Why can't companies mind their p's and q's?

Published April 17, 2005

Froot Loops. Play-Doh. Klubhouse. Kash n' Karry. The McDonald's drive-thru. The Burger King drive-thru. Any drive-thru.

They are all offenders.

Maybe it's because I'm an English teacher's daughter. It's certainly that I'm the mother of two young readers. But it drives me crazy when companies purposely misspell their names or the names of their products.

Don't even get me started on Bratz.

At Tyrone Square Mall's indoor playground, my oldest daughter, age 8, recently noticed the wording on the side of the playhouse.

"I thought "clubhouse' started with a "C' but they spelled it with a "K,' " she said.

I glanced at the word "Klubhouse" painted on the side of the hut my 2-year-old was happily running in and out of. "It is spelled with a "C.' They just did that to be cute," I explained.

"Why is that cute?" she asked.

"Well maybe it's not really cute. They just want it to stand out," I said.

"Why does it need to stand out? Everybody can see the clubhouse," she persisted.

I had no answer. Why should I be put on the hot seat for corporate America's contribution to the undermining of spelling? It really makes no sense. Most of the kids there have no idea how to read, so the cute "Klubhouse" is lost on them. And those who can read may now go back to school and spell "clean" and "clothes" with a "k."

"Advertising agencies are always trying to do what we call "break through the clutter.' They do this to grab attention, stand out from the crowd," said Barbara Lafferty, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida. "The problem is a lot of it seems to be geared at children."

There's even a word for misspelling words on purpose. It's "metaplasmus."

Misspelling words for effect occurs not only in advertising but also in literature, Lafferty pointed out. I called the company that owns Tyrone Square Mall, Simon Property Group, to get their explanation for the misspellings.

"We put much thought into creating the Simon Kidgits Club brand at more than 80 of our malls nationwide. ... While we meant no disrespect to Webster's, we felt, after much deliberation, that the Simon Kidgits Club extensions, Kidgit's Korner and Kidgit's Klubhouse, would be in keeping with the Kidgits characters, Web site and on-mall events that we have created," Billie Scott, Simon's director of public relations, said in a prepared statement.

Mary Osborne, the writing project coordinator for Pinellas County elementary schools, isn't very bothered by intentional misspellings.

"It's not really that bad of a thing as far as helping with reading because usually (the misspellings) are phonetically correct" so younger children can sound them out, she said.

Other than the misspelled "Klubhouse," I like the mall's Kidgits program. My kids got free T-shirts when we signed up. They got some nice birthday presents from the mall, and we get coupons every time we go there. I guess I can overlook a few misplaced "Ks" for a free scoop of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

You can reach Katherine Snow Smith by e-mail at snowsmith@verizon.net or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.