The TV was on at my sister-in-law’s house last night, so I happened to see the famous-dead-people-of-2008 feature on ABC’s World News Tonight. Not surprisingly, Eartha Kitt and Paul Newman (in that order) got the deluxe treatment, which stands to reason (if you want to call it that). What did surprise me was that two of the other names that flashed by on the screen were misspelled: Bobby Fischer came out “Bobby Fisher” and Arthur C. Clarke’s last name was shorn of its terminal “e.”
I’m an immaculate speller, but I know a number of fair-to-poor spellers who also happen to be intelligent, and I always hasten to remind them that Flannery O’Connor and F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn’t spell at all. O’Connor once described herself as an “innocent speller,” which was putting it mildly. As for Fitzgerald, I discovered in the course of researching The Skeptic that the author of This Side of Paradise misspelled H.L. Mencken’s name when he inscribed a copy of the book to the editor of The Smart Set:
As a matter of fact Mr. Menken, I stuck your name in on Page 224 in the last proof–partly I suppose as a vague bootlick and partly because I have since adapted [sic, maybe] a great many of your views….
Be that as it may, the failure of the anonymous staffer who put together World News Tonight‘s in-memoriam feature to check the proper spellings of the names of those celebrities who died in 2008 says something fairly grim about…well, about something or other.
Mrs. T and I were chatting about the decline and fall of Western civilization while driving from Smalltown to St. Louis the other day, and I offered the following Universal Explanation of everything bad about the world: Most people are stupid. She agreed, reluctantly.