We have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to Benjamin Franklin. Known as the “first American,” he invented bifocals, the lightning rod, and the Franklin stove, to name a few. He was a founding father of the United States, a polymath who ranked up there with the greats, a scientist, dignitary, and, it seems, a candle-wax conservationist.
Messing with the Clocks: Daylight Saving Time
Yet, with such an impressive résumé, it was also Franklin who brought us the crazy idea of daylight saving time. While in Paris in 1784, he published an essay titled An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light, in which he proposed to economize the use of candles by rising earlier to take advantage of the morning sunlight. As Franklin famously said, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
The concept of adjusting to the seasons and making the most of the longer summertime days was not an altogether new concept. Ancient civilizations were known to have practiced similar customs, but it’s thought to have been Franklin who brought the idea into modern times.
Changing the Alphabet: The Phonetic Alphabet and Spelling Reform
With all due respect for our former leader and statesman, this cheeky fellow even tried to change how words were spelled! For poor spellers everywhere, there couldn’t have been a crueler trick to play.
In his 1768 paper A Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling, Franklin proposed a more phonetic system for spelling in American English. His alphabet was published in 1769 in Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces.
Franklin was convinced that his simplified phonetic alphabet would be easier to learn than the Saxon alphabet. He also hoped that once the alphabet was learned, words would be more easily and correctly spelled. Alas, it never took hold. Maybe poor spellers would have benefited from the changes after all.
Here’s a great quote from Benjamin Franklin’s Phonetic Alphabet by Jimmy Stamp, published May 10, 2013, on smithsonianmag.com:
There can be no doubt that language has influence over a country and its populace. It’s an integral part of one’s national identity. Franklin just took this to the extreme. Perhaps he viewed the alphabet in the same way he saw the turkey, as a something “courageous” and “original” to America. The phonetic alphabet would be an American original too, and a reflection of the men and women living in the new country—pragmatic, efficient, egalitarian.
And so we forge on, bleary-eyed in springtime and rested in the fall, with our alphabet intact.
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