Friday, July 30, 2010

Melvil Dewey

If my heroes were a brain, Emily Dickinson would be the artistic right hemisphere. Melvil Dewey would be the logic-loving left.

Melvil Dewey is the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System for classifying books in a library, and anyone who makes classification systems is OK by me. He advocated for the use of the metric system, which is really the only logical way to measure things. But the real reason he ends up in my little collection of heroes is because of his penchant for spelling reform.

Melvil Dewey looked at the ridiculously inconsistent ways in which English words are spelled, and he didn't just grumble about it like some of us. Nor did he take advantage of it and go on to win lots of spelling bees. No, he did something to change it.

Melvil Dewey wrote like this: "Speling Skolars agree that we hav the most unsyentifik, unskolarli, illojikal & wasteful speling ani languaj ever ataind." And he wasn't always known as Melvil. He was originally named Melville, but only attained linguistic fame after he'd dropped all the superfluous L's and E's. He even tried to change his last name to Dui, but had less luck getting it accepted.

Spelling reform! It's Occam's Razor meets the Queen's English! Melvil Dewey! He's the poster child for spelling reform!

While I've heard that Mr. Dewey was kind of overbearing and hard to get along with, I think on the whole, he and his eccentric ways with language make him well worthy of a spot in my hero boat.


Tariq said...

I think Mr. Dewey would rather call it the "Queens English." He'd be in favor of banning the apostrophe.

I don't know about stripping down English spelling, though. I like English and it's crazy spelling--there is too much history in there. It might be cumbersome, but that's nothing next to awesomitude.