The guys I have worked with over my years in the construction and mining industry, they were able to speak English, but stuff me if they could spell it.
It’s actually an industry-wide problem, and among the many examples I’ve personally experienced of borderline unintelligible written communications from so-called supervisors, I know for a fact that one major mining company continually sends project managers, with annual salaries of over a quarter of a million dollars, off to emergency remedial English courses designed for sixteen year-olds.
During my years in administration, when onsite, one of my jobs has always been to fix up the different reports, safety documents and orders for parts submitted by the guys who actually do the physical labour.
These men often perform highly repetitive and dangerous tasks for ten to twelve hours each day, often in extremely uncomfortable conditions, so there’s no doubting that their job is more physically demanding than mine.
Their spelling though? It was nearly always abysmal, and every form often contained more words spelled incorrectly and non-words, than correct ones.
Sometimes working out what a document was saying, I feel like an archeologist trying to translate and an ancient and dead language.
Common mistakes the guys made included changing words that begin with ‘en’, ‘im’, ‘un’ or ‘an’ into ‘in’. Whatever the prefix, they all became an ‘in’.
Examples include: ‘invironment’, ‘inportant’, ‘inknown’, ‘incient’, ‘inpact’, ‘inage’, ‘inalyse’ and ‘inal’ instead of ‘anal’.
Okay maybe not that last one, but if it did happen, it’d make my year.
They also have a lot of trouble with the word ‘hole’. As in, a hole in the ground.
Many times I’ve seen it spelled beginning with a ‘w’, lacking the ‘e’ and the ‘h’, and with two ‘e’s and all sorts of rogue silent letters.
A few of the guys had so much trouble with it that they gave up on spelling it out, and resorted to drawing a circle.
Then there’s my name, ‘Xavier’. That was too hard for ‘em, and my nickname became Matty, because that’s what it says on my work shirts.
They always spell Matty with an ‘ie’, however, which I later found out was on on purpose.
One of my old bosses said, ‘It’s with an “ie” just like Pattie. A girl’s name for a big girl.’
The best mistake I’ve come across was on the application form of a guy who still ended up getting a job.
Under ‘emergency contact’ he’d misspelled his mother’s first name, and it wasn’t some fancy bogan attempt at being different.
It was clearly wrong, as he’d written down ‘Scharleamatarne’.
Which looks like he just tried to include as many letters as he could, in the hope that some of them would be correct.
So I had to call him up and ask what word he was attempting to spell, then how to spell it, because if you’re calling someone’s emergency contact that means something horrible’s happened, and you don’t want to notify the wrong person.
He told me, ‘The name’s Charlene, but I’ve got no idea how to spell it.’
‘You don’t know how to spell your Mum’s first name?’ I replied.
‘Why the hell would I?’ he said. ‘For my whole entire life, I’ve always just called her Mum.’
Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.
His second comedy memoir ‘Going Out of My Mined’ features true stories from his time as a FIFO worker and is available now.