Catching Up on Some Zzzzs
By Sean McVeigh
The English language is a doozy. I would like to spend some more time diving into some of its wackier eccentricities. There are so many different aspects of it to explore. Spelling, which happens to be an Achilles’ heel of mine (thank goodness for spell check), is one of the areas of the English language that fascinates me most. Have you ever noticed that “refrigerator” does not have a “d” in it anywhere and yet we shorten it to “fridge?” Or recently, it was pointed out to me that the word “restaurateur,” meaning someone who owns and operates a restaurant, does not have an “n” in it. This all brings me to something that happened last week, and while the above examples really are just quirks of language, the below example is more human made.
In my column last week, I mentioned the Verrazzano Bridge. We’re a big bridge community which makes sense with us being on a peninsula and all. While the Marine Parkway—Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge will always hold a special place in our hearts, the Verrazzano Bridge cannot be far behind for most. Again, as I mentioned last week, I try my darndest not to drive though Manhattan. Most of the time, with that limitation, going through Staten Island ends up as the best option, albeit relatively so. Like it or not, this bridge plays a pretty big role in our lives.
Because of its seemingly everyday use, you would think that it would not be so difficult a word to spell. For the most part, it is not, but when one of my proofreaders said they were pretty sure that there was one “z” and I agreed, we found ourselves entering quite the rabbit hole.
Up until five years ago, the bridge was spelt “Verrazano” with one “z” which was not the way that the bridge’s namesake, Giovanni da Verrazzano, spelt his name. It was not until 2018 that a law was passed, and the spelling was changed to the correct “Verrazzano.” Apparently, there were two very adamant sides to this argument although I am not exactly sure why. As the story goes, even on their way to the groundbreaking ceremony for the new “Verrazano-Narrows Bridge,” squabbling politicians argued over the spelling while riding on a boat named “Verrazzano” with the correct spelling. The one “z” side won the day, and the bridge was incorrectly named as such for over 50 years. Thankfully, that wrong has since been righted. Thanks to Robert Nash, a student at St. Francis College, who started a petition to have the name corrected in 2016. That petition gained the attention of some state senators who were able to introduce a bill to the NY Assembly and (after first being defeated once) successfully passed both the Senate and the Assembly and was signed into law by then Governor Cuomo in 2018. If you still see some signs with the misspelling that is because, as a cost saving measure (HA!), old signage was set to remain, and only new signage would have the correct spelling. The first sign with the correct spelling was installed in February 2020.
Personally, I find it comforting that there has always been a certain level of incompetence and division. It tells us that the times we live in now, although they may seem especially bonkers, are par for the course. It just happens to be one hell of a course.