The bee side - Word up: the pitfalls of spelling.
It's a misty Monday morning as I write my column this month. I just travelled up to London on the train and read the morning papers on my iPhone on the way (I know, how cool is that?). When I got into my office, there was a note on my desk waiting for me that said 'Urgent! Don't forget to do your PM column; it's overdue (again!) and they're going mental!'. So I'm writing it now with as much asap as possible.
Fortunately, I've got something to write about (that always helps) because I read so many interesting things in the papers this morning. To start with, I was fascinated to read in The Times about their spelling bee competition. I must admit that my first thought was along the lines of 'How difficult can that be?' and, 'What will they do in the event of a draw?' and stuff like that. I mean, bee's not such a difficult word to spell, is it? But as it turns out, the term 'spelling bee' is kind of a well-known way of describing a spelling competition. I didn't know that.
When I was first starting out at school, having the surname of Bee was pretty handy for me on my learning journey. I was one of the first guys in our class who could spell their own name. I'm not being funny, but if my first name had been Ian instead of Steve I'd have been way out ahead of the pack. When it came to our English tests and stuff, I'd often find myself halfway through the whole thing before the bloke who sat next to me, poor old Jonathan Satterthwaite, had got past the bit where he had to write his name on the first page. I was rocking and rolling back then and used to go home most afternoons thinking I was some kind of genius or something. My name gave me an edge, big time.
Mind you, the kind of spelling test The Times is on about today looks a bit stiffer than the stuff five-year-olds had to face in my day. None of the 'cat', 'dog' or 'pig' types of words by the looks of it, but rather more complex stuff around heterographic homophones like pair/pear/pare and rite/write/right and words like 'allusion' and 'illusion' getting mixed up by Joe and Josephine Average.
There's a serious side to it all too, as the paper reports that, apparently, each year patients actually die because doctors confuse drug names. Sobering thought on a Monday morning I guess - which for some reason has left me with the old 'with friends like that, who needs enemas?' joke from my schooldays caught up in my mind once again.
I also read a report today from the FT in which someone from the National Association of Pension Funds is quoted as saying that the rules on how employers should enrol their workforce automatically to a pension scheme from 2012 remain 'bureaucratic, inflexible and in some parts unworkable'. The article goes on to say that this may lead to employers with good schemes simply closing them down; surely the opposite outcome to that intended. It led me on to thinking about two other words that I have always thought had more in common than the fact they sound similar: 'intellectual' and 'ineffectual'.
First published in Pensions Management, December 2009