September 18th, 2009


It must be International Stupid Week

It's not just certain corners of America that seem to be overdosing on The Stupid this week. (About which, my suggestion is: Take Joe Wilson and Kanye West. Lock the two of them in a wardrobe. Take the key and flush it down the nearest toilet. Then just walk away and don't turn back. Problem solved). No, there's a whole bunch of home-grown stupid going on up in the North Island.

It's all the fault of the lowering of standards as far as written communication goes. It happens at high school where, reportedly, children sitting whatever School Certificate exams are calling themselves these days want to "express themselves" in txtspk. It happens on Twitter where there's a ridiculous 140 character limit on entries. (Seriously, I have enough trouble, sometimes, keeping my Live Journal comments under the 6000 - or however much it is these days - character limit). It happened a lot in old-fashioned computer systems with absurdly short field lengths (I'd love to see what the uninitiated would make of "MNDVL KTN XING RD"). It happens everywhere people are told not to worry about speling correktly as long as thnigs are unnerstannable. And now it's happening at the highest levels.

To explain what's going on, first, a little history is needed. Back in 1840 some bright spark decided to buy up some land near the mouth of the Whanganui River. Next thing you know there's a little town growing up in the area and some other bright spark has decided to call it "Petre". After a dozen or so years they get bored of the name (and probably also get tired of southerners getting the town confused with half gallon booze bottles) and decide that they may as well call the town the same thing as they call their river.

Now here's where it all gets complicated. Whichever tin-eared F.O.B. it was who got given the job of changing the name couldn't get his head around the local accent and spelt the town name wrong. So now we have a town, Wanganui, on a river, Whanganui.

Fast forward to 2009. The Geographic Board (a.k.a. "Those boffins up in Wellington who do all the research about place names and Officially Notify them in the New Zealand Gazette once they've done it") have done said research and Officially Found Out that yes, the name is actually misspelt. (Which is much more important to the Bureaucrats That Be than knowing that the name is misspelt anyway. It's the difference between "Everybody Knows" and something that will actually stand up in a court more careful of the facts than the Court of Public Opinion).

So far, so boring. It's looking like people might have to remember to change the spelling on their letterheads or business cards the next time they do another print run - this is, excluding those who are already spelling the name correctly: tourist operations, particularly those who want to be associated with the Whanganui River, which just happens to have the longest navigable length of any river in New Zealand, and apparently has a steamboat or two to prove it.

And then the Mayor of Wanganui, soon to be Whanganui, proceeds to spit the dummy on a scale unheard of in local government circles for almost ninety years (when another Mayor, also of Wanganui, shot someone and ended up locked up for quite a while). It started a week or two back when some schoolchildren from a few miles down the road wrote him a fairly polite (for a bunch of youngsters) letter asking that he start spelling "Whanganui" correctly. Instead of the usual "Thank you for your letter, I will take it into due consideration" a normal person would have written, he sent them a missive (apparently without benefit of any public relations expertise) blasting them for daring to have an opinion and suggesting that they calm down and concentrate on more important things (yes, the irony has been commented upon).

Yesterday, after another concentrated blast of public "I don't care about spelling, I'll spell words wrong if I want to, nyah nyah nyah" rhetoric from the Mayor's office, someone a bit older sent a still reasonably polite email to him calling him on his obsessive desire to spell the word incorrectly. The results, presented by Public Address, make entertaining reading... for people who don't have to suffer this idiot in their city hall.