Tales from the Morgue: Comic books corrupt spelling abilities

2013-05-16T16:45:00Z 2013-05-16T17:55:14Z Tales from the Morgue: Comic books corrupt spelling abilitiesJohanna Eubank Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 16, 2013 4:45 pm  • 

There are times for each of us when we wish for elves to help us in our work when we are sleeping or away. The Morgue Lady refers to the fabled elves who helped the poor shoemaker.

It would appear there is an elf in the Star newsroom who is helping the Morgue Lady, because the following article, printed from microfilm, appeared on her desk one day. She is appropriately grateful and will share the old article, as this was surely the elf's intent.

• • •

This old news tells us once again that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Morgue Lady herself has noted with sadness that many young people now think the phrase, "see you later," is actually spelled out as, "c u l8r." Texting has caused many young people to forget proper spelling rules, if they ever learned them at all.

It would appear spelling habits have often been heavily influenced in youth by popular culture. In the 1950s, the influence was more likely to be comic books.

In 1954 and 1955, the fifth grade students of Ft. Lowell school had been conducting a survey about comic books after a teacher noticed the odd spelling habits of several students.

From the Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 19, 1955:


School Survey Finds Comic Books Corrupt Spelling Of Students

Personal Libraries Upshot Of Project

By John Fahr

One more aspect of the current furor over comic books has emerged from a survey conducted by fifth grade students at Ft. Lowell school.

Amazed by the peculiar spelling of certain words by most members of her class, Mrs. Elizabeth Muir asked the children where they had picked up their ideas.

"In comic books," was the prompt reply from all but one of the 27 students in the class. Only one had never read comics.

The subsequent project launched last fall not only proved the sound judgment of the fifth graders in their choice of the few comic books they elected to continue reading but brought forth the decision by the youngsters to save their money to start their own libraries of good books.

Since the study of what is wrong with comic books began, Mrs. Muir seldom finds "wabbit," "purty," "yep," "izzatso" and other comic-book-inspired words on the students' compositions.

After the children brought all types of comic books to class and rated them and began to show a gratifying interest in good books other than comics, their teacher reached the conclusion that no adult censorship is necessary to cut down their consumption of comic books.

"However, they do need adult co-operation and supervision to maintain the effort," Mrs. Muir said. Students of the fifth grade level don't care for romance and horror comics found objectionable by comic book critics, so these are not the prime concern of parents and teachers of younger children, she said.

It is in the popular western and animal comics that the language leads the children astray in their grammar and spelling, the survey showed.

Rating the comic books brought to class as harmful, poor or good, the fifth graders based their judgment on language used, attitude toward right and wrong, attitude toward officers of the law, children, parents and home, and attitude toward decency and morals as opposed to crime, violence and hatred.

Informational comics such as those based on history, Bible stories, classics and aviation stories rated highest in language and attitudes but were not so popular with this age group as animal and western comic magazines.

Some of the children said their parents were in the habit of buying comic books for them for the following reasons—in their own words: "To keep me quiet while we're on a trip," "To amuse me while Mother is shopping," or "To keep me from asking so many questions."

The students concluded that it would be worthwhile to ask their parents to give them the money usually spent on comic magazines and use it instead to buy books for personal libraries.

After the survey the average number of comic books owned by each child dropped from 45 to 31, and the average would have been lower had not one boy increased his comic book holdings from 100 to 300 comics through the gift of a friend.

About half the class stopped reading comic books altogether, and of 13 children who still read them, five youngsters said they now read them only occasionally. The rest averaged one a week as against the three-a-week average in October.

Parent cooperation in furthering the children's interest in owning low-priced books of good quality and in using the school and Carnegie libraries for books beyond the pupil's price range, will affect the children's future reading tastes and habits, the teacher stated.

Even if the stories and grammar in comic books are found suitable, one fault remains. Several children in the class complained that after reading through a few comics the bright colors and often blurred print began to hurt their eyes.

 

The Morgue Lady never read comic books as a child, but she did have her own library of books, many of which she still has.

Mom was an elementary school teacher and knew the perfect books to start her daughter on. The first "chapter book" the Morgue Lady read, probably during the third grade, was called "The Mystery In the Little Red Schoolhouse." She was immediately hooked on mysteries and was a regularly weekly visitor to the library from then on.

Anything that encourages reading by children is a winner, though the grammar and spelling should certainly be correct.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

"Tales from the Morgue" is a way for the Star to share stories from the treasure trove of information held in its old files.

Johanna Eubank, aka the Morgue Lady, was a research assistant in the Star Library — also known as News and Research Services — for 18 years before becoming an online content producer. She has had her share of sneezing fits after digging into dusty old files, so she's sure to find a few old stories to re-examine.

If you have suggestions, comments or questions about this blog, e-mail jeubank@tucson.com

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