Oy vey! My alma mater, Cuyahoga Falls High School, just held its graduation ceremony in Ohio. The graduates were smiling, the parents were proud and the embossed diploma covers were misspelled. All of them.
Cuyahoga Falls High School
Cayahoga Falls, Ohio
As a corporate communicator, writer, and editor, I let out an audible groan when I saw the picture of this linguistic kerfuffle on my Facebook page. A high school classmate, understanding my tendency toward grammar nerdiness, correctly assumed it would put me in outrage mode. It did.
I get it. “Cuyahoga” is a tough word to spell, let alone pronounce (go ahead … try to say it … I’ll wait right here). Let me help you out: The phonetic pronunciation is KY-ə-HOG-ə, and it’s a Native American term which means “crooked river” in the Iroquoian language. It has a long, rich history.
That is, when it’s spelled correctly.
I’m sure it’s not the school’s fault, as they have a print shop create the hundreds of leather covers for the diplomas. I’m also certain it wasn’t the school’s fault because I used to teach there. After I graduated from good old Cuyahoga Falls High School, I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree in education and returned to teach high school English with the very teachers I had just had a few years earlier. (The school has promised to fix the diplomas.)
In the English Department at the time, we had a policy in place that our students would receive a full grade reduction for each grammar error or misspelling. I can just imagine how the red pens were flying on graduation night among those English teachers. It makes me proud just thinking about it.
Cuyahoga Falls is best known for the Cuyahoga River, which flows through my quaint hometown. Unfortunately, it has been known as one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. It’s had 13 fires recorded since 1868. But the most notorious fire, which caught the attention of Time magazine, was in 1969. Time described the Cuyahoga as the river that "oozes rather than flows" and in which a person "does not drown but decays.” That ’69 fire helped usher in the environmental movement in the late 1960s.
You’re welcome. Just doing our part.
Ah, home, sweet home.
The Pretenders’ lead singer Chrissie Hynde is also from Akron, just outside Cuyahoga Falls. She mentions the place in their song “My City was Gone.”
The farms of Ohio
Had been replaced by shopping malls
And muzak filled the air
From Seneca to Cuyahoga Falls
Eh, oh, way to go, Ohio
Don’t get me wrong. It’s really a lovely place, and now, as an adult living in Oregon, I have fond memories of being a child in Ohio. I can handle the burning trash in the river, I forgive the muzak-filled air, but the misspelled diploma covers just pushed me over the edge.
Ohioans have this inside language/handshake whenever they meet another Buckeye, regardless of where they are in the world: The first person will say “O-H” and the next person will reply “I-O!”
So when I re-posted a picture of the misspelled diploma cover on Facebook, my friend Chuck commented “O-H.” Sadly, I had to comment, incorrectly, “A-O!” See where these spelling errors lead, kids?
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Eileen Burmeister is a corporate communicator in Southern Oregon. She also writes a humor column for her local newspaper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.