Friday, January 21, 2005

"HOW DO YOU SPELL WOLFOWITZ?" I overhear in the newsroom of a major metropolitan daily newspaper.

Grrr. How many #$@#%$ ways could it possibly be spelled? I know, I know -- spelling is supposedly not that great an indicator of intelligence. But I get annoyed at people who think more letters and more syllables necessarily mean a word gets more difficult to spell. "Antidisestablishmentarianism" was the vogue stumper in my youth. Again, where could you possibly go wrong on that one? Or even "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." I suppose "cali" could be "cala," but not bloody likely.

The real stumpers are the switcheroos ("tendon" but "tendinitis," "strategy" but "stratagem") and the exceptions to the rule ("supersede") and the "-ible"-vs.-"-able" coin flips.

Occasionally in coverage of an international sporting event -- say, tennis's U.S. Open -- you'll see a set piece in which Ugly American spectators are asked to spell or pronounce exotic names. A-holes without a creative bone in their bodies suddenly become verbal cubists.

"Paradorn Srichaphan?" the contestant might be asked.

"P-X-Q-Y-Z S-B-T-R-N-M-X?"

"Sorry, that's incorrect!"

Or the contestant will be shown a card reading, say, "Yevgeny Kafelnikov."

"Uggabugga Krazabaza?"


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