The dictionary is always right. Or is it? Those of us who are old enough to remember the "Potato" incident at a spelling bee that took place in 1992 between Vice President Dan Quayle and twelve year old William Figueroa will remember that we opened our dictionaries on that famous day in June in order to reassure ourselves of the correct way to spell "potato." Did it have an "e" or not?
Personally, I was on the side of the fence that said that the word did, in fact, have an "e" because that was the way I always saw the word spelled on the grocery list that my mother would send me to the store with. I never looked up how to spell the word because my mother knew how to spell and mothers are always right. Right?
Not in this case, and after we looked up the word together in the dictionary that day, she humbly had to admit that she had been wrong in her spelling of the word throughout the years. But how could two important people like my mother and the Vice President of the United States be wrong about such a simple and basic word as potato? As I listened to the news media peeling apart our Vice President over this potato incident, I caught a clue as to what may have happened.
A common thread existed between my mother and the Vice President. They were both raised in the state of Indiana in approximately the same time era. Could the culture or educational system in Indiana actually have been the culprit? Could these two people, along with many others, including myself, have been correct in their spelling of the word given what they had been taught or observed in their childhood?
I decided to do some of my own investigating because, after seeing the mashing that the Vice President was taking over the "e" in potato, I knew that the astute person would never admit to thinking that potato was spelled with an "e." Therefore, I went to my grandpa who had been an Indiana school teacher and school superintendent during the time era in question and I asked him if there was a connection between the spelling of the word "potatoe" and Indiana. His response was indicative of what our news media runs into every day. He said, "On the record, potato is spelled without an 'e.' However, off of the record, I am familiar with the alternative spelling of the word as 'potatoe' and I have observed it being spelled both ways during my early years of living in Indiana.
I then continued my investigation by approaching my grandma who had also been a primary school teacher in Indiana in the 1930's and the 1940's. She followed suit and quietly admitted that spelling the word "potato" with an "e" was common among many of the farmers and merchant owners in earlier days. The word had not been a frequently used word in the educational system, but the word was a word used commonly in day to day farm life so that many children probably saw the word written erroneously by their parents like I had and just assumed that the word was spell correctly.
With my investigation complete, I determined that the news media was right in reporting the proper spelling of the word "potato," but was wrong in reporting that our Vice President was uneducated because he spelled it differently. I doubt that the word "potato" was ever on an exam taken during his educational studies in the university system, but it was written somewhere in his childhood and he was smart and attentive enough to remember something as insignificant as a silent "e" on the end of the word "potato."
The letter "e" also has its controversy in my own educational history in which the dictionary would again be called upon to act as the judge. I was taking the required English course in tenth grade and my teacher was Mrs. Kent. Now Mrs. Kent had a reputation of being a good teacher from the parent's perspective, but a hard and impossible teacher from the perspective of her students. Because it was an English class, we were naturally given writing assignments. However, Mrs. Kent graded these papers with a harshness that only a grammar book could love.
Here is how her grading system worked. Each paper started out with a grade of an A+. For every misspelled word or grammatical error (ie. run on sentences, dangling participles, etc.) our grade was reduced by one mark. One mistake and the grade would fall from an A+ to an A. Two mistakes and the grade would fall from an A to an A-. Three mistakes and the grade would fall from an A- to a B+. You get the picture. She was a difficult teacher that demanded perfection.
Well, I was typically an "A" student who strived for perfection so that you can imagine my dismay when she returned one of my papers that had only received an "A." Not an "A+," just an A. I quickly scanned the paper to see where I had made my error. The word "judgement" was circled in her dreaded red pen and the letter "e" had been crossed out. I had spelled the word with that famous "e" when, according to her, the word was supposed to be spelled without the "e" as "judgment."
Now this was baffling to me because I distinctly remember looking up the word in the dictionary. When I arrived home from school that day I went straight to the dictionary and looked up the correct spelling. Before I say what the correct spelling is, do you know how to spell the word in question? If you answered either way, you would have been correct. Both spellings are correct according to the Fifth Edition of Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and yet I had been marked down. My grade should have been an A+! I looked forward to going to school the following day so that Mrs. Kent could make the correction in her grade book.
