Battle of the Bards: UCLA and USC Argue Over Statue's Spelling of Shakespeare

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Getty Images

The University of Southern California recently made headlines when officials unveiled USC Village, a vast complex with space for eight residential colleges, a dining hall, retail spaces, and more. However, a new campus statue depicting Hecuba, the mythical queen of Troy, momentarily dwarfed the costly new buildings. As the Los Angeles Times reports, verses from Shakespeare’s Hamlet are inscribed at the statue’s base, but with one tiny problem: The engraver seems to have misspelled the Bard’s name.

The excerpt reads:
“And all for nothing — For Hecuba!
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her?”
Shakespear’s Hamlet”

The mistake drew ridicule from the University of California, Los Angeles, which has a famous longstanding rivalry with USC.

Instead of copping to the error (or simply squeezing an extra “e” into the inscription), USC defended the spelling: "To E, or not to E, that is the question,” USC said in a statement. “Over the centuries his surname has been spelled 20 different ways. USC chose an older spelling because of the ancient feel of the statue, even though it is not the most common form."

USC isn't entirely off-base, according to The Guardian. The newspaper spoke with Martin Butler, a professor of English Renaissance Drama at the University of Leeds, who explained that there is a “lot of variation in the way the name is spelled when it appears in contemporary legal documents and the early printed texts of Shakespeare’s works.” In addition to Shakespeare, he says, there's “Shakspeare, Shakspere, Shakespear, Shaksper, Shackspeare, even Shagspere.”

The Bard’s early printed works refer to him using today’s popular spelling, or by a hyphenated variant, "Shake-speare.” However, “Shakespear” became popular in the 18th century, and was used by important editors like Alexander Pope and Nicholas Rowe.

“Since Victorian times, most editions have used the spelling ‘Shakespeare’ and it is universally dominant in academic writing today,” Butler concluded. “Leaving the ‘e’ off is probably an attempt to make Shakespeare seem to belong to a more distant past; it feels more antique, but it doesn’t really have any special claim to be the preferred spelling.”

In short, neither USC nor UCLA is technically wrong. But as long as the Trojans and Bruins continue to duke it out on the football field, the two schools will likely still haggle off-field over the statue’s missing—or not missing—“e.”

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

'Turdsworth': Lord Byron’s Not-So-Affectionate Nickname for William Wordsworth

GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images
GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images

For those of you who thought William Wordsworth was a not-so-subtle pseudonym meant to further the literary brand of a certain 19th-century poet, think again: William Wordsworth’s real name was actually William Wordsworth.

The fitting, alliterative moniker makes it hard to forget that Wordsworth was a wordsmith, but it also made him an easy target for mockery at the hands of other Romantic era writers.

Some of it was the type of clever wordplay you might expect from England’s elite poets. In an essay for the London Review of Books, Michael Wood highlights the time that Samuel Taylor Coleridge sent his poem “The Nightingale” to Wordsworth, writing, “And like an honest bard, dear Wordsworth/You’ll tell me what you think, my Bird’s worth.”

While Coleridge’s witty rhyme poked fun at Wordsworth in a playful way, not all of his contemporaries were quite so kind. As Literary Hub points out, Lord Byron referred to Wordsworth as “Turdsworth.”

Byron’s jab sounds like something you’d hear at an elementary-school kickball game, but, then again, the eccentric poet was never one to adhere to anybody’s expectations—during college, for example, he often walked his pet bear around the grounds.

As for the word turd itself, it’s been around much longer than you might have realized. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it derives from the Old English word tord, meaning “piece of excrement,” and it’s been used as a personal insult ever since the 15th century.

If fecal-themed nicknames aren’t really your thing, here are 42 other Old English insults that you can fling with abandon.

[h/t Literary Hub]

The New York Public Library’s 10 Most Checked-Out Books of All Time

Popartic/iStock via Getty Images
Popartic/iStock via Getty Images

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the New York Public Library’s opening in 1895, a team of library experts decided it was only fitting to highlight the perennially popular books that have contributed to its success.

They pulled the circulation stats on all print and digital formats of books, analyzed factors like length of time in print and presence in the library catalog, and came up with a list of the library’s 10 most checked-out books of all time.

Topping the list was Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day, the charmingly illustrated, timeless tale of a young boy discovering the wintry wonders of a snow day. It’s been in circulation since its publication in 1962, and it’s far from the only children’s book on the list—in fact, six of the top 10 most borrowed books are meant for a young audience, including Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. As the library explains, this is partly because shorter books have quicker turnover rates, and partly because certain children’s classics appeal to a wide range of readers.

And, of course, it would hardly be a “top books” list if it didn’t include at least one of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came in ninth place, with 231,022 checkouts. One children’s book, however, is conspicuously missing: Margaret Wise Brown’s peaceful bedtime story Goodnight Moon, published in 1947 and seemingly read by just about everyone. According to the NYPL, Anne Carroll Moore, an important children’s librarian at the time of the book's publication, despised the story, so the library didn’t add it to the catalog until 1972. (They gave it an “honorable mention” designation on this list.)

Books can also rack up high circulation numbers if they’re often used in school curriculums, like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or cover themes that appear (and reappear) in current events—which might explain why George Orwell’s 1984 has been checked out a staggering 441,770 times.

See the rest of the top 10 below, and find out which books made the NYPL’s 2019 most checked-out list here.

  1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats // 485,583
  1. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss // 469,650
  1. 1984 by George Orwell // 441,770
  1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak // 436,016
  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee // 422,912
  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White // 337,948
  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury // 316,404
  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie // 284,524
  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling // 231,022
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle // 189,550

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