We all know about “the three R’s”: readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic. I always assumed it was an old wheeze making fun of people who couldn’t spell, but it seems it was started by an English politician who actually couldn’t spell, or at least wasn’t thinking about spelling when he said it; in this Wordorigins.org thread about the expression, Dr. Techie quoted the OED as saying “The phrase is said to have originated in a toast proposed c1807 by the English banker and politician Sir William Curtis (1752-1829)” and gave this citation as evidence:
1825 Mirror of Lit. 29 Jan. 75/1 It has been very much the fashion amongst a class of persons to attribute to Sir W. C. certain bulls… He is charged with having given, at public dinners, the following toasts:—‘The British tars of Old England’. ‘A speedy peace, and soon.’.. ‘The three R’s—Reading, Writing, and Rithmetic’.
As I said in response:
Interesting: if that’s true, it didn’t originate as a conscious joke but as a “bull” (i.e., “an expression containing a manifest contradiction in terms or involving a ludicrous inconsistency unperceived by the speaker”). Just as Sir William didn’t notice that “soon” didn’t add anything to “speedy,” he didn’t notice that two of the three “Rs” didn’t actually start with the letter r.