A Significant Breakthrough Turns Ham Into Chicken

A respected authority quotes Dr. Johnson saying that if little fishes were made to talk, they would speak like whales. To me, this was corroborated years ago when I began reading, as a cub 4-H'er, the government bulletins put out by the Extension Service to bring advice and instruction to the untutored farmers of the land. Written usually by cow-college professors without competence in prosody, they went for the biggest word available and proved to be little fishes talking like whales. We stopped feeding pigs at that time and began administering nutrients.

I loved in particular an academic dissertation titled "Factors of Economy in the Preparation of a Single Day's Meals on a Maine Farm." It was a profound study by a professor on which size pot was best used on which size burner on an electric stove. I was young and small then, and we had maybe three electric ranges in all of Maine.

But now comes a thoughtful letter from Reader Kimball Woodbury of Boylston, Mass., who suggests the computer age has added a new dimension to literature. He thinks editors rely too much on computer spell-checkers and frequently arrive at words not intended. To illustrate, he says, he, himself, has to tell his secretary that he means "hahbah" and not "harbor." (I do believe he means "hahb'h.")

Knowing happily nothing whatever about any spell checks, but knowing intimately what I meant, I see his point now and then right here. Not long ago, I was sitting, enjoying with my cherished spouse our anniversary dinner in the Hotel Post at Freudenstadt in the Black Forest, and I meant that our provender included delicious slices of fried Schinken, which is the German word for ham. This ham was more than superb, and for our special supper the eager cook had done his best. All was gemtlich, the waiter hovered, the candles threw their beams, and joyful serenity prevailed.

The other guests in the dining room had presented their good wishes, and there in "Joytown" we had little to complain about. Yet in my account of that salubrious moment, our spell check functioned, and Schinken came out in the paper as "chicken." As Herr Kimball Woodbury points out, that was not what I meant. But it is what you get if you live on the Information Super Highway or down by the hahbah.

I therefore ask somebody who does live over thataway to punch the button and find out for me how the spell check handles the word "ghoti." Another good pen pal of mine is Miss Margaret Fish, who lives in Bolton, Conn., and keeps a cat. Miss Fish wrote to me about her cat, and I responded purringly in due time. I addressed her as Miss Margaret Ghoti so the postal clerks might also have some fun. Ghoti is the way George Bernard Shaw spelled "fish."

The "gh" in "enough" = F

The "o" in "women" = I

The "ti" in "propitiate" = SH


Mr. Woodbury does comment that when he thinks of all that is available to him on the Internet, he wonders how he got along without it.

There are many things to think about. When the Passamaquoddy Nation began agitating for a gambling casino at Cape Split, Doodie Fornheister, editor of the East Machias Weekly, wrote a scathing editorial in which he referred to the "Laws of Avarice." Then the spell check went to work, and it came out "Law of Averages." There are perceptible reasons to doubt the amiability of the all-computer paradise.

The law of averages, it has been said, can take a bunch of monkeys, show them the basic movements with a typewriter, and after a certain time alone in a closed room they will write every book in the English language. This was proved when Ambrose Butterfield brought 20 monkeys home from Gibraltar and set them to typing in his barn chamber. In a week he went in and picked up the pile beside the first monkey. It said, "A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens."

Then Ambrose took the pile of paper by the second monkey and ran it through the spell check on his computer. It took the computer 20 seconds, and out came the Rubiyt, a translation of the first 10 books of the Aeneid, and the Fanny Farmer Cook Book. "I consider this a significant breakthrough," Ambrose said.

FOR a good many years now, we have heard the geniuses proclaim significant breakthroughs, but the computerized grocery store still leaves out the mustard (or ginger) when it bags your weekly supplies. This bewilders me, as it does when I write "kin to kaint" and the spell check kicks me out so somebody can call to ask what I meant to write. Way down east here in Maine, we start before we kin and we work until we kaint see, and that is a day, morning and evening, and it looks some old good to us. It don't make no never mind if you can spell "visibility" or not.

Long ago, Hod and Harriet Treworgy worked and slaved on the old farm to lay by enough money to send their boy, Timothy, away to college where he could get some smarts and amount to more'n a hillabeans. And come Christmastime, Tim comes home full of erudition. He sits at table and uses big words, and he says a lot of fathead information. While he uses his knife and fork in a polite and genteel manner, he sounds like a blithering boob, and Hod and Harriet look at each other and wag noggins.

Then Hod says, "Hattie, we just blew 20 acres of pertetters!"

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