Monday, May 11, 2015

Tut, Tut


The winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah, has occasioned much comment about the spelling of his name, which transposes “a” and “o.” It is a misspelling of Pharaoh, the title of ancient Egyptian kings up until the Roman conquest.

American Pharoah’s owner, Ahmed Zayat, who is an Egyptian by birth, maintains that the spelling is the result of an error by The Jockey Club, the organization that publishes the official American Stud Book. But the Club says that’s not so, that the name was spelled that way when it was submitted by its owner through an interactive digital registration site. Now, boys, let’s not fight about it. 

Pharaoh is derived from the Old English Pharon, which in turn came from Latin Pharaonem, Greek Pharao, Hebrew Par’oh, and, ultimately, Egyptian Per’aa (a transliteration of hieroglyphs). It means “great house.” Its unusual English spelling—a before o and h on the end—seems to have been influenced by both the Latin and Hebrew words.

Also misspelled—if a person can actually misspell his own name—are Jay Pharoah of Saturday Night Live and Pharoah Sanders, the jazz saxophonist. The former’s real name is Jared Farrow. The latter, born Farrell Sanders, was nicknamed Pharoah by bandleader Sun Ra. None of them is known to have won a spelling bee.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou believes he was a Pharaoh in a previous life. Oh, wait, not a Pharaoh—a ferret. That’s easier to believe.

          Hotepsekhemwy was a Pharaoh,
          And his friends all called him Hot.
          He always walked the straight and narrow,
          And he seemed to know what's what.
 
          His reign was long, but he wound up dead,
          And was made into a mummy,
          With a golden mask upon his head
          And a scarab on his tummy.

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