Sweets vs Suites

Sweets vs Suites

Spelling is a weak point

We love our chocolate, but we're not so in love with our dictionaries, according to a study commissioned by Mencap. Their survey found that only one in five Brits could spell all the words in their short survey correctly, and that just 13% of students were able to spell all the words correctly. About one-third of respondents couldn't identify the correct spelling of "definitely" and "separate", and about two-thirds picked out an incorrect spelling of "necessary" out of a list that didn't include the correct spelling.

To counter their terrible spelling, more than two-thirds admitted they rely on spell check, with the highest proportion of the spell-check reliant living in London. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Oxford was found to be the city with the best spellers. Hull, meanwhile, was the city with the worst spelling ability.

Despite these findings, three-quarters of Brits believed they were good at spelling. Women were the most confident in their spelling abilities, and for good reason: they were better spellers than men in every age category. In fact, women over the age of 65 were the best spellers, whilst men aged 18 to 24 were the worst.

According to another survey, the most commonly misspelt words in Britain are:

  1. separate
  2. definitely
  3. manoeuvre
  4. embarrass
  5. occurrence
Sweets Vs Sweets

Sweets vs Suites

When you search for things online, how often does the auto suggest come up with the real spelling? Over the course of our research, we found that many Brits have a hard time searching for "bathroom suites" because they're typing in "bathroom sweets".

Of course, no one thinks these people are looking for sweets to display in the lavatory, but we thought we'd talk to Steve Jenner, who works in the press and media department for the Plain English Campaign. The campaign tirelessly fights jargon and language that confuses readers – words, phrases and language that obscure meaning but somehow are increasingly used in everyday parlance ("incentivise", "an absence of", etc.). He explains why spelling is important and what impact bad spelling, grammar and writing can have on the language.

Bathrooms.com: From your perspective, what sort of impact do these sorts of spelling mistakes – that is, confusing 'sweets' with 'suites' – have on English in a broader sense? Will people ever actually confuse a collection of bathroom furniture and snacks in the loo, or is it just a simple misspelling?

SJ: Whilst it is true to say no-one is likely to mistake a nice new bath suite for a flushing fruit gum, most readers do use spelling to help them understand writing which is intended for them. And a number of those will be unimpressed by a company displaying such inattention to detail. Because if that company is that careless with the language they use with customers – are they really going to be any more careful or precise when they come to supply or fit a new bathroom suite?

B: How do these kinds of mistakes fit into the wider trend for terrible English?

SJ: There seems to be a gathering sense that accurate use of language doesn’t really matter. A number of local councils, for example, have recently tried to drop the apostrophe from street signs. The very same local councils are pressing teachers to teach the rules which govern the ways in which apostrophes are used! People can’t on one hand complain about a decline in standards whilst on the other hand claim these things don’t matter or are ‘confusing’. The precise use of English helps readers avoid confusion.

B: Considering Google doesn't autocorrect "bathroom sweets" to "bathroom suites", do you think spelling mistakes like these indicate something larger about the English language and our use of it?

SJ: The answer to that is hidden right there in your question. Not so very long ago you would probably be quoting the Oxford English Dictionary as the linguistic authority in this context. The way we use our language is changing rapidly, as are the tools we use to express ourselves and to understand our world.

B: Does the diversity of spelling add something special to the language? Do you think we'd miss something if all "suites" were spelt the same?

SJ: Of course. Our language is made all the richer by the diversity, flexibility, complexity and subtlety which make it our greatest export and our greatest international asset.

B: What sort of impact does technology have on our use of language and our spelling?

SJ: Well, you highlighted that when you referred to that great linguistic referee, Google! Not only that but our language now reflects the everyday use of Twitter, Facebook, texting, and the shorthand of 24 hour rolling media coverage. The demands we now make on our mobile phones are changing language use. Technology has and will continue to have a profound effect on our expectations of the language we use every day. And we should welcome this. Language is alive – it changes, develops, to reflect the demands placed on it and the needs of the people who use it. And it makes life so much suiter. Whoops.

B: Finally, if there were one thing you could change about the way we learn to spell, what would it be?

SJ: I wish we could stop pretending there is only one way to learn how to spell. Different people learn in different ways. Some people learn to spell more or less phonetically. Some people spot patterns in words and work outwards from there. Some people will learn, finally and totally, how to spell a particular word at the age of 46 whilst reading the back of a bus. We must stop being precious, snobbish or awkward about spelling. Being able to spell helps the reader understand writing much more quickly and easily, as does an understanding of many of the other conventions we have regarding language.

About Bathroomsweets.com

At Bathrooms.com we know – well – bathrooms. We understand design, functionality, what a shower tray actually does, all of that sort of stuff. Our area of expertise has not historically been confectionary! Nevertheless, of the millions of Google searches for sweet related terms each month, a number of these come to our web site. Why? Because people are regularly searching for "bathroom sweets".

Were people looking to find loo-specific treats, or was this just a simple case of bad spelling?

The answer is pretty obvious. Clearly people wanted bathroom suites, and they just got it a bit wrong. But that got us thinking: just how do bad spelling, a love of confectionery and bathrooms come together like that?

This site holds the answer.

If a spelling mistake got you here and you were really after Bathroom Suites, click here!

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