Friday, May 30, 2008

Ghandi, etc. (for Gandhi)

The annual Scripps National Spelling Bee finals are being televised tonight, appropriately enough, on ABC. A disproportionate number of champions (and competitors in general) recently have been children of Indian descent. Perhaps they're unusually adept at patience and concentration (see meditation) or maybe they're just used to long, hard-to-pronounce names (see Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from The Simpsons). Or maybe not. In the 2002 documentary Spellbound, one of the finalists, whose grandfather had hired 1,000 people to chant for him back in India, choked on the word Darjeeling. Mohandas K. Gandhi has a frequently misspelled name. There are 41 cases of Ghandi in OhioLINK, but only three when paired with Mohandas and eight when paired with Mahatma (which means "great soul"). There are 24 instances of Ghandhi, but only one with Mohandas and four with Mahatma. Gandi + Mahatma garners 12 hits and Gandi + Mohandas one. Most definitively, Gandhi and Ghandi appear together on nine records. It's important to realize that there are names properly spelled Ghandi, Ghandhi, Gandi, and Gandhy (12 established in NACO). The authority record for Gandhi himself lists 30 "see" references, two of which begin with the letters Gh. Apparently, Indira Gandhi's husband had the last name Gandhy, but she was persuaded to spell it Gandhi in order to create the impression that they were related to the Mahatma. Passive resistance in this case is futile. You'll have to look to the source to be sure you're spelling this one correctly. (Only known childhood picture of Gandhi, an uninspired student by all accounts, but an honest one once scolded by his teacher for refusing to copy the correct spelling of kettle off his neighbor's test before the British school inspector caught the error, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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