Perhaps you too have scratched your head.

Maybe you have turned off Veirs Mill Road in Rockville into the parking lot of the Viers Mill Baptist Church or the Sovran Bank's Viers Mill branch.

Why the confusion?

This is not an issue of i before e except after c.

No, the correct spelling of the road that runs between Wheaton and Rockville is V-E-I-R-S Mill. It's named for the mill built by Samuel Clark Veirs about 150 years ago. You can even see a picture of the mill in the main office of the Viers Mill Elementary School.


Who's responsible for this? A clerk in need of bifocals? An inebriated signmaker?

No one really knows, but it's not a new problem. About 20 years ago, Philip N. Bridges, a persnickety cryptographer with the Defense Department, went on a campaign to eradicate the inconsistencies.

"My hobby is to correct things where I can," he said at the time. "Use of correct words preserves the preciseness and elegance of the language."

He wrote letters, attended meetings and generally nagged officials until the Montgomery County Planning Board voted in 1967 to end the confusion by changing all street signs to V-E-I-R-S.

Unfortunately, the issue refused to die. "We have all our mortgages and deeds under the spelling V-i-e-r-s," said Jim Doughtie, administrator of the Viers Mill Baptist Church. "I don't know exactly how much it'd cost to change -- but I can tell you that it'd be into the thousands of dollars. We need to put money into facilities for the handicapped."

Then there are the hundreds of deeds that would have to be changed in the Viers Mill subdivision in Rockville.

And now, like poisonous mushrooms, "Viers" signs have once again begun to sprout on the Montgomery County landscape. Especially around Viers Mill Elementary School.

When John Burley became principal at the school a few years back, he noticed that signs leading to the school were spelled with "ei."

"As educators, consistency is a major point we want to get across to our students," he said. "My goal was to make sure there was consistency in the school system and school community." So, he ordered all signs leading to the school changed to "ie."

But why not just change the school's name? Says Burley: "All of the graduation pictures in our hallway going back to 1951 have the V-I-E-R-S spelling."

This hasn't gone over well with the persnickety cryptographer.

"There's too much reactionism in our public schools," he said. "There's something wrong, and they stick with it rather than making the correction.

"I stopped crusading a long time ago. But it looks like I may have to start again."

This clearly is one Bridges you don't want to cross.

"By the way, did you spell my name correctly?" he asked. "There's only one l in Philip. It comes from the Greek word "Philippos," which means lover of horses. There are some mothers who put a little variation in the name by adding an l. Heaven knows how the name Phillips came about. The correct spelling is one l -- in any language . . ."