Have you ever sat back and wondered why exactly dyslexia is so hard to spell? I’ve always thought it was ironic that a word used to describe a neurology that makes spelling difficult is almost impossible to get right unless you practice it often.
It’s Not Rooted In English
Part of the reason it’s so difficult for English speakers to spell it is because it isn’t an English word to begin with. The word “dyslexia” can be broken down into two parts:
Dys- – From the Greek word “dys”, meaning poor or inadequate
-lexia – Again from the Greek word “lexis”, meaning language or words
It was coined in the 1880s by a German eye doctor to describe one of his patients, a little boy, who couldn’t read despite the fact his eyes and mental faculties were normal for someone his age. Before it became popular, and later the official name of the diagnosis, it was simply known as “word blindness”.
Probably Not Intended for Non-professionals
While I have no hard and fast proof of this, I do get the distinct impression that it, like most medically related words, wasn’t meant to be used by people not in the medical profession. I doubt that was intentional, but since every profession has its own language, it makes sense that elements of said professions have names that fit into the overall linguistic environment.
Just look at relatively common respiratory disease names like asthma, pneumonia and emphysema. If I were to spell them the way they sounded to me, I’d spell them like asma, numoneea and emfasima. However, enough people in our world have them or have had them in the past that almost everyone has heard of them at one time or another.
The only reason I know how to spell the first two as well as I do is that I have had asthma since I was a pre-teen and I know several people who have had pneumonia to varying degrees.
These are all words that are important to know, but that doesn’t change the fact they’re based off of a different set of rules than we’re used to following.
|These are examples of weekly searches for various misspellings of dyslexia.|
Although not all dyslexics have problems with phonemic awareness, enough do that it’s a good reason to include here. In fact, poor sound awareness and recognition is thought to be a huge contributing factor to why many have such a hard time with reading and writing.
When I look at the frequency of keywords searched per month for dyslexia, one common search terms I find is “dyslectic”.
Think for a moment how dyslexia is pronounced – dis-leks-ee-ya. Let’s think about the mechanics behind how you pronounce “dyslexia” versus “dyslectic”.
For both x and ct, you press the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, then transfer pressure to the tip of your tongue. The difference comes in the second part of the sound. For the “x”, you hold the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth and press a stream of air through to form a hissing sound. However, for the “t”, you release the position quickly for an explosive “t” sound.
You now have “dyslectic” instead of “dyslexic”.
When you think about the mechanics involved in speaking and combine that with crossed wires in sound processing centers in the brain, misspelled words make a lot more sense.
The word “dyslexia”, like so many others, isn’t easy to spell in the first place. When you add all three factors together, it’s little wonder that so many people struggle with it.