Also on this page: SSS picket report. Charlotte Observer, New Zealand Herald, New Zealand Listener.

Worldwide picket for spelling bee 2005.

With 273 finalists from the United States and its territories, nearby Canada and the Caribbean, Europe, and faraway New Zealand, the 78th Scripps National Spelling Bee will be the biggest and most widely supported ever.

It is also drawing its biggest and widest protest picket ever.

On the street outside the May 31-June 2 2005 Washington, DC, event will be about a dozen picketers from these nations, plus others from Germany and England.

They will not be protesting the Bee, but the spelling that makes such a widespread competition possible among English-speaking peoples.

While admiring the ability of the finalists to deal with the language's spelling foibles, they aim to draw attention to the difficulties these defects place on children learning to read and write.

Not all learners are as gifted in memorizing the spelling of thousands of individual words which, by not always following the rules, make learning to read and write more difficult.
"We are not against spelling competence," said Dr Steve Bett, one of the picketers. "We are opposed to the spelling that fosters incompetence."
The picketers hope their message will be heeded by parents and other authorities having an interest in literacy learning, including educators, publishers, business people, and politicians in English-speaking countries, such as US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and the No Child Left Behind program she administers and promotes.

The picket is again being run by members of the American Literacy Council and the Simplified Spelling Society.

See 2004 Spelling Bee picket.

Report: Spelling Bee Picket of 2005.


Ten people gathered at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington early in the evening on May 31, 2005 for the purpose of picketing outside the 78th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee for the following two days.

Slogans in picket signs.

Danger: Outdated spelling breeds illiteracy
Outdated spelling - a help or hindrance?
Update spelling; improve literacy rate
Q. What price literacy? A. Update spelling!
We're Thru With Through
Enuf Is Enuf. Enough Is Too Much.
Spelling Shuud "bee" Updaeted (with "bee" being a drawing of a bee)
Take The Sting Out Of Spelling (with a drawing of a bee with a stinger)
Ban the B in BOMB
Spell Different Difrent
English Spelling Leaves Many A Child Behind
Must You Be A Wizard To Spell?
What part of KNOW do you not understand?
One + Won = Too many ways to spell WUN
If you rebuild it they will read.
We had white baseball caps with the words "Simplify spelling and everybody wins!" stitched on the front; 3-fold brochures (400 copies) to hand to passers-by; buttons/badges to hand out to young with "I'm thru with through" and "Enuf is enuf. Enough is too much."


Most of us began picketing on the sidewalk outside the hotel at about 8:30am. Niall, who was wearing a kilt, immediately received the most attention from passers-by and reporters.

One interesting and productive encounter Niall had was with a young man who was the much older brother of one of the competitors. He had three of his friends with him and was very confrontational. He wondered what Ben Franklin would say about us trying to change the spelling of the Declaration of Independence that Franklin had helped write. Niall pointed out that Ben Franklin was the first spelling reformer, and if he had his way the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution would be spelled similar to some of our signs. His father plus the son who was in the Bee were listening in the background. Hours later they both confronted Niall and asked further questions. The father said, "We as a family sat down and talked about what you and your group had said, we decided that your group have given our family something to think about. We see the point of your protest and we will discuss it further."

Media attention.

Over the course of the 2 days of picketing, three different film crews from New Zealand interviewed and filmed Allan Campbell. Two were from national TV stations, and one was making a documentary film about the Bee. Allan and others appeared on the national news on one TV station in NZ. In response to a slightly derogatory remark from the anchorman, the NZ reporter commented: 'I think these guys could be on to something.' The film makers also interviewed several others in the group.

Elizabeth was interviewed by the local FOX News both over the telephone and in person on the street. A week and a half later her next door neighbor in California said she had seen her on the evening news on the local FOX station, so apparently the story was shared with stations around the country. The group were also seen on the local NBC TV news in on the morning of June 1.

SSS web stats.

Hits on SSS web, and search requests for Spelling Bee, were considerably higher for the Spelling Bee days and the following day.

2 June 2005. Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, NC, USA, by Chuck Kennedy. Extract.


The spellers weren't the only show at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Washington. Outside the spelling bee were protesters.

Six people were carrying picket signs -- including Joe Little, 40, a Winston-Salem native who attended UNC Charlotte in the early 1980s.

Their beef: the English language. They want spelling that's more logical, easier to learn.

"We believe English spelling is dysfunctional," said Little, a former employee of the American Literacy Council. "There are examples galore."

