Spelling

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a comfortable, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson was writing a letter. “How do you spell alphabetically?” he asked Aunt Lillibet.

Aunt Lillibet didn’t know exactly, so she asked, “Why do you want to know?” while she thought about it.

“I’m putting it in my letter to Nanna,” he said.

“What are you writing about that’s alphabetical?” Aunt Lillibet said. She was having a hard time remembering where the ‘h’ went exactly.

“Nanna likes interesting words, so I thought I’d just put it in,” Benson said.

Aunt Moss said, “I think you just put ‘alphabet’ and then add some bits on the end.”

“Anyway, you shouldn’t use big words if you don’t know what they mean,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“I do know what it means,” Benson said. “It’s like the books in the library. The ones on the first shelf have names that start with A, and then the ones that start with B come next, and then C and all the other letters of the alphabet, in the right order, so you can find a book if you want it.”

“Why don’t you put in a word that you can spell?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Like what?” Benson said.

“What about ‘cantankerous’?” she said. Now that was a word she knew how to spell.

“What does that mean?” Benson asked, writing it down and spelling it wrong, with two ‘c’s and a ‘g’.

“Sometimes Mr Fenn says that Lillibet is cantankerous,” Aunt Moss said. “I think it means…”

“Never you mind,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Aunt Moss said, “If you really want a big word, what about ‘watermelonlessness’?”

“What does that mean?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“It means not having any watermelon,” Aunt Moss said.

“Is that a real word?” Benson asked, writing it down and looking at it.

“If you know what it means and you can spell it, doesn’t that make it a real word?” Aunt Moss said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You can’t just make words up, Moss. If everyone could just make words up whenever they wanted to, there’d be so many words that all the dictionaries would explode!”

“You did it yesterday, Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said. “You said Aunt Moss’s soup was the ultrahorriblest soup you’ve ever had.”

“That’s different,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Extreme situations call for extraordinary measures. That mushroom and lemonade soup was extra-super-revolting.”

Benson wrote that down too. “Can you make up a new word if there isn’t one for what you want to say?” he asked.

“I do, all the time,” said Aunt Moss. “Sometimes I have an idea and there just isn’t a word for it. Like ‘comfortablefulness’, when things are as comfortable as they can be. When it’s a beautiful sunny day and everyone’s sitting around the table, talking happily together, and there are fresh chocolate and raspberry muffins waiting to be eaten, that’s comfortablefulness.”

Benson stopped writing and thought about muffins, fresh and warm and steaming. Then he started to think about cake, and blueberry pie, and he forgot all about writing, until Aunt Moss said, thoughtfully, “‘De-uglification’ is a useful word, when you’re trying to make things less ugly, like when your mother cut the plastic spiders off Aunt Lillibet’s hat.”

“But then Aunt Lillibet got all the plastic spiders back out of the bin and glued them back on again,” Benson said. “That’s what you call ‘re-spiderising’.”

“I prefer to call it ‘re-beautification’,” Aunt Lillibet said smugly, “making things beautiful again.”

Aunt Moss and Benson looked at each other and shrugged.

Benson said, “What about words for things that you think of that nobody’s thought of yet? Like window-elbows, and wheelbarrow-seatbelts, and cloud-cushions, and skyfish?”

“No!'” said Aunt Lillibet. “Definitely not! Impossible!”

Aunt Moss said, “What about ‘impossibilisation’, when someone says that something’s impossible when they haven’t even tried it yet?”

“I think that’s quite enough, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said, “It’s definitely enough. I can’t fit any more into my letter.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You can’t possibly write a letter to someone that’s just a lot of words.”

“Isn’t that what a letter is?” Benson said.

“You know what I mean,” Aunt Lillibet said. “If you just have a list of made-up words it doesn’t make any sense.”

“It makes sense to me,” Benson said. He started reading out the letter he had written to Nanna. “‘Have you ever seen a cantankerous skyfish? You’d better be careful in case they try to re-spiderise your window-elbows. If they did, that would be extra-super-revolting. Have you got any cloud-cushions? I think cloud-cushions make lots of comfortablefulness, and they’re very slithersoftish.'” He looked up from the letter. “I made that last one up,” he said modestly.

Aunt Moss listened thoughtfully. “It’s very interesting, even though I’m not exactly sure what all of it means. I think Nanna will like it.”

“That’s what I think,” Benson said.

“Altogether too much watermelonlessness,” Aunt Lillibet said.

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