ALTERNATIVE SPELLING

Poor spelling is the latest lightning rod for a divided American public

Obsession
Language
Obsession
Language

There’s an unlikely new battlefield in the already divided American public sphere: the defense of proper spelling.

The US Department of Education stepped into the minefield this weekend with two typo-ridden tweets, one meant to correct the other. The original:

The tweets hit a nerve with critics who argue that new US education secretary Betsy DeVos is unqualified for the job.

The problem extends higher up the hierarchy, however. President Donald Trump has been ridiculed for his poor spelling on Twitter. The New York Daily News compiled a list. A critical romp through Trump’s spelling transgressions by the Washington Post’s Dan Milbank was headlined, “Shoker! Rediculous chocker Trump attaks and dishoners English with ever-dummer spellings.”

Shortly after assuming office, Trump had tweeted:

Since Trump took office, public White House documents have misspelled the names of UK prime minister Theresa May and the country Denmark, among others.

Fox News has attributed some of the fussiness about Trump’s spelling to “the grammar police.” And some White House defenders have blamed the Du Bois misspelling on the administration of Barack Obama:

There was a significant disparity in the education levels of Trump voters and supporters of his rival, Hillary Clinton. As the Pew Research Center described it:

In the 2016 election, a wide gap in presidential preferences emerged between those with and without a college degree. College graduates backed Clinton by a 9-point margin (52%-43%), while those without a college degree backed Trump 52%-44%. This is by far the widest gap in support among college graduates and non-college graduates in exit polls dating back to 1980. For example, in 2012, there was hardly any difference between the two groups: College graduates backed Obama over Romney by 50%-48%, and those without a college degree also supported Obama 51%-47%.

It’s impossible to say how much sensitivity around education level plays into how charged misspelling has become for either side.

But if Trump’s supporters find his progressive critics precious, it’s doubtful that they’ll view public shaming of the White House for misspellings as anything other than the sort of elitism Trump has blasted. Ridiculing of misspellings on the signs of conservative Tea Party members a few years ago, for example, only increased the resentment and divide.

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