Let Me to Teach You English

Every day, I get a whole bunch of flyers in the mail offering various goods and services. I generally glance at them to see what's being offered, more out of curiosity and the prospect of free magnets than because I think I might actually make use of them (though I have patronized food establishments hat I thus learned of).

Today, I got a flyer from some Israeli woman offering English classes for kids and adults. She had a description of her services in Hebrew, surrounded by a Shel Silverstein poem in English. Thing is, she had spelled Shel Silverstein as 'Shell Silverstein'. This probably leapt out at me because I'm acutely sensitive to the plene or deficient spelling of words containing the letter 'l'. My own name has been misspelled countless ways. Furthermore, I assume that it would have been quite common for Jewish parents in the 1930s to name their children 'Sheldon', which shortens to 'Shel', yet quite uncommon for them to name their kids 'Shell' or even the oddly spelled 'Shelldon'.

Normally, I would think that this is an honest mistake, which, indeed, it really is. But when one is advertising as a private English tutor, one really ought to make sure he really has it right. Therefore, I called the number on the flyer in order to bring the error to her attention. She was somewhat embarrassed but very thankful that I took the time to call and point it out.

A few minutes later, she called me back, saying that she looked it up on Google and that it is indeed spelled with two 'l's, not one. Now it was my turn to be embarassed. I thought of retreating from language games back to the four 'l's of Halakha. I did not have internet access at that moment, so I called my sister, who is the proud owner of the complete works of Shel Silverstein. I asked her how the name is spelled on the cover: Shel. I called the woman back to tell her this, and suggested that though there may be a large number of hits when searching for 'Shell Silverstein', she might want to compare it to the number of hits for 'Shel Silverstein'. That was the end of our conversation.

Later, I did the searches myself. It's Shel. Shell is a misspelling, though a fairly common one. Still, one would expect more of an English teacher (or a Vice-President, for that matter). My kids will learn English by reading the prose and poetry of Shel himself, and not from a non-native-speaking teacher who misspells the man's name.

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