Putting the ‘u’ into wourds to help u reed . . . / 12 октября 2007 г.

Author: Slinger

THE STAR has decreed a return to Canadian spelling, the spelling that a dwindling number of us learned at the knees of Dick and Jane. We are told that you, our readers, wish it, and since we are in the service business, what the reader clamours for, the reader gets.

Unfortunately, Spot is an old dog, and having had non-Canadian spellings drummed into his head and splattering out his fingers over 30 ink-stained years, this reversion constitutes a new trick that makes earning his Alpo a challenge. The letter “u” has been reintroduced to words like that “clamours” in the first paragraph, and to favo“u”r and colo“u”r.

We went for a ride in the boat, but the motour died. Not being good sailours, we neglected to bring an anchour. We begun to drift toward the swamp, which was full of alligatours.

It just doesn’t look right to me. Actually, it looks a bit hoity-toity, the sort of thing you expect from an authour who calls his aunts “awnts” and wears his pawnts above his belly buttoun.

(For sure: The Globe and Mail started this several years ago and the Globe, if it is anything, is teddibly, teddibly awnty. But not without foibles — when I worked there as a boy, cigarette was spelled cigaret, which we writers avoided because it left readers thinking we were too stupid to know how to spell right. Instead we called a fag a fag.

No Star writer ever dreamed of cashing a cheque the way the American style we semi-adopted cashes checks, but are we going to become consistent? Will we try to paddle our disabled boat to the doque, but hit the roques, where we wreque?

Rosie DiManno began her piece the other day with the words “I am a hack.” (A redundancy; everybody figures it’s the implicit first sentence of everything we write in this business.)

Will she be doqued pay for not writing “I am a haque?” Not that a furour will result, since the traditional Canadian spelling, passed down from the Mother Tongue of Westminster, Queen Victoria, the Pitts — elder and childe, the Two Ronnies and Boadicea, would be furore.

There’s nothing new about these sorts of emanations from the corner offices of newspapers. Most notorious was Col. Robert R. Mccormick’s simplified spelling in his Chicago Tribune of the early 1900s.

Freighters in Chicago harbour became fraters, thugs were tuff guys, Lizzie Borden was a thankless dotter. The commentatour Garry Wills suggests this was an attempt, in a polyglot community, “to make English easier for those who had a different first language.”

Ignoring the standard interpretation that Col. McCormick was just plain loopy. Nuts are often obsessed with notions of efficiency; extremely rich nuts have the wherewithal to put their obsessions into practise. Or is that practice? Ye olde curiousity language, where stationary and stationery started out meaning precisely the same thing, is choque-a-bloque with pitfalles.

On the other hand, when I was a rising yonge executive with this newspaper, editor of a glossy supplement, my boss flipped through some back issues. “What have you got in here,” he asked, tapping fee pile with an accusatory finger, “for our readers who can’t read English?”

I made fee mistake of thinking he was joking. For a rising yonge executive this is a fatal mistake. In no time I was baque being a haque.

Absent from our masters’ explanations for the return to Canadian spellynge is fee matter of efficiency and economy, which is why we adopted the upstart American style in the first place. When U.S. wire-service copy started arriving in Canadian newsrooms as punched tape that could be fed directly into automatic type-setting machines, it was cheaper to force reporteurs to mimique that than to edit all the foreign boilerplate.

Now, with Spellcheque, the U.S. stuff can be revised at no cost, while generous benefittes flouw from a grateful, and don’t for one minute think loon-crazy anti-American, readershippe. You want to be careful, though. One U.S. paper got into a bind when it programmed its computers to remove racisin from its columns. The next day everything that should have been there in black and white was in African-American and white. (Which tycoon do you prefer, Conrad Blaque or Conrad African-American?)

But enuff grousynge. It is a lovely First Nations Summer day and I intend to take my pallour from the parlour and dawnse uponne the grawse.

Slinger’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

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