Word(s) of Wisdom, March 2, 2015

In English, spelling can be a tricky business for native speakers, let alone for those whose first language is something other than English. I was reminded of such spelling challenges this weekend when a friend of mine, who was born abroad, told me she had enjoyed the delicious “Sheppard’s” (i.e., Shepherd’s) pie that I had served for supper.

Shepherd’s pie combines shredded or ground meat with a potato crust. It apparently dates back to Britain in the 1700s, when potatoes were introduced as common table fare, and it was a dish that allowed cooks to use up their leftover meat creatively. When made with lamb, it is called shepherd’s pie, because grazing sheep were plentiful in the north of England and in Scotland; the beef version is often called cottage pie.

It is easy to see how someone new to Toronto or Canada could mistake shepherd for Sheppard; homonyms, or words that sound alike but are spelled differently, abound in English. For any newcomer who hasn’t seen the term written, it’s simple to assume that it is similar to Sheppard Avenue, a prominent Toronto street.

When I hear a word, I visualize its spelling in my mind – the key is to be able to visualize the CORRECT spelling. Sometime, it’s not as easy as it seems.

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