By Dominic O’Brien, 8 Times World Memory Champion

Since training my memory I have used mnemonics to help me with words that are awkward to spell. A mnemonic is any device that aids memory and comes from the name Mnemosyne, who in Greek mythology was the goddess of memory. 

Here is a selection of some of the most commonly misspelt words. See if you can pick out the correct spelling for each and afterwards, I’ll explain the little tricks that I use to avoid spelling errors.

lightninglighteningthunder and…

If you managed to identify fifteen or more correctly then your spelling is above average for the English language.

Here are the correct spellings:

anoint, argument, calendar, consensus, desiccate, fascinate, fluorescent, fulfil, harass, inoculate, irresistible, liaison, lightning, millennium, misspell, occasion, pigeon, pronunciation, supersede, weird.

There is no one set strategy for remembering correct spellings. I use a variety of ways to conquer challenging words. The trick is to look out for patterns and associations backed up with a bit of logic. 

For anoint, I picture of ‘an’ ointment and I think of the “e” losing the argument to be included twice in the same word.

If an association isn’t obvious to me then I will get into the habit of pronouncing the word as it is spelled.

I will say ‘Cal en daaar’ and ‘fa scin ate’, until the words are firmly lodged in my long-term memory.

So how do we go about finding connections? Sometimes these links just pop out at you like the “us” in the word consensus? A consensus involves all of ‘us’.

Sometimes the logic behind these links is just plain silly but the main thing is that it works. For instance, I think of Des on his motorbike ‘CC’ with a dry throat from riding in the heat of the sun on a dry day. To desiccate something is to dry out thoroughly or to preserve foods by removing the moisture.

A fluorescent bulb can have the cylindrical shape of a flue or chimney.

I think of a liaison between two people with each ‘I’ representing the shape of a person: socially distancing of course between the letter ‘a’. 

I picture a lightning bolt striking out the ‘e’ in the word lightening. 

The millennium was a big year for most people so it’s only fitting that it contains maximum ‘L’s and ‘M’s 

My English teacher, Miss Boyce, used to point out my ‘Miss’pellings.

To help me remember the word Principal, as in the principal of a school I think of a Princi‘pal’ity such as Liechtenstein and the word ‘pal’ace.

In my experience, nuns are quite precise when it comes to the correct pro‘nun’ciation of certain words.

No one can take the place of Superman who has an ‘S’ emblem on his cape to remind me how to spell super‘s’ede.

Weird has the ‘e’ is before ‘I’: which is slightly weird. 

Here’s one that a friend of mine uses to distinguish between lose and loose: He thinks of the ‘oo’s as loose coins in his pocket. If he loses a coin then there is only one ‘o’ left.

Now You Try

Here’s another selection list of words. If there are any that you normally have difficulty with then use your own patterns and tricks to remember the correct spelling. Afterwards there is a test to see if can recognise the correct word.

acceptibleacceptable commitedcommitted
drunkennessdrunkeness exceedexcede
exhilarateexilarate existenceexistance
leasureleisure medievilmedieval
noticeablenoticable tyranytyranny

Here are the correct spellings: acceptable, committed, drunkenness, exceed, exhilarate, existence, leisure, medieval, noticeable, tyranny

Finally, my father used to say the following trimmed down version of a quip attributed to Mark Twain when explaining how to keep things simple:

When promulgating your esoteric cogitations, beware of platitudinous ponderosity. Let your conversation possess clarified conciseness with concatenated cogency. Eschew all conglomerations of jejune babblement but above all, DON’T USE BIG WORDS.

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