Spelling lessons

Dear President Trump,

You know, if I were still posting these letters only to your contact page and not adding them to my blog I’d almost certainly give myself a pass and not say a thing about having misspelled “Barack” yesterday. You would never know and your threat detection program (or person) wouldn’t have cared. I could have just shrugged it off. However, since I do have a handful of people who actually read these letters, I decided I have to step up and deal with my error.

Usually when I make a typo or a spelling mistake I either let it go or I find a way to slip the correct spelling into the next letter like I did yesterday with “imagining,” which I’d accidentally written as “imaging” the day prior. It feels different, though, to have misspelled President Obama’s first name. So different, and plain old bad, that it contributed to my poor sleep last night and has bugged me since I got up this morning.

If you did read my letters, I could easily imagine you mocking me with taunts along the lines of how could I get his name wrong if I really think he’s so great. And obviously I thought of this myself since I came up with it for you. I do, though, think he was and is so great – not perfect by any stretch – but so great. And not just great when measured against you and his predecessor, those bars are way too low. No, he could be trusted to be smarter and working harder and to care more than anyone else in his orbit and these qualities make him a great person and made him a great president.

So what gives with that mistake? I even hesitated because “Barak” looked wrong (duh), but the spellcheck didn’t pick it up so I didn’t bother to check myself. I think first and foremost I was tired and being lazy – I usually do check when I get a niggly feeling about something, but I let myself be lulled into complacency by the spellcheck. If I’d misspelled your first name, say typing either “Danold” or “Donild” the spellcheck would give me the bright red squiggle line underneath both versions. Same with “Jihn” or “Dovid” or “Som” – it knows when white “standard” names are misspelled.

Hold up though. I figured I probably shouldn’t go off on the spellcheck without first making sure that “Barak” isn’t a real name so I just checked and of course it is – Barak was an ancient ruler of Israel and he was a biblical military commander and a prophet. Also, when I typed “Barak” into Google, there were some hits for “Barak Obama”. Sigh.

Ok, so it’s not fair to put it all off on the spellcheck, since it was working fine. Really, if I’m honest, it’s largely my conditioning that makes it hard for me to process and retain names that aren’t super familiar (as in “standard white names”). I don’t think I’m alone, but it’s certainly not something I feel very ok about. I’ve known this not so good thing about myself for close to forever; I struggle with names generally, worrying that I’ve got someone’s name wrong to the point where I use all sorts of finesse moves to get around saying their name and it’s just that much worse if I’m not sure how to pronounce or spell someone’s name.

Seriously, though, I would have thought prior to yesterday that I’d not have trouble with Barack Obama’s name, for goodness sake. But I did, and the world continues to spin and I will be an even more obsessive checker of names and spellings than I was before and that is as it should be. We all deserve to have our names respected and for others to go to the trouble of getting them, and us, right.

May our names all be safe in one another’s mouths.
May we be willing to take care with one another’s identities.
May we all feel solid and strong when we say our names out loud.
May we be at peace with both familiar and unfamiliar names.

Tracy Simpson

2 thoughts on “Spelling lessons

  1. I especially like this letter. You made this topic very accessible and human.

    Thank you for spending so much energy and discipline writing each and every one of these.


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