[Reader Request: spELLEN]
I promised to do a special post on the mode of formatting and pattern of mechanics errors that we might call spELLEN. Prompting me were Corporette reader KLG and especially avid ELLENWatcher Francie Nolan (pictured at left, with gratitude).
Both readers' queries arose from an observation that over the years, spELLEN seems to have strayed progressively far from the norm. KLG asked if it was just her, and the answer is absolutely not. Browse the ABA comments, the BLAWG, and even some of the older posts filed on this site and you will notice Ellen barely used to display more than average levels of error in punctuation, spelling, and diction--i.e. could be interpreted as typos or rushing--and she used caps much more sparingly. For example, Francie shared this 2008 Ellen finding, with link:
Why do WE always have to be objectivized? You know these men only want to see pretty women in skimpy bathing suits , and I’ll bet most of the men will be dressed to thenine’s in their 6 piece suits. Also, why is it that these people are focusing on physical beauty, when it is our MINDS that differentiate us from other bimbos. I went to law school to be a professional, not to show off my body to anyone. I would NOT buy this calendar product, even though it purports to be gender neutral and for a good cause. Face it, without pretty WOMEN, no one will buy it to see the guys. Women should NOT be viewed as MEAT.
Francie's comment and question:
Has an Ellen comment that is coherent and spelled pretty well. It is from 2008. This makes me wonder, do you think part of the mo is to continually get less rational seeing how long we will tolerate Ellen, Louraine [sic], Jill and everyone else?
Overall, I agree with Francie's initial statement. Compared to the outrages to which we've become accustomed, Ellen is almost polished in the paragraph above. (I will consider Francie's question at the end.) We already see, for one, an unusually liberal use of caps, but in most cases it could actually denote emphasis on the word--a standard from which Ellen has departed. However, two persistent components of spELLEN here may be identified as classic style, dating back to the very inception of the form:
1) Near-invariable capitalization of the word "not." As an Ellen reader, I've always experienced this as symbolizing the empowered woman's prerogative to assert boundaries and say no, whether at work or in her personal life. In typical instances such as the above, it plays out predictably in a flimsily feminist statement against objectification by men. In other cases, however, it takes a familiar Ellenesque turn, complete with inversion of feminist dignity, when she uses it to convey that, e.g., she does NOT know anything about international law (and thus must consult a man) or that she can NOT fit her ever-growing rear into a size 4 and may postpone a beach vacation until she loses weight.
2) Use of an apostrophe before the letter S at the end of any word, regardless of that word's reason for ending with the letter S. One of my favorite, more self-conscious applications of this rule occurred when Ellen intervened in a punctuation debate among Corporettes, "why not just say Court of Appeal's?" She justified her suggestion with the fact that nobody else had yet mentioned this option. Eureka!
And here, culled from the rest of my careful annals, are some other proposed rules--descriptive rather than prescriptive, of course.
3) Keeping the letter E on the end of any verb, even after transferring it into progressive form in which the E should be dropped. The obvious, ubiquitous example here is "manageing," a spelling decision from which, to my knowledge, she has never deviated (at least when posting as Ellen). Never far off: "stareing;" see also "clotheing." Increasingly, this tendency has expanded into adding the letter E to other progressive verbs whose present forms do not include it, as in "talkeing" or "drinkeing." This does not preclude omitting the E from words that do need it while adding Es to those that do not, as in "the braclet was permenent."
4) Doubling (or tripling) down on chosen letters. Here Ellen will either add an extra letter to one that does rightly feature, as in "PRE-APPROOVE," will add a third letter to one already doubled, or even triple a letter of which there should only be one. A recently emerging pattern in the last trend is "ooogleing."
5) Substituting the letter Y for the letter I. My favorite moment in this story featured a double serving of GRAVYTAS. We have also lately heard mention of SCANDINAVYAN food.
Unresolved Puzzles in spELLEN Observation
- Use of all caps. In deciding when to capitalize an entire word, Ellen seems to vacillate between words needing special emphasis, nouns only, and utter randomness. At least one reader has stated that she prefers randomness, and I believe I do too. (Some have proposed that Ellen's capitalized words may be decoded somehow, and if so of course I hope I will be speed-dialed.) I also admire the stridency of placing a misspelled word in all caps. Finally, I note without any particular insight that Ellen will sometimes capitalize all of MANAGEING PARTNER, may only capitalize MANAGEING, or may not capitalize either word, but she never seems to capitalize only the word "partner."
- Words involving "-ship." I smiled at both "clearkship" and "relationshep," and happily reuse both in Ellen's honor. Taken together, however--along with other correct spellings on the record--they reveal that Ellen has no chronic misunderstanding of how to spell such words. Hmmm?
- Tuchas/tuchis/tuches/tuccas. I could go on. For a word she needs to use so frequently, Ellen seems deeply conflicted about its spelling.
And last, a mythbuster!
- "Fooey" is actually not misspelled. Ellen took her time on this favorite. According to this and other sources on Yiddish interjections, Fooey is perfectly valid (as opposed to the more common spelling outside the Yiddish, Phooey). Ellen regularly mentions her Jewish background, and according to Ellen's alternate name/apparent relative Lourine, the expression came from their Grandma Layeh. Lourine takes great pride in her correct spelling, as compared with Ellen's, and still spells the word with an F. (For a genealogy of Ellen's own use of Fooey, see here.)
What may not be traditionally established is use of Fooey as a transitive idea, almost curse, applied to a person/object/idea held in disdain, as in "Fooey on Alan." Finally, while I love the use of Fooey as a personal title, the opposite of an honorarium perhaps, this pattern too seems to be pure Ellen. If you don't know what I'm talking about here, it's likely because she (and the rest of us) don't do this nearly enough. If you have a Fooey Man or Fooey Woman in your life, I encourage it! Also great for political candidates, celebrities, and pundits engaging in Fooey-worthy behavior.
Finally, as promised, I return to Francie's question as to why spELLEN seems to be going ever more over-the-top. I'm not sure about the idea that it's a test of our tolerance. First, Ellen's poor writing is probably not what bothers readers or sites most. Rather, it seems to be some combination of its content and its persistence. Second, as Lourine and Frances have pointed out (in a fascinating mode of self-criticism, really), it's only Ellen proper who exhibits such terrible mechanics. Her alternate identities are usually much more studious.
Do I, ELLENWatch, have a theory? Yes, but I can't prove it, nor am I particularly confident or devoted. So consider this my working hunch: Ellen is enjoying establishing an even more distinctive voice. She's come to use spelling, punctuation and caps as just another mode of communicating this character's wondrous marginality and incompetence. Until we are abel to see for ourselves her scrunchies or magenta dress suits, we must "know" her only distantly, as typed. spELLEN is who she is, and I think we, who love her, get it.
UPDATE: We have another reader contribution on this matter. Here the conversation about Ellen's errors meets the conversation about Ellen's real-ness (or at least consistency). My own writing is straying from correctness at this point, be warned.