Now, let's hear it for that lower-case 'd'

If you grow up in the Idaho Panhandle, you become defensive about the way Coeur d'Alene is spelled. At the time our local Interstate highway was built, for example, the road crew put up signs directing motorists to "Coeur D'Alene -- spelled with a capital "D." Coeur d'Aleneans were incensed; they bombarded government officials with letters of protest. The D's were lower-cased in short order.

Anyone who has a hometown spelled with an apostrophe will understand that high school students can grow silly when they try to use a name like Coeur d'Alene in a school yell.

Not that the town name is used officially in yells. Usually, the cheerleaders spell out V-K-I-N-G-S.

But occasionally a group of fans, bored and belligerent against the November chill, make up their own yell.

We did in the 1940s. We'd shout:

"Coeur d'Alene! That's the way you yell it; here's the way you spell it. . . ."

The we'd sound the letters: ". . . C-O-E-U-R . . . ."

The giggles began.

After "R" we'd pause and yell: "Little d!"

The giggles grew to guffaws.

"Apostrophe!" yelled the crowd as more people chimed in.

At that point there wasn't a serious face in the stadium. The originators of the yell were in convulsions. Nobody could finish spelling the word.

Teachers in Coeur d'Alene do an exceptional job of teaching children how to spell. The reason must have something to do with the way people in north Idaho are allied in their determination that Coeur d'Alene should be spelled correctly.

the first time I became aware of spelling as a language- arts pursuit was at Central School. Our first-grade teacher was smart enough to realize that many of her pupils were from farms, and she enticed them to learn words that farm kids were interested in. My most memorable word from first grade was incubator.m

The farm-hatched children in the class took to spelling like incubator-babied ducks to water.

Our second-grade teacher required her pupils to spell her name by the second day of school.

"Know how to spell it by tomorrow," she insisted, "and I'll learn how to spell yours."

Then she chalked her name on the blackboard: Miss Baeretsch.m

Miss Baeretsch tried to explain to us seven-year-olds that her name did not fit regular patterns of spelling.

"I'm irregular," I remember her saying with a straight face.

A mathematics teacher in Coeur d'Alene Junior High School taught me another thing about spelling.

"I correct spelling as a routine part of correcting papers," Mary Laney said. "If you can't spell, you can't communicate accurately." Score one for Mary Laney.

Miss Laney had sense about spelling, but she also had a sense of humor. To correct one of my friends when he spelled weather "wether," she said: "That's a bad spell of weather."

Nowadays I recognize the bad-spell-of-weather joke as a bad joke.

Still and all, Miss Laney had a point: It's important to keep a sense of humor about spelling.

It helps you keep things in perspekti v.

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