Here’s what happened: Last week, The Leader hosted something of a mini Media Camp for a group of youngsters whose parents had nothing else for them to do. Last year our camp had 40 children and a wait list. This year, we believe people have such a disdain for the media they won’t send the kids anywhere near us.
During the week of activities for these children, we taught them the basics of writing for a newspaper or website.
What we did not teach them was how to spell anything. And full disclosure, we let them write just about anything they wanted to write.
One young lady, who kept the group in stitches all week, wrote about a new store her mother will soon open in the Heights. This creative store, called Noted, will sell notebooks and pens and all sorts of paper products. In essence, it’s a stationery store.
Most of you didn’t notice the error, because most of you have much more pressing concerns in your life, but a few people made sure to send me a note to let me know we spelled it “stationary.”
As one of my favorite letter writers paraphrased, how is a stationary store going to move?
The sad thing is, many of you are scratching your heads wondering what’s wrong with what we wrote. Stationary, as you know, means something that doesn’t move. Stationery is, usually, a piece of exotic paper with gold wrinkley things around it.
I’ve deduced two things from the error we allowed in our newspaper last week. First, we should have found and fixed the error. Our crack staff of copy editors, which equals zero total people, missed it. More important, I’m more convinced than ever that the English language is absolutely perverted, and I know because my wife and I have become petulant grammar instructors to our oldest son, Hank, who turns five next month.
Hank tells us he “sleeped” good, which makes perfect sense if our language did. He “swimmed” with his little brother yesterday, and right after he did that, he said he had “eated” all his food.
Yet, for some reason, the Germanic settlers who drank too much Scotch on their way to creating a new language in England, decided they’d start messing with words.
Hank didn’t sleeped good, he obviously slept good. So we dropped one of the e’s and added a t. Makes sense, especially if we start talking about Hank creeping around the house in the middle of the night. He didn’t “creeped” around the house; he crept.
Seems like there’s a trend here. If the word has a long “eee” sound, just drop a few of the last letters and add a “t,” or some variation of that.
Except there is unequivocally no trend. When Hank “eated” his food, he didn’t “ett” his food, he ate it. How in Webster’s name are we supposed to explain that to him? Especially when we start trying to explain the pleats in his pants and the crease down the middle.
The pleat doesn’t become the plate. If we take his pants to a tailor and describe the style we’d like, we want the pants “pleated.” And if we want the crease down the middle, we don’t ask the tailor to “crate” them. We want our pleated pants creased.
I am not the first writer to struggle with the nonsense of our language, but this is the first time I’ve tried to teach a 5-year-old how to speak proper English. If Hank walks into pre-K next year with his current oratorical skills, we may be asked to send him back to daycare.
If readers are going to send me little punchlines of grammatical corrections, I’m going to force the rest of you to sit through a quick lesson on our ridiculous language. In the most politically correct manner possible, what we have is a homo problem. Specifically, our language has homonyms, homophones and homographs. Confused? Good. Here’s what makes English so difficult, which may help my wife and I better teach our children.
The homonyms are words spelled the same and pronounced the same but with different meanings. Completely logical.
Consider the word “gross.” It’s your first reaction when you see a 5-year-old lick the mud off his hand. It’s also a word for the total amount of mud he holds in his hand. Or maybe we’re going to change the habits of our mud-eating son, and if we do, we may throw him some spare change as a reward.
Then you have the homophones, which sound the same, are spelled differently, and have completely different meanings. They’re getting their words wrong over there. We’ll fix it in the morning, after we finish mourning our error.
And last, we struggle with the homographs, words that are spelled the same, sound differently and mean something different. While Hank swam with his brother, he dove into the deep end right after a dove flew over his head.
We tried to tell Hank the bird was close, but he chose to close his eyes, take off his clothes and make a leap for it.
See what I did there? I threw a homophone on top of a homograph, which is the right way to write.
Meanwhile, I fear the only thing I’ve really done is confuse us even more.
Look, we’re sorry we allowed one of our campers to spell stationery stationary. We should have spent more time on homophones last week, which would have fixed one problem but created about a hundred more. Hey, at least she didn’t write the entire story in emojis and acronyms. I call that progress.