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Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

11 Historical Figures Who Were Really Bad At Spelling

Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

Do you struggle with spelling bees? Do you always seem to get “lose” and “loose” mixed up? Would you recoil in terror if spell-check ever stopped working? Fear not: You're in good company. From Nobel Prize winners to the authors of great literary works, the inability to spell correctly has plagued some of the most influential people in the history of our species. Here are 11 of the most famous.

1. Jane Austen

Luckily, the author of Emma and Pride and Prejudice was always fortunate enough to find editors who could weed out her various alphabetical mishaps. An early work, written when Austen was 15, was called Love and Freindship.

2. George Washington

According to Richard Lederer in his book More Anguished English, the man who would become the first American president wrote  “we find our necessaties are not such as to require an immediate transportation during the harvist" while complaining about a supply shortage during the Revolutionary War.

3. Winston Churchill

Though he later became universally regarded as one of the greatest orators of all time, one of Churchill's early report cards said “Writing is good, but terribly slow—spelling about as bad as it well can be.”

4. Agatha Christie

“Writing and spelling were always terribly difficult for me... [I was] an extraordinarily bad speller and have remained so until this day.” It's incredible to think that this humbling statement came from the pen of one of the greatest mystery authors of all time: a woman who would later be celebrated as “The Queen of Crime." Christie's dyslexia made accurate spelling difficult, and she'd occasionally even misspell the names of her own characters: in An Appointment with Death, Colonel Carbury's name is later written as “Colonel Carbery.”

5. Andrew Jackson

Examples of Old Hickory's seemingly innumerable botched spelling attempts include “devilopment,” the continent of “Urope," and performing before a “larg” audience. This ineptitude even went on to become a political punchline. His perennial political rival John Quincy Adams once denounced him as “a savage who can scarcely spell his own name.” Jackson's retort? “It's a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word.”

6. Albert Einstein

In Einstein's defense, English was his second language. It's therefore easy to understand why spelling and grammatical errors in his works were a constant source of frustration to the physicist. “I cannot write in English,” he said, “because of the treacherous spelling.”

7. Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway seemed to have difficulty with present participles, as “loving” became “loveing” and “moving” turned into “moveing” in his manuscripts. Whenever an editor complained of these bloopers, however, Hemingway would snap “Well, that's what you're hired to correct!”

8. F. Scott Fitzgerald

The original draft of The Great Gatsby contained literally hundreds of spelling mistakes, some of which are still confounding editors. These include “yatch” (instead of “yacht”) and “apon” (instead of “upon”). One of his most famous gaffes, which occurs toward the end of the novel, inspires debate to this day.

9. Olivia Clemens

The wife of Samuel Clemens—better known by his pen name “Mark Twain—“Livy's” frequent compositional errors were an endless source of amusement to her husband. After receiving one of her letters, in which she miraculously made virtually no such bloopers, he wrote “Oh you darling little speller!—you spelled 'terrible' right, this time. And I won't have it—it is un-Livy-ish. Spell it wrong next time, for I love everything that is like Livy.” Despite Samuel's playful jabs, he relied upon his beloved wife as a “faithful, judicious, and painstaking editor” until her death in 1904.

10. William Butler Yeats

According to biographer David A. Ross, “Yeats' spelling, indeed, seems at times a matter of wildly errant guesswork.” Ouch. The great Irish poet and senator's idiosyncratic writing style resulted in some distinctively misspelled words cropping up throughout his works, such as “feal” instead of “feel." Despite this Achilles' heel, Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

11. Dan Quayle

No list of famously bad spellers would be complete without mentioning the 44th Vice President's infamous “Potatoe Incident."

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9 Grammatically Correct Gifts for Language Lovers
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Etsy

Have a friend or relative who's quick to correct your typos? Give them a gift that celebrates their love of (grammatically correct) language.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of sales. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck gift hunting!

1. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE ILLUSTRATED; $12

William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White's extensive—and sometimes snarky—guide to grammar was published in 1920, but it's still considered a go-to for writing purists who are wary of change. The bookshelf staple, with a foreword by Roger Angell and updated with 57 colorful illustrations by Maira Kalman, is sure to offer up hours of education (which is entertainment to the language lover in your life).

Find It: Amazon

2. PENCILS; $9

These pencils will help keep common homophones straight. The retro sets of five are decorated with gold foil letters hand-pressed onto the sides. The Etsy store also offers up a set of red pencils that feature short, grammar-positive statements.

Find It: Etsy

3. QUOTE EARRINGS; $9

High marks: The delicate metal earrings are about a half-inch tall, making them a subtle but charming choice for any punctuation lover.

Find It: ModCloth

4. *YOU'RE NECKLACE; $24 AND UP

*You're necklace
Etsy

The pendant, which comes in the material of your choice, is dedicated to a well-known pet peeve amongst the literate.

Find It: Etsy

5. PUNCTUATION POSTER; $36

Everyone knows about the question mark and the semicolon, but what about the interrobang? This simple poster, available in three different sizes and 60 different colors, celebrates the punctuation that really helps writers get their point across. It's printed on satin luster paper with ChromaLife 100 inks, creating a long-lasting piece of artwork.

Find It: Etsy

6. SHADY CHARACTERS; $12

Keith Houston's book offers up a thorough look at the history of the written word. Readers can learn about the rich stories behind punctuation marks, including tales that cover everything from Ancient Roman graffiti to George W. Bush.

Find It: Amazon

7. AMPERSAND MARQUEE; $19

The ampersand is a divisive punctuation mark in writing, but it's widely loved in design; the attractive logogram can be found everywhere from wedding invitations to tattoos. This metal light stands at almost 10 inches, making it a nice statement piece in any home.

Find It: Amazon

8. POP CULTURE PARTS OF SPEECH; $29

Grammar is even more accessible with the help of beloved pop culture characters. ET, Robocop, Holly Golightly, Walter White, and more all come together to help teach tricky grammar terms. The poster is broken down into seven basic parts: nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions.

Find It: Pop Chart Lab

9. OWL SHIRT; $15

Do you have a friend who's always correcting everyone with a stern "whom"? With the help of two owls, this shirt pokes light fun at two counterparts to the oft-neglected word. The lightweight, cotton shirt comes in a classic white with sizes for men, women, and children.

Find It: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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How to Properly Use 'Who' vs. 'Whom'
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by Reader's Digest

“Who” gets to have all the fun. Who gets to be on first. Who is responsible for letting the dogs out. Meanwhile, “whom” is sitting in the corner, being perceived as pretentious by plenty of English speakers.

But whom isn’t neglected due to any flaw—not at all. Whom is neglected because plenty of people just aren’t quite sure when the time is right to use it in a sentence, kind of like figuring out when it is seasonally acceptable to start wearing boots. It’s important to know, though. Now, with some help from Grammarly, we clarify the official who vs. whom rules.

In plain terms, whom is meant to be used to refer to the object of preposition or verb, while who should refer to the subject of the sentence. Here are two examples of proper usages:

  • To whom should the letter on the importance of grammar be addressed?
  • Who is responsible for making this delightful crockpot lasagna?

 
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A useful trick to make sure that you’re using each one properly requires you to do a quick substitution: Slide in he or him or she or her into the place of the who or whom. Now, let’s review the above-listed examples with the added in substitutions.

  • I should address the letter on the importance of grammar to him. (Whom was properly used.)
  • He is responsible for making this delightful crockpot lasagna. (Who was properly used.)

Now you can go out into the world and impress every grammarian you encounter. Sadly for whom, who will always play first fiddle, always relating to the subject.

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