In Which Wordplay Gets Increasingly Obscure
Yesterday, I was looking over a few crosswords and I noticed that the grid contained the word CROATAN. "CROATAN?" I thought. "Is that a misprint for CROATIAN or a misprint for CROATOAN?" Because CROATOAN, as you trivia lovers already know, has an odd place in American history. In a day when communication was slow and provisioning was seasonal the Roanoke colony simply vanished between shippings one day. There were no bodies, no blood, no sign of struggle: just an empty village with the word CROATOAN written on a nearby tree.
The assumption is that the Croatan Indians of the region either rounded them up or---what I've seen floated as the more likely hypothesis---the Roanokers simply went native and joined them. In any event, the misspelled CROATOAN is always and ever only used in this context. The clue, however, was "Sound from Roanoke." And again I thought, "Sound?" There was no sound---just a word written on a tree. Oops!
In correcting this, I learned two things: North Carolina does, in fact, contain a Croatan Sound. (Fine; change the clue to "Sound of Roanoke" and we're in business.) Second, and more disturbingly, CROATAN is listed in some sources as an alternate spelling of the word CROATOAN from the Roanoke story. I've been bugged by this ever since. How could there be an alternate spelling? It's written right on the fucking tree! That's like having an alternate spelling of "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin"--it's written on the wall in flaming letters! There's no excuse not to know how to spell it.
The only thing I can think of is that the original story fell victim to an early spell checker. Surely the misspelling must be the actual deal, right? So how can history have a variant spelling? I'm all sad.
By the way, having written mene mene tekel upharsin, I have to add that that sequence, from the book of Daniel, is one of my favorite bits of wordplay because it's an entire future story (meaning, if I recall, "weighed, weighed, balanced, judged" or something), each word of which is a pun on a then-existing coin (the minim, the shekel, and some other one). It would be like someone prophesying "Your future is bills, bills, dolor, then sense." The only similar double pun like that I've ever seen is from Finnegans Wake, where someone is described as running with "feet, hoof, and jarrety"---a pun on faith, hope and charity, where jarrety is an Irish term for the leg. Anyone got any others?