Why not laff instead of laugh? Or thru instead of through?

A fellow protester, Niall McLeod Waldman, who hails from Scotland, held up a sign that read "Ban the b in Bomb."

"There's never been a governing body to come up with rules for English," said Waldman, whose pet peeve is words such as "aisle" that start with a silent letter. "That's why we end up with a spelling system that's the dog's breakfast -- a mess!"

05 June 2005. New Zealand Herald, by Bronwyn Sell.

Spelling made easier.

If Allan Campbell is serious about simplifying English spelling he's going to have to do something about his name.

Far too many Ls for a start. And what's the point of the P? Or the E? And since C can be pronounced in two ways, how about a K instead?

Which leaves us with Alan Kambl, a Christchurch man so passionate about reforming our messy spelling system that he flew to Washington DC this week to make his point outside the pinnacle of spelling - the US Scripps National Spelling Bee.

On stage, Hamilton's Charlotte Roose, 12, understandably mis-spelled erythrophobia as arithrophobia and Florida-based New Zealander Sam Lawson, 14, lucked out on pompadour, spelling it pompador.

On the footpath outside, Campbell, 75, and about a dozen international spelling enthusiasts held a restrained protest, not against the spelling bee, which was made famous by the documentary Spellbound, but against the inconsistencies in the English language.

Such as why we insist on using a silent B at the end of dumb.

"Any spelling system that has a B on the end of dumb has to be dumb itself," says Campbell, who has been interested in spelling since 1947 as a proof-reader on the Otago Daily Times.

"I'm a good speller and I found that I often had to go to the dictionary to find words that I should know - was it [spelt] EA or was it EE? - I couldn't remember." Fifty years later he joined the UK-based Simplified Spelling Society and later became convener of the New Zealand branch, Spell 4 Literacy.

"It was then that I found out that changing spelling, far from being just a fanciful wish that didn't really have any significance in the real world, did have significance in the real world, because [conventional spelling] held back children and foreigners learning to read and write in English.

"Our spelling needs to be updated to suit our rules. One of the beauties of the English language is the richness that it gets from all the words that it takes from all different languages. This is one of the glories of it.

"But the trouble is when they come into our language they tend to stay as they were in their original language, which has different rules to ours. We don't anglicise them.

"We need to make our words fit our own rules so that a child can learn the rules and then, if they come across a strange word, they just think of the rule and they know what it is."

Campbell has lobbied New Zealand governments for an inquiry into the place of spelling in the teaching of reading and writing.

He says New Zealand could approach other English-speaking countries and international English-speaking organisations and suggest a panel of language experts be appointed to simplify spelling.

"So far we've been fobbed off a bit."

Linguistics experts Professor Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy and Professor Laurie Bauer doubt the simplified spelling movement will succeed.

Bauer, from Victoria University, says there's a strong case to be made for spelling reform, but it would be expensive and complicated.

"It would be like the constitution of the EU - you'd have to go around and get approval from everywhere. Think of how much it would cost just to reprint the Bible in a new spelling."

Reform would also be politically difficult. Whose version of English would we take as our baseline? The Queen's English? American English? Southland English?

That choice is part of the reason that moves to reform English spelling haven't gained traction, says Carstairs-McCarthy, of Canterbury University.

"The problem lies not just in American versus British [pronunciation], versus New Zealand or Australian, but there are huge variations within America and Britain," he says.

"There are many Americans for whom pin and pen sound exactly the same. There are many Americans for whom horse and hoarse are pronounced differently, so would we want to have a spelling system which differentiated those?

"There are people in England for whom wait and weight are pronounced differently.

"So it gets very hard to solve political questions about whose pronunciation is going to be the norm to be reflected in the spelling system."

Bauer says he would love to be on an international panel to reform English spelling, if only to do a bit of tinkering - get rid of the inconsistent OUGH, homophones such as knight and night, and silent consonants such as the K in knee.

"Anything that we could do which would make really good sense would probably be relatively minor but we're unlikely to have the political will or the money to sit down and really sort it out, which is probably a shame," says Bauer.

"It's a nice idea, and if it had been done gradually over the centuries we probably wouldn't feel terribly uptight about it. Because it hasn't been, it would cause major disruption and the question is: is it economically and politically feasible?"

Carstairs-McCarthy says English began to get complicated after the Norman conquest of England, which introduced French words into the vocabulary while preserving the French spelling.

