The National Spelling Bee, now underway — or it it weigh? — is a hilarious concept. What better way to announce to the world at large that you have a totally useless and unmarketable skill — besides, I guess, framing your sociology degree? You’re a world-champion speller, eh? Do you also play the mountain dulcimer? That might have more practical applications in the workforce.
I’m sorry, spellers. I am trying to balance Real-World Hard Truths with concern for your tender self-esteem, and I sense that I am failing. I meant to congratulate your on your spelling title. I’m sure you will have a very fruitful career as a squiggly red line.
But savor it now. Delight in each correctly-placed letter of Z-E-U-G-M-A as it trips off your tongue. Your services will never be required again. Maybe you can pursue a back-up career as someone who actually knows how to drive from point A to point B — oh, no, I’m sorry, there’s also a machine that does that. Spelling is like manners or RSVP’ing to anything, ever — a delightful skill that requires effort and application, once wildly celebrated but rendered totally useless by modern life.
These days, an ability to spell is like perfect pitch — it does you no particular good, and it makes your life less comfortable than it would be otherwise. Everyone else gets by just fine not wincing when someone’s put an E where an A ought to be. But you are in acute physical pain. Consider: Thanks to spellcheck, you could date someone for years and never know if he actually could spell chiaroscuoro on the first try.
The saddest thing about spelling is that people used to be sticklers for it. Noah Webster went around standardizing words for purposes of National Pride, pounding on the doors of words like “colour” and “ardour” and forcing them to hand over their U’s. It was brutal, but it was a matter of pride. And now we let our iPhones and Microsoft Word handle it. Good spellers, like bagpipers, possess a skill that is trivial and usually unwelcome.
To think that this would have been considered the hallmark of civilization once, and now we leave it in the hands of devices that break when you drop them in public toilets! One might almost say it’s a shame and that some of us are missing exciting bits of our brains. But then I would go over and beat One over the head with my iPhone.
Whenever I watch spelling bees I am reminded of a Woody Allen line: “My father had worked for the same firm for 12 years. They fired him. They replaced him with a tiny gadget, this big, that does everything my father does, only it does it much better. The depressing thing is, my mother ran out and bought one.”
But on the bright side, spellers, if these gadgets ever stop werking, we’re all scrued.