“She might give birth to an imbosil.”

This student was concerned about a pregnant woman who was using drugs. The essay topic was a proposed Massachusetts law categorizing drug use while pregnant as child abuse.

I try not to save errors made by students with spelling difficulties (as opposed to students who just have difficulty making themselves care about spelling), but sometimes the results of serious efforts to get a word onto the page are too funny to let go by, especially when the word itself suggests difficulties: the student who wrote that someone was “quit dum,” for instance…

…and this student, who worried that another imbocil would be brought into the world.

I don’t have much time for a comment this morning, but perhaps I will take a moment and inflict my thoughts on spelling on my dear readers. Background: preparing for my PhD orals, I had the last-minute notion that I might find myself referring to Pilgrim’s Progress (not sure why!) and realized I wasn’t absolutely sure how to pronounce “slough,” as in “Slough of Despond.” I looked the word up and found that it has three pronunciations, depending on meaning (the pronunciation I had always used turned out to be the right one for its meaning, by the way). That, of course, made me think about Arthur Hugh Clough, whose name I did know how to pronounce (or at least I had had a professor who pronounced it with aplomb); then I idled away a few minutes pondering spelling in general and -ough in particular.

And then, ever myself, I noodled away a good deal more time writing this (sorry for the bullets, but it’s the only way I can get the thing to single-space a poem):

Clough’s Case

  • Let us consider the case of poor Clough,
  • Who, as if he did not have problems enough,
  • Considered his name, and he studied it through,
  • But how to pronounce it was clear as a slough
  • Or clear as the water in some stagnant trough.
  • He tried this and tried that, developed a cough,
  • Enquired of people in county and borough
  • And was in his research impeccably thorough.
  • He got so involved that he fell in a slough
  • And had to be rescued with horse and with plough.
  • He gave it up then as impossibly tough
  • And viewed his name hence as old snakes do their slough.
  • He did learn one lesson for all his pains, though:
  • Spelling can give one a dreadful hiccough.

Arthur Hugh Clough. "Say not the struggle nought availeth."

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

4 responses to ““She might give birth to an imbosil.”

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