Remedial Spelling (2021)

A couple of months ago I walked into a complementary health clinic in South Brisbane to inform them that the word ‘acupuncture’ on their sign was misspelt.

It had been like that for ages—and this wasn’t some insignificant, handwritten sign, but a large, prominent, professionally designed one. ‘Remedial massage’ was spelled correctly (as was ‘therapeutic massage’, the acupuncturist’s additional specialisation). ‘Visceral manipulation’ was spelled correctly. Even ‘Craniosacral therapy’ was spelled correctly. So what was the story with ‘acupunture’?

Could it be that the acupuncturist didn’t actually know how to spell the name of his own area of expertise, so had never corrected the error? A profoundly depressing thought. Imagine: someone shows up for an appointment, sees the typo and thinks, But wait a minute. If the acupuncturist doesn’t even know how to spell ‘acupuncture’, how can I be sure he’ll know where to put the needles? Hmm, maybe I should try craniosacral therapy instead.

I’m not suggesting that there’s any inherent connection between being an acupuncturist and not knowing how to spell, but a missing c can’t help but reflect badly on the profession.

A more likely scenario is that the acupuncturist did know how to spell the name of his own area of expertise, but hadn’t noticed the typo—which would call into question his attention to detail. An acupuncturist who overlooks such an error might be an acupuncturist who says, ‘I’m just going to insert this needle along your lung meridian,’ while absent-mindedly inserting it along your spleen meridian, and carrying on as if nothing’s amiss.

A third and perhaps even more unsettling possibility is that the acupuncturist knew how to spell the name of his own area of expertise, had noticed the typo, but simply didn’t care. While such a near-enough-is-good-enough attitude can’t do any serious harm in the textual realm, a similar approach when it comes to treatment(‘I’ll just stick this needle in the general vicinity of the lung meridian and hope for the best’) is problematic.

Whatever the reasons behind the ongoing absence of the second c, it was really beginning to do my head in. So, having first googled the word ‘acupunture’—just to eliminate the possibility that it’s an actual form of complementary medicine I’d never heard of—I walked into the clinic. I walked in as if I were just a regular patient with no particular interest in spelling, all the while preparing for an intervention (‘Hold on a minute now: I’m not here to get acupuncture; I’m here on behalf of the word “acupuncture”.’). As to the acupuncturist’s reaction, that was anyone’s guess. Shock? Disbelief? Resentment? Maybe even denial? But, if all went well, ultimately humble gratitude, along with a commitment to rectifying the sign without delay.

As it turned out, the only person in the clinic at that time was the remedial massage specialist, who informed me that the acupuncturist had finished for the day (it was, admittedly, after 5pm). Would I like to make an appointment? I said I’d prefer not to, and that I’d really come to talk about the missing c on the sign outside.

She had no idea what I was on about, so I drew her attention to the typo.

She said, ‘I’ve never noticed that.’

‘And neither, it seems, has the acupuncturist,’ I rejoined.

She replied that, although she couldn’t speak for the acupuncturist, this did appear to be the case.

‘But the thing is,’ she explained, ‘that sign’s going to be replaced soon anyway—it needs updating—so we’ll obviously correct the typo at the same time. Thanks for pointing it out.’

Two months later, the original sign remains, as does the typo. (Could it be that this ‘new sign’ business is a line they feed to anyone who points out the error, just to avoid having to go to the trouble of fixing it)? Since nobody, including the acupuncturist himself, seems concerned about this, I’ve got half a mind to correct it myself while we wait for the ‘new sign’ to arrive. I just need to lay my hands on a c. I’m sure there are plenty around, at a loose end, more than happy to step in and do the job. In fact, just the other day I passed a shop with a sign outside: Vaccuum Cleaner Repairs. I’ll have a word with them: maybe we can make a deal.

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