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Casting Spells

June 21, 2023

I recently wrote an essay for Next Avenue magazine, about the decline of cursive handwriting. There’s no denying that it’s used much less often than it was in days of yore, especially since the advent of the personal computer. My piece makes an argument to continue teaching it, and encouraging children and youth to practice using script. If we let this skill disappear, we may someday be unable to read vital parts of our handwritten past, a terrible loss.

But how about spelling? With spellcheck, autocorrect and other electronic aids, our errors are almost instantly remedied (although who among us has not had autocorrect insist that we’re trying to write “mustache” instead of “mistake”)? Add in all the acronyms (ROFL! TMI! LMK! NVM!), and it’s a wonder anyone bothers spelling anything anymore. 

Are spelling bees still popular? I know the Scripps National Bee finals are televised every year, so some kids somewhere are spelling up a storm. What I always loved about the bees was that I could tap into my inner wildly aggressive competitor, and be rewarded for it. Not for me the athletic fields of play, where soccer or softball or hockey stars fought their prodigious battles! The spelling bees were my sole opportunities to engage in combat, in front of an appreciative audience, no less. There was no heart-stopping thrill like being in the final two, just me and Rosie Gaffney, when the words would buzz rapidly back and forth until one of us messed up. With a smirk of triumph, I would nail “arrhythmic,” and be lavishly rewarded with yet another Miraculous Medal to add to my collection. 

My spellbound youth came rushing back to me on Saturday, when I saw the great Tony award winning musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The familiar characters were there (exaggerated for humorous effect): the arrogant whiz kid, the reluctant contestant pushed by ambitious parents, the kid whose folks didn’t show up at all, the underachiever who surprisingly did very well. To make the show even more enjoyable, audience members who were interested were selected to join the cast onstage as fellow “spellers” during the play. The gag was that these folks got the easy words (“Your word is cow.” “Use it in a sentence, please?” “All right. Your---word---is---cow.”) while the performers got the multisyllabic nightmares. The overarching message of the show (we have our challenges, but, in our own unique ways, when we care for each other, we’re all winners) was very satisfying. 

Maybe spelling, like cursive, is a dying art. Perhaps the dictionary will eventually go the way of the dinosaur. But I worry about us humans relinquishing so much control to machines. Spelling builds brainpower, and helps us make sense of language. Why give that up?

For me, I’ll remember that it’s I before E except (usually) after C. This knowledge has served me well.

And I’ll never quit spelling, as long as there’s enough breath in my body to tackle “antidisestablishmentarianism.” 

 

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    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: www.eliseseyfried.com or email me at eliseseyf@gmail.com.

     

     

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