gh’ complexities. Instead, he has to memorize. The REAL old-fashioned way.

But, after getting a 13/18, I decided it was time for me to help out. Kind of like how Hitler helped out Poland, but whatever, I was fully engaged in helping him learn to spell.

Here are the words we had. Amazingly enough, he didn’t actually have to know what they mean. At least he said he didn’t (but then he said the teacher allowed them to eat all the candy they wanted.) So I also decided to use them in a sentence, to, you know, help him understand the words better.

Also. You also have to know how to spell lots of words after also. A-l-s-o.

Him: “I don’t like where this is going.”

Bought. I bought a new game and no one can play it but me. B-o-u-g-h-t.

Him“What? What game? That’s not fair!”

Cough. You have a bad cough, but that doesn’t mean you get to stay home and play video games all day long. C-o-u-g-h.

Him: “I have a cough now, can I miss the spelling test?

Me: “No.”

Almost. You almost had me fooled when you said you ate all your lunch, but you left the apple behind as evidence that you did not. A-l-m-o-s-t.

Him: “Doh.”

False – True or false, you like girls now? F-a-l-s-e.

Him: “False, Joe, False!!!!”

Officer – Officer, I wasn’t speeding, I was checking to see if my speedometer worked past 140kph. O-f-f-i-c-e-r.

Him: “What’s a speedometer?”

I can't drive 65!

I can’t drive 65!

Speedometer. Used to measure speed, but it’s not on the spelling test.

Soft – You hate your eggs when they are soft and runny. S-o-f-t.

Him: “True.”

Stalk – You once ate a stalk of broccoli and threw up on the dog. S-t-a-l-k.

Him: “No I didn’t! It was squash!”

Halt – Before you walk into traffic, halt and have a look around or your mom will never, ever let you walk to school by yourself. H-a-l-t.

Him:“ Joe!!!”

Faucet – Joe, turn off the faucet for the love of God, we don’t want to waste water. F-a-u-c-e-t.

Him: “I hear that a lot, Joe.”

Me: “I know.”

I want to believe

I want to believe

Saucer – Look up in the sky, Mulder, it’s a flying saucer. S-a-u-c-e-r.

Him: “Who’s Mulder?”

Me: OMG!

Caution – You better use caution when you think it may be a good idea to eat your weight in candy. C-a-u-t-i-o-n.

Him: “Hmmm. Joe, could I actually eat my weight in candy?” 

Lawyer – Remember to always ask for a lawyer when you’re arrested. L-a-w-y-e-r.

Him: “Will I ever need a lawyer?”

Me: “You’ll have one on speed dial.”

Him: “Joe!!!!!”

Awesome – It’ll be awesome when you get 18/18 on the spelling test. A-w-e-s-o-m-e.

Him: Joe, did you know I AM pretty awesome most of the time?”

Me: “Yes. Yes, I did.”

Stall – When you park in a handicap stall without a handicap sticker, you’re a douche-bag. S-t-a-l-l.

Him: “Joe, did you just use a bad word?”

Me: “Handicap is not a bad word.”

Him: “That’s not the one I’m talking about.”

Crawl – When you’re too drunk to walk, you can always crawl upstairs to bed. C-r-a-w-l.

Him: “Joe, is this something you’ve done?”

Me: “Uhm, err, no.”

Awful – That dirt you ate because someone dared you to tasted awful, didn’t it? A-w-f-u-l.

Him: “Dirt does taste awful.”

Is stinky bad?

Is stinky bad?

Me: “Thus speaketh the voice of experience.”

Because – Take a shower just because you’re stinky. B-e-c-a-u-s-e.

Him: “Hey!!!”

After we reviewed the words, it was time to practice for realzies. We took out a bag of M&Ms. We emptied them on the table. For every one he got right, he got one. For every one he got wrong, I got one.

After the first run through, I had eaten 8.


This could be the best game ever!

After the 2nd try, I had 4. For me, this was not going in a good direction, but at least he was beginning to nail the word ‘caution’.

The hardest word turned out to be faucet. I mean, look at cough. Why not spell it ghousit? I got to eat about 10 more candies before he finally got that last one consistently right .

But he was ready for the test.

And, on Friday, he got 18/18.

Awesome. A-W-E-S-O-M-E. Awesome.

He got to eat a whole bag of M&Ms by himself.


For me amazing insights into the world of parenting, please check out my other blog.

And thanks for taking time to read our blogs!

There’s more than one English


Silk’s Post #122 — Is English the world’s viral language? It’s spoken by 400 million people as a first language, and by another 800 million as a second language. It’s the official language, by international treaty, for aeronautical and maritime communications. It’s the dominant language on the Internet (55% of top websites compared to less than 10% for the next most-used language). It’s the global language of international business, with one study by the British Council reporting that by 2020, two billion people will be studying it. Some have charged English with linguistic imperialism because of its impact on other languages, including language death.

