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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Spelling Bee

I know this may sound odd (big surprise)... but when I was in elementary school a few of my friends and I took an absurd amount of pleasure in memorizing the spelling of extremely long words. 

I'm not clear on why we did this... perhaps it was to be able to win the kiddie equivalent of bar bets.  But the irony is that I was (and still am) hopeless at spelling even the most basic words. 

Whenever our class would march single file to the library to take out new books, my little band of spelling buddies and I would sneak over to the big dictionary that lay open on its high wooden pedestal next to the librarian's desk. 

We would giggle at our daring as we looked up forbidden words like 'breast' and 'penis' directly under the nose of the stern old librarian.  Once we exhausted our repertoire of 'dirty words' we usually began hunting for the unusually long ones.

As a result of these searches (and the accompanying memorization sessions), I can still spell extremely relevant words such as 'Czechoslovakia'... but I still can't spell 'restaurant' without a spell checker.  Go figure.

But the most impressive word that my little band of friends learned to spell back in 5th or 6th grade was, without a doubt, 'antidisestablishmentarianism'. 

For some reason, being able to spell this 28 letter word at the drop of a hat was something that made us insanely proud of ourselves.  I even once tried to impress our teacher by throwing it into a book report without having the slightest idea what it meant.

Needless to say, she was less than impressed.

From that day to this I have never forgotten this mostly useless word.  If you woke me in the middle of the night I probably wouldn't be able to tell you the ages of my children... but I could absolutely spell that word.

So yesterday evening as I was driving home listening to the news about Gaza, my mind started doing a little word game:

disengagement = disestablishment

antidisengagement = antidisestablishment

antidisengagementarian = antidisestablishmentarian

antidisengagementarianism = antidisestablishmentarianism

I wasn't even aware that I was doing this parallel progression in my head until I suddenly realized that one of my favorite childhood spelling words had finally become (almost) relevant to a topic about which I'd been writing... and I hadn't thought to use it once!!!  I mean, how many times in a lifetime does such an opportunity come along?

OK, true, antidisestablishmentarianism was a word which was originally coined to describe the opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England.  But since it doesn't contain any specific linguistic reference to the church, it could just as easily refer to the opposition to any other disestablishment... say, the settler enterprise in Gaza (or anywhere else for that matter), right?

I know... I need to find some real problems to occupy my mind.

Anyway, when I got home I was going through some of yesterday's emails on our community chat-list and I stumbled across a heartbreaking email from a close friend.  It was addressed to the entire community, and gave an update about the wounded Lieutenant's condition. 

I read with horror as the email began, "There is no chance in his condition... ".

My hear sank.  I couldn't breath... and the tears started to come.

Then a few inches further up the column of emails another one from the same friend caught my eye because it contained the word 'correction' in the subject line. 

When I opened it, it said, "sorry about the spelling mistake in my last email... what I meant to write was 'there is no change in his condition'".

Strange how spelling - of large words and small - has taken on a new significance in the past couple of days.

[Update: Yesterday Elroi's blood pressure went up slightly while his father was holding his hand and speaking to him.  While he remains in a coma, the doctors speculate that this might mean he is somewhat aware of his surroundings.  I know this may sound like grasping for straws... but sometimes straws are all there is to grasp.]


Posted by David Bogner on August 17, 2005 | Permalink


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I've read in quite a few places that people in comas are aware of what is going on around them and that it is very important that those they love speak to them, touch them, play music they enjoy and so on. Like prayer, it certainly can't hurt.

Speaking of that, prayers continue for Lt. Elroi.

Posted by: Rahel | Aug 17, 2005 1:51:32 PM

I'm sorry to break this to you, but Czechoslovakia no longer exists.

I hope for better news about Elroi soon.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 17, 2005 4:49:09 PM

Where you just being ironic when you (mis)spelled antidisestablishmentatrianism?

Or do I get a special Treppenwitz prize for catching it?

Posted by: Dave | Aug 17, 2005 5:02:32 PM

Did you get that cramp-like stomach feeling before you got the correction? If so, that's what I just felt before I got to the correction part. Remembering Lt. Elroi and praying for his quick recovery.

By the way, I had the same problem during my childhood with spelling Wednesday …… I kept forgetting where the dn should go and one time I was told to write it on the blackboard and came up with so many wrong spellings (Wenesday, Wendesday, Wendsday, Wednesday….) and every time my classmates laughed I kept rubbing what I’d written with my cotton pullover and …….. you’re right David I need to write a book. :-)

Posted by: kakarizz | Aug 17, 2005 5:05:43 PM

My sibs and I had a special 'phone booth' in the living room, when we were in high school, which was painted plain white, so we could write and draw on the walls. My sister's boyfriend wrote "antigregariousnessism" on the wall.

It's a word now.

Feel free to kick your friend in the shin, for us, next time you see him. What a rotten typo. ;o)

Posted by: Tanya | Aug 17, 2005 5:15:17 PM

Got the chills reading about Lt. Elroi and the corrected e mail. Praying for him and all the soldiers in Israel.

Posted by: Essie | Aug 17, 2005 5:39:25 PM

I am fond of words. I take pleasure in adding to my vocabulary.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 17, 2005 6:03:32 PM

So sorry to hear about Lt. Elroi, what a horrible misspelling!

