Suicidal Snowflakes

Just because I have a short attention span doesn\’t mean I…


Lets dumb-down spelling.

It’s been 100 years since Andrew Carnegie helped create the Simplified Spelling Board to promote a retooling of written English and President Theodore Roosevelt tried to force the government to use simplified spelling in its publications. But advocates aren’t giving up.

They even picket the national spelling bee finals, held every year in Washington, costumed as bumble bees and hoisting signs that say “Enuf is enuf but enough is too much” or “I’m thru with through.”

Thae sae th bee selebraets th ability of a fue stoodents to master a dificult sistem that stumps meny utherz hoo cuud do just as wel if speling were simpler.

Maybe it’s not the language. Maybe it’s how we teach it to people. Like… seriously. I can see they’re there their point. I spell marginally well. I know how to spell “education,” unlike someone I went to high school with. But I only recently figured out that there’s a c in discipline. But protesting a spelling bee?? I think they want to simplify language for all the wrong reasons. Cuz spelling bees hurt children’s feelings and reward some students for their ability to memorize spellings or understand complex phoenix rules.

THAT is the part of their argument that pisses me off the most. Aww, we’re making little kids feel bad. Look, that’s life. And we need to present it as a life-lesson when they’re young, otherwise they’ll be very sad when they’re older or adults and are faced with “failing” things they just aren’t good at. Was I discriminated against because I was always the slowest one running the mile?? I mean, what about me, I’m just the poor slow kid, why do I always have to come in last? Or the national geography bee… I got short-changed there too. I did fine with US and Asia, but had trouble with eastern Europe. Is that discriminating against kids who didn’t have good geography teachers in 5th grade? We’re all not good at something, and we’re all going to face a time in our lives when everyone’s celebrating the people who’re good at the one thing we’re not.

The simplified spelling thing, though… 1) Part of the illiteracy/poor spelling problem is the way we teach people. They figured out trying to teach kids to read via the “whole word” method didn’t work in the 70’s. Guess what they’re still using in my school district?? Yeah. I was fortunate enough to have been taught phoenix by nuns, so I was one of the few kids in that high school who could actually read out loud and pronounce the words correctly (not to mention understand what said words meant). That’s the major complaint from businesses who hire graduates of that high school–they can’t do math, and they can’t read. And the more you read… the more exposure you have to these words, and the more the spelling and the rules for spelling/phoenix stick in your head.

They want to move to a system of spelling words the way they sound. That’s great. However… who makes that determination? We pronounce words differently in American than the Brits do. Heck, we pronounce things differently in Pittsburgh than people do in New York or Louisiana. Who’s pronunciation is correct? Do we all pronounce the words as they sound to us, locally? What about how they sound to us as individuals? When we’re children we hear things differently than when we’re adults. Do kids get to spell things differently, and have it considered correct. That’s chaos. Then no one would be able to understand ANYTHING anyone was writing, without some sense of commonality.

Ok, who’s going to be the great maintainer of commonality? A government agency? Which government? Is American English going to diverge from Australian English, simply because we pronounce things differently?

Of course, no one will remember this a few generations from now when we’re all dead and gone… but the transition for kids who’ve spent two or three or five years doing it the “hard” way is going to be tough. Not to mention all of us geezers trying to catch up and adjust. I can’t read my sister’s AIM messages now, because all of her comments to me are littered with that dreaded “IM Speak.” Crap, just reading the phonetic stuff in that article I linked was tough. My brain’s been wired to “see” it the hard way.

Sure changed has occurred over time in some of our spellings (Dialogue or dialog?), but it’s happened slowly, as an evolution over time. I’m not sure just a whole sale demanding that people spell things differently is going to “fly” so well. I’m not sure us geezers will be able to make the “jump” to a system that may be easier to pick up on for newbies, but would basically be the equivalent of learning code or a foreign language for us.

Bottom line: kids should get enough experience with phoenix and reading to have enough of a base of knowledge to be able to look up a word in a dictionary, or get it close enough for Word to figure out. That’d be more helpful to kids than wholesale rewriting of the English language. And as we can see by the article, previous attempts at this failed just as badly. I’d also throw in the attempts to de-saxonize (or was it de-anglo-ize ) the English language by suggesting “alternative” vocabulary words for some things. Which is a funny little story in The History of the Oxford English Dictionary, if you’re interested.

We can force people to use new tax forms. We can’t force them to adopt entirely new ways of communicating at the drop of a hat.



July 5, 2006 - Posted by | Unwashed Masses


  1. I speak German as a second language.

    I can spell German words with no trouble, yet my native language is a nightmare.

    Then again, in English I don’t have to worry about gender, which I can never get right in German. Maybe if we used English genders and German spelling…

    Comment by Rob | July 5, 2006

  2. German’s supposed to be so gosh-darned logical, but I had a tough time with it. Genders was something I had trouble with because, as far as I can tell, there’s no rule or formula. You need to just memorize it and learn it. But yeah… there’s stuff in every language that isn’t “intuative.” And what is intuative?? One person’s “common sense” is radical to the next guy.

    Comment by battybeyond | July 5, 2006

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