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Spelling Isn’t a Matter of Opinion

we didn't just make the word up, ya know

Graham Wegner is annoyed that the rest of the world doesn’t share the same opinion about the spelling of “Celsius.”

In truth, Mr. Wignar, there’s only one way to spell it: Celsius. It isn’t “celcius” today and it won’t be tomorrow. That’s because astronomer Anders Celsius was the first to create a temperature scale with 0 as the freezing point for water and 100 as the boiling point. We pay homage by invoking his name for that system. And, as I’m sure we’d all agree, names aren’t a matter of opinion.

The Fahrenheit system is also named after a guy. We capitalize both Fahrenheit [F] and Celsius [C] because they are names.

Gramm spits some snark toward the oppressive masses that make up Wikipedia:

“I pride myself on my spelling ability. So much that I can get indignant when confronted with the accusation that my lifelong memory of a word is actually incorrect. But who can argue when the Wikipedic wisdom of crowds defines the right spelling for me…”

Well, Grehim, I’m not accusing you, I’m just telling you that you’re 110% wrong and that there’s absolutely no basis for your objection. You could’ve read all the way to the third [!] sentence of the Wikipedia entry on “Celsius” and seen this:

“Celsius” is named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius (1701 – 1744), who developed a similar temperature scale two years before his death.

But you didn’t. You made a cartoon and wrote a blog post instead.

Worghner wraps up with this:

“Luckily for me, perhaps I’m merely contributing to the evolution of the English language…”

Haha! Oh, Grimm, you charming little scamp. That quip is almost as predictable and banal as me spelling your name wrong 5 times in this blog post.

What bothers me most about the post isn’t Wegner’s attempt at the lighthearted/humorous – I’m sure most of his readers chuckled. It’s the 7 comments to his blog post that really concern me.

I’ll summarize them:

  1. Love the hat!
  2. Paragraph citing irrelevant research that has become a pop culture meme
  3. Your hat looks like a pith helmet
  4. I can’t spell accommodation***
  5. Wegner explains that he’s wearing a bucket hat
  6. Commenter mentions something about a surname
  7. Someone posts the full lyrics to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”

The usual drivel – nothing remarkable here. Except for Comment #6, that surname bit, which suggests gently that:

“Well, since it’s a guy’s surname, perhaps we should try to get it right.”

Unfortunately for Commenter Karyn [whose blog is a good read, by the way], no one noticed or cared.

Oh, the Read-Write/Web 2.0 at its finest. It’s not what you publish, it’s just that you participate. Gold stars and hugs for all!

The rest – like the last names of seminal scientists or conceptual/historical links between our everyday term and a man 3 centuries gone – are just pesky details that, as Wegner foreshadows, probably will be lost over time. I just won’t call it “evolution.”

*** There’s a trick for spelling accommodate and its sisters. Say to yourself, “Accommodate is a large enough word to accommodate two Cs and two Ms.” You won’t spell it wrong again.

34 Responses to “Spelling Isn’t a Matter of Opinion”

  1. Yeah, well, attempt at humour is pretty accurate. I think you’re probably also misreading my humour and intent as well. Believe me, there was no intent other than to poke a little fun at my own expense. Wikipedia was not the target, my own ineptitude was in the firing line. The mainly Kiwi commenters of the “usual drivel” were just picking up on my theme and engaging in the same sort of banter that would happen in any Antipodean staffroom. I’m afraid that if I relied only on insightful and ground breaking writing to fuel my blog, I would not have much to say. I use my blog as a venue for play, for irreverence, and yes, I do get down and do some serious writing from time to time (probably not to your exacting standards but we all write for different reasons). So it may swing over to the participatory side of Web 2.0 but you know what, that’s fine with me. One can only improve at things if one participates.
    I think it is safe to say there is a big enough cultural difference between my point of view here as an Aussie primary school teacher and yours in North America that any form of written expression is open to contextual interpretation. I think that the worst I might be guilty of is perpetrating a localised in-joke. But as for advocating bad spelling and ignoring historical fact – that’s not where I was going. Part of me is still amazed that you would spend any time at all writing about it!
    Cheers,
    Graham!

