The French take proper spelling very seriously. It starts in school, with the traditional exercise of the dictation.
You lose half a point out of 20 if you miss an accent, one point if you misspell a noun, and two points if you make a grammatical mistake. If spelling is really not your thing, you may literally collect an ego-crushing 0/20 (“Zéro!”) once a week for the ten years you will be subjected to dictations. That’s if you are lucky.
Some teachers realize that you should be punished for ALL your violations of the Holy Dictionary. Those practical thinkers therefore distribute subzero grades! Come to think of it, that’s just plain logic. Fifteen grammatical mistakes are worse than ten grammatical mistakes. Just leaving it at zero would be unfair to all those guys who failed slightly less than you did.
Repeat “Less-than-zero” offenders have been known to develop some sort of trauma that haunts them well into adulthood. Go figure.
The childhood trauma of the weekly dictation usually morphs into some kind of sickly fascination for old wounds. It’s a mix of pride (You have no idea how complex and rich MY language truly is) and masochism (Sorry, I can’t spell. Call me a Zero, please!).
For reference, 3 million consenting viewers and 500,000 candidates eagerly endure the annual “Dictée de Bernard Pivot“, a kind of international spelling bee on steroids, where French native speakers of all ages are reminded how badly they suck at their own language. It has been a staple on French television for the past twenty years. The guy behind this national act of contrition (let’s call him Bernard Pivot) makes a fortune out of reminding you how inadequate you are. You get the idea.
Now, it comes as no surprise that Le Monde regularly entertains its readership with an online spelling quiz. The latest one is called “L’atelier Diktée“… yes, “Diktation” with a typo (ha! ha! ha! very funny). Here it is.
So I took the test. And I failed (surprise…). 8 wrong answers, 2 correct ones. The automated comment states: “Don’t worry, you’re not as dumb as it seems“. Geez, thanks Monsieur Le Monde. That’s when I notice the unthinkable. Now take a closer look at this:
Yes, you got it. It reads “8 wrong answer | 2 right answer“, Hellllllooooooo!!!!! Hey, Le Monde, you suck too, hassle!
When I am not busy misspelling French or English, I study underground literature and translate French cult classics. I just published my translation of a hilarious (totally un-PC) French book by Jean-Pierre Ledauphin: Make It Big in the USA Just Because You Are French. You can read free excerpts on this blog and buy it on CreateSpace or Amazon (additional samples there).