April 04, 2007

Stanford spell check

Today's Stanford Daily has an entertaining piece (p. 2) on the spelling of Stanford proper names.  Kelley Fong did an admittedly unscientific survey of students, testing them on their ability to spell five of the more challenging names on campus; they did not do at all well.  The piece was illustrated with campus signs and flyers in which two of these names, Tresidder Memorial Union and Cubberley Auditorium, were misspelled -- as Tressider and Cubberly, respectively.

Tresidder is especially challenging, given that its first vowel is lax and that the word is stressed on the first syllable, so that Tressider would be the expected, regular spelling. 

(and, for that matter, Kelley as in Kelley Fong, and Waverley as in Scott's Waverley novels) presents an -ey vs. -y problem, in particular -ley vs. -ly.  Both are possible spellings, though -ly has an edge if you're trying to turn a pronunciation into spelling: it's shorter; it's also the spelling for the -ly suffixes of English (in particular, adjective-forming -ly in princely, adverb-forming -ly in quickly); and I believe it's by far the more frequent English spelling of the common Irish family name (and now, also, personal name) -- Kelly over Kelley

Faced with spelling the name of a downtown Palo Alto street, you'd similarly come up with Waverly rather than Waverley.  Only inside knowledge can fix that.  In this case, you need to know two things: one, that the W street is one of Palo Alto's "literary" streets (we have a whole bunch of them); and two, that Scott was the author of Waverley, not Waverly .  The parallel streets on either side of Waverley are Bryant and Cowper, and the street before Byant is the street I live on, Ramona.  These streets are named either after authors (Bryant, Cowper) or after literary works (Waverley, Ramona).   "Ramona?", I hear you asking.  Well, yes, the novel of that name by Helen Hunt Jackson, who was inspired by Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Jackson's friend Harriet Beecher Stowe.  It's a love story set in old (southern) California, and even in California it never achieved the fame of Stowe's novel, so you shouldn't feel bad if you've never heard of.

Back to the Stanford campus.  There's one more -ey/-y problem in Fong's list: the family name of the university's current president.  This time things go the other way: it's John Hennessy.  Still, I have e-mail from distinguished professors at Stanford who spelled it Hennessey, and you can google up a fair number of Stanford web pages with this spelling.  Locals spent all that time learning to put an e in Cubberley and Waverley, and then Gerhard Caspar (with a name that presents its own spelling challenges) steps down as president and they have to learn that there are only two e's in Hennessy.  (Just remember: Zwicky, with no e before the y.  Same thing with Hennessy.  Omit needless letters.)

Two more.  The next one is a bilingual challenge: Arrillaga (pronounced, as in Spanish, with a glide [j] rather than a liquid [l]), of the Arrillaga Center for Sports and Recreation, the Arrillaga Family Sports Center (both named for Stanford donor John Arrillaga), and the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center (named for his wife).  The students Fong interviewed did fairly well on the Spanish ll thing, but almost half of them missed the double rr.  Not surprising: the doubling serves no function in the English sound-spelling correspondence for this name.

Finally, Mirrielees, the name of an upperclass student resident hall.  Best quote from Fong:

One student realized my survey was a spelling test and tried writing out "Mirrielees" three different ways on the back of her test.  (She still spelled it wrong.)

Fong's pocket guide to Stanford spelling:

Tresidder: Two D's, One S
Arrillaga: Two R's, Two L's
Hennessy: Without the E Before the Y
Cubberley: With the E Before the Y
Mirrielees: Just Memorize It

As for Waverley/Waverly, recall Cubberley Auditorium when you think of Sir Walter Scott, and otherwise use the rule of thumb that place names in the U.S. are mostly Waverly (as in the cities in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio) and pretty thoroughly Waverley in the U.K. (Surrey), Canada (Nova Scotia), New Zealand, and Australia.  Think Scots, and remember that the main train station in Edinburgh is Waverley Station.

[Addendum 4/5/07: John Cowan notes that "Ironically, Waverley is an English name; the title character of Waverley, the first of the Waverley novels, is an Englishman who gets mixed up in the Scottish rebellion of 1745."]

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at April 4, 2007 09:08 PM