  2. AllanahK says:

    I worry that I my comment could be referenced as ‘the usual drivel’.

    The post was written in a spirit of light-hearted self-deprecation and was commented on as such.

    Lighten up.

  3. Instead of spending all your time writing a biting and sarcastic post, why not begin but getting the facts/intent of the original post? Have the courtesy of leaving a comment on his blog and figure out his intent before spouting off this attack. Seems like common courtesy to me. Talk about presumptuous.

  4. Mr V says:

    Heh. I’m with Gramm (I enjoyed the humour of the misspelled names, too!) on this one. I fully agree with your article about sticking with the correct spelling for words (especially names), but it feels like a cultural divide in this case too.

    Ghraeme was taking the ‘pith’ out of himself and having a light hearted laugh at learning he’s been doing something wrong all his life. Nothing for sinister than that.

    Not to worry though… stuff like this happens all the time, eh?

    But all discussion is good, eh?

  5. Mr V says:

    Heh… which lead me to a slightly later thought…

    Maybe we’ve missed the humour in his own post?

    If we have, my apologies!

  6. Graham,

    I’m not misinterpreting your humor post, I just have a different take on its implications.

    At no point did I suggest that the bulk of your writing isn’t serious. There’s a reason that your blog is popular – and there’s a reason that it’s in my RSS reader.

  7. AllanahK,

    There is plenty of drivel on blogs/forums. That’s the reality of the internet. I engage in it, too – I leave my own drivel and reply to the drivel of others. That doesn’t suggest that all e-discussion is worthless; we know that there are plenty of diamonds in the rough.

    Having said that, I don’t pretend that “the rough” is rare.

  8. Dean,

    I understood Graham’s intent. Like I said in my reply to him above, I found its implications worth addressing – and that has no bearing whatsoever on my understanding of his post.

    Since you’ve brought up presumption, I have to point out that assuming that my criticism rested on a total misunderstanding of Graham’s content and intent is awfully presumptuous. Believe it or not, one can understand something and then dissent. That I took issue with the implications of his post doesn’t mean that I was just too dumb to get it.

    The post took me about 7 minutes to write. It didn’t take all my time, most of it, or even much of it. I typed as I ate a croissant and watched Charmed. But implying that there was an involved, concerted effort to assassinate one’s professional character makes for interesting discussion. I can only guess at the comments flying around Twitter [and other social sites that Analytics tells me are the source of an inordinate number of reads for this post].

    I’d love to write more, but I need to go re-wax my mustache and continue plotting evil. Saturday afternoon is a fine time for the malicious – everyone’s wiped out from a week of work and they never see it coming!

  9. Mr V,

    I agree that there’s a cultural difference here. I take more seriously the dignity of teachers than many outside the United States [there are so many reasons for this that it could be its own blog].

    You’re also right that it was a light-hearted post that isn’t going to ruin the world. I’ll resort to fluffy teacherspeak and say that I considered this a “teachable moment” to consider the implications of something common.

    And I also agree that commenters found little humor in my post [though on a discussion group someone called it "hilarious"].

    The irony that I’m taking heat over misunderstanding intent isn’t lost.

  10. It just seems to me that if your point was to make a general point about spelling and/or authority it could have been done in a more cordial fashion but it’s your space.

    Either your original writing isn’t all that well communicated or I’m not smart enough to see it; because I didn’t. It could well be the later.

  11. Dean,

    What’s more likely is that I have a very different sense of the dignity of teachers than some of those who have read this post.

    And, really, Graham is a big boy. He responded capably and explained himself. That’s discussion, and if this is the most troubling thing that he faced this week, then I want to be him.

    That cordiality has descended into walking on eggshells and committing only to the most mealymouthed discussion worries me. If someone tells you in no uncertain terms that you’re wrong… so what? You discuss it, you pound it out and hopefully get a little closer to truth and understanding. At the very least, we understand each other’s positions better even if we don’t agree.

