Cool/kewl

Following on the tense Berlin climax of the beer-from-Mars post, I suspect that the Tiergarten may also provide the key to the following excerpt from a message posted by a furriner on behalf of the nice Catalan boys and girls who dress up as squatters and spraypaint daddy’s bank (but not mummy’s 4×4) instead of doing an MBA like their goodie-goodie siblings:

After 17 years of occupation, the police of Korneya have evicted the oldest squat in Barcelona and Catalunya.

The conventional spelling of Cornellà obviously needs changing, the C being nothing less than a cruel neo-liberal deceit, a forward-looking cocoon redundant in a heartless world that is doomed to perish tomorrow, possibly even before teatime. However, why write Korneya (or even Korneyà) but not Katalunya? Does the poster believe that anti-terrorist data-mining ops will be so easily fooled? Or is this a spindrift of false consciousness in an otherwise empty heaven? Who cares?

I care to the extent that I’m going to waste some of your time speculating wildly as to the origins of the perceived relationship between a c => k shift in spelling and kewlness. Is it from Colorado, did it arise among KKK sympathisers, or is it a neo-Germanicism? The latter hypothesis is the one preferred by Glampyre in their profound study of bottom-up spelling reform, Mechanical Suicide Stuka:

Blitzkreig
Stuka
Germans are cool
They spell ‘C’s’ with ‘K’s’
Like Kraftwerk
In English that’d be Craftwork
See?
The German one’s much better.

Of the three hypotheses, it seems to me that the Glampyre one’s much better, and that the coolness of k might reflect the emigration at the end of the C19th of world revolution from Britain and France to the German-speaking world. (Important note: this is where the madness starts; please feel free to mock and correct me mercilessly from hereon in.)

Lion Philips lived in Zaltbommel (search the civil register), Holland. As well as being the grandfather of the founder of the lightbulb factory, he was Karl Marx’s uncle. When Marx was staying with him in 1865, Jenny, Karl’s daughter, made her father fill in a confession in English in which he named amongst other things his favourite colour (red), the vice he hated most (servility), and his hero (two: Spartacus and Keppler).

Spartacus is standard Anglo-French orthography, which tends to use Cs where Germans use Ks, and in this form the word still plays an important role in the sectarian ramblings of a profusion of Trotskyist groupings. However, by the 1890s the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) was Europe’s largest and most powerful socialist party and Germany rapidly moved from being an importer of communist ideology to being a major exporter of kommunistische lifestyle.

In terms of the c => k migration of the social progressives, the breakthrough may have come with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht who, according to this website, changed the name of their league from the Spartacusbund to the Spartakusbund in 1917, two years before they were shot in the Tiergarten. Even if the story of the name change is untrue (I’ve found no supporting evidence and the only systematic spelling reforms I know of in 1917 occurred in Norway and Russia), I would suggest that by 1919 or so the picture would have been clear: Russian emigrés nostalgic for the old regime felt at home in Paris, those who sought to globalise revolution flocked to Germany, and if you were on the side of the people you used the radical German k instead of the bourgeois Anglo-French c where possible. I would even speculate – again without any supporting evidence – that this influenced the Euskaltzaindia‘s use of k as opposed to c (eg komunismo edging out comunismo) in its 1968 rules for standard written Basque.

Rosa Luxemburg once wrote that

Freedom for supporters of the government only, for members of one party only – no matter how big its membership may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always freedom for the man who thinks differently. (Kevin Reilly, Worlds of History: A Comparative Reader).

Subsitute “spells” for “thinks” and you’ll have some idea of what was bugging the author of this 1919 Danish satirical cartoon, the text of which is quoted on Ozideas:

Bolshevik soldier at a street barricade in Oslo: ‘How is the revolution coming along in Oslo, comrades?’
Norwegian: ‘We’re still fighting over how to spell it.’

update 2004/03/31 17:25

I hadn’t thought of this:

During the Old English period, we didn’t use Q in English: we wrote, for example, CWICU for ‘quick’ and CWEN for ‘queen’ (Old English, like Latin, preferred C for the /k/-sound instead of K). But then the French-speaking Normans conquered England, interrupting the English literary tradition, and, when English once again began to be written after the Conquest, a number of French spelling conventions were introduced, including the business of always writing Q for the /k/-sound when the next letter was U. And we’re still stuck with it.

(Larry Trask, via aldiboronti and LanguageHat.)

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Comments

  1. Didn’t the American revolution include a conscious effort to spell words wrong?

    I think there’s another level to spelling with a k, when in the 60s confused students in California thought that writing ‘Amerika’ identified it with the Nazis.

  2. About two years ago one of the German networks showed a program called Holokaust. It was originally called Holocaust but they changed it because it didn’t sound Nazi enough.

    I think the Nazis held a spelling reform. Can anyone think of a serious revolution that didn’t?

  3. wots al the fuss about? we al no english spellin is krazy and that used 2 go 4 a lot ov other languajes. only thay wized up. so wot about k? just that nobody is gonna try pronunse it as S, wereas c kauses major problems.

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