Monday, August 14, 2017

Early Seuss on Spelling

Dr. Seuss, it turns out, had an interest in spelling reform. I recently ran across a collection of his early writings and cartoons called The Tough Coughs as He Ploughs the Dough, which contained this series of drawings and captions:

Ough! Ough! Or why I believe in simplified spelling

It was forty-five years ago, when I first came to America a young Roumanian student of divinity, that I first met the evils of the "ough words." Strolling one day in the country with my fellow students, I saw a tough, coughing as he ploughed a field which (being quite near-sighted) I mistook for pie dough. Assuming that all ough words were pronounced, the same, I casually remarked, "The tuff cuffs as he pluffs the duff!" "Sacrilege!" shrieked my devout companions. "He is cursing in Roumanian!" I was expelled from the school.

The ministry being closed to me, I then got a job as a chore boy on the farm of an eccentric Mr. Hough, who happened to spend most of his time in the bough of a tree overhanging a trough. I was watering a colt one morning when I noticed that Mr. Hough's weight had forced the bough down into the water. "Mr. Hoo!" I shouted. "Your boo is in the troo!" Thinking I was speaking lightly of his wife, Mr. Hough fired me on the spot.

So I drifted into the prize ring. But here again the curse of the oughs undid me. One night at the Garden, I was receiving an unmerciful trouncing from a mauler twice my size. Near the end of the sixth round I could stand it no longer. I raised my feeble hand in surrender. "Eno! Eno!" I gulped. "I'm thruff!" "Insults like that I take form no man," bellowed my opponent, and he slugged me into a coma! Something snapped! ...a maddening flash...and all became black. Fifteen years later I awoke to find myself the father of three homely daughters named Xough, Yough and Zough. I had become a thorough-going Augho-maniac.
Not Seuss's best verbal work, I realize, but you can see glimpses of his later illustrations (Horton, the way he renders trees) in the drawings. And he's right about the ough words, of course.


My past posts about English spelling reform.

No comments: