Monday, June 2, 2008

Humor Me: Spelling out success

By MATT WIXON
The Dallas Morning News

Greetings, youth of the world. I come in peace.

I admit that I come from a different world - the over-age-30 world that is confused by nose rings and the trendiness of visible underwear - but you have no reason to fear a lecture or condescending tone. As I said, I come in peace.

Even better, I come to defend you from the members of my Country Time Lemonade world who say your Mountain Dew demographic isn't very swift in the classroom. I'm here to give you a break from the know-it-all adults who claim that you don't know current events, show no appreciation for history and are lacking skills in math, science and proper use of a belt.

But first, the bad news. Some of you truly aren't so swift in the classroom. Some of you don't know the basics that I learned in high school, such as the exact year when George Washington led U.S. troops across the Delaware River to defeat the Nazis with an atomic bomb.

For those of you who don't know that, it's not all your fault. Our country doesn't stress the importance of education the way it stresses rock-hard abs, money-back guarantees and whether Angelina Jolie will name her twins Corduroy and Zweibel. It also seems we -- the Country Time crowd -- might be helping you fail.

Let me spell it out, angry adults with e-mail.

I was thinking of this last week as kids tried to spell words such as "ursprache" and "weltschmerz" at the National Spelling Bee:

If you design a line of educational toys, does it make sense to name your company Playskool?

Not if you want children, who probably started their day with a
spelling-impaired breakfast of Froot Loops, Trix or Rice Krispies,
to pass spelling tests. And what if the kids fail the spelling tests? It could be a major blow to their self-esteem, leading them to gorge on word-mangler products such as Kit Kats and Kandycorn as they kry -- darn it, cry -- in shame. They might only find solace in playing with their Lite-Brite, Glo Worm or Snoopy Sno-Cone machine.

I'm sure you can hear the violins playing as you read this. I know it's only spelling, and lots of very smart people are terrible spellers. I believe the person who invented the xylophone was one of them.

And check out this passage from Geoffrey Chaucer's famous 14th-century work The Canterbury Tales: "She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous kaught in a trappe."

I think today's English teachers would do more than weep if they "saugh" spelling such as that. I know my teachers would have. Actually, I think they did cry a lot at Apollo High School, home of the fighting Hawks and disappointing test scores.

But ...

Spelling was a cornerstone of my education in skool -- darn it, school -- and it really is important. No matter how "intellugunt" you are, you won't be taken seriously unless you can spell the word intelligently.

That's why I don't envy the children who are learning how to spell "cheese" while eating Cheez-Whiz, Cheez-its and Cheez Doodles.

For one thing, their hands are too greasy to hold a pencil. Second, it's hard for them to tell how anything is spelled, because apparently the way to market to kids is with wacky spelling.

"Hey kids! You'll love Beanee Weenees! They go great with new Healthee Yummee Broccolee!"

Children's toys aren't helping, either. Three toys on the list of Dr. Toy's 100 Best Toy Products of 2007 were Aerobloks, Silly Stix and Betty Spaghetty. They were among the best toys, and yet the kids playing with them may now be destined to open a Kustom Kar Kare store or a Kwik Klips hair salon.

Or maybe the misled children will grow up and reinvent a word as a restaurant in my neighborhood did on a banner a while back:

"Quarter-pound hamberger 99 cents!"

It's a spiral of doom, leaders of tomorrow. So work on your spelling today. If you do, I promise you sweet results.

Even in a world of Kool-Aid and Krispy Kreme.

***
To be on the list that is sent out when a new column in posted, e-mail mwixon@dallasnews.com. Have a great week.