Srcwenig anorud wtih the ruels


“I hvae jsut had a rvelaiton,” I tlel my wfie, tihs tmie not in our Tkoyo hmoe, but in “Colmun Lnad,” wehre the cnovnetinos of dilaog can be bnet at wlil.

She steras at me. I maen, mroe than uasul. “OK,” she syas. “What are you up to this time?”

“Nthonig. But I jsut haerd aubot smoe rsareehcers at Cmarbigde who hvae dcsoerived taht the ruels of Eglnish sepllnig dno’t mtaetr mcuh. Wehn popele raed, tiher eeys sikm the leins so qcikuly taht all tehy ralely pcik up are the fsrit and lsat ltetres of ecah wrod. Waht cmeos in beweten is icosneqnuteail. Mix the ltetres and msot popele can stlil fololw alnog fnie.”

“Well, I believe it’s finally come.” Her eeys acrh. “The moment that you have lost your mind.”

“No, no, lsetin. . . . Tihs has ipmlicatonis far byoned the ruels of Eglnish sepllnig.”

“English spelling has rules? That’s a new one.”

“Tehre you go. Ttah’s why Eglnish drievs Jpaansee ntus. It stes up ruels, but tehn braeks tehm wlily-nlily. Jpaansee conant snatd it bacusee tihs is a ruel-besad scoteiy. The wohle cutnory is ablteosuey crzay aobut ruels. But the celar msseage form Cmarbigde is taht ruels are not so imrptonat. Jpaan nedes to haer tihs.”

“And you need to hear that this is annoying. Are you suggesting a society without rules?”

“Of csuore not. Scoteiy msut hvae smoe from of oderr. But in Jpaan the ruels ruel wtih an iorn fsit. All mnlupicaiteis miaitnan eronumos bauercurcaceis jsut to esnure taht ecah tmie cizetins mvoe or get mirerad or buy lnad or psas gas tehy will oeby all the trlioinls of ruels taht go wtih it — in trilipacte. Hvane’t you hraed popele crictizie Jpaan as pvassie? Wlel, tehre’s the raseon why. Tehre are too mnay dman ruels! Tehy scuk aawy popele’s egreny!”

“But to throw away the rules would probably result in something akin to the state of your mind. Blubbering nonsense.”

“I do not avdoacte romevnig all the ruels. Jsut the slliy oens.”

“Oh, and what would you cut? Since you know ‘silly’ so well.”

“Oh, lkie the ruel taht syas freoigenrs cna’t be litesd on Jpaansee fmialy rtegesirs. Or mybae I’d get rid of the fmialy rtegesir seystm all teothger. Wulod scuh elnimitaoin maen cahos? No. All it wulod maen is taht an amry of piencl psheurs wulod be out of jbos. Jpaan as a ntaoin wulod rlol on woihtut a htich and popele wulod lvie lfie jsut as hpapliy.”

She saheks her haed and syas: “I’m not so sure. All the hoops we jump through — and the bureaucrats who hold them — seem necessary to me. They keep the nation running smoothly. Relationships can be sensitive and here we esteem harmony, which is essential in a packed place like Japan. The rules provide that harmony.”

“Yaeh, rihgt. I rsfuee to beelvie taht a bcnuh of brudnesmoe ruels aplpy the gresae taht kepes Jpaan sdilnig aolng. Not taht I tnhik ‘ruels are mdae to be bkroen.’ But in Jpaan the staetmnet of ‘ruels are ruels’ is aikn to a rligeouis mntara. Lkie tihs Cmarbigde sepllnig odrer swhos, popele can get by fnie wtih mcuh lses cnotorl.”

“I think it shows that the scholars at Cambridge have too much free time.”

“No, tyrh’ee on to seomtinhg, I’m cretian. For if we tkae it one setp frahter and enlimitae the mdilde ltetres atlgetoehr, tnihk of all the tmie we’d svae, not to mnteoin the mnoey snept on ink. I maen, isnetad of tpynig, ‘Wehn Esat Mrareis Wset,’ I culod jsut witre, ‘Wn Et Ms Wt.’ Taht wulod get rid of eevn mroe baerucrauts! See?”

“I see I was wrong. This is the moment you have lost your mind.”

“What’s more,” she cntonieus, “you can’t point out some oddity about English spelling and weave that into some woolly social analysis. Analogies are the weakest form of argument. It’s like saying a person deserves to be president because he looks good on camera. It’s illogical because the aspects you are comparing are not necessarily related.”

“How drae you fiol my alnogay wtih aontehr alnogay! Bedises, loigc deons’t mtaetr aynmroe. Soctraes ins’t pireesndt; Gogree Bsuh is. Haenv’t you nitoecd?”

“And haven’t you noticed that English is not the script of choice in Japan? We use Chinese characters here — kanji — and if you take a Chinese character and remove all but the first and last strokes, you’d better not expect to communicate. In like manner, you cannot yank out the wedges from Japanese society — all those tedious rules or perhaps even some of them — and expect for that society to stand up straight. You have to give consideration for where you are, not just what you think.”

Hmm. Gogree Bsuh mgiht not buy taht, but I gseus I do. Atfer all, tpinyg lkie tihs is a pian in the btut. I’d try to get by on a wee jot or two, but in the end I’ve not the wit to do it. So I mvoe on to a dnifefret tipoc.

“I hvae jsut had a new rvelaiton,” I tlel my wfie.

She rlols her eeys. “What is it this time?”

“Did you eevr nocite taht semoteims wehn you try to msisplel wrods on prupsoe, the wrod prscosnieg sotfawre jsut tekas oevr and dones’t let you?”


“Do you tnhik it culod be a sgin taht Blil Gaets is tnriyg to cntorl the wrold? By imponisg his vaule ssyetm on the rset of us? I maen, why cna’t I splel the way I wnat to? Who is he to say?”

She gvies me an eevn lngoer strae and syas, “Remind me to write Bill Gates and beg him never to donate to Cambridge.”

I wrtie him for her, but I’ve jsut had an eevn nweer rvelaiton. Tpiyng wtihuot sepleilng ruels . . . has suekcd aawy all my egreny.