Monday, June 29, 2015

Wauk This Way

Potawatomi Indians and several other tribes once inhabited the Lake Michigan region where present-day Milwaukee sits. European explorers first traveled to the southeastern Wisconsin area in the late 1600s, and the earliest references to Milwaukee come from that period.

The name may derive from a Potawatomi word meaning “meeting place of waters” or “gathering place by the river.” Early explorers called the area many names. Variations included Miliwaki, Milawakee and Milwauki. Countless other Mil-wacky versions were in the rotation from the late 1600s to the middle of the 19th century, including Mahnawauk, Melleorki and, yes, Milwacky — but never Milwakuee. Remember that.

Most of the various spellings were dropped, but two persisted, and allegiances were split along party lines. For reasons that are unclear, the region’s Democrats favored Milwaukie; the Whigs (Republicans) preferred Milwaukee. The name fluctuated — in papers and postmarks — depending on which side was in control, flexing its political clout. Agreeing on a standard spelling would take decades and not be easy. When politics come into play, is anything?

The Milwaukee Sentinel, founded in 1837 as a four-page weekly, became the Milwaukie Sentinel in 1841, when Democrats seized control, and reverted to its original name in early 1846, shortly after Rufus King, a Republican, became editor.

Milwaukee used Milwaukie as its postmark from 1835, when a post office was established under Democrat Solomon Juneau, until 1843, when a Whig named Josiah Noonan became postmaster and changed the spelling to Milwaukee. It reverted to Milwaukie in 1849, when Juneau regained office. The back-and-forth antics continued, with the postmark changing to Milwaukee in 1853, Milwaukie in 1857 and, finally, to Milwaukee in 1861. The citizens of the growing metropolis came to realize that conformity was key, which is why Milwaukee remains, well, Milwaukee. But the losing name lived on elsewhere.

The Democrats’ preferred spelling didn’t stick in Wisconsin, but it influenced a city more than 2,000 miles away. An entrepreneur living in Illinois in the 1840s named Lot Whitcomb admired Milwaukee and hoped to find a city that would prosper as it did. His manifest destiny took him west, toward the Pacific. Whitcomb arrived in Oregon in 1847, constructed a sawmill and referentially named his settlement Milwaukie. Whitcomb likely adopted the spelling in use during his visits to Wisconsin’s largest city.

Milwaukie, Wisconsin, may no longer exist, but Milwaukie, Oregon, does. The Portland suburb is where the Bing cherry was developed and is home to Dark Horse Comics, which publishes the Sin City series.

Speaking of sins…

On July 20, 2013, the Milwaukee Brewers hosted the Miami Marlins. As a tribute to the Negro Leagues, both MLB teams donned throwback uniforms. The Brewers honored the 1923 Milwaukee Bears … sort of. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke somehow managed to wear a uniform bearing a glaring error rivaling the “Natinal” dilemma in D.C. four years earlier.

I understand that spelling mistakes occur. We all make them. I’m sure you’ll find ones on my blog from time to time. (If you do, I implore you to notify me. I’ll correct them ASAP.) But a mistake of this magnitude, under these circumstances? Boggles my mind.

Roenicke’s uniform was really put through the mill. Does the manufacturer have no quality control? And when the wacky Milwaukee uni arrived at its destination, how come no team officials realized trouble brewed? In other words, how’d Milwakuee manage to slip past the equipment manager? I don’t know. All I do know is that it did, at which point you’d hope (expect?) the guy putting on the jersey would notice. Roenicke didn’t. If an equipment manager had handed me that throwback uniform, it would have been thrown back in his direction.

In 1923, Milwaukee was spelled Milwaukee. Eighty or so years earlier, it was spelled Milwaukee and Milwaukie. More than a century before that, it was spelled too many ways to list again. (See the second paragraph.) Never, I repeat, never was it spelled Milwakuee.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Upstaged by Sherman

The Westport Country Playhouse is storied indeed. Hundreds of actors have graced its stage since it opened in 1931, including Danny Aiello, Alan Alda, Jane Alexander, Matthew Broderick, Art Carney, Carol Channing, Sammy Davis Jr., Richard Dreyfuss, Buddy Ebsen, Henry Fonda, Eva Gabor, Larry Hagman, Neil Patrick Harris, Gene Kelly, Groucho Marx, Liza Minnelli, Paul Newman, John Ritter, Mickey Rooney, Paul Rudd, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Tandy, Christopher Walken and Gene Wilder.

