Trump Is Rich and Educated—Why Can't He Spell Simple Words Correctly?

"Unpresidented" acts of covfefe aside, President Donald Trump's tweets have become known for his rampant misspellings. Friday morning, another example of conventional spelling bit the dust as Trump tweeted that "Texas is heeling fast" in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's devastation.

screen_shot_2017-09-01_at_7 Within eight minutes, a silently corrected tweet from President Donald Trump had replaced the original. John Haltiwanger

Typically, the internet races to point out the error, and the offending tweet is taken down, replaced with a corrected but otherwise identical tweet. That's what happened Friday morning too, in an eight-minute turnaround.

Trump attended private boarding school at the New York Military Academy, then enrolled at Fordham University and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and he has enough money to hire a fleet of spelling bee winners. So why the typos?

Many of Trump's misspellings, like "heeling" and "unpresidented," speak to perhaps the most serious challenge posed by the written English language: There are spelling rules, sure, but they come with so many exceptions it's sometimes hard to see why we bother. (You may remember the old saying "i before e, except after c," which the fine folks at Merriam-Webster extended to a 10-line extravaganza of exceptions.)

Part of English's messiness is due to its kleptomaniacal tendencies. It's technically a Germanic language, but with such large helpings of vocabulary from invaders and hosts that spelling is determined by the original rules of languages, from Greek to Sanskrit to Italian.

This means both that words like embarrassed are notoriously tricky to spell and that heeling and healing represent a distinction we don't make in spoken conversation—they sound precisely the same. That's a different type of error from, say, spelling everything phonetically, like yat instead of yacht, or making small flips between letters, like writing lino for lion.

Once we've gotten past the age of spelling bees, we tend to overlook the complicated set of skills that creates a perfectly spelled sentence: everything your brain uses to compose a meaningful sentence, plus the deep well of long-term memory that tells you flight shouldn't look like flite, plus the working memory that handles the active task, plus the motor skills to match that mental image accurately in newly produced text.

Spelling and punctuation errors are classed as mechanical mistakes, a term used to get at the fact that while they are errors, they usually don't reflect or cause a lack of comprehension.

And, of course, spelling depends on the amount of care being taken to form the words. When writing by hand, you likely make more spelling mistakes while scribbling notes in a hurry than while writing a thoughtful thank-you note to your grandmother.

Computers add another source of error: The autocorrect on smartphones is a brilliantly ironic source of texts that become unintentionally worthy of internet fame.

The question is whether you take the time to read over a tweet before you post it to 37 million followers.

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