Driving around the Hogarth Roundabout (such a tribute to the great pictorial satirist to be immortalised in traffic reports) I pondered on the subject of variant spelling.
The reason being a sign that said, ‘FREE CAR SCRAPING’ followed by a mobile phone number.
It reminded me of an article I read last summer written by a lecturer at Bucks New University called Ken Smith. He argued that we should relax about common misspellings and accept the variants offered by his students.
Febuary for February, for example, arguement for argument, occured for occurred, opertunity for opportunity and so on. Part of his argument being that these words have developed somewhat randomly to be spelt in the way they are and the correct spellings are debatable.
The other argument being one which he didn’t spell out, ie that he couldn’t be arsed to spend half his life correcting his students’ mistakes. He was more interested in what they had to say on his subject of criminology than the crime of not being able to spell.
On the magazine I edit, Waitrose Food Illustrated, we’ve been having a long-running dispute with a reader who takes objection to the way we spell osso bucco (an Italian veal shin stew). The reader feeling strongly that it was one word not two and there should be only one C in bucco.
We took a different view citing Charles Sinclair’s International Dictionary of Food and Cooking as being on our side.
The reader continued to disagree and then went a little mental on us.
Still at least we knew what we were talking about. And as long as the meaning is not changed perhaps there can be some leeway now and then. Which brings me back to the sign on the Hogarth Roundabout.
I rang the mobile number advertised.
‘Hi. I’ve seen your advert on the Hogarth Roundabout and I’d like to have my car scraped for free,’ I said, eager to take advantage of the gratis service.
‘We do not scrape cars,’ said an Eastern European voice.
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘But the sign says you scrape cars for free.’
‘No.’ he insisted. ‘We scrap cars.’
‘Ah.’ I said. ‘I think I was confused because the sign says “scraping” as you have only used one P.’
‘I know,’ said the man. ‘But there was not room for two Ps.’
‘Right,’ I said, feeling the man was not going to shift from his position, regardless of the fact that he might do better business if he adhered to the rules of spelling.
Mind you, if British universities are full of Ken Smiths then there may be thousands of graduates out there keen to take advantage of the government’s offer of £2,000 off your new car when you get your old one scraped.