Student guest post: Spelling in pop culture is less than sensational

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Madeleine Loeb is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill who is majoring in editing and graphic design. She is from Tallahassee, Fla., but Washington, D.C. will be her next home so that she can pursue a creative career in advertising or sports.

The concept of sensational spelling has taken hold of popular culture, starring in advertisements, song titles and branding. Sensational spelling, the deliberate misspelling of a word for special effect, started being used throughout the 1960s and ’70s for mostly musical purposes to create an edgy way of representing an idea or feeling for their music. For example, Sly and the Family Stone used sensational spelling in many of their song titles to change things up a bit.

While this popular way of spelling started in the 1960s and was propelled by artists such as Prince, The Beatles and Ludacris, it has become more and more normal for current artists to incorporate sensational spelling into their work. Much like quick and easy texting language, titles like Britney Spears’ ‘Slave 4 U,’ Macklemore’s “Wing$: and Beyoncé’s “Freakum Dress” have completely stepped away from grammatically correct titles and look more toward fun and simple representations.

But the question still stands: Is it OK for artists to use sensational spelling more so than they use correct spelling? And where does Associated Press style extend into this new style?

I believe that artists’ use of sensational spelling is an attempt at connecting with their younger fan base or trying to look “cool.” But I feel that there needs to be some consistency or at least a set of guidelines when it comes to using sensational spelling.

In hoping to create some sort of structure to an artistic view of spelling and grammar, I have found that it seems that there are two ways to create a style that could be consistent throughout sensational spelling.

The first rule being, any word that is shortened, but could be spelled out to have the same meaning, should be spelled out. For example, “Slave 4 U” would simply become “Slave For You.” Similarly, Macklemore’s “Wing$” would just become “Wings.”

The second rule would be to allow misspellings of words if that word could be considered jargon or necessary to be spelled that way. For example, Beyoncé’s “Freakum Dress” — you’re not going to tell Beyoncé to name her song “Freak Them Dress,” or tell Sly and the Family Stone to change “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” to “Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself Again.” Making those changes would take away the magic of the title and creativity.

So therein lies the problem. How do you suggest this change without taking away creativity?

While I say these would be rules, it’s more of a hope and suggestion. Much like the AP style, it’s a set of guidelines, not edicts. While sensational spelling is outside of the journalistic realm of control, I can only hope that it sticks to the artistic representations and doesn’t soon become acceptable within the journalism community.


One Comment

  1. “I feel that there needs to be some consistency or at least a set of guidelines when it comes to using sensational spelling.”

    Guidelines for variant spellings?

    SB: This is a little difficult to imagine since there are few guidelines for standard spelling and disagreement on how at least 200 words should be spelled. A word like women for /’wImEn/ uses a low frequency spelling pattern for /I/.
    If we suggested that only high frequency spelling patterns be used in a standardized spelling, then about 15% of our current spellings would be disqualified. They would have to be respelled to conform to the guidelines.

    fa lettin me for /f@ letiN mi:/ drops the r and the terminal marker g and does not observe word boundaries but it is still
    easy for someone adept in written English to decipher. Most spelling mistakes convey meaning about as well as the correctly spelled word. *acomodate is just as good as *accommodate when it comes to communication. LITE beer is just as readable as light beer. Both lite and light use high frequency spelling patterns to represent /lait/.

    Standardized spelling introduced in the mid-1700’s is more of a convenience or courtesy for the reader. It makes speed reading possible. Some argue that it was introduced too soon. Johnson could not figure out how to link spelling to a non-standardized pronunciation. He based most of his choices on the spellings his favorite 18th Century writers used. He did not provide a pronunciation guide since this was not his specialty. Perry came out with one about 20years later. Had they pronunciation guide been produced first,then it might have influenced the standardized spelling of a word.

Comments are closed.