How the language of a tiny nation-state with only .009% of the world’s current population became the lingua franca of the planet is a subject for history scholars. What I’m interested in is what English’s ungovernable spread and variation means to English language writers today.

It doesn’t take an English professor or student of linguistics to make this simple observation: the English language is a bit of a mess.

In its odyssey from the colonial era that spread it like a virus across the continents to its modern predominance, English has evolved in hundreds of different directions. Perhaps it is the language’s ability to mutate in Darwinian fashion that has made it the fittest survivor. It has adapted to different tongues and climes to become a whole family of variants, each unique but all (relatively) comprehensible to each other.

There is a movement to corral all these dialects, to reshape them to conform to a standard “International English,” also called “Global English” or (in one of the least elegant words ever coined in the language) “Globish.”

But good luck on that. Despite the best efforts of grammarians and lexicographers over the centuries, living languages love to defy rules the way children love to jump in mud puddles wearing their best shoes.

So, when an English speaking writer sits down to write a novel, it’s a fair question to ask: Which English will be used?

I don’t just mean the spelling difference between “colour” and “color” or “programme” and “program”. As an American-born writer transplanted to Canada 45 years ago, spelling variation has been a continuing hitch in my writing style, like a small limp. Canada, forever caught between the old world and the new world, has retained some aspects of the Queen’s English while adopting others from American usage. So: colour, not color. But program, not programme. You just have to memorize them, like the times tables. Then there are many Canadianisms – eh, hoser, pogey, zed, serviette, loonie, toonie, double-double, kerfuffle, give’r, and the picturesque fill your boots – which I now forget sound foreign to my friends in the US.

But those are more the punchlines of jokes about the difference between Canucks and Yanks than fundamental differences in culturally-specific syntax. Yet, real and profound differences do exist, and they are critical to the story world and voice of a book. Because when people talk differently, they also think differently. See differently. Even act differently.

Language usage – whether narrative or dialogue – telegraphs the world view on which the story is built, reveals setting and social structure, hints at history and backstory, conveys lifestyle and belief systems, and sets the pace and mood of the book.

Sometimes it’s stylistically obvious, like the antiquated language of a historical novel, the dialect of an ethnic or cultural group, or the street slang of an underclass. All these are harder to do than they seem, the most common mistake being a heavy hand. The natural voice in the reader’s head is likely to “speak” in relatively standard English, and readers can get annoyed or exhausted when continually forced to interpret a “foreign” language. If they have to keep stopping to figure out what the patois means, you’ve gone too far and they’ve probably already escaped to water their geraniums or turn on their TV.

Sometimes, however, it’s the subtle shading of English usage that creates a unique and vivid theatre of the mind. These are the books that transport readers and make them feel they’ve slid into a different, memorable, world. A world where they’re both a visitor and a native at the same time. These are the stories that make readers say I felt like I was right there.

It’s easy to assume that this is achieved mostly through skillful description and those telling details the writing books try to teach. But a lot of it is how the writer uses language.

I think of the languid pacing and reflective mood that characterize many of the best novels set in the South, for instance. There’s a kind of underlying nostalgia, a sense of past days of glory contrasted with the humid dissolution of the present, that colours stories by authors like William Faulkner, Pat Conroy or James Lee Burke. You can hear it in language that flows like slow beads of sweat on a hot day. In Gillian Flynn’s spectacularly successful Gone Girl, the change in mood from the fast-paced New York setting to the drowsy Missouri small town where the characters’ world comes apart is subtly enhanced by the shifting texture of the language the writer chooses, like a suit of clothes, for each place.

Or think about the indelible mark left on modern literature by the revolutionary use of language introduced by the “hard boiled” detective story. Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett – and later natural successors like Mickey Spillane, Walter Mosley and Elmore Leonard – crafted a whole genre that was characterized as much by its spare, brutal use of language as by its subject matter.

Am I really just talking about style? Well, maybe. That’s a big term and it covers a lot of territory. But I do think the mutations that have allowed the English language to adapt to different cultures, and different perceptions of reality, may go deeper than the term “style” might suggest. When does the elasticity of English stretch beyond its “standard” form and spawn truly distinct versions? Versions one needs to be conversant in to truly understand the stories of its speakers?

Imagine, for instance, a conversation between an English professor at Eton and a Chicago hip-hop street dancer. Are they really speaking the same language at all? Could they carry on any sort of meaningful conversation? I realize that such a scenario in a novel is, well, remote at best. It sounds more like a comedy sketch. But some of the best storytelling happens when people from “worlds apart” get smashed together on the page.

Telling stories like that – even when the language contrast is more subtle – is the job of the writer-as-translator.

So, be deliberate when you pick your language from the many Englishes that exist.

Or drive the language police nuts, and make up your own!

Why a critique group

Joe’s Blog #25

How many of us are part of a critique group?

critEver since I started getting serious about my writing, I’ve been a part of a critique group. Why? It’s made me a better writer. It’s that simple. So here’s why anyone not in one might want to consider being in one. A good one.

