The end of spelling
October 15, 2006
One of the coolest things about reading primary-language historical documents — especially in English — is how incredibly devil-may-care and yet expressive the spelling and grammar were. It’s one thing to be told that codified rules of spelling and punctuation are a relatively recent Victorian shibboleth; it’s another to realize that educated people of the 17th or even 18th centuries routinely used alternate spellings of things we don’t realize HAVE alternate spellings — like their own names.
Today’s newspaper brings evidence that perhaps we are as a culture reverting to this happy state of laissez-faire. I don’t even read the whole New York Times, but I couldn’t help noticing the phrases “reign in“, “husbands suicide”, “poured over“, even a missing apostrophe in the word “couldnt”. When the newspaper of record achieves this state of copyediting ignorance, I think we can all gleefully conclude that the Victorian struggle for spelling uniformity is over. Let a thousand alternate spellings bloom!