damn those webster boys


girl with dunce cap by arthur tressWhat is up with spelling?

People did not used to have spelling rules. I have read old documents and letters written by very educated people of their times and they all spelled words differently. Also phonetically which makes sense. Then along came the Webster Brothers and the Webster Brothers made up SPELLING RULES. But they are stupid. “I” before “E” except when it follows “C”? What the hell is that some kind of Dungeons & Dragons eight sided dice thing?

I spell better in German than in English. I had a vicious East German instructor who counted off just as many points for a spelling error as she did for conjugating a verb wrong. Cripes. East Germans are strict. But it worked. I can really spell auf Deutsch. [My vocabulary is also like eight words but damn it I can so spell those eight words.]

I bet those Webster boys were East German.


where the art work comes from :
that is girl with dunce cap by arthur tress

45 Responses to damn those webster boys

  1. Two years ago, after returning from a business trip to Cologne, we were eating dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. When the waiter brought more salsa, I absentmindedly said “danke.”

    My oldest son said, “Dad, what makes it worse is that you spoke German with a Spanish accent.” The only thing worse than the Websters is that annoying Chicago Manual of Style. It makes me second-guess my clothing choices every day.

  2. Also, that stupid rule makes me misspell “caffeine” all the time too. Especially when I get to the “unless it sounds like ‘a’ as in neighbor or weigh.”

  3. max

    Was he kidding around or could he actually discern a Spanish accent in German? If he can discern that he is a linguist in the making. That or a CIA op.

  4. He was serious. He says that my Italian (a handful of words), my German (another handful), and even my Hawaiian (maybe 3 words) all has a distinct Spanish accent to it. He calls it my “universal non-English accent, applicable to all languages… none is safe from being mangled so horribly.”

    He’s overly dramatic like that. I have no idea why.

    CIA op? They’d tell him his feet were too big.

  5. More often than not, when I have to explain grammar to someone, I have to go over the rules in my head in Spanish before I explain them in Engilsh. See, I took a Spanish linguistics course in college for my minor but as a native English speaker, I never really had to go over all that pesky grammar. I just went along with the “it is, because it is” theory of stuff.

    This is extra fun when my friend Natalie explains all sorts of stuff to me for her masters and PhD in linguistics and as she’s speaking, I have to quickly translate shit in my head. Funny thing is, she majored in Spanish and could probably just tell me in that language but I’d get all nervous and my brain would freeze up if she did.

    Why? Very simple. Because I’m lame.

  6. People who care about this kind of stuff drink too much.

    I’m willing to stand by that statement.

  7. 10 years ago, I wrote this in reply to someone else’s post (hence the first and last lines had a very specific context; I’m not sure why I chose the quirky wrong-accenting of the first and last lines).

    If you’re a NEWBIE,
    it’s “i” before “e”,
    except after “c”,
    though it’s hard to PERCEIVE
    many words built that way.
    Oh, if sounding like “ay”,
    then “e” before “i”,
    like an HEIR to the guy
    whose REIGN ends when he’s killable.
    If more than one syllable,
    Then these rules do not work;
    For not SEEING you jerk
    Best use ONOMATOPEIA.
    If HEREIN we must see ya,
    This WEIRD place to score in,
    Think of words that are FOREIGN:
    EIGENVECTOR’s not chic,
    But think again, SHEIK;
    If you’re a BLENHEIM miser
    I must stick to BUDWEISER.
    And there’s a SURFEIT of names
    That do not play by this game;
    Discount EINSTEIN and GEIGER?
    I’ve a pal named KEITH MEIER!
    EITHER way this is cyclic;
    Misspellings aren’t SEISMIC
    So don’t have a SEIZURE,
    Revert back to LEISURE;
    Such flames aren’t the HEIGHT–
    (This ain’t POMPEII’s site)
    You might well be EIDETIC
    But don’t be so pathetic;
    Unless you show wit
    Your posting priv’s please FORFEIT

  8. max

    I now fear you.

  9. Eddie

    Tangent here — I always wanted to add an ‘h’ to height when I was a kid, or at least have the present ‘h’ trade places with the ‘t’ because length and width both ended in ‘th’.

