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B careful what u wish 4

If u cn rd this yr prbly 11 yrs old and spnd lts of time txtng. But frnkly, most of us think its jibrish.

Yet this is what some spelling reform schemes would like to do with the finicky -- should that be "finiky"? I don't knough -- English language. Hope beats eternal in the breast of those who wood, sorry, would revamp our great language. Meet the Simplified Spelling Society, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year.

If the SSS didn't exist, newspaper columnists would have to invent it. The United Kingdom-based Society is the ultimate, mediagenic Hopeless Cause, like Esperanto, or schemes for world government. Reforming spelling figures in the great wish list in the sky, right next to anti-bullying campaigns, or hoping that the middle of the Yankees batting order will suddenly contract swamp blindness.

It will never happen here . . . will it?

It once did happen here. At the beginning of the 20th century, worthies like Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie embraced spelling reform and actually did something about it. Roosevelt wanted the Government Printing Office to adopt modern spellings of 300 words targeted by the Carnegie-backed Simplified Spelling Board. Congress balked, so in the end only the White House formally dumped the Britishy "u"s from words like "ardour," "vigour," and "honour."

Some of the Board's 1906 suggestions made it into the language anyway, e.g., "clue" for "clew," "fiber" for "fibre," and "ecumenical" for "oecumenical." But most have not, and look strange even today: "heapt" for "heaped," "kist" for "kissed," and so on.

Jack Bovill is the current chairman of the SSS, and he is not pushing for any specific re-spelling scheme, yet. "There won't be any reform until people realize that there is a serious problem," he said. According to the SSS, almost a quarter of Britons and Americans are functionally illiterate, and that rate doubles among the prison populations. Spelling irregularities likewise prevent immigrants from assimilating into their new countries.

"There is a direct connection between where people find themselves in society because of this difficulty," Bovill explained. "The waste in terms of people's lives is enormous."

Bovill insisted that spelling reform is gaining traction, primarily because the British Broadcasting Corporation and other media have been paying attention to the Society. Membership, which once numbered 35,000, fell to almost zero, but has seen a recent uptick to about 1,000. In my role as ambulatory wet blanket, I asked Bovill if there had been any real progress toward spelling reform, media hooting aside? "No, absolutely not," he replied.

The SSS has an American counterpart, the American Literacy Council, whose members occasionally score headlines by picketing the National Spelling Bee, carrying signs that read "Enough is Enuf" and "I'm Thru With Spelling." The ALC's website,, wasn't coming up for me, so I called its chairman emeritus, Edward Rondthaler, to find out what was going on.

Rondthaler is an extraordinarily cheerful, 102-year-old former typographical designer, who confirmed that, like its website, the ALC is not always firing on all cylinders. "Nobody except a few cranks like me wants to reform spelling," Rondthaler said. "We just gave up. Although it's certainly something that ought to be done." The ALC president, Alan Mole, says the council currently has 14 active members.

Spelling is interesting, but I had to ask Rondthaler about his longevity. "People always ask me if I drank or smoked" -- he didn't -- "but no one ever asks me what I eat." OK, Mr. Rondthaler, what do you eat? "Oatmeal and raisins every morning," he answered, and yes, he exercises.

But I digress.

When I told Bovill that the American counterpart to the SSS had bellied up, he allowed that the Americans "are not as active as we are." I suspect that is because we are a practical people, blessed with an inherited language that changes every day, and oftentimes for the better.


I have posted another podcast of reader hate mail, which you can hear either at or on iTunes. Embittered Canadian readers abound, and there is even a missive from a world-famous movie star! editor David Beard reads the angry letters from men, and Sidekick writer Meredith Goldstein intones the female voices. Enjoy!

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is