Saturday, May 23, 2009

Free the "E"

During the ridiculous amount of time I’ve spent reading Stuff Christians Like, I’ve come across something I’ve wondered about for years. The blog’s author describes the fascination some churches have with adding an unnecessary (and incorrect, from a language perspective) letter “e” to the end of church names. You know, like Cross Pointe, Life Pointe, etc. (There’s also the phenomenon of church titles losing the space between words, such as LifePointe, but I’ll complain about that some other time.)

This superfluous “e” epidemic is not limited to churches. A neighborhood near us is called “Westpointe.” There’s also “Midtowne Little Rock,” one of my favorite places to shop.

So where did this come from? What does this extra vowel communicate that a word without it would not? Is it supposed to be convey a more upscale image? Do those of us living in Forest Cove and Sunset Meadows live in the slums because we do not live in Westpointe and therefore do not have the luxury of a completely unnecessary letter at the end of our neighborhoods’ names?

My first run-in with the superfluous “e” happened in college. I was writing for the campus newspaper, and every fall we reported who had been chosen to serve as grand marshals of the Homecoming parade. Except, according to the alumni office, they were not grand marshals. They were “grande marshalls.” Because I know all of you are as obsessed with language as I am, let’s painstakingly dissect this.

First of all, “grande” is not a fancy way to spell “grand.” It’s a Spanish word meaning “large.” It’s also a title of honor given to the highest class of Spanish nobility. Which has nothing to do with an alumni weekend at a small Christian college in the middle of Nowhere County, Texas.

Now for the other word. “Marshall” (with a double-l on the end) is someone’s name. As in Thurgood Marshall, who served as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1967-1991. The word “marshal” (with one “l”) has 12 definitions, one of which is an official charged with the arrangement or regulation of ceremonies, parades, etc.

So clearly, “grand marshal” was the correct and appropriate term. But here was the problem: the alumni office insisted on “grande marshall.” It was even embroidered on the purple sashes the grand marshals wore in the parade. At the same time, the newspaper adviser (also the head of the journalism department) insisted on “grand marshals.” So if I spelled it wrong to keep the alumni people happy, our adviser counted off for it as a spelling error. If I spelled it correctly to keep him happy, the alumni people got upset. So how did I handle this? I’ll tell you how. A few years later, after I had graduated and while Chad was in grad school, I got a job in that very same alumni office. One of the first things I did was spend $80 out of the Homecoming budget to have new sashes made with “Grand Marshal” embroidered on them. This, my friends, is the kind of extreme I will go to in order to preserve the English language.

Back to “pointe.” “Pointe” is not a fancy way to spell “point.” It’s a French word meaning “a position on the extreme tips of the toes.” If you’re a young girl taking ballet, around the 6th grade or so, you will begin learning “pointe,” which is how to dance in toe shoes. It’s very difficult and takes years of training. So that neighborhood near my house actually means “West Advanced Ballet Class.” Advanced dance training is hard work. It’s not a place I want to live. And “towne?” It means nothing whatsoever. No entry in my dictionary.

Unfortunately, I’m all too painfully aware that people will spell things the way they want to. But as for me and my house, we just say no to the extraneous “e.”


  • At Sat May 23, 06:08:00 PM, Anonymous Hkmart3 said…

    Ah, another journalist decides it's their mission in life to "preserve the English language." Of course, I'm sure you've read your share of texts from preserved manuscripts of English writing of past centuries. So do you wish to preserve the variant spellings of our forefathers? They couldn't agree on the spellings of words even as they were repeated in the same manuscript. English is a dynamic language, in its written and spoken forms. Words' meanings change when their writers/speakers and readers/listeners say they've changed.

  • At Sat May 23, 06:13:00 PM, Anonymous Wendy Abel said…

    I share your pet peeve of purposefully misspelled words. One church we went to for awhile started using a new children's program curriculum called...Kid Stuf. Doesn't that inspire our kids to greatness?? It was enough to make me want to leave. Then there's the new "Krispy Kool" concept store that's coming soon to our town that will sell both Krispy Kreme donuts and ice kreme (sic) (& sick!). The list could go on and on. It's no wonder most kids can't spell these days and use text messaging abbreviations for everything!

  • At Sun May 24, 06:52:00 PM, Blogger WinSpin said…

    Well I agree...spelling words in a fanciful way to denote fancifulness necessarily admits that whatever is being spelled must indeed not be fancy...
    By the way, did you know that your maiden name, "Hamby" was in the days of yore spelled, "Hambye?"
    Also, my given name, "Winston"
    once was spelled "Winstowne."
    "Winston" means, "winsome or friendly town or towne"
    Oh, good grief...don't get me started...

  • At Mon May 25, 01:06:00 PM, Blogger Keith Brenton said…

    I thinke you're juste being picke.

  • At Tue May 26, 04:56:00 PM, Blogger Brian said…

    hkmarte 3-

    there is a whole lotta difference betweene being a forefathere helpinge to develope a language ande merelye puttinge an extrae 'e' in a worde juste in an ill advisede attempte to expresse fancinesse....

  • At Wed May 27, 01:14:00 PM, Blogger TrendsKent said…

    The fine folks at HighePoint Church are highly offended.


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