Today in 1906 a vote in Congress put an end to one of President Theodore Roosevelt’s top priorities: simplifying the way we spell words.

Anyone who has spent time learning to read, write and spell in English knows it can be a complicated language.

Several of my kids are what they call emerging readers, so I get it when people complain about all the words with silent letters and the words with double letters and the words that break seemingly every rule or pattern the language has to offer (!?!)

Well, in the early 20th century some of the most prominent men in the country decided that they shouldn’t have to put up with all that linguistic confusion.

They joined a group called the Simplified Spelling Board, whose name was honestly a little ironic.

If you believed what they believed, their own name included a bunch of superfluous letters.

Anyway, they felt that English could be the dominant language in culture, finance and diplomacy, if only it would stop getting in its own way by putting the letter U in “colour” and so forth.

The backers of the movement included industrialist Andrew Carnegie, writer Mark Twain, decimal system creator Melvil Dewey and President Theodore Roosevelt.

When the Board put together a list of 300 common words that could and should be simplified, Roosevelt sent the document to the officials in charge of government printing.

In August 1906, he declared that all White House documents from that point on should use the simplified spellings.

That’s where the trouble started.

Some of the simplified spellings had actually already been in use for years.

People didn’t mind spelling “clue” instead of “clew.”

But they did mind the president telling everyone else that they should change their spelling.

And they thought some of the simplified versions of words were dumb, which I guess they would have spelled D-U-M.

They even noted that the president would have to change the letters in his own last name, to “Ruzvelt.”

Congress voted to deny funding to any government printing that used the Spelling Board’s spellings, and Roosevelt backed off.

And people were fine with that, even supporters of the movement like Mark Twain.

He joked, “Simplified spelling brought about sun-spots, the San Francisco earthquake, and the recent business depression, which we would never have had if spelling had been left all alone.”

There’s a winter tradition at the Izy Shabonten Zoo in Japan.

Every November they start offering warm water baths to their capybaras, who absolutely love their little rodent spa treatments.

The zoo even sells capybara hot bath merchandise in the gift shop!

Teddy Roosevelt’s Bold (But Doomed) Battle to Change American Spelling (

Birthplace of the Capybara Hot Bath Celebrates 40 years of Rodent Relaxation (Spoon + Tamago) 

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Photo via National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution