I have a decade’s worth of thoughts on English spelling and I will be blogwriting them here as an e-book of sorts. This post discusses the book’s format, its subject matter (explaining how spelling works), its audience (educators and studentz alike), modes of dissemination (mainstream publication versus Gospelling on the Jimi Internet), and monetising the project (technology has, mercifully, caught up with punk morals).
Fix the system
- When I was in school, I was a do-it-well but fuck-the-system kind of guy. I was academic but also a messer: I didn’t hide at the back of the class, unless I had an interesting book to read; Instead, I would sit at the front, to the side, so that I could engage with both the teacher and the students, getting the best of both worlds. I loved the material (ox-bow lakes!, second order derivatives!) so I was happy to geek out when it was time to put the head down and write about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
- The problem in my school was that there were no legal channels for expressing yourself properly. There was academic work, a shitload of rugby, and, to be fair, a bevy of side activities which were very well organised (drama, social outreach programs, even some trips to Lourdes, if you were among the chosen ones).
- But because it was a boarding school, there was no place for boys to be boys. A place to kick and scream and rant and write. The year above me set up a fight club. The madzerz in my year were more literary. We wrote magazines and got suspended. We read Nietzsche en masse and had our arts club shut down. The school had systems and if you no longer wanted to play by rules, then you had to go underground.
- Until the internet broke all the rules, the whole world was like a giant version of my boarding school. There were established ways of getting your work out to the world (newspapers, publication, exhibitions, record labels, radio, broadcast TV, etc.), but there were very few channels for people who hadn’t been given their Big Chance by people in power. There did exist some fringe publications (like zines) but I don’t remember there being a place for people like me who had one foot in both camps: Squares who fit into fringe circles.
- Nowadays, I’m the kind of guy who knows how to use a semi-colon; Who suspects there are systemic reasons why people don’t use them (semi-colons are not re-inforced by any other visual clues); Who knows how to solve the problem (use a capital letter afterwards, but not an extra space cos that is ugly); And who is willing to reject shitty conventions in order to make the world a teeny bit better. Yes, the traditionalists and Grammar Nazis might complain about my bantersmash (“Eh, that’s not a real word”), and lesser-informed begrudgers might think I’m a bit of a thick shit (“You do know that intelligent people would never curse in public, right?”). So, while you do need to understand their positions, pandering to pedants and pricks won’t get anyone nowhere.
- Published writing is no longer controlled entirely by The System, although their recommendations remain most welcome. We are no longer bound by static spelling and punctuation conventions which were upheld for so long by the #Gatekeepers, namely publishing companies and House Styles employed by newspapers and the likes. Nowadays, you can spell sh1t however you want on the Internet. And if punters don’t like it, #sowhat. Of course you’re walking a fine line. You need to know the rules before you can break them. And you don’t fuck the system for the sake of it. You do it because the system is failing you.
E’s are goode
- Many people lack confidence in their spelling so they aren’t very comfortable in testing the limits of the language. They might not remember if <saccharine> has one <c> or two. Or when it should take an <e>. These problems are the known unknowns. It comes from the Greek… Double consonant letters. Dropping an <e>. But beyond these nitty gritties, and unbeknownst to most people, spelling is a gateway into seeing the world afresh. If you can control your spelling with aplomb then you can apply it in makeyuppie words. And if you can invent words, then you can describe the world afresh, helping people to understand life better. The boy Jimmy Joyce understood this better than anyone who has ever lived, hence the relentless bantersmash of Finnegans Wake.
- It seems to be that there is a perfect storm abrewing. Interest in creative spelling has increased massively this century, as private writings have jumped from paper onto the screen. Creative spelling tends to exist where there is a space constraint (remember telegrams?) and where there is no regulation (e.g. graffiti). These forces were combined in text messages, causing an explosion of creative bantersmash, and, while predictive texts have put a bit of a stop to that, you can’t put the collective genius back into the bottle. Twitter came along with its hashtags. WhatsApp with its slew of emojis. Tabloid newspaper headlines, with their need for brevity and fresh information, remain ahead of the curve. But the rest of us are getting there. Advertising is inundated with puns, and normal punters are waking up to the possibilities of the bantersmash.
