spelling |noun| the process or activity of writing or naming the letters of a word
I’m back after a small detour that took me to the charming, beautiful corner of Europe where I’m from. It was wonderful – a bombardment of the senses with light, warmth, the feeling of cool ocean water on the skin and, of course, lots of talk of austerity (or rather despairity) measures.
I was naturally also taken by assault with curious interrogations full of geographic self-doubt about where exactly I was living now.
“So where is this Lay-cess-ter place?” “It’s in the Midlands,” I’d reply. “Meaning the middle of no where.” Sensing a need for a reference point, I’d then toss over my shoulder that it lies an hour north of London on the express train – but light years away in terms of any meaningful measurement such as charm, allure or dynamism. Black is my new thing in Less-ter,” I found myself telling a friend. “I’m in mourning for sophistication!” Ah, Less-ter! Less indeed!
And then Leicester – like Gloucester, Slough and Loughborough before it (to name but a few) – has this dauntingly long spelling for a name that can actually be said in a sneeze and a half. Is it because the English want to make foreigners sound silly despite their ever so logical sounding-out of the name? A little joke at “us Europeans”? (Yes, because the English are in constant geographic self-doubt, as well – poor chaps – thinking themselves somehow not a part of Europe. Perhaps the power of denial will turn them into their own self-continent like Kafka’s protagonist who woke up one morning to find he had been turned into a giant cockroach. That would be amusing!)
While we bowled down traffic signs in Lisbon, my cousin and I had an extensive discussion about this apparent syllabic waste. He was of the very good-hearted opinion that there must be some etymological explanation. “Perhaps,” I quipped back, “but what is so frustrating is you know they can be more economical about it. Just look at the word through. How can a one syllable word be so wastefully spelled with 7 letters? And you know for a fact they can do better – they do have the word threw. A testament to frugality, if ever there was one!””It’s probably from the Old English,” he said, while ramming into an emergency exit sign. “So, you’re telling me they didn’t throw things in the Middle Ages, is that it?”
And what about the dear old environment? Printing all those unnecessary letters is rather a waste of ink, paper and time. In a time of economic crisis, it would be nice if the English could chip in with tidier, more minimalistic spelling, as a gesture of goodwill to “us Europeans”.
Maybe spelling is just another form of cultural self-affirmation… but then as I muse over such thoughts a wonderful image pops into my path in a store front on Granby Street, as featured in today’s post. I suspect a certain Leicey’s sassy appetite for the letter S has shown me an example of a far more amusing use of spelling than I had previously considered! Touché!