Copy-editing with a twist

The ins and outs of being a copy editor

Y spelling cownts

Posted by Noel Sanchez on September 12, 2008

Phonetics professor John Wells is calling for a “freeing up” of the English language, the Times Online reports. While I’m usually pretty hip to unconventional approaches to both language and education, I don’t agree with the idea that people should have more freedom to spell as they like. But, as always, there are a few instances where I disagree with the dictionary.

It all goes back to consistency. Consistency from article to article is important to keep the newspaper looking professional. Wells seems to advocate a set of consistent changes to English spelling, but a large restructuring of the language all at once would make it inconsistent with writings from just a few years earlier. Spelling changes occur gradually and allow people to adjust accordingly. An overhaul of every spelling irregularity overnight would raise a generation of students who would have trouble reading a book that their parents read in high school. Spelling is just another form of keeping writing consistent, and as a result, keeping it understandable for the reader.

That being said, there are a few words that are technically misspelled that I choose to use in print. I attribute these misspellings more as changes in modern grammar than simple spelling issues, though. The biggest of these are “gonna,” “wanna,” and “finna,” which in some southern dialects is a shortened form of “fixing to.”

The AP Stylebook doesn’t have an entry on any of these words, and Merriam-Webster Online does not recognize any of them. Obviously, a reporter is not going to use these words in their copy, but what about in direct quotes? It’s a bit misleading to change your source’s utterance of “gonna” to “going to.” They mean the same thing, but I would argue that “gonna” is a different word. The pronunciation is completely different, it has less syllables and judging from its Google hits, people use the written form of “gonna” already.

This question has come up before in the newsroom, usually because “gonna” and “wanna” show up as being misspelled, making a copy editor wonder how to change it. I always suggest keeping them as they are unless they would cause confusion. (Although “finna” has never come up, I’d probably just paraphrase the quote to avoid using an obscure word.)

Do you know of any other misspellings that you feel should be adopted by the stylebook or dictionary?

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