Rawmeash (FW 260)
- All the while, people have become comfortable in using other kinds of technological advancements to further their written expression, so we all pepper our microblogs with pictures, videos, hyperlinks and any other technology at hand. You even see the odd story written with emojis alone. You might think that that’s ridiculous but get used to it, mate. There is a generation of fresh kids coming through and they are gonna shred the language to pieces and put it all back together in new and fleshinating ways.
- So my job is to tell y’all about how the English writing system works so that more punters have the tools to map the world better.
What will the book be about?
From the eye rhyme to the meticulous.
- In keeping with my long-standing ability to straddle the line between being a dry shite and a mad bastard, the book will explore both standard and non-standard spelling. The latter parts will explain the fundamental laws of spelling. An <i> for an <e> and a <too> from a <two>. I will be explaining, in agonizing detail, exactly how we know the stuff we know. Why, for example, is <doping> not spelt *<dopeing>? Such yawnsome deets are only interesting if they are adequately contextualised and provide insight into deeper truths, which they will. Building on much existing work, I’ve solved a lot of problems and I’d like people to know the solutions and how to solve problems themselves. I’ll explain how words are formed and how spelling and pronunciation interact in a never-ending threeway conversation between letters, sounds and the passing of time.
- The first half of the book will be about the mad stuff — your names, puns, blends, logos, Google Doodles, abbreviations and punctuations, dialects and idiolects, emoticons and onomatopoems, homophones and heterophones, big words and little, new and auld. It will cover the physicality of writing, its graphic nature, and how marks on the proverbial page are confined to four basic dimensions: colour, shape, size and position. Graphic design. General orthographic exorbitance. The Bantersmash.
- There’s a lot to write but I have a lot to say.
Who is the book for?
- Spelling is a mainstream subject studied by everybody for several childhood years so my hope is to build on people’s existing knowledge. A sizeable minority of people love the deets of spelling and this book should appeal to people who like letters and dots and bantz. Your pedants, party pooopers, and bantersmashers.
Educators and studentz
- The book will be of interest to teachers and students of the language, although it will not be an education book per se. It will be of special relevance to primary school and Adult education teachers, because spelling is part of their bread and butter. But I will make it of interest to secondary school teachers and students, whose advanced needs are rather different, and there are several third-level fields hich may find it interesting. We’re talking linguists (especially phonologists, morphologists, and phoneticians), applied linguists, teachers and learners of English as a second language, educators in general, psychologists who study reading and reading disabilities such as dyslexia and Irlen syndrome, a visual processing disorder I myself have and will be writing about here a lot. I hope the work will be of interest to specialists in Writing Systems Research, for those studying the writing of both spoken and signed languages.
What is the format of the book?
- The contents will look a bit like the elegant Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music (from 2003). You’ll be able to click on a topic (e.g. double consonants, onomatopoeia) and thence read about it. Related sections will be hyperlinked and a bucketload of non-letterary media will be chucked in (pictures, gifs, sound files, pronunciation guides, videos, etc.). I need to learn about how to make more charts and infographics, and I’ll try and collaborate with people with related interests and useful skills.
- I haven’t worked out the educational element of it yet, but I have begun trying to test out teaching methods in class. There is a lot more to work out but I’ll enjoy that and I look forward to your suggestions. I study the nature of writing so I’m very interested in its possibilities and the limits of human expression (thanks to the hashtag merging of modalities).
How will the book be disseminated?
- I will be publishing the book in instalments here on my website and, hopefully elsewhere, in publications who will pay me for my work (your newspapers, magazines, educational supplements and whatnot. Suggestions and contacts welcome). I won’t be locking myself away on a island off the west coast of Ireland because I have learnt that I am a gregarious person and need people around me.
