May 30, 2008, - 3:17 pm

Waaay Too Much Time on Their Hands: Spelling Bee Truthers Hold Protest

By Debbie Schlussel
Of all the things you could protest in America, this wouldn’t even be number gazillion on my list . . . or that of most Americans.
But, tonight, while ABC airs the final two hours of the National Spelling Bee live in prime-time, “Spelling Reformers” will be protesting our spelling, outside the Washington, DC National Spelling Bee venue. I call them “Spelling Truthers.” They don’t like that we spell things according to romance language root word and origin. They want us to spell phonetically.
Oddly enough, one of the Spelling Truthers is the mother of supermodel/actress Rebecca Romijn, Elizabeth Kuizenga (no “spelling reform” in either of their surnames). She supports Spelling Trutherism for the silly reason that she was laughed at when she mispronounced something as a kid.


The spelling reformers are trying to capitalize on the moment. Every year, a group travels to the Bee site, the Grand Hyatt in Washington, to hold a protest on the sidewalk outside. They hand out pamphlets and pins that say “I’m Thru with Through.” Some dress as bumblebees. Last year, the protesters spent much of the $1,500 budget allotted to them by the American Literacy Council, to hire a Benjamin Franklin impersonator to articulate for children, television cameras and other passersby the Founding Father’s advocacy of spelling reform. They stress that they are protesting the words themselves, not the children who are competing.
The Bee protest was the brainchild of Alan Mole, president of the ALC and a rocket scientist — an aerospace stress analyst — in Colorado. It is organized every year by Elizabeth Kuizenga, a California teacher of English-as-a-second-language and the mother of the actress Rebecca Romijn (pronounced romaine). Ms. Kuizenga says she became interested in spelling reform as a child, when she mispronounced the word “ignorance” and her parents laughed at her.

Although some great Americans, like Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, advocated “Spelling Trutherism,” I think it’s a terrible idea. When I read a new word with which I’m not familiar, I can usually figure it out or have some idea what it means because the root words are spelled correctly. With “Spelling Reform,” it will be next to impossible to dissect and deduct the meanings of words that way. And it will also affect grammar in a negative way.
Aside from that, we already have “Spelling Reform.” It’s called Publick Skool Edyookayshun.
And how would Spelling Reform work in places with different accents? It simply wouldn’t be compatible, with different spellings from Bostonians who pass through “Hah-vuhd Yahd” and those from, say, California, who drive a “Kahr.”
The whole idea is absurd and just an excuse for the further dumbing down of America. Of all the problems facing America right now, this ain’t one of ’em.
We can’t get many Americans to even learn to speak, read, or write English at all, let alone learn how to spell correctly . . . or in the phonetic “spelling reform” manner.
Perhaps, they should start a “Spelling Reform” protest of our (likely) new national language: Spanish (or Arabic).

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15 Responses

This is just another attempt to dumb down America. Don’t worry future generations, you don’t have to learn how to spell or be literate, just be lazy. Thats the whole excuse for the Negro-ebonics- bullsh*t they have now. Soon they will just grunt, most of them do anyway so its not that great a leap in our near future.
No offense to Debbie’s African-American readers, if you’re reading Debbie’s site then you already know how to spell and speak english.

wolf2012 on May 30, 2008 at 4:03 pm

Plenty of confusion re phonetics too — after all, how do you pronounce “ghoti”?

c f on May 30, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Actually, if you learn a good explicit phonics program there is very little confusion. The one I use, Riggs – – doesn’t teach gh by itself since is so rarely used by itself, usually being part of ough, or igh, or eigh. And in “ghost” it sounds like a “g”. The “ti” combination is “used at the beginning of any syllable after the first one.” There are spelling rules and students who learn them along with the phonetic sounds have a much easier time learning to spell and read than kids who don’t. It does, sadly for many, involve a lot of hard work.
But then, how do you expect students to learn any of it when it isn’t even taught to teachers? I had to learn this all out on the street . . . in a manner of speaking.

sonofsheldon on May 30, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Remember EBONICS?

dm60462 on May 30, 2008 at 6:37 pm

Dummies making people dummies during a spelling bee. Look at the little boy, you can just tell he was given some sort of crack in a pill as his reward for thinking he’s the new poster child for hone nut cherrios.

