Thursday, 24 November 2011

Easy to say, but hard to spell

From ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia.

The names of four US places - Cincinnati, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Tucson - are so hard to spell that thousands of people living in them can't spell them correctly.

In the spirit of the close alliance of Australia and the US illustrated by President Barack Obama's recent visit, I've composed a few rhymes to help with the spelling of those names.

By the way, how many boys in the US are named Barack? I've never heard of any in Australian although one of my great-grandchildren is named Theodore (Teddy) a name that traces back to US President Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, 26th US president, unknowingly gave the teddy bear his name, One day in 1902, while helping settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana, he took part in a bear hunt in Mississippi. Finding a wounded young bear, he ordered its mercy killing.

The Washington Post ran an editorial cartoon by the political cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman that illustrated the event. Called "Drawing the Line in Mississippi", it depicted both state line dispute and the bear hunt.

At first Berryman drew the bear as a fierce animal, as the bear had just killed a hunting dog. Later, he redrew the bear to make it a cuddly cub. The cartoon and the story it told became popular and within a year, the cartoon bear became a toy for children, which was called the teddy bear.

Let's deal with those four hard-to-spell places one at a time. I've composed a few simple rhymes to help with the spelling.

Cincinnati, Ohio, once described as The Queen City, is sometimes called Porkopolis – possibly because thousands of its citizens can't spell its name correctly. Google lists thousands of Web pages which misspell the name as Cincinatti, Cincinati, Cincinnatti, Cinncinati, Cinncinnati, Cinncinatti, Cinncinnatti, or even Sinsinati or Sinsinatti.

Travel writer Bill Bryson in his book "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" recalled: "I even got a job on the strength of it once when, in a moment of youthful audacity, I asserted to a managing editor of the London Times that I would be the only person on his staff who could reliably spell Cincinnati. (And it was so)."

By 1854, Cincinnati had become one of the largest cities in the US. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called it the Queen City. But at the same time, the city was also known as a pork-packing center and was unkindly called Porkopolis, as it is to this day.

To remember how to spell the city's name, memorize this little rhyme:

Cincinnati is a word
Hard to spell but easy heard.
It need not cause you irritation,
Just drop the ON from CIN CIN NATION.

The Ns and Ts are simply done
When written down as 1-2-1.

Thousands of people around the world have trouble spelling Massachusetts. "I can't spell it without using that song" some say, while Google has thousands of references to misspellings of the name as Massachussetts or Massachussets.

It's not a new problem. More than 150 years ago, popular author Horatio Alger wrote in "Cousin John" (first published 1856): "Ida ... was next asked to spell Massachusetts, which the squire allowed to pass unquestioned, probably because he did not feel quite certain about it himself."

The solution? Memorize one of these couplets:

"Massachusetts is tricky," the teacher confesses,
"Just remember to spell it with two tees and four esses."
The simple answer to this little riddle:
Two esses, two tees, with one ess in the middle.

Faced with the next-to-impossible problem of spelling Mississippi, millions of people around the English-speaking world fall back on that venerable children's rhyme:
M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I
Crooked letter-crooked letter-I

Others recite:
Mrs M, Mrs I, Mrs Double S I,
Mrs Double S I, Mrs Double P I.

Nearly three centuries ago, a 1718 French map in the Library of Virginia is entitled Carte de la Louisiane et du Cours du Mississipi. Maybe that was the correct spelling in those days.

To spell the State's name correctly, remember these lines:
Four simple words will get you by:
What you'll never MISS IS SIP PI.

Tucson, in arid Arizona, not only has trouble spelling its name, but its citizens can't even agree on how to pronounce it – it's either too-SAHN or TOO-sahn, says its official website.

In the Wild West's early days, Tucson citizens had trouble spelling the town's name. Today, despite better education, thousands of Americans face similar difficulties. Google lists many thousand pages misspelling the name as Tuscon (as in Italy's Tuscany).

How can you learn to spell Tucson? Perhaps you could memorize one of these rhymes:
Remember well, to save confusion
C before S when spelling TUCSON.
Or this one:
When spelling Tucson you must get
C before S as in the alphabet.

Or even, as a last resort:
Let's put an end to all this confusion.
We can't tell the difference 'tween Tuscan and Tucson.
The best way to end typographical stress
Is to remember to put the C before S.


1 comment:

  1. Eric , i love this post. I am a native of Massachusetts and i always had trouble as a kid spelling it the correct way. it's an indian word.....the Brits heard it as Masschusetts but who know what the REAL word was? it means something like "the place where the river meets the ocean" other words the BOSTON area....