1) It’s way cheaper than paying a book doctor or so-called editor to look over your manuscript. For the cost of a few coffees for everyone, maybe a donut or two, you can get great feedback on what works and what doesn’t. (Though, in my group, we get to eat all sorts of amazing food and drink, but this may not be the norm.)

2) They can help spot things you’ll never see. “Joe, did you realize you just used the word ‘nipple’ 32 times on page 212?”

3) They ensure your characters don’t go off script. “So how, for the love of God, could Lou, who has just found love again, who is in the process of rebuilding his life, who clearly is moving forward, suddenly up and decide to go on a suicide mission? Why? Tell me, why, dammit?” (The cool thing here is that I created a character they loved, the bad thing was I made him do something out of character without a better explanation.)

vision-try-to-look-at-things-from-a-different-perspective4) They can give you a perspective you just don’t have. “Ok, you used ‘totally’ way too much in you YA novel. No one talks like that anymore.” Hello!

5) They can give you great ideas. “What if you made the woman at the airfield younger, prettier? What if she secretly loves him?”

6) They can help you fine tune the technical aspects of your writing. “You need a hook out of this chapter.” “You’re using passive language.” “You should stop writing in crayon.”

7) They can help with spelling and grammar. The kind of mistakes you feel silly making. “It’s H-A-N-G-A-R, not hanger!!!”

8) They can point out the things that work. And here’s one of the things that makes a good group, in my opinion. It’s all too easy to tear something down, to rip a writer to shreds. I’ve had it done. It’s like having your baby mauled by a zombie. But if you get a group that can also focus on the positive, that’s gold. “The details are fantastic, it’s like I’m there in Hawaii in the 1930’s.”  “Who knew lighted intersections were not the norm. So cool.”

9) They force you to write. Trust me, no one wants to show up at a session without writing.

10) Last, but not (as they say) least, they provide support. Hey, every one of the writers is going through the same thing, battling the same demons, struggling with the same problems. It’s nice to be able to meet with people who understand what it’s like to agonize over a name or spend hours trying to fix a problem with an imaginary character.

Me? I’m glad to have had some great groups. Each one has helped me become a better writer and, one day, when I finally get published, they can all take a little credit.

I can’t wait to meet back up with my current group.

For other perspectives, check out these links. 10 Benefits of Joining a Writing Group. Benefits of Writing Groups. The Benefits of Joining a Writer’s Group.

Queries Sent: 0 (Ok, somebody shoot me.)

Rejections: 1 (grand total, not this week)

People Currently Critiquing My YA Book: 2

Chocolate anyone? Come and earn it!

Helga’s Post #10 — This blogging thingie is getting tougher each week. Scratching my head to find a topic that won’t put my readers to sleep. It must be that the hourglass is filling up on the bottom, indicating time spent on our writing challenge. Focus on your novel, my inner voice screams, not the blog!

In fact, we are almost exactly at mid-point!

Some venerable members (or is it member?) of our group have now arrived at the middle of their novel (200 pages!), galloping ahead, leaving the rest of us in the dust (speaking strictly for myself.).

Speedwriting is what I need to stay in the saddle. Or not? To confess, I am somewhat of a slow writer. Probable cause: I want my writing to be as good as I can make it from the get-go (a BIG mistake if you write to a deadline!) Spelling errors, grammar screw-ups, wrongly placed commas, misplaced apostrophes, poorly placed paragraphs – these are things that give me heartburn. In my own writing especially. Even in my first draft.

Where did I pick up this useless obsession? It goes back a long way.

My German teacher from Grade 4 onwards insisted on perfection in our written work. I remember her well. Her name was ‘Fräulein Klein’, a petite blonde in her early thirties. She was clever about it too. No punishment if we screwed up. Instead, if we handed in a flawlessly written essay, she would give us a piece of chocolate. Doesn’t sound like a big deal? Picture this: Europe was still reeling from the aftermath of WWII. Chocolate in the fifties in Vienna? An unimaginable treat. I wondered about Fräulein Klein’s supply chain, but even at our tender age we had a pretty good idea. We suspected she had connections to the Allied Forces who still occupied Vienna until 1955. We were sure she didn’t get her inexhaustible supply from the Russians; they had little to give away. The French and the Brits were too stingy, so surely it must have been the Americans. They liked to give out treats to the local population, especially to kids. My first chewing gum was a gift from a Yankee soldier. Happy Thanksgiving, America!

English is my second language, but somehow this attention to detail has carried over. Not that my grammar is perfect, far from it. I still make mistakes, particularly in the use of certain words over others, because your brain is programmed to think in your mother tongue first. Still trying to override that.

Unfortunately, nobody gives me chocolate any more for correct spelling.


Pages written to date:  43

Research books read: 4

Number of nights slept without thinking about plot:  0

Pieces of chocolates received: 0

It’s not that chocolates are a substitute for love. Love is a substitute for chocolate. Chocolate is, let’s face it, far more reliable than a man.’ (Miranda Ingram)