We have proper nouns to thank for that. They’re those long, unfamiliar names for people and places that no one can spell. Think Poughkeepsie. Shoot, most people don’t even try, they ask you to spell it, instead. So we do. Day after day after day.
Every time we place an order or make an appointment, every time we leave our name, we wind up spelling the damn thing. And mine is a doozy: nine letters and four syllables. The funny part is, there’s nothing tricky or confusing about my last name. No silent letters or wéîrd pûnctüåtiøn, it’s not even all that long.
What throws people, I think, are all those syllables. I mean, come on, four? That’s just piling on. Eyes glaze, mouths drop open, and minds skedaddle to their happy place. Attention spans, ladies and gentlemen, aren’t what they used to be.
With their thoughts wandering in all directions, people add consonants and transpose vowels, they change the ‘b’ to a ‘v’ and the ‘a’ to an ‘e’ and what’s it spell? Confusion. That’s why it sometimes takes as many as three or four tries to get everything right.
My first name, thank goodness, is short and sweet, but even that’s no guarantee it’ll be spelled correctly. I have, in fact, been everyone from Liza (with a ‘z’) to Tina (with an ‘n’), even though my name is Lisa (with an ‘s’). L-i-s-a. What could be simpler? Ed? No, thanks.
Back in the old days, before the advent of internet shopping, there was ordering by phone, a painful and time-consuming process. What with street names and city names and last names a person could spend the better part of twenty minutes just spelling all the proper nouns. And I’m not exaggerating (by much).
I lived on Knoxville Avenue then and told the sales rep it was spelled like the city in Tennessee. Fear surged through the phone line. When the package came it was addressed to Knocksville. Sounds like a cartoon city, doesn’t it? Joe Palooka’s hometown, maybe.
Finally, in self-defense, I started using an alias: my grandmother’s maiden name. Six letters, two syllables, and I’ve never been asked to spell it. Not once in all the time I’ve been using it. These days, when I order a pizza or stop at the dry cleaner, all I say is Wilson and presto — my work is done.
I’m telling you, Wilson works better than shazam or abra cadabra or tada. Why, it’s like having a magic word or a secret code. No, wait, it’s better than that. It’s a damn miracle, m-i-r-a-c-l-e.
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