Sociohistorical Linguistic Semiotics and Systemic Theory—Lynn Poulton Babel Vol I, No 3 Contents

Arguments Against English Spelling Reform

Hermes Trismegistus
Alexandria, Egypt

Advocates of reformor, to use a more neutral term, reshapingof the English spelling system are forgetting that the term spell has a meaning outside of linguistics, and that the two meanings are historically and fundamentally related. Just as the word grammar gave rise to derivatives glamour and grimoire, the use of writing in magical rituals gave rise to the noun form spell, meaning a written formula of great mystical power. The writing of spells obviously has great advantages over the memorization of incantations, principal among which is the avoidance of error in the use of the formulas. Since human memory is faulty, illiterate thaumaturgists of days gone by all too often made crucial mistakes in recitation, mistakes which could bring death and destruction to the mage and those around him. It is no wonder, then, that the priestly class of a society is always the first to adopt whatever native or borrowed writing system first appears in that society. The learned magicians, who do not want to be blown up by their own spells, have much more to gain by becoming literate than do warriors or peasants.

Now, as any capable wizard can tell you, it is not easy to discover working magical formulas. This is why, when one is discovered, it is preserved and handed down from generation to generation. Since languages change over time, the language of the formulas eventually comes to be antiquated, even obsolete. For example, most English formulas used today, whether spells or incantations, make the use of the “thou” and “thee” forms of the second singular pronoun. The untutored person, perplexed by this sort of anachronism, might ask, “Why don’t you just update the language, keep the meaning the same, but use ‘you’ in place of the old forms?” The answer is simple: such updated formulas would not work. The mystical power is locked not merely in the content side of the formulas, but alsoindeed, predominantlyin the expression. The speech act itself, in the case of oral incantations, effects the magic, and the sorcerer had best be extremely careful that he pronounce everything properly, with correct intonation, vowel length, accent, etc. To make so significant a change as that from [ðaw] to [yu], then, would obviously have a major effect on any incantation.

As an example, we might imagine a demonologist who, having summoned a denizen of the abyss in order to gain some secret knowledge from him, and having gained the knowledge he seeks, now wishes to get rid of his captive before time too greatly reduces the efficacy of whatever magical restraints the magician has used to keep the nasty fellow from rending his soul. Now, imagining for a moment that the proper incantation of expulsion is “Get thee hence,” we can only shudder to think what might happen if the banisher should attempt to use an updated version of the command; e.g., “Get outta here” or “Go away.” Certainly such commands would be utterly ineffective; moreover, there would always be the possibility that, by their modernity, they could disturb the shared antiquity of the demonologist’s other magic, thus shattering the restraints and allowing the demon to go free. So there let us leave our unfortunate warlock, who was too quick to adopt the current trend and scorn the language of his ancestors.

(Note: Any reader who has an ounce or more of sense will have realized that “Get thee hence” is far too simplistic to be a real magical formula of banishment. However, it serves well as an example. Any real formula would be too long and complex for consideration in a paper of this length. Besides, it is forbidden to reveal formulas of banishment to anyone who has not reached the level of Initiate of the Seventh Circle.)

Now, a written formula, like an oral one, must be kept as unchanged as possible if it is to work. Using another hypothetical example, imagine a spell which reads, “May the sea rise and drown thee, the sky break and fall upon thee, the earth open and swallow thee, if thou disobeyest my command.” Imagine now a necromancer attempting to apply this dire curse to a potential servant, but using a “reformed” version, viz.: “Mei dha see rayz end drawn dhee, dha skay breik end fahl apon dhee, dha rth ohpen end swahloh dhee, if dhaw disohbeiest may comænd.” A less efficacious curse could hardly be imagined.

To be certain, magicians could develop spells in a reshaped spelling system to replace most of the ones lost by the reformation. However, these spells would have to be developed from scratch (the ignorant suggestion that spells in one writing system could be derived from spells in another is ludicrous). The length of time needed to return to our present state of knowledge would be monumental; in the meantime, impatient researchers would probably cause a lot of havoc by attempting to do too much with limited knowledge.

It might be suggested that we reform the rest of English spelling but allow magical spelling to maintain the older system. While a noble idea, this plan would be bound to fail. The enchanter, having learned the new spelling system in elementary school, would face tremendous cognitive interference when trying to spell in the older way. His magical spells would end up littered with accidental modernisms, which would make the spells themselves utterly worthless.

It is therefore obvious that any attempt to reform English spelling would, in fact, be disastrous for the art of spelling. We may lament the fact that our orthography is so poorly matched to our spoken language, but the simple fact is that any attempt to change the current state of affairs would cause problems greater than those it solved.

Warning: The information contained in this paper is part of the body occult wisdom which should not be revealed to those whose lack of understanding would provoke them to fear and hatred. In other words, you should not show this paper to any Romance language professors. Also, try to steer clear of astrophysicists.

I am Hermes Trismegistus. There is one, which is two. The Sun and the Moon together with the Earth are three. Three in one, as it was in the beginning. The imbalance is in the twoness. Let not the Sun stand apart from the Moon, nor the Moon from the Earth, nor man from the eternal, for this is the path of separateness and destruction. The elixir is not of the Earth. I am Hermes Trismegistus. You must seek the stone within the Earth, for you will not find it elsewhere. The darkness is the hidden and must be made light. Light penetrates the darkness and is swallowed by it. The Heavens and the Earth and the Eternal are Three-in-One, for I am Hermes Trismegistus.

Sociohistorical Linguistic Semiotics and Systemic TheoryLynn Poulton
Babel Vol I, No 3 Contents