This story makes my heart race and my blood pressure rise, makes me clench my fists, grit my teeth, and use every meditiative technique I know not to slam my forehead repeatedly into the monitor.
Then again, considering my long-standing love affair with the English language, perhaps my reaction is to be expected.
In a nutshell, the well-meaning morons of the American Literacy Council (and how dare they name themselves thusly!) must have had problems spelling as they were growing up. Because they’re all about turning the English language into a *&%$#& marketing billboard where everything is spelled just the way it’s supposed to sound.
Oh, but the sheer stupidity of this premise infuriates me to the pit of my creative-writing soul.
Disclosure: In 8th grade, I got a D on a paper, which, strangely enough, was about illiteracy in the US. Once I stopped crying, my teacher (and I use that word loosely) told me I was using words that were over my head. I used to read thesauri - or thesauruses, both are acceptable according to MW- for fun. OK, I still do. Sue me.
I’m going to attempt a rational deconstruction here, just to remind myself of the logic when folks here at the plant start saying, “Hey, maybe that’s a good idea!”
So let’s start with the initial motivator for this inane attempt to lower the bar of the English language.
“Kids have a hard time spelling,” states the ALC.
No shit, Sherlock. So do adults.
“But it’s taking so much longer to teach them English,” the ALC whines. “If we spell everything the way it sounds, kids will learn more easily and illiteracy levels will drop.”
I present to you one simple word that slams that argument right to the ground, then cracks a hard, cold metal folding chair on its head.
DIALECT, motherfuckers. DIALECT.
Around here I have a hard time figuring out whether someone is saying “pin” or “pen.” It’s that darned “schwa” sound – you know, the upside-down e. Around here, if someone says, “Hand me that peeyun,” they really mean “Hand me that pen.”
Another example: try getting someone from Madison county to tell you how much “irl” they have left and translate their response – without knowing first of all that they’re talking about their car’s engine. Yeah, “irl” in Madison county means “oil.” I shit you not. It's awesome, and I love it, for the most part - once I finally figure out what they're saying.
To be sure, some things kinda* grate on me. Like that irritating pronunciation of “asked” – transformed, somehow, into “axed.” If you spell it phonetically, does that mean you write “axed” or “akst?” Eh, what the hell. Say good-bye to the letter “x.”
Which, ironically, means that "xenophobe" would be spelled "zeenafobe" which would lose the original Greek root of "xeno" which meant "foreign." Hey, does that mean that "Xena" (of "Xena Warrior Princess") means "foreign woman?" Wow, I never thought of that. Probably just a coincidence but I'll have to look it up later.
Say good-bye to “q” and "c." Why would you need a "c" when you have "s" and "k"? As a matter of fact, there goes the lovely, beautiful, imaginative spelling of my daughter’s name. Excuse me while I grab a tissue, folks, I’m getting a little emotional here.
My husband knows I spend too many minutes of every day dissecting phonemes in my head, just for the fun of it. Like “Wow, that’s really funny because it sounded just like she said ‘blah’ when I know she meant ‘bleh.’”
So you of the ALC try to standardize the phonetics of this country for dialect. Good luck with that, assholes. Come spend some time in the low country after you’ve gotten all your idiotic spelling together. Then go hang out in Maine, New York City, and Missouri. See how long it takes your sadly over-taxed brains to explode. It can’t come too soon, in my rather hostile opinion. And once you get everything standardized, do your best to make everyone in the country - and all English speakers, for that matter - speak the same way. Once you're done with that you can go "correct" everyone else in the world who speaks English as a second language.
It ought to be simple, the way they make it sound. Boil everything down to its roots (once you figure out what letter sounds like what) and let go of the rest of the junk. Let go of the poetry. Let go of the amusing investigation of odd spellings and their strange and wonderful etymologies, which show our words to be living evidence of our history.
It’s like sweeping Dumbledore’s office clean of all those cool gadgets he has sitting around. I mean, hey, no one uses them except Dumbledore, right? And since no one else can seem to figure out how they work, and nobody else really wants to, he shouldn’t be able to use them either.
It’s linguistic fascism. It’s ugly. To say it plays to the lowest common denominator is an understatement of the highest order.
Even if we’re not all great spellers (and who is, really? I have plenty of friends who still confuse “loose” with “lose” and I love them anyway,) can we not just try to be better? Because aspiration, learning, and growing should not stop when a person thinks he or she is done. Or bored. Or ready to go smoke a joint behind the gym.
Learning the English language can and should be a lifelong adventure of the highest order - because no matter how much you think you know, you will never, ever stop learning.
Maybe I should have been an English teacher. Maybe there’s still time.
*If this insanity catches on, the use of "kinda" to infuse a casual style into someone's writing (by the writer's choice) will be gone, too.