September 1

On the first of September in 1906, the strenuous twenty-sixth President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, attempted to add spelling reform to his long list of progressive achievements. In a letter to Charles S. Stillings, Public Printer, made public on this day, he said: “I enclose herewith copies of certain circulars of the Simplified Spelling Board, which can be obtained free from the board at No. 1 Madison Avenue, New York City. Please hereafter direct that in all Government publications of the Executive Departments the 300 words enumerated in Circular No. 5 shall be spelled as therein set forth. If any one asks the reason for the action, refer him to Circulars 3, 4 and 6, as issued by the Simplified Spelling Board.

“There is not the slightest intention to do anything revolutionary or indicate any far-reaching policy. The purpose simply is for the Government, instead of lagging behind popular sentiment, to advance abreast of it and at the same time abreast of the views of the ablest and most practical educators of our time as well as the most profound scholars—men of the stamp of Professor Lunsbury and Professor Skeat.

“If the slight changes in the spelling of the 300 words proposed wholly or partially meet popular approval, then the changes will become permanent without any reference to what public officials or individual private citizens may feel; if they do not ultimately meet with popular approval they will be dropped, and that is all there is about it.

“They represent nothing in the world but a very slight extension of the unconscious movement which has made agricultural implement makers and farmers write, ‘plow’ instead of ‘plough,’ which has made most Americans write ‘honor’ without the somewhat superfluous ‘u,’ and which is even now making people write ‘program’ without the ‘me,’ just as all people who speak English now write ‘bat,’ ‘set,’ ‘dim,’ ‘sum’ and ‘fish,’ instead of the Elizabethan ‘batte,’ ‘sette,’ ‘dimme,’ ‘summe’ and ‘fyshe’; which makes us write ‘public,’ ‘almanac,’ ‘era,’ ‘fantasy’ and ‘wagon,’ instead of ‘publick,’ ‘almanack,’ ‘aera,’ ‘phantasy’ and ‘waggon’ of our great-grandfathers. ’ ‛ ” “

“It is not an attack on the language of Shakespeare and Milton, because it is in some instances a going back to the forms they used, and in others merely the extension of changes which, as regards other words, have taken place since their time. . . .”

“The Edict of Oyster Bay,” as the Chicago Dial called it editorially, created almost as much havoc in the land as did that of Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin, when he changed the date of Thanksgiving some thirty-three years later. After countless letters had been written to editors, and about as many editorials produced by outraged newspapermen, the Congress, as usual, had the last word about the President of the United States interfering with the nation’s spelling habits. A rider to the printing money bill of December, 1906 stated, “No part of the compensation provided by this shall be paid to the Public Printer unless he shall, in printing documents authorized by the law or ordered by Congress or either branch thereof, conform in the spelling thereof to the rules of orthography recognized and used by accepted dictionaries of the English language.”

To this date residents of the White House have left spelling reform to the pedagogues.

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