Minefoolnest & Other Misfits

I’m not a spelling bee. I think the reason I’m not a tiptop speller (well, apart from maybe the more obvious reason) has to do with sound and pronunciation, where sound is what we hear, and pronunciation is how we repeat what we think we heard.

I remember President Bush bedeviled for misspelling tomato, or maybe it was potato. I remember he was in Florida. Why do I recall he was in Florida, at a grammar school, but I’m not sure of the mot juste he abused? That’s probably a misuse of mot juste; I don’t care – I like the way the ooze comes together in juste abuse. Is misspelling word abuse? In any case, and while I was not and am not a G. W. Bush fan (including his paintings, which I did not like not because they were poorly drawn – in fact, they were quite modern – but because they were so narcissistic, selfie obsessed. At the same time, they gave me pause to think about form and content, particularly the one where he was taking a bath – or was it a shower? – because I’ve always been confused by the form and content business: form, apparently, man in tub; content might have been improved with a plumber at work fixing the toilet while the implacable Bush continues his bath), the news story of Bush’s misspelling boo-boo (to wit: tomatoe or potatoe) I found unworthy of sarcasm or cynicism, and I did not join the spelling bee buzz of hecklers making fun of him.
(see correction note below.)

For one thing, I don’t hear the second t in tomato, and if I were going to misspell it, I would probably write tomadoe. Probably that’s yet another reason why I’ll never be a POTUS. Bush’s misspelling was perfect because it’s the same misspelling millions of Americans make every day (or would make, if they were asked to spell tomato), so there was instant populist empathy for him, and it was a chance for the populists to go fsst to the academic snob spelling bees. The academic stings but once. There’s a good reason I hear a d in tomato: /təˈmādō/ – that’s how it’s pronounced. On the other hand (or ear), I do not hear a d in potato, even though potato, like tomato, is pronounced with one: /pəˈtādō/.

You might be thinking I can’t spell because I can’t pronounce, but you’d be a step short if you didn’t acknowledge I can’t pronounce because I don’t hear the same sounds you do. On my own, left to my own devices, I’m in fact a perfect spelling bee. There will always be those who rush to correct (jab, jab, jab, as Susan says) or who think to be a spelling bee is to be a smart bee, when it simply means to be a drone. Like the artist whose painting is as accurate as a photograph but unimaginative, the spelling bee is productive but hackneyed.

Words in all their dress and display should surprise us – startle, chortle, spark the double take.

Spell check, by the way, while helpful, is not a solution. You don’t learn to spell using spell check. In fact, spell check often makes matters worse. Did you mean spell-check? Did you mean spellcheck? Some will argue that’s not a spelling issue. And (underline the right word following) they’re there their probably right. Which is why I’ve been working on mindfulness. Perhaps I meant spill chick, or spoil choke, but chuck it all, anyway. I know how to spell, believe it or not, delete, though I take no delight in it.

I’ve developed Minefoolnest © as a self-improvement program designed to improve both your spelling and your overall attention to text. It’s a program for language misfits, those who, like me, hear words in sounds and sounds in words, often, not the same words and sounds others hear.

Correction: Reader John Dockus (see comments below) has identified Vice President Dan Quayle as the miscreant misspeller of potato, and not Bush, not Florida, and not tomato. Would that there were a fact-checker as well as a spell-checker. Leave it to readers to do both for you, and this is what you get! Thanks, John. The Toads blog regrets the error.

 

9 Comments Add yours

  1. bristlehound says:

    As a creative speller, I welcome Minefoolnest. Clearly, recalcitrant learners need a little prodding and freedom to feel absolutely normal, this gives me hope.
    “The Psychology of Minefoolnest” should be a best seller.B

    Like

  2. johndockus says:

    Hi Joe:

    I’m enjoying reading Steinbeck’s collected letters.

    Pertinent to your post here, Steinbeck wrote in a letter to A. Grove Day, Dec. 1929, from 2441 Fillmore St, San Francisco (which is walking distance from my apartment here):

    “I want to speak particularly of your theory of clean manuscripts, and spelling as correct as a collegiate stenographer, and every nasty little comma in its place and preening itself. ‘Manners,’ you say it is, and knowing the ‘trade’ and the ‘Printed Word.’ But I have no interest in the printed word. I would continue to write if there were no writing and no print. I put my words down for a matter of memory. They are more made to be spoken than read. I have the instincts of a minstrel rather than those of a scrivener. There you have it. We are not of the same trade at all and so how can your rules fit me? When my sounds are all in place, I can send them to a stenographer who knows his trade and he can slip the commas about until they sit comfortably and he can spell the words so that school teachers will not raise their eyebrows when they read them. Why should I bother? There are millions of people who are good stenographers but there aren’t so many thousands who can make as nice sounds as I can.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Was not aware of this from Steinbeck. Must check out the letters you are reading. Thx for this!

      Like

  3. johndockus says:

    I think you had this in mind…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Wow! Thanks for the correction, John. I did have Bush the painter right. Not sure if Quayle ever painted. But my memory gone wild here is too bad. Has me concerned. I suppose I’d better enter a correction. And a “fact check” page to the Toads blog!

      Like

  4. I am the worst speller on earth. In grade school I often turned in blank spelling tests. Spellcheck was my salvation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thanks for reading and comment, Richard. I agree spellcheckers are a good thing. Proofreading is another matter. I find, when I’m in doubt, I’m usually right, about a spelling, but lack the confidence to last out a spelling bee.

      Like

  5. 🙂 love Minefoolnest. Looking forward to your program (sometimes, confusingly, written programme in the UK)

    … “There are millions of people who are good stenographers but there aren’t so many thousands who can make as nice sounds as I can.”

    A comforting thought.

    Like

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