Two Bs or not two Bs: Can Hamlet teach our children to spell?

Name: Hamlet.

Age: 30.

Appearance: Ready to take arms.

Against what? A sea of troubles.

And by opposing end them? That’s the idea.

But what trouble, exactly? Orthographic irregularities.

Sorry? Spelling trouble.

I must say, I don’t remember this part at all. To end once and for all the maddening inconsistencies that make it so hard for our children to write English.

I remember the ghost at the beginning and the bit where he holds up a skull. That’s the play.

The play’s the thing. This is the campaign run by the English Spelling Society (ESS) to overhaul the written language. They have enlisted Hamlet’s help.

They know he’s not real, right? More specifically, they have enlisted the opening lines of Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy to offer a comparison of six competing revised spelling schemes.

To be or not to be, that is the question? Yes, or “Too be or not too be, that is the qestshen” in something called Rich-Spel-long.

There are plenty of people who spell like that already. There’s the rub: poor spelling can mark someone out as ignorant or ill-informed.

I know – it’s very handy and saves time. In the coming months, the ESS will hold an online session of the International English Spelling Congress to vote for the best scheme of the six.

How long has this campaign been going on? Since 1908.

They haven’t got very far, have they? Not yet. George Bernard Shaw was a supporter, and he used revised spellings in printed versions of his plays, but that’s about the extent of it.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s a reason English is spelled the way it is. There are lots of reasons: the mix of French and Anglo-Saxon words; early, non-English printers making it up as they went along. The result is an illogical system, threw and through.

Illogical, yes, but is there any harm in it? The ESS reckons it takes English-speaking children twice as long to learn to read and write as those who speak other languages.

Oh well, as long as they get there in the end, as Hamlet said. He never said that.

Do say: “Too sleep, perchans too dreem, ie, thairz the rub.”

Don’t say: “Actually, in this instance it may be nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

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