When we were children we were taught about fearsome magical creatures like the banshee and the bogeyman. Warning us of the existence of these monsters at bedtime was supposed to make us more willing to go to a lonely bedroom and lie by ourselves in the dark. I’m sure things like this did me no harm at all, though I’m not sure my therapist would agree with me.
As we grow up we learn that these creatures don’t exist, and we believe that in fact there are no mischevious fairies or goblins waiting to play wicked tricks upon us. Then some people, the world’s most charming, insightful, sensitive souls, take up blogging. This brings us face to face with the Spelling Bee.
Write a post. Read it over. Take out some of the lamest jokes, and replace them with lamer ones. Read it over again. Convince yourself that it’s the best thing you’ve ever written, ever. Read it over one last time. Re-assure yourself that it’s perfect. Hit “publish”.
It will take the Internet a quarter of a millifraction of a nanosecond to put the post onto your blog. And during this time the Spelling Bee will slip a mistake into it.
In the US the Spelling Bee is a spelling competition among schoolchildren. This is rather like the nursery rhyme “ring-a-ring-a-rosy”, which was about the Black Plague. They knew children would hear about these things so they invented a simple story or rhyme to explain them away. (“Mum, Little Jimmy says there’s something really awful called the Spelling Bee.” “Er, yes dear, it’s this really hard competition where if you don’t spell ‘diarrhoea’ right they do something to you that gives you diarrhoea”).
The real Spelling Bee is much more fearsome. He is not, of course, an actual bee, he’s an imp. His name is not actually the Spelling Bee, it’s the Spelling B. The B is short for something, and you can guess what it stands for if you reflect upon the fact that the other well-known nursery rhyme “a post that’s full of fun and frolics/is quickly spoilt by the Spelling B” doesn’t rhyme.
Try as you might, you can’t beat him. I know I checked last Friday’s post about teapots, yet when I looked at the published version it had the word “porbably” in the very first sentence (nah, don’t bother looking, I’ve changed it).
He does have a nemesis, a force for good who tries to fight him. The Font Fairy, Queen Qwerty, does her best, but unfortunately her best involves sending along her Page, Spellcheck, in the belief that the Spelling B is afraid of squiggly red underlining.
The Spelling B laughs at Spellcheck in the way that bankers laughed at the Financial Regulator. When Spellcheck arrives the Spelling B simply ups his game. He eschews simple spelling mistakes and goes instead for word substitution. Thus ‘they’re’ becomes ‘there’ or ‘their’. Or he will substitute one letter in a word and change it entirely. Yesterday’s post at one stage said “actors rent on the seventh day”, which may well be true, but it’s not what I meant to say.
The opportunity to remove the ‘l’ from the word ‘public’ is still his Holy Grail.
And he’s not alone. He has a sister, Grammatical Ella (she’s Chinese) whose (not who’s – see?) job it is to make sure your participles are dangling.
Their brother Parenthesus, who inserts brackets into the middle of sentences, seems to haunt only me.