    I caught myself watching that spelling bee on tv last night for about ten minutes. I figure the only thing crazier than those kids is the people watching those kids on tv.

  10. “I before E except after C
    And in sounding like “ay” as in “neighbor” and “weigh”
    And on weekends and holidays and all throughout May
    and you’ll ALWAYS be wrong, no matter what you say”
    -Brian Regan

    Personally, I think words are communication, so the better you spell, the better you communicate.

    But the important thing is that you’re getting your point across. As long as people do that, I’m not too worried.

  11. There have always been spelling rules to me. I just computed how words were or ought to be spelled from a very young age. I learned to read aged 3, so that might have imprinted that…

    Webster’s is foreign to me. I know why. Australia is part of the British Commonwealth and the American way was not acceptable. It’s why I grew up with Sesame Street, but not the Electic Company. Too much American spelling and grammar. Counting and ABC’s are alright.

    It’s kinda funny, don’t you think, that America is the only country that still holds on to imperial measurements, and has it’s own version of English…and I’m not saying the American way of English is bad at all. You guys are responsible for a lot of very impressive and deceptively simple adaptations.

    I have a fantastic book by Bill Bryson called “Made In America”, which is pretty much about nothing but the way America has taken hold of the English language, in a good way. It’s a pretty amazing book. I highly recommend it. I used to disrespect Americans for their bastardisations until I read this….

    Bill Bryson is one of my favourite authors. Love him now.

  12. I also won a truckload of spelling bees. Anything I don’t spell right is a typo….

    Not showing off, just clarifying…and looking like a geek in the process…

  13. Okay…I’m gonna be sitting in the back row of class hanging out with the losers- we won’t be talking about those Webster Dweebs…I can promise you that.

    Join us when you get bored.


  14. Finally, someone to blame!

  15. I’m in the back of the class with Anita Marie.

  16. Whoo Hooo
    Thanks Kitty it was getting pretty lonesome back here…I was about to resort to talking to my sock puppets

  17. max

    Me too. I am teaching the sock puppets to smoke.

  18. ‘i before e except after c if the sound is ee’ (except seizure – there’s always one).

    I know all the spelling rules.

    But I still can’t spell.

    And I hate dictionaries. How do you look up how to spell a word if you don’t know how to spell it? Thank crunchie for the era of the computer.

    Anyway, does that qualify me to come and hang out with the cool kids at the back? Gimmie a ciggarrette.

  19. max

    Absolutely. You are in.

  20. Humm… I believe that dictionaries are there for uniformity so that even the educated people have some standardization. That said the English language is weird, just like the spelling of weird… And seizure.

    Style manuals are a different animal all together. There we have a complete breakdown in standardization by having several different standardizations. There should be only one and it doesn’t matter which, APA, MLA, Chicago… Stop the insanity! I mean, who cares if my semicolon should be a colon as long as the citation is factually accurate?

    Speaking of which, there is a new library in Arizona that is doing away with the Dewey Decimal System in favor of shelving books by topic and then alphabetically by author (like a bookstore). I predict a fiery crash and burn since books don’t need to be reshelved in a store. You wouldn’t believe the entropy that is ubiquitous even while using a structured system, like Dewey. I hope they are also using RFID tags instead of barcodes, so that when items go missing they can locate them with their tricorders :)

  21. What’s that smell?

    Oh right…the smoking sock puppets.

    That’s so cool Max- I wonder if we can teach them to yodel to.

  22. Brut

    Hemingway said “Actually if a writer needs a dictionary he should not write. He should have read the dictionary at least three times from beginning to end and then have loaned it to someone who needs it.” Shit! I missed that part before about reading it three times. I’m up to petifog, but only on my first reading… And I didn’t know we were supossed to remember all those words. Damn. Is there room in the back. I no longer smoke… but, I carry a silver flask.

  23. In high school, I was the one who was grabbing a mouthful of butane and blowing fire when they turned the lights out for a TV-based lesson. I was busy entertaining the other smokers in the back of the room.

    Then, I found myself in a job writing 36 pages of computer newsletter material a month, and what amounted to 6-7 editorial reviews before it hit print. After the third year, I finally gave in to writing better, because it was easier on my ego than seeing pages and pages of red ink.

