Revealed: The Words Smart People Can’t Spell

Revealed: The Words Smart People Can’t Spell
After spending five years trying to spell his own name, Friedrich Nietzsche famously declared that God was dead. (Photo: Gustav Schultze)

Linguist and Because Internet author Gretchen McCulloch asked her Twitter followers to share the words that they can’t actually spell without relying on spellcheck. The answers she got will comfort and edify you.

Writers, teachers, engineers, scholars and other smart people shared their problem words. Here are some of the most popular responses, plus our spelling tips:

  • rhythm: It’s an rh and th, each followed by one letter.

  • judgment: No emotion in this judgment.

  • bureaucracy: For beautiful I think of a cartoon character going “You are bee-eee-aaa-youuutiful!” In your head, pronounce the eau in bureaucrat the same way. Think of a beautiful bureaucrat.

  • bourgeoisie: (adj. bourgeois) They drink bourbon around the world (geo), and…you’re on your own for isie.

  • fuchsia: You would think the s goes first. But fuchsia fucks ya.

  • hierarchy: You’re higher (i-er) in the hierarchy.

  • vacuum: See dirt once, scoop it twice.

  • millennial: They want two of everything! (Ugh sorry.)

  • business: It’s busy-ness. Or, you take the bus to a business.

  • privilege: I don’t have a leg to stand on.

  • nauseous: Picture a nautical seasick mouse.

  • Nietzsche: You learn about him at zee school.

  • Fibonacci: Maths educator H. P. Read has a great trick: “The b, n, and c’s follow the start of the Fibonacci sequence 1, 1, 2.”

  • dependence: It’s all e’s.

  • resistance: Say it like you’re French.

  • maintenance: The main room has ten ants.

  • harassment: One r and two ss’s, like (sorry) “your arse.”

  • embarrassment: Two r’s, two ss’s. Say it in your head with a rolled r.

  • graffiti: The spray paint goes fffff.

  • hors d’oeuvres: Call them snacks.

Double c’s and s’s are a common problem. It’s hard to learn them all at once, but here goes:

  • occasion: On occasion, you cough cough sneeze.

  • accommodate: You have to accommodate two children and two men.

  • necessary: Twitter user Tye says it’s necessary for a shirt to have one collar and two sleeves.

  • broccoli: Reporter Sara Simon pictures one lady serving broccoli to two cats.

Librarian Wayne Jones points to a classic Patrice O’Neal bit about how he can’t spell restaurant (starts at 4:18):

If you have the same problem, think of a bull upsetting the china: a taurus in a restaurant.

See more tough words in the original Twitter thread.


  • Manoeuvre.
    For whatever reason, mainly lack of motivation, it has taken me years to get close enough for spell check to even know what I am trying to spell…

  • Judgment/judgement is an interesting one since both spelling are considering correct (depending on where you are). I typically use judgment thought because that’s how it’s spelled in legal documents where I used to work.

    Rhythm was taught to me years ago with a little sing song “R-H-Y *pause* T-H-M”.

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