The next day arrived and I approached Mrs. Kent after my English class and told her that I had looked up the word "judgement" in the dictionary and that my spelling of the word was a correct variation of the spelling. She then responded that she disagreed and that my grade stood as an "A." I was dumbfound and furious. I walked to the back of the room, pulled a dictionary off of the shelf, looked up the word, walked back to Mrs. Kent's desk, and respectfully asked her to look at the dictionary. She did. She looked down at the word spelled the way that I had written it and then looked up at me and said, "My decision is final. Your grade remains the same." I could not believe my ears. The proof was right there in the dictionary and yet she would not admit that the word might have an alternative spelling. She would not admit that she was wrong and change the grade that she had given to me.
Throughout our lives we must make decisions about what is true and false in life. If only these decisions could be answered as easily as going to the dictionary. In the case of my mother and Vice President Quayle, seeing the proof in the dictionary of how to spell the word potato was sufficient for them to accept the correct spelling. But in the case of my English teacher, even seeing the proof in the dictionary that the word "judgement" was an alternative accurate spelling was not enough to change her mind.
Sometimes even when we have the proof staring at us, we still doubt. In fact, we are told of an event in the Bible that happened right in front of a group of men and yet some believed and some doubted. How could that be? If we can agree that the event happened, then why would there by any doubt as to the reality of it happening?
The event is recorded in the Bible in Matthew Chapter 28. Early on Sunday morning, three days after Jesus was crucified, died, and buried in a tomb, two women found the tomb empty and were afraid because of what they encountered. They found:
* The stone that had been blocking the entrance to Jesus' tomb had been rolled away.
* The soldiers guarding the tomb were lying faint on the ground.
* Jesus' body was missing from the linens that He had been wrapped in.
* An angel was standing at the entrance to the tomb telling them that Jesus had been raised from the dead and that they were to go tell His disciples that Jesus wanted them to go to Galilee where they would see Him.
Of course, the disciples did not immediately believe the two women because some of them ran to the tomb in order to verify that it was indeed empty. It was. Now that the first part of the women's story had been verified, would they act on the second part of the story? Would they go to Galilee where they would see Jesus?
At this point, I think that we would all agree that we would have gone if we were in their shoes. After all, like I am sure the disciples did, we would have remembered that Jesus had talked about His death and that he was going to rise again from the dead. In fact, didn't Jesus even say something specifically about meeting Him in Galilee after His death? Their curiosity had been sparked. Of course they would go to Galilee in search of the truth just like we went to the dictionary in our previous stories in search of the truth.
If we are doubtful how to spell a word, then we simply go to the dictionary to get rid of our doubt and learn the right spelling of the word. If the disciples were doubtful whether Jesus would really be in Galilee ( and they were), then they would just simply go to Galilee in order to prove whether or not Jesus was really alive. And then our chapter in Matthew records, "Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee. When they saw him, they worshipped Him - but some of them still doubted!" Wait a minute! How could some of them still doubt after seeing Jesus alive? After all, the proof of His resurrection, Jesus Himself, was standing right in front of them! Jesus was alive just as He and the angel at the tomb said that He would be.
I learned in tenth grade that sometimes even the strongest proof is not enough. The truth of what we see has to penetrate the heart. We must have a willingness to accept the truth and act on it. Some willingly accept the truth like my mother and Vice President Quayle who accepted the correct spelling of the word potato while others still doubt the truth like my English teacher who refused to accept that there could be an alternative way to spell the word judgment.
However, truth is truth. Their personal opinions does not change the fact of the correct spelling of these words. In the same manner, our personal opinion does not change the fact that Jesus is resurrected from the dead. Jesus is alive and offers each one us the opportunity to live eternally with Him if we choose to believe and have faith in Him. The truth is now before you. Will you place your faith in the Lord of Heaven and Earth or will you doubt Him? What will your judgment be? Potato or Potatoe?