Nonononono! Spelling NEEDS Rules! — A guest post by Dan Hoyt
*We have posters lined up for rotating on Fridays (we’re going to put them on a little lazy Susan!) but me being me, I haven’t set up the relay/schedule yet. So, last week Dorothy Grant offered herself as a tribute, and this week my own husband had something to get off his chest. So… Please give a warm MGC welcome to the smarter Hoyt, my husband Dan.*
Nonononono! Spelling NEEDS Rules! — by Dan Hoyt
I felt someone’s presence in my bedroom as I was nodding off to sleep one night in July a couple years ago. I still remember the incident as if it were yesterday. The oddly familiar scent of Axe deodorant wafted over me, and I awakened instantly, my eyes snapping open.
“Lowme,” someone said inches from my nose. I recoiled automatically, jerking my head deeper into my pillow and whacking my headboard in the process. “Ayemiou.”
My heart stalled for a couple seconds as my eyes adjusted to the dim moonlight and the stranger’s face coalesced. “Well, you look like me,” I said aloud, with the uncomplicated innocence of comprehension only a dreamer can muster when faced with the impossible. “Only older.”
“Stroo,” the older gentleman said, nodding vigorously. “Yunemee saim.”
I had to admit, he did look a lot like me. Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I realized this had to be a dream, and in dreams anything is possible. Maybe he really was me.
“What do you want?” I blurted out, barely audible over the thundering of my heart.
He stared at me for a while, and cocked his head to the side a little, as if considering his answer for the first time. Curiously unfazed, I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to go back to sleep when Future Me spoke suddenly.
“Surreal portin’ hugo.”
Warily cracking one eye barely enough to see Future Me, I croaked, “Go where? Work? Why’s it so important?”
Future Me shook his head slowly. “No,” he said, drawing out the ‘o.’ “Movie.”
I shut my eye diffidently. “You want me to go to a movie?”
“Got it. A movie. Which one?” It escaped me what movie could possibly be of such importance to warrant time travel, but I admit I was a bit intrigued with the prospect. Still, I refused to open my eyes again.
“Nonononono! Moo. Vee. En.” Future Me sounded irritated at this point.
With an audible sigh of exasperation, he scrabbled on my bedside for the pen and notebook he knew he’d find there. (It’s a writer thing, you won’t understand unless you’re a writer. Fortunately, Future Me was, well, me, so he understood.) Angry, scratching marks, punctuated by the occasional expletive (some things never change), filled the silence for the next few minutes. At last, Future Me slammed the pad down on my chest and chucked my chin to get my attention. “Reed.”
When I opened my eyes, Future Me was gone. Clutching at my chest, I found the pad he’d left behind. It read, simply: “Yoogo mooveen Denverr. Surreal portin. Go.”
July 20, 2012, standing outside a movie theater in Aurora, CO, for a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, I contemplated Future Me. I still didn’t know why he was so insistent on my going to a movie in Denver, but eventually I gave in and here I stood, waiting in line to buy tickets. Not all that interested in this particular movie, I was swayed to the decision by my teenaged son’s pleas – and a nagging compulsion to do something to recapture some of the father-son bonding time that seemed to slip away with each year as he grew more independent. Was it worth it? Would he even remember years from now? Reluctantly, I purchased tickets, then imagined erasing the worry lines from my forehead before turning back to my son with a wide grin, waving the tickets theatrically.
Future Me scanned the timelines. One in particular caught his attention, and he gasped.
“Nonononono!” he said aloud, startling several nearby time travelers monitoring their multiverse missions. “Moo. Vee,” he said slowly, adding a final, exaggerated, “En.” He shook his head sadly. “No. Ho. Em. NOT show!”
Behind him, his instructor chuckled. “Badrun. Yoodie.” Future Me’s mission monitor winked off.
Every now and then, somebody decides it would be a great idea to abandon standardized spelling. What’s most baffling is when another writer champions this idea. One academic/writer, Oberlin associate professor Anne Trubek, summed up her argument – based primarily on the fact that texting shorthand is understandable (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2012/01/st_essay_autocorrect/) – with, “Standardized spelling enables readers to understand writing, to aid communication and ensure clarity. Period. There is no additional reason, other than snobbery, for spelling rules.” Then she concludes with, “Let’s make our own rules.”
Nonononono! Ignoring the obvious irony that nearly her entire article (save the title and one short sentence) uses standardized spelling, how can someone so learned not see the contradiction between those two statements? If the point of standardized spelling is to aid communication and ensure clarity, then surely that means spelling rules have value, right? Yet, she infers those rules are unneeded. Huh? Did I miss something?
Sure, we can puzzle out that “L8R” is equivalent to “later” or that “UR” is equivalent to “you’re” (or maybe “your”), but that’s only because we have spelling rules that we can do this. If we abandon the rules entirely, how mangled would communication become?
Sounds alone are not enough. Anybody who’s heard a foreigner speaking Berlitz-English attempt to pronounce a phrase that’s not quite right quickly realizes that English is littered with linguistic landmines.
Not all miscommunications would result in the disastrous outcome in my example above, of course. But they might – is that really progress? Sacrificing innocent lives for the sake of convenience? What hubris!
Beyond the case where words sound similar enough to cause confusion (e.g. “movie in Denver” vs. “moving Denver” in my example), there are words (or groups of words) in the English language which sound exactly the same (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophone) but have different meanings. For example, “stuff he knows” vs. “stuffy nose” or “some others” vs “some mothers” (http://www.fun-with-words.com/nym_oronyms.html) could cause some confusion. In these cases, context is essential for proper decoding, but without some kind of rules guiding us, context is meaningless.
As writers, we want our readers to have a positive experience when reading our work. If readers have to work to puzzle out what writers are trying to convey – or are unable to do it entirely, as I frequently find to be the case when reading comments on YouTube – then the reader has a negative experience, and the writer fails to communicate effectively. Do you know what they call a writer who consistently fails to communicate effectively? Washed up (assuming the writer ever gets started, that is).
As writers, we want to capture our readers, not repel them! Abandoning spelling rules works against our goals, so why in the world would we want to do that?
Take a stand for progress! Spell correctly!