Give haitch queue a bairing

According to Travelodge, we are a nation of mis-spellers

During the second World War, my old Uncle Arthur was in the Home Guard, stationed on a remote stretch of the Norfolk coast in a place where there was little to guard but the lighthouse.

Uncle Joe was a sergeant and in charge of the platoon’s ordnance, which comprised several sharpened broom handles, a few hay rakes, and a number of dustbin lids with which to fend off the enemy. Members of the 2nd Platoon North Norfolk Brigade took their duties seriously and would regularly patrol the dunes looking for signs of invasion. None was ever discovered, although on the night of April 14th, 1943, the platoon was required to spring into action when an enemy plane passed overhead.

“He do look like he’s haidin’ fur Nar’ich,” said Uncle Joe, adding urgently “Dig owt the radio, corprell, an give haitch queue a bairing. About three-ten degrees, waist nor’ waist, I raickon.” The corporal did as commanded and soon the voice of a radio operator in distant Cambridge was heard “Go ahead,’ said the voice. “This here’s Hazebru post,” said the corporal. “An’ we warnt to report we ha’ seen some Fokker haidin’ fur Nar’ich.”

“Haze-what?” came the response from HQ. “How are you spelling that?” The corporal told him. “That spells Happisburgh, “ said the voice from HQ, “why didn’t you say so.”

The village of Happisburgh – which, incidentally, is home to the UK’s only independent lighthouse – is probably the most mis-pronounced and misspelled place-name in Britain, although Cholmondeley, in Cheshire, must run a close second. But it seems that even much simpler locations, with seemingly obvious pronunciations, still prove beyond the reach of many. Take Wareham for example: according to a recent Travelodge survey, one in five Britons was unable to correctly spell the name of the Dorset town, Wearum being the most common alternative. Likewise Brighton: one in five spelt it Britan.

And this survey was not of the usual high-street, vox-pop kind, which will tend to show bias according to where the high-street is located. Instead, Travelodge tested the spelling skills of 5,000 UK customers by means of a reservations audit. Its central booking computer identified that, on an average day, around 20 per cent of the company’s bookings are for locations that don’t exist. In fact, so frequently are some place names mis-spelt (Stansted Airport is the worst) that Travelodge is expanding the scope of its search algorithms to allow for the orthographically challenged.

Bearing in mind that the vast majority of Travelodge reservations will be made by businessmen and women – who presumably have day jobs and can do joined-up writing – it is more than probable that misspelling is even more widespread among the nation as a whole. That dozent serprise me.


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