Squirrel3D on May 31, 2008 at 12:17 am

Why two f’s in ‘laff’?

c f on May 31, 2008 at 6:31 am

Please, someone tell me this is a prank. I checked Snopes already and they have nothing…

DocLiberty on May 31, 2008 at 9:03 am

Soon we’ll have to spell everything in TEXT MESSAGE form since the upcoming generation knows no other language.
Why fuck with Newspeak???

EminemsRevenge on May 31, 2008 at 12:04 pm

I think we shood giv up and let thu liberuls hav a viktoree in this bekuz that way everee budee will be indistingwishubul from every budee elz and we will hav acheeved troo ekwality for all by mmaking every budee iliterut.

Mistress_Dee on May 31, 2008 at 12:41 pm

“Publick Skool Edyookayshun” is not written in any phonemic code recommended by the Spelling Society or the American Literacy Council.
Much like the IPA, the society does not recommend or endorse any particular highly phonemic script.
The ALC endorses a variant of New Spelling which “riets” the long vowels as ae ee ie oe ue.
The job of the Spelling Society is to raise awareness of the problems resulting from our “deep” orthography when compared to the “shallow” orthographies (e.g., written Italian).
Street theater is one way to draw attention to their arguments. Sometimes reporters get most of it right as in yesterday’s Wall St. Journal article.
The society does have a minimal respell proposal that can be used as an example of the changes endorsed by most members. Basically, the proposed script or house stile removes surplus letters and respells 9 vowels before consonants. This changes about 20% of the spellings in a paragraph.
“public scool education” would be an example of regularized spelling.
You can find examples of english words written phonemically in any English dictionary. The dictionary does not try to represent everyone’s speech. It only represents broadast English.
Kids can learn to read and write a dictionary key in 3 weeks and master one of these codes in 3 months. The nice thing about code literacy is that it actually helps kids deal with the inconsistencies and irregularities in traditional spelling.
If this blog supported the ANSI character set and the international keyboard, I could write in Webster’s dictionary key. I have substituted upper case letters for diacritics below:
D problM wiD kOd litRasy iz Dat speliNz kan intRakt. (/D/ is not the same as /d/, MN&R refer to the syllabics: pron. uhm, uhn, uhr)
Some of those who learned to read by reading transcribed text in ITA for 2 years had a transition problem which almost wiped out their early headstart.
Some phonics programs do something similar but instead of starting with one standard spelling, they introduce 4 different ways that a phoneme can be represented in English.
There are over 14 graphemes per phoneme in English. Usually only 4 of the 14 can be called high frequency spelling patterns.
There is nothing odd about how quick the dictionary key spelling can be picked up. 95% of the written languages can be picked up just as quick according to Laubach (now ProLit) teachers. Illiterates will be reading newspapers written in the language they speak in 3 months after attending 2 hours/eqy in class.
Preschool children will only be able to pronounce some of the big words transcribed into the dictionary key. If it is not part of their spoken vocabulary, they will not know the meaning. Italian 2nd graders can read aloud a newspaper but they won’t always know what they are saying.
Reformers interpret these findings as proof that we waste 3 years of primary school trying to teach a substandard code.
Others will argue that it is worth the extra effort and expense to get from code literacy to the ability to read the old books. That decision is up to the electorate.
SMS Texting removes surplus letters but it also removes letters that might be needed to correctly pronounce a word. The Society wants the code to be reliable guide to pronunciation.
Ebonics has nothing to do with representing broadcast English and shouldn’t be part of an anti-reform rant.
Any one who wants to argue any of the points raised can join Saundspel, the phonology forum, by sending a blank email to
inuf or Enuf is enough. No need for a redundant f at the end of a word unless it is some kind of stress marker in a particular scheme;-)

