Misspelling: An American Tradition
Occasionally I despair over rampant, often intentional misspellings in the modern world. Doesn’t anyone, I rant inwardly, proofread any more?
Was H&M being droll when it misspelled “genius” in the t-shirt on the left? I don’t think so. Perhaps that’s the correct spelling in Swedish.
And in the billboard on the right, the Miller Brewing Co. definitely did not mean to mangle “contradiction” so visibly.
Intentional misspellings are a decades-old tradition in the music business. Look no further than “Led” Zeppelin, the Byrds, or (more recently) Ludacris. Then there are websites like Tumblr, Digg, and Scribd, or consumer brands like Fruit Loops, Chick-fil-A, and Publix Supermarkets.
Americans have never been obsessive about getting the spelling right. For the book I’m working on now, I am reading a massive volume of George Washington’s correspondence and find the eighteenth-century approach to spelling extremely entertaining. George himself could be an indifferent speller, though his errors tended to be minor and even the result of writing a great many letters without the benefit of a “delete” key, much less auto-correct or spellcheck.
But some of Washington’s correspondents — particularly the crusty backwoodsmen he hired to execute his many schemes to acquire frontier lands — employed a delightfully freewheeling approach to spelling. In most instances, their misspelling produced a phonetically perfect rendition of the word, so I have no trouble figuring out what they meant. In some instances, their rendition of the word actually makes more sense than the “correct” spelling.
I offer a selection from letters Washington received in the first half of 1775, beginning with James Cleveland (May 12, 1775, April 10, 1775, June 7, 1775):
Fue = Few
Inbarcket = Embarked
Musk kingdom = Muskingum [a river]
Cannue = Canoe
sattes faction = satisfaction
Fort Blare = Fort Blair
menchioned = mentioned
From Valentine Crawford (March 23, 1775):
Emedently = immediately
enfortenet = unfortunate
acedence = accidents
From Gilbert Simpson (Feb. 6, 1775):
gane = gain
Curcumstans = circumstances
Butifull = Beautiful
The takeaway? Don’t forget to menchion these butifull ideas whenever you gather with a fue frens, in happy or enfortenet curcumstans. You will surtenly gane their respeck.
In our genderized world, missspelling could definitely be provocative. And H&M have made even more well -done misteaks in the recent past.