Philanthropy 101: The ABC's of World Peace
Etymologists were atwitter. Orthographists were aghast. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was vexed. The British were appalled. For a few months in 1906, it seemed as if the entire English-speaking world joined the debate over Andrew Carnegie's latest venture for world peace: the simplification of the English language.
Carnegie believed that by building more common sense into the spelling of the English language, it would become "the lingua franca of the whole world." If everyone spoke the same language, he reasoned, world peace would come. As an added bonus, the printing industry would save "several millions a year" by dispensing with "useless letters."
In March of 1906, Carnegie formed the Simplified Spelling Board and funded it handsomely with $25,000 per year. The Board's first task was to persuade 50 distinguished American writers to promise to use the new spelling for twelve words -- program, catalog, decalog, prolog, demagog, pedogog, tho, altho, thoro, thorofare, thru, and thruout.
Among the writers to sign on were William Dean Howells, William Graham Sumner, Josiah Strong, and Mark Twain. Even the staid New York Times supported the effort, though one of its columnists suggested that the reform begin with "Androo Karnage." The Fonetik Speling Assosiashun ov Kulumbia University attracted a large following. Through the summer, the Simplified Spelling Board expanded its list of words to 300 and claimed a major victory when President Theodore Roosevelt ordered all government documents to be printed with the new spellings. Then the tide turned.
The English were amused if perhaps a bit offended at this assault on their language. "We ventur to think," mocked one London newspaper, "that even (or evn) Mr. Karnegi (or Karnege) and Prezident Ruzvelt (or Rusvelt) mite manage to get along very wel with the langwige that was gud enuf for ... Washingtun, Erving, Longfelo, Walt Witman, and uthers who have aded lustre to the Amerikan name." The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was less amused. When the solicitor general submitted a legal brief with the president's new spellings, Justice Fuller made it clear that he preferred they be "dropt."
The House of Representatives delivered the knockout punch when, after raucous debate, the congressmen voted 142-25 to ban the new spellings from federal documents. The next day Roosevelt yielded. "I am sory as a dog," Twain wrote Carnegie. "For I do lov revolutions and violense."
Twelve years and $300,000 later, Carnegie was disappointed to find that the new spellings had not caught in, not even in the reports of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Carnegie gave up, writing to the director of the Board, "I think I hav been patient long enuf" -- E-N-U-F -- "I have a much better use for Twenty-five thousand dollars a year."
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