Advertising May Be Harmful to Your Spelling

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The United States has a government official called the Surgeon General who is the nation’s chief adviser in matters of health. One of the most famous to hold the job was Dr. C. Everett Koop, author of warning labels on cigarette packages.

We need a Teacher General who could advise and decree on matters of English usage.

Until a President arises who sees the need for such an office, I’m willing to be the Unofficial Teacher General of the United States. I’ll begin by placing virtual warning labels on two recent advertising products that could be harmful to writers whose spelling is a bit shaky to begin with.

The first is the title of a recent Will Smith movie: The Pursuit of Happyness. Since the title is already quite catchy, echoing as it does a familiar line from the American Declaration of Independence, the reason for the “cutesy” spelling eludes me.

The rule for adding suffixes to words ending in “y” is to change the “y” to “i” before adding the suffix: happy + ness = happiness. This spelling rule also applies to forming noun plurals and third person verb forms: baby/babies; carry/carries.

The other offender is a recent Target television commercial that has singers chanting words like “fabulous,” “meticulous,” “stainless,” “timeless.” Otherwise entertaining, the ad has captions that spell “fabulous” as “fabuless” and “meticulous” as “meticuless.”

If American schools were producing efficient spellers, such media nonsense could be shrugged away. As it is, misspelled advertising copy only adds to the confusion of a public already insecure when it comes to standard usage.

The word from the Teacher General is, don’t trust advertising spelling. Invest in a reliable dictionary.

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14 thoughts on “Advertising May Be Harmful to Your Spelling”

  1. Interesting post, I’m sure it will be helpful to some people! I’m quite a good speller actually, but just not the best with punctuation/grammar.

    Yes, I didn’t do very well with English.

  2. The reason for the spelling of “happyness” in “The Pursuit of Happyness” is in the movie itself. It’s the way the phrase is written on the front of the main character’s son’s day care.

  3. I had the feeling as I wrote it that something in the movie might have something to do with the misspelling, but hey, same argument applies to people who put up misspelled signs.

  4. Ah, but the individual who wrote “happyness” in the movie was not a native English speaker, and unaware of his mistake. In fact, Will Smith’s character pointed the error out to him.

    I completely understand what you’re saying, though. You just used an unfortunate example 😉

  5. I stand duly chastened. In future I’ll not comment on a title without having watched the film. I don’t want to be like the Ibsen character who has read enough ABOUT certain books to disapprove of them.

  6. Good points in this post.

    I don’t know that you would need to see the movie. The spelling is wrong, and, as you say, it reinforces poor spelling in the general public. There are too many bad examples of this.

    One example that my wife often points out is when day care centers have cutesy spellings for their names. That is the wrong demographic to be teaching poor spelling to. Or, they will turn their letters around like a child wrote the word. Again, reinforcing a dyslexic way of writing letters.

  7. A larger pet peeve of mine (rather than the butchering of the English language) is when people comment on something they haven’t fully researched…

    I like this view of the english language from the book “Spelling Dearest”:


  8. The spelling of “Happyness” for the title of the movie is a reference to the school the main character’s son attends, where they incorrectly spell it on the side of their building. He points it out as the first example that he is more intelligent than his surroundings, support that he is better than his current lifestyle. Just thought I’d clear that up and maybe take some of the frustration away from that movie, since they do have a point, and do support proper spelling.

    As for “Two Weeks Notice,” well thats just wrong.

  9. Since this is about proper spelling …

    In paragraph three, you capitalized president. Unless you’re calling out a specific president and using it in the title, the “P” in president should not be capitalized. Just thought I would give you a heads up on that.


  10. My wife gets really annoyed when so many people (in newspapers, magazines and emails) misuse apostrophes. for example: I grew up in the 60’s. I assume it should be ’60s. Yes?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

  11. I would add that you especially should not pay attention to advertisements’ use of apostrophes and hyphens! They seem to know there’s some kind of rule, but many get it exactly backward (possessives without apostrophe; plurals with apostrophe; hyphenated or closed construction for phrasal verbs e.g. logout, shutdown, etc, instead of log out, shut down, etc; failure to hyphenate combinations of nounal adlectives: “runs on clean burning natural gas” instead if “clean-burning”; etc.

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