Sources for Misspellings Message Board: Letters: Sources for Misspellings

By Len (Len) ( - on Wednesday, November 06, 2002 - 10:53 am:

I have recently been reading "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," and yesterday, in Chapter 24, I came across the following passage concerning the disappearance of Injun Joe:

"[A] detective came up from St. Louis, moused around, shook his head, looked wise, and made that sort of astounding success which members of that craft usually achieve. That is to say, he 'found a clew.' But you can't hang a 'clew' for murder[.] (Italics mine.)

I also found "drownded" in at least Chapter 14. (Z used the word "drownding" in the Belli letter.) This, of course, is much more common than "clew," but might indicate that Z's 19th Century literary inspirations went beyond W.S. Gilbert.

By Howard Davis (Howard) ( - on Wednesday, November 06, 2002 - 11:29 am:

Interesting.Dick Tracy used "clew" also.

By Kendra (Kendra) ( - on Wednesday, November 06, 2002 - 12:38 pm:

Funny that this should come up today. I was reading last night from Strange Stories, Amazing facts and came across an article on how some words, well, became words. Under "Clue" is says "The hero Theseus used a ball of thread to find his way out of the labyrinth after he killed the Minotaur of Crete in the old Greek legend. After the story was told in medieval England-where the word for a ball of thread was 'clew'-a guide to the solution of any problem became known as a 'clew' or 'clue'"
Naturally, this "clew" reference ignited my Z buzz-o-meter. However, I don't think that Z was inspired by Greek Mythology. It just seems that "clew" is popping up everywhere...

By Alan Cabal (Alan_Cabal) ( on Wednesday, November 06, 2002 - 03:00 pm:

You may not believe that Z was inspired by Greek myth, but Gareth Penn does. This trail is covered exhaustively in TIMES 17. The book is worth reading, for all its flaws, lies, and omissions.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) ( - on Wednesday, November 06, 2002 - 04:13 pm:

The word "drownded" occurs in Dickens's "David Copperfield," and also, I believe, in "Dombey and Son." Speaking of "Dombey and Son," there's a passage in "Tom Sawyer" that I believe must have been lifted almost directly from the Dickens work. Clemens was probably a big fan of Dickens.

By Kendra (Kendra) ( - on Wednesday, November 06, 2002 - 06:09 pm:

I apologize, my post above about "clews" and Greek Mythology has been posted before by Ed. I don't know the link, though. Sorry, guys, for repeating information!

By Ed N. (Ed_N) ( - on Wednesday, November 06, 2002 - 06:28 pm:

Here's the link to that thread I started back on 1-24-02: General Zodiac Discussion: Clews in Z's misspellings?.

By Len (Len) ( - on Thursday, November 07, 2002 - 09:30 am:

Ed: Thanks for the link. Those posts were very informative. As I've looked into this further, it seems that "clew" might still be an accepted British variant spelling. I'll check it out next time I get near an Oxford English Dictionary.

Douglas: Clemens was a big fan of Dickens, although he apparently played that down later in his career. Of the two, Dickens is a more likely influence on Z, though.

By Howard Davis (Howard) ( - on Friday, November 08, 2002 - 02:38 pm:

Connecting with the other British wordage in Zs missives "clews" could be just another example.
Mike Kellehers book This is the Zodiac Speaking, brings out all of the possible British, among others, literary influences,etc.,as found in Zs writings.
These references are found on pages:55,107,144,147-8,150-1,153,172-73,210,220-21.
Also,check his index out on pages 258-261 for a full treatment of Zs possible psychological makeup and other issues.
The "rathers"."quites","clews","kiddies","as one might say","Happy Christmas","boughten",Gilbert and Sullivan( by quoting from the British plays),"Blue Meannies'(British group) -all display a possible interest in things British.

By Len (Len) ( - on Monday, November 11, 2002 - 05:56 am:

Yes, and the prominent (and correct and subtle) use of shall also points to a British influence. Thanks for the info, Howard.