The Spelling Lesson

“Silhouette. S-i-l-o–w-e-t.”

WRONG! Conan?”


“Stand up and spell ‘silhouette.'”


The teacher sighed and adjusted the bit of wolf fur across his shoulders that kept the cold damp of the cave from casting a chill on his collarbone. It was still healing from the fracture it had received in mock battle with two of the younger students. Sure, their swords weren’t real, and the littler boys had a fraction of the strength of a grown man, but they could still wound a person. “I don’t know, Conan. I don’t know why we keep working on this spelling list. You guys can’t write anyway, and what would you write on? Rocks?”

“Not me. I have the secret of steel.”

“Yes, Conan, we know how special you are, but really, you’re just a made up character from a novel by a gay guy.”

“So? Who cares that he was gay? He still wrote one of the most accurate descriptions of the Battle for Jerusalem. And what do you think YOU are?” asked the unduly muscular kid with shoulder-length hair and the strange accent seated in the front row.

“Conan has a point, teach.”

“All right. Point taken. Let’s get back to this list. Silhouette? Anyone? Can anyone spell it?”



“Shouldn’t we be learning to forge swords and ride into battle with weapons in both hands?”

“I have this curriculum, and I’m supposed to follow it.”

“But teacher, how likely is it we’ll ever need to spell anything, least of all this absurd Frankish faux language? Like you said, we don’t ‘write.”

“You might grow up to be priests and philosophers. Who knows? Maybe you won’t all be warriors and, if that happens, you’ll remember this day and thank me.”

The cave echoed with the children’s snickering.

“None of us were born into a family like that.”


“So what are we doing here?” There was a unified clatter as the children stood and picked up their swords, bucklers and other what-not from the cave floor. The teacher stood to one side, unable to offer any reasonable argument for why the students should stay there and learn to spell.

“Sorry, teach,” said Conan as he walked out of the mouth of the cave.

The teacher looked around the empty cave. “Oh well,” he shrugged before throwing water on the fire followed by sand. Picking up the halberd he used to keep unruly students in line, he, too, left the cave and whistled for his horse. “I hope someday they learn what’s best in life.”

9 thoughts on “The Spelling Lesson

  1. I think you just described a lot of our national population. Garry used to spell words correctly when he was on television and his co-workers laughed at him because, you know, it was TV — so who cared if you could spell? GARRY cared. He has a pocket dictionary, big dictionaries and he looked everything up. Now, he asks me an if I don’t know it off-hand, I google it. Google is GREAT for spelling. Not that most people care. Like grammar.


    What’s “a grammar”?

  2. And I had to keep looking at the word “silhoutte” to make sure I spelt it correctly. I have big spelling problems because of the german influence.

    • I think it’s really funny the way the French constantly try to eradicate English words from the French vocabulary but we’re stuck with impossibilities like “silhouette.” I have spelling problems all over the map and I don’t know what’s to blame. Serif fonts help.

  3. What a great story!

    Here’s what I get from this. College is not for everyone. Back in Conan’s day (whenever that was) learning to read and spell words like “silhouette” would have been the equivalent of college. Some people are just psychologically meant for a vocational school.

    A warrior who had a good command of the language would have a step up on his fellows. In Braveheart, there is a scene where the priests are speaking of their plot to kill him – in Latin – never thinking that William Wallace understood it too. But you have to have a certain level of intelligence to start with to understand this. And it was an era where even some Kings were illiterate and literate men were usually priests and money changers. There were few role models to demonstrate how understanding language makes everything better. So perhaps Conan would do better putting all his energies into swinging that sword instead of learning words of more than one syllable.

    • Conan the Barbarian with Arnold is one of my favorite films and always a laugh riot. The scene, “What’s best in life?” is my (and obviously a lot of other peoples’) favorite. Arnold’s accent adds so much to the humor. BUT I also like the moral values exemplified in the Icelandic Sagas. I think, ultimately, the halberd, sword and mace win the day, whatever day it is, whatever point in history. I wish that weren’t the case, but I’m afraid it is. The old “Might makes right” question…

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