Posted by: Beth | Aug 17, 2005 6:17:48 PM

Hey folks! We know the writer of the email (really, really, really well!) -- IT WAS AN ERROR -- it was completely unintentional and REALLY not his fault (not everyone is blessed with 20/20 vision)!!!!!! I think David's point was much more on how even one letter out-of-place can wildly distort the meaning of something....

Posted by: zahava | Aug 17, 2005 6:49:52 PM

Rahel... Thanks for keeping him in your thoughts and prayers.

Doctor Bean... the sharp-eyed treppenwitz reader will notice that I was careful to write "extremely relevant words such as 'Czechoslovakia'". You mean to tell me that didn't trip your sarcasm detector?

Dave... I said I could spell it correctly... I never made any claims about being able to type it correctly over and over! Yes, you win a prize all right... just wander over anytime after midnight to collect it. Extra credit if you wear a kafiyah when you show up. :-)

Kakarizz... there is a word for that feeling. It's call klong. I know exactly what you mean.

Tanya... Your parents let you write on the walls? How cool are they!

Essie... I got more than chills. Thanks for your good thoughts.

Jack... Good luck slipping antidis... into a conversation. :-)

Beth... Yes, but it could happen to anyone (Ironicly I botched the one word I was bragging about being able to spell!).

Zahava... Thanks honey. It's worth pointing out that besides being a very close friend, the guy who posted the email is one of the few people I know who is strong enough that I wouldn't want to get into a fight with him. :-)

Posted by: David | Aug 17, 2005 6:55:32 PM

David, as the mother of a soldier I can tell you that any time a soldier is wounded or killed, especially while your own children are in active duty, you bleed just that much more for the pain and suffering they and their family are going through.

I know you wouldn't do anything knowingly to hurt your readers, but that little catch in my heart that happened just now is quite painful.

Continuing to pray for Elroi's recovery.

Posted by: jennifer | Aug 17, 2005 7:00:37 PM

Words mean more than we think. That's why we keep praying. Thank you for keeping us informed about Elroi.

Posted by: Alice | Aug 17, 2005 8:07:45 PM

Jennifer... I hope you know that wasn't my intention. I just found out that his parents will be giving their son a second name tomorrow. I'll share it here on treppenwitz when I know it.

Alice... I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to tell a few people here in the Jewish blogosphere how powerful words can be and how they need to chose them more carefully. So far they have taken my attempts as a signal to dig in their heels even deeper and defend their hate-filled positions.

Posted by: David | Aug 18, 2005 12:52:15 AM

Continued thoughts and prayers are with Elroi and his family.

I am anal about spelling. I think it's because it's (if this makes any sense) sort of the "mathematical" part of English. I also loved diagramming sentences in school. I know, I am weird. :)

Posted by: Stacey | Aug 18, 2005 1:42:03 AM

I don't think it's grasping for straws, coma patients are sometimes aware of their surroundings and need all the help (stimuli) they can get to be brought back. I am hoping very much that he wakes up, and not even against hope at that.

Posted by: Lioness | Aug 18, 2005 1:58:18 AM

I hope you'll explain "giving [him] a second name" as well, when you know it. I wonder if it's what I'm imagining.

Posted by: Tanya | Aug 18, 2005 2:06:53 AM

Nope. The sarcasm was too subtle for me.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 18, 2005 5:42:00 AM

Exactly! a klong is what I got, my spell checker is not happy with the word though.

Posted by: kakarizz | Aug 18, 2005 7:55:51 AM

Jack... Good luck slipping antidis... into a conversation. :-)

All you need to do is discuss Henry VIII and you'll find the perfect opportunity.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 18, 2005 9:08:58 AM

Stacey... I'm amazed you've lasted as long as you have as a treppenwitz reader. I look back over old posts and cringe at all the misspellings and grammatical mistakes. Some can be attributed to careless typing at 6 AM... but most of it is really just my brain not being able to hold onto the rules of spelling and grammar. What's worse is that spell checker only catches words that don't exist. Many times the collection of letters I throw at the page spell out a real word... albeit one I didn't intend. Thanks for your patience.

Lioness... I agree 100%. I'm not even clear if they coma is entirely due to the brain injury or if the doctors have done something to force him deeper into a coma for his own good. I heard this latter theory yesterday. I'm not a medical person and I'm certainly not going to pester his parents about it in order to satisfy my curiosity. But the bottom line is that there is not change just now - for good or for bad.

Tanya... I apologize. Yes, of course I will explain that today... I sometimes take too much for granted and only later realize that I've left some people behind.

Doctor Bean... Ahhh, that explains it.

Kakarizz... it may take a few years for your spell checker to recognize a word that new.

Jack... You must be a hoot at parties. ;-)

Posted by: David | Aug 18, 2005 9:20:57 AM

Don't worry about writing at a high level. You know I'll ask, if you leave us shiksas behind. I ain't afraid to announce my ignorance. :o)

Posted by: Tanya | Aug 18, 2005 5:11:29 PM

Tanya... Funny, you don't look like a shiksa! :-)

Posted by: David | Aug 18, 2005 5:13:54 PM

When I was in 4th grade, it was very small and very competitive. My friends and I loved to outdo each other with getting the perfect score on not only the regular spelling words, but the extra bonus ones. I still remember a few of them..like continent and antartica (did I spell that one right?) ; )

Posted by: Jaime | Aug 19, 2005 4:58:35 AM

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