Steve on May 31, 2008 at 2:04 pm

Debbie: Unfortunatly, this yeer there wer no protesters outside the Bee. With our centenary confrence a week away in Coventry, England, our focus wanderd a bit.
I am a New Zealander, and twice i hav been on the protest at the Bee. Why? Because our irrational spelling is not just an American problem: it’s a problem for the hole English-speeking world. Our literacy rates nowhere get abuv 80%. One in five of our adults ar functionally illiterat. That’s irrespectiv of our difrent teeching regimes, difrent social conditions, difrent resorce allocations. The common factor, the elefant in the room, is English spelling!
If u want to retane our present spelling because u like the historical connections, as tho spelling was ment to be a museum of words, that’s your preroggativ. But in doing so, remember u ar supporting having 20% of our populations illiterat. Why? Because our spelling is so difficult to master that it takes our children two or three yeers mor to lern to reed and rite than children speeking languages whose spellings ar lerner-frendly. Not all can cope.
We ar not necessarily advocating fonetic spelling: we ar deffinitly advocating rule-based spelling. If the rule ses ad ‘s’ or ‘es’ to a word to make it plural, we wil rite ‘cats and dogs’ eeven tho the last word is pronounced ‘dogz’. We do this now in this particular case, but thare ar a lot we dont do it in; eg, we spel the ‘ee’ sound about 12 difrent ways. When a nine-yeer-old is lerning to rite, how ar they to know which to use? Only by memory! Not all hav good memorys. It gets very difficulat and frustrating for them, and menny eventually giv up.
As for your problem with homografs, eg, ‘sound’, ‘pole’, ‘mind’, in speech we differentiate them by context; so with riting.
U may think historical qualitys ar the best way to desine a spelling tool; i think eficiency in delivering what it’s ment to do is much mor valuable.

Allan on May 31, 2008 at 10:37 pm

The European Commission have just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, the United Kingdom conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5 year phase in plan that would be known as “EuroEnglish”: —
In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”.. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard “c” will be dropped in favor of the “k”. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have 1 less letter.
There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome “ph” will be replaced with the “f”. This will make words like “fotograf” 20% shorter.
In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent “e”‘s in the languag is disgrasful, and they should go away.
By the 4th yer, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th” with “z” and “w” with “v”. During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords kontaining “ou” and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.
After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech ozer.

Shy Guy on June 1, 2008 at 7:02 am

All of this silliness is just another Utopian scheme to make everything perfect — in this case spelling. I guess that’s better than the Utopian communist schemes. At least, hopefully, no one will be killed over this. But seeing the convolutions that their supporters go through (there is this rule, that rule, but the other rule doesn’t apply when so and so happens), if anyone tries to implement this, it will be as much of a mess, proportionality considered, as communism is. Just a new set of rules instead of the hard work needed to master a language. A new scheme, simple rules that, if they’re followed, will solve all our problems. And of course there is a similarity to Ebonics, since there are mechanistic rules governing spelling and usage.

c f on June 1, 2008 at 10:24 am

My father, Newell Tune, published “The Spelling Progress Bulletin” for something like thirty years. So, yes, he was a spelling reformer. I would usually point out to him that standard business english was already helping do the job, since we frequently see “thru” instead of “through” on signs and in business slogans and other ad items. So, I reasoned, eventually a sort of “evolution” will occur and most likely that will involve spelling simplification, when and where it makes the most sense. Only time will tell.
Nonetheless, like with the liberal phenomenon, I can see that spelling reformers truly believe they are simply helping others by their efforts, of course that does not mean that help will RESULT from their efforts. I agree with Debbie that we should beware the unforseen consequences of man-made plans to change formal spellings. Rather, the natural evolution of spelling, over time, would tend to deal with those instances where changed spellings result in increased difficulties with grammar and with root word-expanded word structures.
Once again we can see that Debbie has the keenest of minds and can pick out the odd news item, which, when treated the Schlussel way, really shows some cerebral fortitude. Yay Debbie.

Chris Tune on June 1, 2008 at 6:45 pm

I reject the notion that 20% of children anywhere are illiterate because it takes longer to learn English spelling and that 20% of children “cannot cope.”
Failure to become educated is a failure of family, culture, and values/priorities. Dumbing down the education system to accommodate the lowest common denominator is not a wise or productive pursuit.

cumulusnine on June 2, 2008 at 9:37 am

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