Hockey gives us plenty of names that are hard to spell, from the devious double-U-double-K combo of Tuukka Rask to the manic orgy of consonants that makes up pretty much every Russian player’s last name. But the word “hockey” itself isn’t hard to spell at all. There’s a dubious “e” in there that doesn’t seem all that necessary, but it doesn’t really appear to throw anybody off. Nonetheless, there was once a powerful campaign to reduce its spelling to “hocky,” and to streamline the spellings of many other words, because this is what people of wealth and influence do when they are bored.
Modern English spelling developed over centuries of geopolitical flux in Europe, resulting in a wildly inconsistent etymological smorgasbord that frequently ignores logical and phonetic word structures. English contains more than 3,700 words with unpredictable spellings and pronunciations, which makes sounding out words and decoding their meanings a nightmare for those trying to learn the language.
Lots of folks, including Andrew Carnegie and President Theodore Roosevelt, have sought to amend English spelling into something more intelligible. But no one has been a more dramatic agent for reform than Chicago Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick, who forced a system of simplified spelling onto his newspaper from 1934 to 1975.
Under his watch, readers had to get used to dozens of absurd-yet-logical spellings, like “iland” for “island,” “burocrat” for “bureaucrat,” “clew” for “clue,” and—you guessed it—“hocky” for “hockey.” It was easily one of the 20th Century’s top three most disruptive moments in sports-related spelling. For even Canadians, who are notoriously tolerant when it comes to colourfully inane spellings, have never dared spell it hocky. And when it comes to hockey, why would anyone ever second-guess the Canadians?
McCormick had his reasons, but they were his alone. Immediately following his death, the Tribune reverted back to traditional spelling, and the paper has spelled hockey correctly ever since. Now if only non-Americans would realize soccer isn’t spelled f-o-o-t-b-a-l-l, balance to the universe would be restored.
Images via the Chicago Tribune