I live in Connecticut, and I’ve been to the Westport Country Playhouse on more than one occasion. I first got into the act, so to speak, in July 1998, when my brother and I saw Wonder Years co-stars Dan Lauria and Fred Savage reunite in Wendell & Ben, a two-man play about a Gentile father and his Jewish son-in-law. I drove to the playhouse, a converted 19th-century barn, from my Fairfield home that summer evening. It took about 10 minutes to get there — a five-mile straight shot west on the Post Road, into Westport. The Westport Country Playhouse, you see, is in Westport. Sherman, a small town on the New York border, also has a playhouse, but it’s called — get this — the Sherman Playhouse.

I’m sorry, Sherman, but you’re not Westport’s stage name. It’s curtains for you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Making Some Bold Moves

Words in bold attract the reader’s eye. Which word stood out in the previous sentence? The fourth one, of course. It’s darker than the others; it’s in a thicker, heavier typeface.

Bold type is often used for keywords, such as the entries in a dictionary, because it makes certain elements pop. When the bold is put on hold, When Write Is Wrong pops up.

It’s unfortunate that someone didn’t brush this newspaper section with a few more bold keystrokes. Nichole and Clinton have lost their bold builds.

Our first professional objective should be to turn Nichole’s “Career Goal” into a “Career Goal.” Next, we should enter the Dark Ages. Well, no, but we should darken Clinton’s “Age.” His “GPA,” too.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Sexually active, responsible teens use it.

Bodyguards provide it to presidents, celebrities and other public figures.

Insurance offers it against, say, fire or flooding.

Hard hats give it to construction workers.

The paragraph at right lacks it.

What is it?

You can figure it out. Dig. 

Keep digging. It’s a DEEP hole.

This paragraph, like a quarterback who is sacked repeatedly, has no Protection.

If you live outside of Connecticut, you’re probably unfamiliar with DEEP. Your location shouldn’t preclude the recognition that DEEP is the abbreviated form of four words (disregarding small articles, prepositions and conjunctions). The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, established in 2011, aims to control pollution, conserve natural resources and manage the state’s parks and forests.

The department’s p-word was MIA, which stands for missing in.

My apologies. MIA is an action-packed acronym. Omitting the last word has an impact.

A deep one.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Righting a Check

Lordy, lordy, look who’s turning forty … into an imaginary number and imaginary word, simultaneously. In “The Little Jerry,” a Seinfeld episode that aired in the sitcom’s eighth season, the eponymous star bounced a check — one festooned with a clown holding balloons — at a local bodega. Big Jerry made a little mistake, and I’m not talking about the shortage of funds that led the market’s owner, Marcelino, to tape the check on the cash register.

Check out check No. 1246. See the mistake? It, like Jerry’s jerry-built check, is on display.

At first glance, there appears to be no funny business, big-bow-tied clown notwithstanding. Wait a second! On the DOLLARS line, the third letter came forth out of nowhere. That u is a fifth wheel, and one need not possess a sixth sense to come to the same conclusion.

Jerry didn’t write forty; his cursive word, like many middle-aged folks, is fortyish.

Jerry’s check is in the amount of fourty dollars, which makes zero sense. Spelling forty isn’t Jerry’s forte. Fortunately for him, I’m here to help. I’ve always spelled forty with ease; it’s never been a problem for me. What? Too arrogant? I can’t suppress my forty ‘tude.

The comedian’s confusion is understandable. Forty relates to the word four, yet it drops the u, while fourteen, another four-matted word, keeps it. Perhaps it’d make more sense to spell 40 with a u and use the u-less form as an adjective meaning fort-like. Example: When I was fourty, I built a forty tree house for my sons.

To muddy the issue even more, no uniformity exists for the spelling of multiples of ten. We have sixty and seventy, so one could surmise we’d also have threety and fourty. If nine times ten is ninety, shouldn’t five times ten be fivety?

Nevertheless, Jerry should not have cut this erroneous check. Even a fourth-grader knows forty forgoes a u. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that nobody on the Seinfeld crew spotted the error.

Then again, hindsight is twoty-twoty.