I’m inured to the standard grounds for complaint about the Decline of the English Language: poor grammar, sloppy punctuation, IM-speak, and the like. I accept that people have an irrational devotion to the forms of what they perceive as “the language” (ignorant as they are of the unavoidable diversity and mutability of all languages), and I have learned to view such jeremiads with a tolerant, if wry, smile. But the recent controversy in the Boston City Council over the spelling of council(l)or floors me. According to a Boston Globe story by Matt Viser, “the question of one L or two is very serious”:
About half of the council’s 13 members say the word should be spelled with two Ls, a British spelling that has been used in city documents for more than a century. Tradition dictates it, they say.
Some, like Council President Michael Flaherty and Councilor John Tobin, defend the position with some ferocity. Boston officialdom appears to support them, with most signs and placards in City Hall spelling it with two Ls, as does the city charter and the Oxford English Dictionary.
Webster’s New World Dictionary prefers the one-L version, however, and newer, younger councilors are using one L as a symbol of breaking from an old, hide-bound kind of politics…
For new members of the board, it is a rite of passage, among the first decisions they make when coming into office and requesting their business cards. Will they accept tradition, or try and chart a new course?…
“Those new young guys, they’ve just got no respect,” said Tobin, whose staff for several years mocked him by giving him the nickname “Double L.”
“I will not be part of the dumbing down of the English language,” he said.
Spelling it councilor is “the dumbing down of the English language”? I truly cannot wrap my head around this concept. Ah well, at least the fact they’re arguing about something so trivial shows they have nothing more serious to worry about.
I got the story from Ben Zimmer at Language Log, where you will find more details on the one-l spelling, which “was apparently one of Noah Webster’s many attempts at distinguishing American orthography from the British model.”