This Spelling Test from 1974 Will Drive You Insane

Demons are real. And they write spelling tests.

schoolAfrica Studio/ShutterstockDr. William Kottmeyer was a “bespectacled, grandfatherly man” who, if you went to elementary school in the ‘70s or ‘80s, is probably directly responsible for giving you a migraine headache.

One of America’s foremost authors on English spelling, Kottmeyer’s “Basic Goals in Spelling” series sold more than 225 million copies (as of his 1989 death) and is said to have appeared in half of all American classrooms. We can thank Dr. Kottmeyer for teaching thousands of us how to spell. But we can also curse him for inventing one of the most devilish spelling quizzes of all time, fiendishly published in the March 1974 edition of Reader’s Digest. Today, dear reader, we share it with you again.

The words you’ll find on the quiz below are all examples of what Kottmeyer called “spelling demons” —regularly-used English words that are each notoriously tricky to spell, often due to our language’s squishy rules about doubling consonants and pairing vowels (reminder: “i before e except after c” is wrong 75 percent of the time). Despite making English spelling his life’s work, Kottmeyer was keen to address the ridiculousness of our language. The only way to properly teach reading and spelling, he maintained, was to switch to a 44-letter alphabet that includes a symbol for each sound in English.  “But we won’t make the change,” he told The Times, “because of the enormous investment in our crummy 26‐symbol alphabet.” He wasn’t alone, of course—this guy tried to invent a new English language (and the result was ridiculous).

Ready for the test? Good. Following is a list of 25 of Kottmeyer’s favorite “spelling demons.” Which of the words below is misspelled?

  1. Embarrass
  2. Liquefy
  3. Coliseum
  4. Siege
  5. Battalion
  6. Rarefy
  7. Seize
  8. Shriek
  9. Acquiesce
  10. Supersede
  11. Weird
  12. Wield
  13. Cemetery
  14. Ukulele
  15. Gauge
  16. Hypocrisy
  17. Controversy
  18. Sizable
  19. Mischievous
  20. Accommodate
  21. Inoculate
  22. Judgment
  23. Sacrilegious
  24. Desiccate
  25. Dyeing (coloring)

So—how many misspelled words did you notice?

If you picked 4 or more words, you’re wrong.

In fact, if you picked any words, you’re wrong.

The answer is: None of the above words are misspelled.

Kottmeyer specially selected these finicky phonemes for what he called his “Spelling List for Literate Adults,” a 50-word list that he liked to spring on his unsuspecting friends and colleagues. Expecting to find errors, we “literate adults” look for misspellings where there aren’t any, easily fooled by a cluster of words whose correct spellings look just a little off to begin with. But they’re not off—they’re right on the money. And that, folks, is why they’re called demons.

Ready for another brain teaser? Here’s the weird reason we spell Mrs. with an R.

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