June 05, 2004

Wait, wait, don't spell me

Let me say one other thing about the much-admired NPR newsreader Carl Kasell, whose unusually open long o vowel sound I recently discussed elsewhere: I don't know how often people spell his name correctly, but it strikes me as extraordinarily difficult. I got it wrong many times when writing about him. The problem is... Well, if you have any difficulties with spelling at all, ever, don't read on, because what I'm going to say now will really screw you up forever.

The problem is the same one (whatever it might be) that I have with correctly naming the fine Swedish mystery author Hannell Menking (I may have that name slightly wrong). The problem in Kasell's case is that one could plausibly imagine that any of at least the following list of spellings might be correct (I'm assuming American pronunciation here, so spellings like Castle are relevant):

Carl CaselCarl CasellCarl CasselCarl Cassell
Carl KaselCarl KasellCarl KasselCarl Kassell
Karl CaselKarl CasellKarl CasselKarl Cassell
Karl KaselKarl KasellKarl KasselKarl Kassell
Carl CastleKarl CastleCarl KastleKarl Kastle

Several parts of several of these have some foundation from either English or German personal or place names (Carl Sagan, Karl Rove, Howard Cosell, Cassell publishers, the city of Kassel...). And there are just too many to choose from that would all sound exactly the same. And since English will never have a spelling reform, we are just stuck.

Sorry. I did warn you. But now you'll never again be able to spell the poor man's name correctly.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at June 5, 2004 08:48 PM