Amid the political turmoil of these past years, many word-lovers have deplored the misspellings on protesters’ signs as they demonstrate, giving rise to accusations and blame directed against the American educational system.

Out of curiosity, I Googled “misspellings on protesters’ signs” and discovered these examples: “Steel the election,” “Death to traders,” “Respect Are Country,” “Control Our boarders,” and others. These spellers certainly rely on the sounds of words rather than a familiarity with the sight and meaning of them. Placards do not carry a spell-check with them, however, so mistakes are bound to happen.

A German company has invented a device that would help writers of posters — a pen that has a built-in spell-check — The Lernstift (“learning pen”). It vibrates when users misspell a word. Now they need to invent one for the larger markers or crayons protesters use to create their signs.

One writer, Sam Greenspan, (at 11points.com) has categorized such misspelled signs in an article, “11 Gorgeously Ironic Misspellings in Protest Signs.” One group he calls the “Speak English Crew,” and cites these examples: “English is are language — no excetions,” “Make English Americas offical language,” and “Get a Brian Morans.”

In a companion article updated in March 2018, Greenspan found more examples: “Death to All Juice,” “It’s not a choice It is an Aboination,” “Vote YES on #1 1 Man plus 1 woman equals Marridge,” and “Thank you Fox News for Keeping us Infromed.”

As a substitute teacher in eighth grade at one of our county schools, I can offer one explanation. Teachers know that the standardized state tests emphasize reading comprehension, so they teach valuable lessons in analysis, inferences, textual evidence, key ideas, evidence, structure of texts, and other competencies. They too lament that student writing is not assessed for errors in spelling, mechanics, and usage. Note that many language observers ridiculed the confusion of Capitol and capital, a usage error.

The New York Times called some of these misuses “Teabonics,” “a new dialect seen at Tea Party protests.” It published examples like “Lets keep the tea Dump the Polititions,” “I am Joe the Plummer,” “One Hugh Mistake America,” and others.

Past demands of studentsMore than one friend on Facebook has posted the Salina, Kansas 1895 Eighth Grade Examination which took five hours, covering grammar, arithmetic, U.S. history, geography, and orthography, or spelling. Each category offered eight to 10 questions about the specific subject, including the following:

ORTHOGRAPHY

(Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic orthography, etymology, syllabication?

2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?

3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?

4. Give four substitutes for caret ãuä.

5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ãeä. Name two exceptions under each rule.

6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.

7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.

8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.

9. Use the following correctly in sentences: Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.

10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Whew! Even English teachers would find some of these items challenging!

Greenspan, obsessed with correct spelling, has written several articles, including “11 Cities Whose Names Are Actually Misspellings.” He cites Brooklyn and Cleveland ; Novi, Michigan; Frankfort, Kentucky; Hackensack, New Jersey; Newport News, Virginia; Hartford, Connecticut; Muncie, Indiana; Selmer, Tennessee; and a few others.

Brooklyn was originally Brueckelyn, a city in the Netherlands. No one ever spelled it correctly, so it evolved into the easier Brooklyn.

Cleveland was named after General Moses Cleaveland, who settled the city in 1796. The headline of a story about him in the local newspaper couldn’t accommodate his whole name, so an editor dropped the first “a.”

The place where the sixth stagecoach stopped for people leaving Detroit did not have a name, but a sign had “No. VI” on it, meaning number 6. Travelers assumed it was the name “Novi.”

Hackensack was originally an Indian word for the tribe that lived there, the Ackinchesacky. Settlers found an easier pronunciation in Hackensack.

Another spelling that evolved from pronunciation was Hartford, corrupted from Hertford, England.

Frankfort was named for Steven Frank who was killed by Indians as he was trying to ford the Kentucky River. Frank’s Ford is the uncompressed form of the name that stuck.

Signs of the timesWhat can we surmise from misspellings on protesters’ signs? A faulty educational system, a too-hasty scribbling in the heat of passion, a too-great reliance on the phonics system? Whatever the case, let’s try not only to spell inaugurate correctly but also to commit ourselves to its meanings and to the definitions of inauguration, which has happened as I have been typing this column, relying heavily on the REVIEW and EDITOR keys.

The root augur means to foretell, to give promise, to show potential for a good outcome. Today’s speeches, songs, and poetry inspired true Americans who want the best for their country. Those who out of pique eschewed the proceedings lost a chance to see patriotism at its best despite the limited crowds because of Covid-19 protocols and security concerns after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

They missed hearing Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb.” Lines in that poem swell the heart: “We are striving to forge a union with a purpose / To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and / conditions of man ... We close the divide because we know, to put our country first, / we must first put our differences aside /... We shall not march back to what was / but move to what shall be / … For there is always light, / If only we’re brave enough to see it / If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Liz Meador is a retired English instructor from Wayne Community College and an adjunct at North Carolina Wesleyan College.