Thursday, June 05, 2008


I cannot remember passwords. I have trouble remembering my User Name. This Blog is being changed to a new Google account, and I have struggled like a person digging a 100 foot fencepost hole trying to get on here. Finally, after I had identified a group of squiggled and distorted letters and numbers, I managed to do it. It would have been easier to read a Chinese essay.

However, I finally made it and I have a new Password, which I will forget immediately and have to go through the same process the next time I post. The Internet gets more and more intricate with each passing day. I am continually amazed by the technological knowledge of our younger generation. They calmly travel through this puzzling maze of the Web as though they were clones of Bill Gates. They work up programs and weave their way around like Internet masters. It's phenomenal.

Not for them is the cloud of ignorance that covers the older generation when it comes to traveling the Internet. They rely on the advice of grandchildren and savvier neighbors and forget Passwords, are forced to learn new words like Blog and new meanings for words like Virus. Even worse are the initials. For instance, I had trouble figuring out what an URL could be. Then, too, there are your ISP, LOL, FYI, and a host of others. It is like wishing someone happiness on the day of their birth and saying, "HB, my friend! Many more!"

But I spell better. Yes, the American reliance on the Spell Check is mind-boggling. I visited one Forum not long ago and decided I was speaking to a bunch of young illiterate idiots. The spelling was so atrocious I could hardly understand a thing they wrote. After a long conversation, as I struggled to understand what they were saying and wondered if perhaps they were visitors from a foreign land, thus explaining their difficulty with English grammar and English spelling, it struck me what the problem was.

They were used to texting messages and I was being treated to a condensation and distortion of the English language that has evolved since the introduction of this phenomena. It would be a lengthy process to write a text message using regular and correct spelling, so our young geniuses have figured out a way to do it concisely and quickly, and sometimes illegibly.

The path to learning to spell correctly is through reading. The more books you read, the more the spelling sinks into your head. It isn't that you memorize every word. It's the fact that, as you write, it will occur to you that some word or other looks funny. You know there is something wrong with it, but you are not sure what. So, you go into a program of changing "A's" to "O's" and playing around with consonants until you hit something that is familiar. In a pinch, you drag out the old Webster's. I have one that I won when I was about eleven years old, having beat out my classmates, who for some obscure reason, couldn't spell "CAT."

From that contest, I was supposed to go on to the regional one and, if I won it, move forward to the State spelling bee. My teacher, Mrs. Hosner, was ecstatic, no doubt dreaming of the praise she would get for her teaching methods if I won the state...or went on to the Nationals.

She didn't take into account the backwardness of a poor country student. I didn't sleep a wink the night before the regional contest. Was I worried about the Spelling? No, I was in a feverish state because I would have to stand up before a crowd of people. Even the thought of it made me tremble like a leaf in a high wind. It was so frightening for me, I was physically ill. When morning came, I claimed a stomach ache and my mother couldn't get me out of bed. I moaned and gripped my abdomen as though death approached me. My worried mother informed the teacher I would have to miss the contest.

Years later, in my work at the newspaper, I was often called upon to speak before groups of people. For some reason, the fear that I had experienced as a child left me and I was able to sail through these experiences. At one time, I was called to speak before the High School English Class of a nearby town. They had chosen me because of the ridicule they gave me after I described their high school as "spacious." I explained to them that, compared to the old red brick building that had been my high school, their school could certainly be called "spacious." It was all a comparative issue, as everything in this world might be.

I was called back to this school several times. The students loved hearing about my childhood on a poor farm, with the mule called Kate that had disfigured hooves, the wood stove, the musty dark cellar, the eleven brothers and sisters with the same initials, and the life that I lived later, meeting celebrities and presidents, and getting lost in the Governor's mansion. Later, a new school was built, and to my eyes, the new schools are Taj Mahals, a far cry from the one-room schoolhouse where I received my Elementary education and chickened out on becoming a Spelling champion.

A few nights ago, I watched the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. I was flabbergasted at the ability of these students to spell words that few people have even heard about, let alone used. They did a marvelous job, but I couldn't help but wonder what was the use of it? If a word is so intricate and convoluted that few people even know of its existence, does it help these students in the lives they will lead? Might they be better off to learn Text Messaging, thus joining their peers in the new use of the English language?