There was no consistent system of English spelling until the late 18th and 19th centuries. Before that people pretty much did as they pleased. Printers would take letters out of words or put extra letters in so they'd fit across a page. And William Shakespeare famously spelt his name several different ways.

Campbell has pondered simplifying the spelling of his name, but says he's had it too long now.

"Possibly if I'd been as interested in my early years as I am now, I may have, and started a new dynasty."

He takes small steps, such as writing fone for phone in his press release this week.

"Our current spelling is not a sacred cow," he says. "Spelling is a tool for reading and writing and it should fit that category. It should be efficient for the job it's meant to do. Dysfunctional is the word I often use.

"All we can do here is work at arousing interest, arousing an appreciation of the problems our spelling causes."

Grat bks in short.

Simplified Spelling - how the classics would read.
(Spellings taken from the Dictionry Of Cut Spelngs, published by the Simplified Spelling Society)

In th beginng, God created th hevns and th erth. - The Bible.

Last nyt I dremt I went to Manderley again. - Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

It is a truth universly aknolejd that a yung man in posession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

In my yungr and mor vulnrbl years my fathr gave me som advice that I've been turnng over in my mind evr since. - Th Grat Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

A squat grey bildng of only thirty-four stories. Over th main entrnce th words, Centrl Londn Hachry and Conditionng Centr, and, in a shield, th World State's moto, Comunity, Identity, Stability. - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

No one wud hav beleved in th last years of th nineteenth century that this world was being wachd keenly and closely by inteljnces grater than man's and yet as mortl as his own; that as men busid themselvs about their varius concerns they wer scrutinized and studid, perhaps almost as naroly as a man with a microscope myt scrutinize th transient creaturs that swarm and multiply in a drop of watr. - Th War of th Worlds by H.G. Wells.

Scarlett O'Hara was not butiful, but men seldm realized it wen caut by her charm as th Tarleton twins wer. - Gon with th Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Wethr I shal turn out to be th hero of my own life, or wethr th station wil be held by anybody els, these pages wil sho. - David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.

It was a dark and stormy nyt; the rain fel in torents exept at ocasionl intrvls, wen it was chekd by a violent gust of wind wich swept up the streets (for it is in Londn that our sene lies), ratlng along th housetops, and fiercely ajitatng th scanty flame of th lamps that strugld against th darkness. - Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

It was th best of times, it was th worst of times, it was th aje of wisdm, it was th age of foolishness, it was th epoc of belef, it was the epoc of incredulity, it was the season of Lyt, it was th seasn of Darkness, it was th spring of hope, it was th winter of despair. - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

What's wrong with our spelling?

GH has different pronunciations: laugh, through, aghast, gingham, longhand, Edinburgh; and OUGH is pronounced several different ways: "The dough-faced ploughboy coughed and hiccoughed his rough way through Scarborough."

Some words have different pronunciations for different meanings: bow, close, does, lead, live, minute, read, use, wind, wound.

Words that sound identical are spelt differently, as in there/their, here/hear, two/too/to, allowed/aloud, see/sea, by/bye/buy, weather/whether/wether, colonel/kernel.

Silent letters clutter up the LANGUAGE: numB, musCle, hanDkerchief, Hour, busIness, Knee, coLonel, damN, Pneumonic, husTle.

The same R-sounding ending has different spellings in burglar, teacher, actor, glamour, acre, murmur, injure, martyr.

The use of double consonants is inconsistent, as in gallery and galaxy, dilemma and lemon, gimmick and criminal, common and comic, plodder and model, sorry and forest.

The EE sound can be spelt by several combination of vowels: seem, team, convene, sardine, protein, fiend; people, he, key, ski; debris, quay.

The Sh-sound is spelt differently, as in shop, station, vicious and session.

25 June 2005. New Zealand Listener. Extract.

Say the Word.

But not everyone loves the spread of spelling fever. For New Zealander Allan Campbell, a retired grandfather from Christchurch and one of six members of the New Zealand Branch of the Simplified Spelling Society, the Bee provided an opportunity to join a small band of fellow picketers to protest the "dysfunctional role of English spelling in English literacy acquisition".

The protesters' aim was to attract the attention of parents, politicians, and educators to the foibles of the English language and address them by adopting regular spelling. Waving his "Enuff is enuff" placard, the literacy activist said that making many of the difficult spellings simpler would improve literacy.

"We are not protesting against the Spelling Bee," says Campbell, "rather our problem is with the irregular spelling that precludes kids from reaching this standard and inhibits their reading."

Back to the top.