Friday, September 9, 2016

English teachers and spelling

From a series of exchanges concerning the spellings timpani and tympani , published in the Letters pages of The Atlantic in October 1986 and February 1987. These passages appear in the October issue. David Francis Urrows is taking issue with William Youngren’s use of the spelling tympani :

William H. Youngren, who teaches English at Boston College and writes about music for your journal, might take a few lessons in spelling from his colleagues.
Snarky, no? In his reply, Youngren says that Urrows is “quite wrong,” points to the presence of tympani in recent dictionaries, and looks at the history of tympany , tympanies , cetel  and drum in the Oxford English Dictionary . He adds that one Anglo-Saxon word for kettle drum was timpan or tympan. (See? There’s a y .) And then:
Finally, I wonder where Urrows got his curious idea that people who teach English are good at spelling. Most of us are actually pretty poor at it. But this disability has encouraged in us the useful habit of looking words up in the dictionary.
Take that!

Bill Youngren was a teacher of mine (a great one). He loved a good debate, and he didn’t hesitate to concede a point. But you had better have done your homework (so to speak) if you wanted to be persuasive.

A related post
Bill and Virginia Youngren’s house

[“So to speak”: in graduate school there’s no such thing as “homework.”]

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