  12. Actually I’ve been advocating for debate and challenging each other for a long time:

    http://ideasandthoughts.org/2008/01/16/the-great-debates/
    http://ideasandthoughts.org/2007/07/07/the-honeymoons-over/

    It has nothing to do with the point you attempted to make but how you did it. It certainly isn’t my style to even remotely bring personalities into things. Your attempt at using humor while cleverly crafted to me was unnecessary. Why make someone feel like loser? Why not make your point without personal slams? I did like how Graham responded and again, not questioning the content of your post but it was hard to get to that because of the tone of your writing.

    I’m all for debate, challenge and avoiding eggshells but when you say you have a “different send of the dignity of teachers” I’m not sure what you mean? I don’t care if you’re a teacher, plumber or candlestick maker, there has to be a way to question content without abrasiveness.

    Could you have made your point without that?

  13. JTHRC says:

    It seems as though there are a lot of “thin skinned” folks out there. It is a shame that there are people who are so fragile that they can’t be spoken to without “kid gloves”, apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and a “touchy-feely” “how do you do.” It is clear that love, peace and happiness has infiltrated the educational community to the point where “boys will be boys” has become “boys will be wimps.”

  14. JTHRC,

    I guess my bent as an educator comes through. I spend hours working with students in how to engage in online activity and not cross lines of decency and etiquette. I’m not saying Matthew did but certainly, I’d not want students to take this approach.

    I realize that’s not likely your perspective but I liken it to today’s comedians. Some are funny without profanity while others have to resort to it in order to get laughs. As an educator, I think we can do better. But call me a wimp if that helps you.

    I normally don’t carry on about a seemingly small piece of drivel, but as Matthew would likely agree, this is the place to engage in these types of discussions.

    I’m simply asking if we can present our ideas in respectful ways. I don’t think this post was respectful. But am aware that not everyone is all that concerned. It’s not about “touchy-feely” or “kid gloves”, it’s about expressing yourself without crossing lines. We have politicians who do this everyday, instead of talking policy and issues, they get personal. That’s what this felt like.

    Again, could this point have been made without getting personal? You obviously think that’s not important. As an educator, I think it is.

  15. Dean,

    The Twitterlings have been active today – this link is really making the rounds.

    Whereas I appreciate your willingness to teach, I invite you to consider the possibility that I know a thing or two – again, a remote possibility – about rhetoric, debate and writing and choose styles accordingly when authoring a post [or any other piece].

    We put our words out here on the internet and they’ll be judged. That’s the way it works – sometimes it’s a beautiful thing, sometimes it doesn’t work out the way we intended. I’ve encouraged your comments in this thread even though your view of my position and the way it was delivered is a negative one. I don’t have a problem with you making a judgment. It’s natural, it’s necessary and I’m comfortable with it.

    But I won’t apologize for having a poor opinion of the original post. At the risk of giving one more kick to that dead horse, I found the flippancy disgraceful for an educator and my post reflected that. I take the issue more seriously.

    You think that I’ve crossed a line; I think that your line is misplaced and that it hinders debate. That’s why I write on my blog and you on yours. I’m sure that we also share a very different readership that has drawn their lines in different places.

    If you really believe in a free marketplace of ideas and thoughts – and I have to assume you do, given your URL – then you’ll believe that the better ones will win out and that those undeserving of an audience will not. Have faith in that tenet and check in a year from now.

    In the meantime, you’re welcome to continue your pedagogy with others who refuse to pull punches. I suggest writing a letter to Margaret Thatcher because she’s still alive to read it, whereas many of the incendiary Romans are long dead [and writing in Latin can be a pain].

    I’ve been called the filthiest, nastiest names you can imagine – and some you can’t because they were made up on the spot. School board members have barked at me like starved junkyard dogs without provocation. And does any of it really matter? No, because my personal feelings rank second to the importance of education or its subdivisions.

