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Marchers Descend on Spelling Bee

Ok, maybe they're not descending. But there are at least four or five folks holding signs and wearing pins and handing out brochures outside the Spelling Bee. I was convinced that they were protesters, and told ESPN's Erin Andrews--whom Postie Steve Yanda and I interviewed at lunch--that Spelling Bee protesters were a way bigger story than any interview with Erin Andrews.

Sadly, they weren't really protesting.

"We love the Spelling Bee," said Joe Little from New York, one of the marchers. "We're leveraging it. It's a good opportunity to talk about how crazy English language spelling is, how dysfunctional, how funky. You know, bat cat and sat are cool, but when you get to plaid, it starts to unravel, and then you start to call into question the whole thing."

See, they were part of an effort from the American Literacy Council and the London-based Spelling society to enable more people to read, write and spell well by modernizing the whole spelling thing. Laff instead of laugh, and so on. They want a government agency to take this on, to turn English spelling into something that makes sense. They list Lord Tennyson, Charles Darwin, Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin as supporters. They wear buttons that say things like "Enuf is enuf; Enough is too much; and "I'm thru with through."

And they say many of the Spelling Bee kids were intrigued as well. But, in a spell-by-the-numbers world, what happens to the Bee?

"We've got the Geography Bee," Little said. "You can still do the far flung margins of English, like the words these kids are doing inside."

"Nobody uses them, so it doesn't matter how they're spelled," added Joseph Huang of Rockville.

"The French have grammar bees," chimed in Timothy Travis of King George. "But, in fact, other countries don't have spelling bees, other cultures, other languages."

"There's always things you can memorize and concentrate on," Little concluded. "It doesn't have to be spelling."

By Dan Steinberg  |  May 27, 2009; 3:04 PM ET
Categories:  Weirdness  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: That Red Sox Series in DC is Gonna Be Fun
Next: Is Spelling a Sport, and Other Questions


"Must you be a wizard to spell?"

Nah, the Caps & Redskins seem to do all right, so, you know... three out of four, and all that. :P

Posted by: kennedye | May 27, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Their goal seems about as Quixotic as, say, trying to stop people from using "they" to refer to a singular person of indeterminate gender, or the famous French effort to keep non-French words from invading their language...

I mean, it's interesting and funny because of how sort of preposterous it is. But can you really hope to change spelling by fiat? Wouldn't it be about as hard as changing the meanings of all the words in the dictionary? So many people would need to re-learn so many spellings.

Personally I guess I have some sentimental attachment to current spellings because they reflect a history of the words they represent. On the other hand, spelling doesn't exist in spoken language, which has its own history...

Posted by: duffin_j | May 27, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

"You can still do the far flung margines of English, like the words these kids are doing inside."
They'll have a hard time swaying me if they want to change it to margines.

Posted by: honed | May 27, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I remember seeing them around the hotel hosting the Bee a couple years ago.

How do they propose to differentiate among "right" (which has several meanings by itself), "write," "rite," and "wright"?

Posted by: Cosmo06 | May 27, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Texting on phones will probably achieve through collective laziness what they want to pursue through government action.

Posted by: Joran | May 27, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

"Um, can I interview you?" has to be one of the lamest pickup lines ever, Dan.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | May 27, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Yess, letz chainj the spelling of werds and while wer add it, letz make math easyer 2 sinse its 2 difficult for sum peepel. But y stop ther? Letz dum down sosiety al2gether to the lowest comon denomenater because gawd forbid peepel actjewely use there branes 4 sumtheeng.

Posted by: Barno1 | May 27, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

By the way, I am so jealous you got to interview Erin Andrews, Steinz. My only run in with her happened at the WVU-MD game 2 years ago while she was hit with a barrage of heckles about her bell-bottoms from the fat guy standing next to me. She did not appreciate it let me tell ya.

Posted by: Barno1 | May 27, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Would just like to point out that the Charles Darwin we count among supporters of simplified English spelling was in fact Charles Galton Darwin, grandson of the famous naturalist and wartime director of Britain's National Physical Laboratory (NPL), while also serving as vice-president of the Simplified Spelling Society in his spare time.
'Quixotic,' duffin_j? Like it.
'Government action,' Joran? Not necessarily. Yes, we know about texting - but do you know about standardizing it?


1 = one, wan, etc.; 2 = to, too, two, etc.; 3 = three/th/the; 4 = for, four; 5 = five/sh; 6 = six/uh (often omitted as unnecessary/deduceable); 7 = seven/'I'-sound; 8 = ate, eight, etc.; 9 = nine/ng; q = qu; w = w, oo; y = y, ee; i = i, ee; j = j, zh; k = ch; @ = at; ao = long 'uh;' u = u/w; uu = sound in 'au,' 'or;' 'x = x/sc/sk; remainder largely self-explan6tary. ;D

Posted by: londheart | May 27, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

@Cosmo06 just about every word in the dictionary has multiple meanings. does that confuse you every time you read anything? no, because context disambiguates. there is nothing "wrong" with riting all those words the same.

@Barno1 you have it backwards. if we spelled numbers like how english is spelled we would have silent numbers, and you would have to memorize what every number meant as a whole and could not decode it one digit at a time.

@duffin_j spelling changes happen. fantasy used to be spelled phantasy. jail used to be spelled goal. do you think those changes are quixotic too? what we want is changes so that the rules of english spelling are applied consistently instead of having zillions of exceptions. even fluent readers and riters have problems with noing how to pronounce a word they can read and spelling words they no how to pronounce.

and by the way, this is joseph huang from the article and in the picture.

Posted by: jsh1 | May 27, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

There's a great British website for people like you -
You can join the society there.

Posted by: kenethomson | May 28, 2009 4:29 AM | Report abuse

They have a point. My favorite example has always been:

How do you pronounce "Ply" as in plywood, or two-ply?

Now, how do you pronounce "mouth?"

Sweet, now how do you pronounce "Plymouth?"

Plimith! Our country was founded on an affront to sensible pronounciation!

Posted by: VTDuffman | May 28, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

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