I have always been a poor speller, although I’ve improved greatly over the last decade. However, because I am a careful writer, I am less likely than most to write an incorrect homonym like “beat red.” This must be a point of pride to many intelligent bad spellers. In general, spelling is arbitrary. As Geoffrey Numberg says in the way we talk now:
Thus we bad spellers can brush off good spellers as freaks like professional basketball players and American Idol contestants. But knowing the difference between there, their, and they’re: that takes intelligence.
Bearing this in mind, I had a very uncomfortable experience a couple of days ago when I was writing Reduced Shakespeare. Reading through my first draft, I noticed that I spelled “their” as “there”—three times! This was very embarrassing, even if I was the only one around to notice it.
Having thought about it a few days, I now wonder what the big deal is. In truth, the following sentence is completely clear, “There horses were not their.” It makes me wonder if my concern is not just a reflex to please grammar pedants who I despise anyway. These people are, after all, the greatest impediments to the reform and simplification of the language that I greatly desire.
On the other hand, no one wishes to look stupid. Such grammatical niceties are the best way that we have to prove we are educated. That is something, sadly, that matters to me. Except, of course, when writing about grammar.