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In spelling, there’s always room for ‘improvemeant’

An English teacher relishes ‘escape goats,’ ‘tidy whities,’ and other mistakes that best the original.

Sometimes, a misspelling better conveys a word's essence.Globe Staff/Adobe

Over the last 25 years, as a high school English teacher, college professor, creative writing instructor, and private tutor and editor, I have read a lot of words. One of the great joys of reading other people’s work is experiencing the world as they do. One of the other great joys is something I call improvemeant spelling.

An example: One of my high school students wrote that a character was blamed as an escape goat. She was right, of course; “scape” is a shortening of “escape.” Someone who is blamed for the wrongdoings of others surely wants to escape that label, to break free of false charges.


Another one of my high school students wrote bullet and board for “bulletin board.” With mechanical pencil in hand, I corrected him, but I think he was onto something. Yes, we sometimes pin bulletins, but that antiquated word needs updating. We pin many other items: photographs, coupons, ticket stubs. Besides, a slab of cork is only cork without a small, pointed object meant to immobilize something else in place. Why not bullet and board?

Improvemeant spelling can update the original spelling, renovate and refurbish.

From a recent memoir I was editing: ease dropping. Because it is done with ease, isn’t it? In today’s world, with everyone yakking on their phones or talking over music and other people, this is a modern take on a word that once meant we had to be secretive in our spying, listening from under the eaves.

Improvemeant spelling enhances and invigorates, bringing energy to traditional spelling.

Once, when I was writing to Patricia, who is incarcerated in Texas and belongs to a pen pal program, I mentioned I was hoping to complete my manuscript in the coming month. She was an attentive reader and often asked questions about my life, as I did about hers. We exchanged handwritten letters. Without a computer to catch errors, it was easy to see why Patricia asked about my manualscript. For me, this error is far more correct than the original word. Writing that book-length work felt like manual labor. It felt like when my husband Paul and I chainsaw, haul, split, and stack firewood or dig trenches and haul rocks for a new walkway. Writing that story felt like sweat and an aching back, and the good sore of the next day. And even though the manualscript never saw the light of day, it felt like a necessary job well done.


Improvemeant spelling enriches the original, often clarifies and amplifies.

In my favorite memoir class ever, a woman described a person from her past and wrote about his tidy whities. This I love. And this, too, I think is more correct than the original. The men I’ve known who choose this “tighty” underwear over boxers or boxer briefs have tended to be tight-laced, buttoned-up, pressed, and particular. Definitely tidy.

I’m not a great speller. (I know — an English teacher who struggles with spelling? Maybe that’s one of the reasons I admire the logic of my students’ mistakes.) This makes writing in front of a class on blackboards, whiteboards, and smart boards challenging. I worry about misspelling. If I do make a mistake, though, I hope I make an improvemeant.

Heather E. Goodman is a writer and editor in Douglassville, Pa. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Sun, and The Chicago Tribune.