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Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Art Of Control

Today's blog is something that has been on my mind for 20 years or more. It is my contention that it either can't be answered because most people do not know the answer, or that the people who do know the answer can't or won't say anything. Does this have you intrigued, or does it have you thinking it's more of that conspiracy theory drivel you've been cautioned about not listening to from so many sources? It's not a conspiracy theory, I can dispell that immediately.

No, what I have been searching for an answer to for all these many years is simply this: Back when I was in grade school, which was during the late 1960's and early 1970's, the word that described someone who was in the process of going from one place to another was said to be and was spelled like this: "travelling." Notice I used 2 letter "L's" in this word. I can still hear my spelling teacher saying that when you have a word that ends in "L" and "ing," I was to add another "L." When it was to be divided between two lines such as "travel-" and "ling," the division would come squarely between the two "L's." Can anybody else remember being taught this rule of the English language?
Sometime in the 1980's, I can't pinpoint the year exactly, the second "L" was dropped from the word "travelling." The spelling "traveling" has since taken over and supplanted the spelling "travelling," and the old spelling is apparently not used anymore. (How would you divide the 2 "L's" between 2 lines now?) Remember the group "The Traveling Wilburys?" That's about the time I first began to notice the change. Here's where I come up against a brick wall. Maybe I can see where cutting down on letters could save space, so the why can possibly be answered in this manner. I say "maybe" only because I didn't know we were running out of space for letters, yet. But the reason for why it might have been changed doesn't answer the rest of it. It's the "who," "what," "when" and "where" that I'm interested in finding out. Such as:
Who handed down the directive that this change in spelling take place? And what authority did they have in doing so?
What was the purpose of taking a perfectly good word that everybody knew how to spell and changing it?
When did this change in spelling take place? Exactly what year? And,
Where did this change come from? It had to have started with one person. Things like this don't just fall out of the sky written in stone for all to follow and obey. Think about that. Millions of people didn't just wake up one morning and decide that the spelling of "travelling" needed to be changed. It had to have started with one person. Who was that one person who changed the spelling of "travelling?"

And now some random ramblings on my part to illustrate why this is so important to me, and why it might mean something to you, too.

I am not aware of any "official" organization or government bureau that is in charge of the "caretaking of the English language." Do you have to have a degree or a license to be able to bring about changes to words in the English language? Do you merely get appointed to the position? Or, can any person off the street just come in and change words whenever they feel like it? If so, I'd like to have a crack at this job!
Can anybody tell me who's in charge of changing the spelling of English words? I'm pretty sure no one will be able to give me an answer that tells me the who and explains the why, what, when and where, also.

Why is this important to me? I'll tell you why and let you see my reasoning. I used the version of "travelling," which I was taught as a youngster, in my first published novel, entitled The Wizard Of Destiny. The book was published before I even noticed that the spelling of that word had been changed to "traveling." I used the spelling of "travelling" because I wanted that spelling and not "traveling." I invested a lot of good years being forced to go to grade school so I could learn something. And I did learn something. I learned how to correctly spell "travelling." But, now that spelling is not correct any more, it seems. It seems like the time I spent learning how to spell "travelling" was wasted. The time I spent learning how to spell "travelling" will never be given back to me or restored in any way. I feel cheated. Wouldn't you feel cheated if you'd spent long years of your life doing something that you were forced to do, by law, only to grow up and find it no longer means anything or applies?
For what purpose was the spelling of "travelling" changed? In the early days of the English language, words got used and misused and, over the centuries, their correct spellings got changed and adjusted. But, this kind of thing happens a lot and was common in a world where there was so much isolation between people. It stands to reason that words are going to get changed when the people who use these words don't necessarily spend a lot of time with other people who use these same words. If somebody didn't tell you that "Pennsylvania" was spelled with two letter "N's" after "Pe-," how would you know that "Pensylvania" was incorrect? And how would you know what the correct spelling was if, when you did see it being used, you saw a multitude of different spellings employed such as "Pennyslvania," "Pensylvania," "Pennfylvania," "Penfylvania," "Pennsylvanya," "Pennfylvanya," etcetera. You can see how confusing this could be if nobody was corrected and everybody repeatedly used a different spelling! But, in this day and age, where people are so connected with the internet, newspaper, radio and television, this shouldn't be a factor and shouldn't be happening. Oddly enough, it is happening! I'd like to know why? The English language should not have to be "tweaked" anymore. It is what it is and it doesn't need to be continually refined and changed. I found an interesting link about how the spelling of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania got changed from 1890 to 1910, by the United States Post Office, no less! I will speak more about the Post Office below. But, here is the link about how the citizens of Pittsburgh themselves had to reclaim the dropped "h" on the end of the name of their beloved city.

And now the United States Post Office. If you are over 40 years old, you probably remember that when States were abbreviated, the abbreviation consisted of three letters, followed by a period. Examples are these are: Ill., Neb., Cal., Nev., etcetera. If you're under 40 years of age, probably the only way you know how to abbreviate States is like this: IL, WA, MS, (is that Mississippi or Massachusetts or Missouri? Who can remember?) Well, you know what I mean. It's a confusing system at best. But this is something I know what I'm talking about, because I was an employee of the United States Post Office when the change from Ill. to IL came about.
Around the year 1990, the United States Post Office started getting computerized machines to sort the mail faster than humans could do it. Evidently, however, the machines had a problem with abbreviations, so they adopted a new code to be implemented for the way you addressed your letters. This was only to be used so that the new machines could do their job better, not meant to be used for any other purpose. But, now.... and you are as aware of this as I am, the 2 letter State codes have supplanted every abbreviation for States and in most cases, the complete original spelling of States isn't even used any more! Why has this happened and why have the 2 letter State codes filtered down into common usage so quickly and absolutely? Do you remember being taught in grade school that when addressing a letter, you used 2 spaces between the end of the state you lived in and where you placed the 5-digit Zip Code? Now, there has been one of those spaces removed. Taken away. Who thought this up, when did it happen and why didn't I get the memo on this correct new way of doing it? Did you get a letter in the mail saying you had to change the amount of spaces you used between the state and zip code? No, of course you didn't. Nobody did. It wasn't written into law or anything official like that. And it's not some commandment you were ordered to follow. So, why does everybody just use one space between the state and zip code now? People weren't forced to change, but yet they have. Why?

You really should be concerned with changes like this so that, if nothing else, you can learn how to spot changes when you face them and be able to recognize them as such. Changes only happen when people let them and there is no reason for the English language to keep changing in this enlightened day and age. Don't just accept things at face value all the time. Ask who, what, when, where and why has the change come about. Ask yourself, is it good for me to just fall in line with what everybody else is doing so I don't seem out of place, or should I really find out why something has changed so I can see whether or not it's something I really need or want?

And while you're thinking about all manner of things being changed right under your noses for no apparent purpose, please remember to not ever shop at Wal-Mart for anything.