- I have spent years drifting into severed isolation (that was a typo I decided to keep) between my doctoral studies, living in the West of Ireland, avoiding drink, and being a stayathome dad. You lose touch with the world and lose confidence in your public existence. The PhD sent me into near oblivion. I also disconnected from social media and need to build that back up, as a professional this, rather than as a private/public individual. In this way, I will spread the #Gospell and respond to yizzer feedback.
- I also disconnected from my ‘audiences’ and need to build that back up, as a professional this time, rather than as an individual. I have already begun to revive my interest in Social Media and spread the #Gospell. My hope is that:
- a) People will read the blogbook and learn from it;
- b) They will spread the word
- “if every reader gets one friend to follow my work, then my audience will dzouble”.
- c) People might contribute financially towards the production of the work.
How to monetise the project?
- In time I hope to sell the entire book as a book or e-book, or in whatever format its structure requires. However, I am loathe to publish via the usual channels, because:
- I have made that mistake before, spending four years co-editing (with Vivian Cook) a massive collection of essays that hardly anyone will ever read. The book costs, and I’m not joking here, £148.00, reduced from £182. That’s like two hundred Yoyos. Whenever the book is bought, then Vivian and I get about a fiver between us. The authors, of whom there were nearly three dozen, get a copy of the book apiece and nothing else. No launch. No free wine. No promotion talks. Nothing. About a hundred and fifty books have been sold so far, meaning that the various interests have already made about twenty grand off our voluntary slavery, while we still haven’t recouped five hundred nicker they threw us as an advance. I think we may have also signed away our rights to royalties on electronic sales (I’ll get back to you on that).
- Irregardless, fuck that system.
I don’t like Burger King, I don’t like anything and I’m against it…
- I was never a fan of advertising, being a No Logo / Kid A kinda kid. I might, in time, be open to advertising the ‘right’ kind of products (if anybody was producing audiobooks for academia). but I would need a lot of advice to understand the moral implications of this.
- Either way, I don’t like the mainstream model of lashing your wares up on the Jimi Internet and feeding off the ads that Google generates automatically. I appreciate the necessity for publicity (see below) but I am not a fan of morkeshing deportments forking out for it at the expense of quality control. Am I naïve? Yes. Do I need advice? Abso-totes Mc-lutely.
New models of di$$€mination
- I like the newer models of dissemination which are employed by various podcasters I listen to. Technology has caught up with the moral standards spouted by the indie/alternative cultures which I grew up with, and I want to be a part of that.
- I am most familiar with Patreon, and I like this new model of providing your broad-appeal work for free and keeping the more specialised output behind a pay wall (e.g. Second Captains or Lingthusiasm). Or just put it all out there and let people contribute what they can (a street artist’s approach employed by The Comedian’s Comedian and Blindboy).
- Again, I don’t know enough and I need more advice on what to do and how to do it. Your thoughts are most welcome.
- Every time I mention someone or something in the blog, I’ll be sticking links in (for your benefit and theirs) and I’ll be contacting them to let them know about our existence (and it will be an us, as I”ll be opening A2dez up to the public in time). For example:
- Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, by Stephen Duncombe, had a huge influence on me as a chunfla. I borrowed it off Anna Gunn, while staying with her and others it in an anarchist squat in Leiden in 2003, in between printing out entire books from Project Gutenberg. #Eurodusney. Bridget Farrell put me in touch with them.
- Vivian Cook is mentioned in the text and here is his website. He’s a big spelling and punctuation man, and a highly prolific publisher of books on linguistics, from Chomsky to language learning. So I’ll email him and let him know.
- Conor Pyle, doctoral student of Native Australian languages in Trinity College Dublin, co-invented the word ‘Irregardless’ with me. We were outside Front Arch, having the bantz, and, if I remember correctly, the word just came out. If you want to push the language forward, you need people like that to bounce off.
- Moley P. O’Sullivan, singer and bantersmasher, was the man who breathed life into the word ‘bantersmash’, just as I was about to give up on it. I’ll be writing a piece about Mob’s 30th birthday in time. Blog post on the topic to follow.
- Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music. Will Volume 3 ever come out? The poor bastard, carrying around that pressure. Yeah, he could collaborate, but no, you can’t outsource the humour so easily.