    When my oldest was about 5, I overheard him singing “Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back anymore anymore anymore anymore.” Both of them correct themselves now if they accidentally speak in passive voice, and they have been know to correct teachers (and even the principal) for grammar errors in front of the class.

    If I sit in the back blowing butane flames, don’t be surprised if I reflexively suggest alternative transitional phrases when someone’s telling a story about the weekend binge at the beach. I’d best stay up front with the other annoying people.

  24. max

    Sorry Firm you sit up front with annoying people who think it is appropriate to verbally correct other people.

  25. The only entertainment we got from ” front row” kids in highschool was a little thing we used to call ” Toilet Bowl Olympics”

    I’ll leave that to your imagination.


  26. It’s not a matter of thinking it’s appropriate. It’s a matter of not being able to keep the words from coming out of my mouth. :D

    I’ll sit up front. ;)

  27. Anita, anyone who can pick me up is welcome to gimme a swirly. My obnoxious sons both play football, and all of us do gym time together to see who can squat the most (my 16 year-old is smoking us for the moment by having done 470 lbs two weeks ago in competition). When we play, we play hard. When people get rough, we get rough too.

    I’ll leave “play rough” to your imagination. :D

  28. max

    Um. Why are you being belligerant with Anita and using two teenage sons as back up? Stop that.

  29. aj

    “I” before “E” except when it follows “C”? What the hell is that some kind of Dungeons & Dragons eight sided dice thing?

    Cripes you can be funny sometimes!

  30. aj

    P.S – I know you are going to pipe up and say something about the “sometimes” in that comment. But if I said “all the time”, you would have nothing to strive for.

  31. I suppose this (again) proves that I can spell correctly, punctuate properly, attempt to form coherent and complete thoughts, and still not communicate worth a damn.

  32. sulya

    I learned to spell sitting on a Galaxy Hopper. It was one of those big, heavy-guage rubber balls with handles that you can sit and bounce around on. My mother would say, “Squirrel” and I would bounce around the living-room saying:

    S – Q – U – I – R – R- L

    and then have to do it again because I’d messed up. This method got me to advanced spelling by the time I was in Grade 6. Where, incidentally, seats were assigned by height so I was always at the front.

    As soon as I got to choose where I sat, I was always at the back by the windows. And by then I had pretty much forgotten how to spell again.

    Oh, and I once had a dictionary called “Spell It” where you could look the word up based on how you “think” it should be spelled. So you could look up “speshul” and find out that it’s supposed to be “special”.

    It was awesome.

  33. max

    In other words, an early version of spell check. [wink]

  34. sulya

    Totally analogue version. Linear too.

    Had to at least know the order of the letters of the alpahabet.

    That was always a bitch…

  35. max

    Oh you did not grow up with Sesame Street then. Wow that sucks.

  36. sulya

    I was educated at home remember.

    When my parents needed a break I watched Sesame Street three times a day. Knew all my letters pretty young, started to even try to write them pretty young. Knew the alphabet song cold.

    I’ve just never been good at the looking things up alphabetically.

    Still have to say the letters out loud sometimes, to make sure I’m heading in the right direction.

  37. max

    I am trying my damndest here not to blurt out “poor homeschooled bastard” but you are making it awful hard.

  38. sulya

    Sticks and stones may break my bones but
    Only alphabetized books will hurt me.


  39. max

    Have you tried hopping? That is how you learned to spell there may now be a permanent mental link between spelling and lunging about on a giant hoppy ball.

  40. sulya

    [Sulya looks up the words “cheeky” and “wench” in a dictionary while jumping in place.]

  41. I was spelling bee champ until I misspelled “Philosophy.”

    BTW, where were you, Max, when I needed you to help me post on surly German Boy’s site?

  42. max

    Meine Deutsch ist nicht so gut, Stil.

  43. Hmm. Even I can interpret that one.

  44. max

    Well he was being a dick, Stil. He said your Kennedy joke was old and then he acted like your German was so aberrant he could not understand it which was crap the only thing off in that sentence was one case. What did he want, Thomas Mann? You were cute and he was a dick.

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