    It’s not so much that my skin is thick, it’s that my skin doesn’t matter. That’s how I choose to prioritize things, but I understand that others might not prioritize in the same way.

  16. Dean,

    Charming Twitters, by the way. I wish that you’d used “obnoxious” here in the comments. I lament that your TwitterFriend [I don't know what they're really called, apologies] thought that commenting would bring undeserved attention and that the discussion was best ignored. It’s been a good discussion.

    And may your son recover swiftly – being sick stinks.

  17. Actually it’s interesting how continuing the conversation does lead to better understanding. I think that’s good thing. I’ve read your blog a few times and am interested in your take on many issues.

    As I stated earlier, I may not fully be understanding your point on the original issue but that aside, I’m interested in debate so I don’t in any way question your intent to challenge others, only the manner in which you did. I also think there are times when you can’t pull punches and am getting closer to understanding your intent but will likely choose to disagree with the approach.

    As for not using the word “obnoxious” as I did in twitter. I might have used here but it’s interesting and a good lesson for me that you searched it out. I likely could be called hypocritical for speaking behind your back. I apologize and should know better as I’ve often preached about how we must realize the public nature of the internet. I should choose my words more wisely or be willing to use them to your face. Rather than jumping to the conclusion that you were obnoxious (this comment thread is making me think that was too strong a word) I should have reserved judgment. But thank you for the opportunity to learn and engage. That is the beauty of these spaces. That’s why I did choose to engage and test whether I could learn something here. I think I did.

    Thanks also for the kind words re: my son.

  18. Agreed, and one of the benefits of a sharper approach is more conversation. Even those on her side deride Ann Coulter, but I imagine that none of us would even know her name if she was always a lady – and that we wouldn’t debate so vigorously the topics on which she weighs in.

    I don’t think much of Twitter – I just don’t find it to be a useful tool, partly because I’m content with self-directed research and problem-solving, partly because its concise format can be *too* limiting, and partly because of its difficulty with archiving. But I do occasionally find it useful at tracking discussion. Twitter content is often different – and more candid – than what we see on more public media.

  19. “sujokat : @shareski do not apologise Dean, it makes fscinating reading. Perhaps mr T might have a moment to draw breath before he posts so loosely”

    I pity the fool who thinks such a thing.

    - First name Mister, middle name Period, last name T

  20. G’day Matthew! Looks like quite a conversation unfolding here. I responded initially here to your post because it appeared from my perspective that you seemed to be reading extra intent in my post – using words like “snark” is what led me to my conclusions. You didn’t answer then so I thought well that’s it – until I checked back in today. I am interested in your reference to the “dignity of teachers” – is there any chance you could unpack that concept in a blog post sometime as I am unsure of how you view this?

    Just a small aside on the topic of words changing. When my father researched our family history a decade ago he discovered that when the first Wegner stepped off the ship at Port Adelaide in 1850, he was an illiterate farmer who later signed church documents with an X. His real last name was actually Wegener but a mistake on his naturalisation certificate changed that for his descendants from that point on.

    My sister-in-law is of Greek background and when her father emigrated in the 1950s his Greek surname didn’t survive the translation process well. Their surname now contains a “v” which doesn’t exist in the regular Greek alphabet.

    Now that’s not the case with Mr. Celsius – but translations can often distort spelling. Obviously, there have been enough examples of my incorrect version in my life for this to be such a revelation for me now.

    And I’m not being flippant now…

  21. Mr V says:

    Haha! I love the fact this little argument is still going (politely and in good intentions) over the same sort of stuff.

    Good to see we can all have a giggle at each other!

  22. Praxxe says:

    What worthless posts. I speak, of course, to both Wegner and Tabor.

    Uh huh, teachers have special responsibilities.
    Uh huh, people have the right to be humorous without being criticized.
    Uh huh, by connecting through blogs we learn.

    Yep. The usual drivel.

