Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
With A Little Help From Marion
by Scott Eggerding
I think of my spelllchecker as a retired librarian-cum grammar school teacher named Marion. She is watching me as I type. She told me I was spelling spellchecker wrong, and when I looked at the red line she so boldly struck under the word, I could see the error of my ways—3 l's. I know the word doesn't need three l's. No word in the English language has three l's. I have lots of highfalutin and expensive degrees that wouldn't have let me get away with such an error and still matriculate. But that's ok—it helps me to know that Marion is there for me.
In many ways, Marion makes me look good. As a high school English Department Chair, my errors are noticed—especially when I send something to the forty-seven English teachers at my school. I get all sorts of comments that only English teachers can find clever or witty. I'd let you in the club, too, but I am afraid that you would pass judgement on me. Marion always judges me. She apparently doesn't like my alternate spelling of judgment, either, so I will change. I trust her. She's never let me down.
What impresses me most about Marion is her vocabulary. She knows so many words that the average person will never even require her to check, like discombobulate, phantasmagoric or protean. Sometimes, when I really should be doing something more productive, I'll see if she knows a hard word. Phalanx didn't stump her. Neither did metonymy. The word that won the spelling bee last year, autochthonous, was a part of her vocabulary, too, but more modern slang, like bling-bling, didn't make her list. Maybe she doesn't get out like she used to. My students tend to give me music or slang to try out, so I feel more in tune to things. But she underlined it, so I at least know she's watching out for me. I don't think she sees her role as an arbiter of taste so much as a connoisseur of the written word, the words that are fixed in time and dictionaries. Eventually, she'll grow to understand more words. And if I take the time, I can even teach her a few new ones. Last year, the OED added bioweapon. I'm glad Marion doesn't know this one. She also has no interest in metrosexuals. I can't say I blame her. If I ran into her, I'd give her a noogie for that, but she doesn't know what that is either.
Why—you say—can't my spellchecker be a man named Mortimer or be a hip new librarian with a name like Meadow or Dakotah or Cody? They don't know these things like Marion. Marion knows. She's been there. She's gone around the block with the Henry Hill's of this world and knows a thing or two about musical instruments, Grecian urns, and all of those Ron Howard movies. And she doesn't recognize Dakotah as a properly spelled name, either.
Scott Eggerding is the English Chair at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, Illinois. His essays have been published in the Bellingham Review and other journals. Marion is helping him edit a collection of his nonfiction.
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