Dr Spaceman’s abalone minestrone recipe

I find all the TV series “30 Rock” characters hilarious, but I let out a special whoop of joy at the first appearance of Dr Spaceman, pronounced with three syllables, “Spah-cheh-min”.

It wasn’t just because of his Cigarette Diet, the way he diagnoses scurvy when Jack asks for Lemon, or statements like, “All right, here’s a prescription for your cold sores and here’s a blank one for the weekend”.

Being obsessed with spelling, I loved his name’s pronunciation, and the fact that Tracey always gets it wrong.

Names are fun

30-Rock loves to poke fun at the irregularity of the English language, and at people’s desire for unique names – the impulse that gives us names like Jaxson, Emmalee, Kaytlynn, Mykel, and Ja’mie from Summer Heights High.

I’m just waiting for a 30-Rock character called LaTrina, which I’m told is now a real name (I kid you not). Perhaps I can set up a name-vetting agency and charge a fortune to identify and prevent regrettable names. There used to be a luggage shop in Australian airports called “Carrion”, which you’d think was something made up by Tina Fey, except that I have photos.

It’s a…e as in make, not

We learn how to spell the sound “ay” as in make, face, sale, name, amaze, backstage, cascade, debate, engrave, forsake, grenade, humane, inflate, and so on. Then that knowledge trips us up when we sound out words like agave, anemone, cafe, finale, karate, kamikaze, sesame, shitake, wannabe and Dr Spaceman.

The letter a and the letter e in words like these are usually working together to represent the sound “ay”. But sometimes, they’re just not.

So then we have to work out which words follow the major pattern, and which don’t, for example: a…e in “defame” but not “macrame”; e…e in “grebe” but not “Phoebe”; i…e in “hideout” but not “hideous”; o…e in “microscope” but not “syncope”; the u…e in “resume” but not “resumé”.

Too late to fix now, all we can do is laugh

All we can do is laugh and suck it up. Nobody is going to fix English spelling now it’s escaped and gone wild on the internet. In fact, now that every second person needs a unique domain name, expect more madness, not less.

If you’re a language nerd and haven’t seen it, 30-Rock is full of heaps of other great gags about words, sounds and spelling, like a character called Toofer because they hired him to get two for one – both a Harvard graduate and a black person; Mr. Jenna Maroney (né Paul L’Astnamé) and Jack’s dislike of Liz’s boyfriend Criss Chros because his name is spelt wrong. It’s a pity people who can’t spell won’t get many of these jokes.

Pete Hornberger would delight Rev Spooner, and there are wonderful homophone moments, like when Hazel Wassername complains to Liz that Kenneth has been undressing her with his eyes, and Liz (why?) takes her seriously, saying, “Ugh, the male gaze.” Agrees Hazel, “They’re all a bunch of gays”. The TV show they all work on was called The Girly Show or TGS. After megastar Tracey Jordan joins it, it’s called the Tracey Jordan Show, but it keeps the same acronym.

When Tina Fey et al start devising high-quality, synthetic phonics spelling activities, I’m buying the lot. And if anyone tells you spelling is boring and not fun, hit them over the head with a 30-Rock DVD.

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