Thursday, September 20, 2007

Spelling and driving

In yesterday's post entitled Australian passport, I mentioned a government website called Here's a trivial question for the folk who dreamt up the "smartraveller" name: If they came upon a website named [not be clicked, because no such site exists], would they expect it to deal with people who travel in cars or rather carts? What I'm trying to say is that it's not very smart [particularly in the case of a government website] to drop a consonant when combining words such as "smart" and "traveller". If the authorities allow themselves to do such things, they shouldn't be surprised if kids get around to writing "bookeeping", for example. If a young man were to send his girlfriend an email asking whether she would like to accompany him on a Mediterranean "boatrip", she would be justified in imagining that the voyage might have something to do with huge snakes.

Talking of spelling, I find it disappointing that Australia has never turned wholeheartedly to American rules, which have the merit of producing words that are shorter and more logical in their pronunciation than their old-fashioned English equivalents. According to the built-in dictionary on my Macintosh, for example, "traveller" comes up as a spelling error. I agree that "traveler" is preferable, because there's simply no obvious reason whatsoever for the antique "ll". That's to say that there are cases in which double consonants are logical, such as "bookkeeping", and cases where they aren't, such as "traveller". In most instances that come to mind, I prefer American to Australian spelling: "honor" rather than "honour", "jail" rather than "gaol", "practice" rather than "practise, etc. Having said this, I admit that it's often a trivial matter of taste and habits. For example, even in my wildest Americanism fantasies, I would never write "Sydney Harbor"... no more than I would follow the author of Thorn Birds in referring to an Australian cattle station as a "ranch".

On the other hand, I've often been intrigued by the fact that Gordon Brown (left) heads a body whose name is written as the Labour Party, whereas Kevin Rudd (right) represents an Australian entity called the Labor Party. It goes without saying that the reasons behind this distinction [if they exist] are surely not earth-shaking, and aren't likely to affect my voting choice in a forthcoming election.

In the domain of disappearing dregs of Australian allegiance to the ancient British Empire, I often wonder why Australians still persist in driving on the left-hand side of the road. While I'm prepared to forgive the Poms for carrying on this tradition [because they would be morally traumatized if ever they had to give in to all those aliens over on the Continent, by adopting the euro and driving on the right-hand side of the road], I can't understand why Australia doesn't decide to get onto the same wavelength as Europe and America. The longer this anachronism persists, the harder it will be to change it.

When I was a child, the expression Southern Hemisphere was little more than a geographical label for remote lands that were once described as terra incognita. Today, it's nice to see the French sporting media, in the rugby domain, according a new nobility to this expression. Indeed, they talk constantly of "Southern Hemisphere rugby", as opposed to the Old World variety of this ancient game. There's no doubt about it that the Wallabies, the Springboks and the Blacks [not to mention other valorous Pacific-island teams] appear to have discovered the right side of the rugby road on which to drive.

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