  23. As one of the people who posted “worthless drivel” on Graham’s original post (in the spirit of his message)and having read your comments above I’m sure Graham is correct when he wonders if we are suffering here from a lack of understanding about our antipodean sense of humour (yes this is the correct spelling down under). What I’m really wanting to say here in the politest of terms is “Get a life”. You think that spelling is not a matter of opinion but the English language begs to differ. Spelling is constantly changing for all sorts of reasons. Why even one of your own, President Andrew Jackson stated “It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.”
    Celsius, Celcius… ‘what the heck’ as long as we aren’t measuring temperature in Farrenheight we’ll be ok.

  24. Graham,

    My last name was once different, too. Taber became Tabor when one decided that -or was classier or more graceful given the Mt. Tabor referenced in the Bible.

    Transliteration can factor in as well.

    I may at some point expand on the pride/dignity of teachers, but it’s unlikely in the near future.

  25. Praxxe,

    Oddly enough, the link to your blog didn’t work. Thanks for stopping by.

  26. Paul,

    I wasn’t going to bother replying to your comment, but I changed my mind.

    First, I never used the phrase “worthless drivel,” so I hope that you’re not trying to quote me [a quick search of this page shows that no one put those two words together]. Just because something is drivel doesn’t mean it’s worthless – it just means it’s silly or not terribly important. Both you and allanahk [who complained on Twitter as she drew up the courage to comment here] would do well to understand that.

    If you think that most of what’s posted on forums, blogs, Twitter and the rest is serious stuff, then you’re using a different internet than I am.

    Drivel is part of what makes social media fun – we occasionally post pictures of our cats or ourselves in dumb hats. There’s no reason to pretend it’s anything else, though.

    I don’t find the antipodean excuse to be compelling at all. I also can’t help but notice that the notion of cultural understanding seems to work only one way in this conversation.

    “Why even one of your own, President Andrew Jackson stated “It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.”"

    Andrew Jackson, though a great President, was largely illiterate [now we'd probably call him functionally literate]. It’s doubtful that he was able to read many of the bills that he signed into law. Google something like “andrew jackson illiterate” and you’ll see plenty of material both scholarly and anecdotal.

    I tend not to quote the illiterate when I’m trying to make a point about spelling.

  27. Paul Wilkinson says:

    Oh Lordy. I wasn’t going to respond to your response but it is starting to be fun. We continue to talk past each other. Text is such a poor medium for communicating humour. It takes some of the joy out of writing when one has to preface every sentence with “I’m joking”. Never mind. In the interests of international peace I will give up responding!!! (I’m joking)

  28. Julia says:

    Paul,

    “Spelling is constantly changing for all sorts of reasons.”

    Oh is that the excuse de jour for intellectual laziness? Hard to keep up sometimes.

  29. Praxxe says:

    “Oddly enough, the link to your blog didn’t work. Thanks for stopping by.”

    I don’t have a blog. I didn’t post a link. I’m a reader only, and occasionally I make comments.

  30. julius says:

    Praxxe,

    Oddly enough, the link to your blog didn’t work. Thanks for stopping by.

  31. You know spelling is one thing I have always had issues with. Thank goodness for Spell Check!

  32. anon cwrd says:

    m4tt3w K. t4B0R,
    The word “drivel” is both insulting and an understatement. Perhaps if we were to use more objective (and accurate) terms such as “ocean of noise”, both verbal and written communication would be greatly enhanced. Of course, all I’m doing is simply adding to the Ocean of Noise. How fun to run with the pack… ;-)

  33. Alone says:

    Wow, all I wanted to do was check how you spell Celcius/Celsius on Google. I ended up reading the entire blog, and now I`m adding to it….well one thing is for sure it`s an “s” and not a “c” oh yes and it`s capitalized/capitalised ????? not again!!!!!!

  34. LL says:

    I’m with Alone….. Just checking on the spelling and read pretty much the whole thread. Wow indeed, amazing to see how strongly the love for debate endures in our modern world… Exchanging “blows” via internet posts is a little different in terms of technology, but I can’t help being reminded of a pack of Chimps shouting abuse at each other in some treetop in Africa…..

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