Last week, I was fervently combing the earliest volumes of The English Journal, hoping to track down some articles about usage guides and problems for the database. After a while, just when I had figured that Volume 10, Issue 8 would probably contain nothing of the project’s interest, I ran into a fascinating little news article, called: “The Alphabet of Errors”. Not really knowing what to expect, I set my eyes on the first of what seemed to be a set of short poems:
A is for and,
Overused till ‘tis faint,
The letters stands, also,
You must see, for ain’t.
Encouraged by the metre, I read on: B.., C ..
D stands for don’t
And that scalawag done;
She and he shun the first,
Have takes the last one
More little poems followed, one for each letter of the alphabet. It became clear that these verses deal with specific usage problems. Some prescribe the pronunciation of a word, whilst others (like the one below) point out grammatical mistakes that someone thought should be avoided:
W is for was you—
A shocking mistake.
If you’d study grammar,
More care you would take.
After I had read all the little poems, I noticed the short piece of text introducing them. Apparently, “most of the verses were composed by Senior pupils” from a girl’s high school in Boston, Massachusetts. Elizabeth Richardson, the person who sent the poems to The English Journal back in 1921, remarks that during “Speech Week”, girls wore the letters and “recited their rhymes in turn” on an assembly platform.
I wonder whether projects like “Speech Week” still exist nowadays? Are you familiar with other works that use poetry or songs to prescribe usage?
Richardson, Elizabeth M. (Oct. 1921) “The Alphabet of Errors.” The English Journal, 10.8: 472-473
Please write up in full ‘The Alphabet of Errors’.