Column: Good spelling saves some yelling

Because I’m Indian, many people assume I’m good at spelling. After all, six of the last 10 winners of theEnglish5
National Spelling Bee are of Indian descent and three of them are now making millions on the PSA (Professional Spelling Association) tour.

Unfortunately, I’m a terrible speller. It’s a good thing I can do a spell-check on my computer or I’d really embrace myself.

Spelling is a good skill to have — and not just for writers. If you can’t spell words correctly, your boss might give you a peace of his mind. And as a result, you won’t have any piece of mind.

Spelling is particularly important in certain professions. If you’re a tattoo artist, for example, it’s a good idea to know how to spell because — and I’m going out on a limb here — few of your customers will be former spelling bee champions. Customers can get quite angry when they discover they have a permanent misspelling on their posterior.

Customer: “You idiot! Look what you wrote: ‘My hart belongs to Tommy.'”

Tattoo artist (scratching head): “What’s wrong with that?”

Customer: “It’s supposed to be Tammy!”

Tattoo artist: “No problem, dude. I’ll just change the O to an A. It won’t look too bad.”

Customer: “Okay, man. And I’ll do the same with your check — change the 0 to an A. It won’t look too bad.”


It can be expensive to remove tattoos, so before you get one, make sure you go to a good tattoo parlor, not one that claims to have the “best artits in town.”

The same goes for sign painters. You don’t want to be the laughing stock of your neighborhood, even if misspellings can make some signs more effective, such as the one that a property owner put on his gate: “Warning: Trespassers will be prostituted.”

A misspelling can hurt a business, confusing or even scaring potential customers. And yet you can find hundreds of misspellings on business signs — and that’s just in New York City. Wherever you live, just look around and you’re likely to spot signs like these:

At a carpet warehouse: “Ask us about our low installation rats.” (No thanks. I’ve already complained to the city about all the road dents.)

At a limousine rental business: “We make you feel very impotent.” (I’d better bring my pills along.)

At a furniture store: “All our sofas are now on clarence.” (Poor Clarence! Someone call 911.)

At an Indian restaurant: “We appreciate our costumers.” (Especially the ones dressed like Gandhi.)

At an electrolysis office: “No appointment necessary. Open to the pubic.” (Sorry, but mine doesn’t read. You’d better invest in a pubic-address system.)

Some of the worst spellers — aside from teen-agers on the Net — are people holding signs at public demonstrations. A couple of years ago, during a Martin Luther King Day march in Corpus Christi, Texas, a woman waved a sign that said “I have a draem.” That didn’t look too bad, actually, compared to the sign beside her, carried by a man who appeared to have raided the local liquor store: “I have de rum.”

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. Hi there,
    this one really got me rolling and laughing so hard, particularly because we have this … er … ‘disease’ in my country at the moment – people seem to be nonchalant about spelling, and it’s gradually becoming the general thing. It’s frustrating to see signs like ‘Do yor car alainmaint hear’.
    Do you think there is a remedy? Because here in Nigeria, there are very very few spelling bee contests.

  2. michelo simuyandi says:

    Hi, nice one, just reminded me of a letter that a friend of mine wrote to his wife, whom he had left back home. He ended the letter with the words “I’m enjoying her” instead of “I’m enjoying here.”

  3. HeleneL. says:

    One of the funniest
    you have

  4. Hello Melvin.
    What a refreshing read! Hilarious.
    My experience with spelling errors have been far too many. I guess any tourist who has visited Thailand / India would agree with me. Would be building an album very soon of all the spell-unchecked pix taken.

  5. This was excellent. I raelly enjoyed reading it? 😉 I can’t spell either. And will defend “spellcheck” until I die.

  6. Recently, I had a great spelling blooper of my own. I am the only female colleague amongst a group of guys in a design company. I sent out a memo letting the two guys in my department know that the time they had requested for a meeting would not work for me as I was quite busy and would rather meet at such and such time.
    A little later I wanted to refer to that memo to see what the exact time of the meeting was and to my great shock and dismay I realized that I had written “I am quite busty and would rather meet at 3pm.” Wow, talk about embarrassment and I even used spell check! Neither of the guys that to which this memo was addressed has ever commented on my typo!
    (via email)

  7. Dude got to hand it to you..hilarious column. In delhi iev seen so many spelling mistakes on shops its unbelieveable.

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