The Chaos: Full version

(Content warning for referring to, and writing out in full, a specific racial slur.)

Back in column ggg, I attempted to piece together the famous poem about English pronunciation “The Chaos,” based on a bunch of fragmentary online sources.

And then in 2013, I came across the website of the English Spelling Society, which provided a full version of the poem, authorized by the original author’s nephew, Jan Nolst Trenité. But the link to that page has been languishing in my notes for years, and in the meantime the site seems to have gone offline. Fortunately for my purposes, the Internet Archive has preserved that page.

So here at last, thanks to the Internet Archive and the English Spelling Society, is the full version of “The Chaos”, by “Charivarius,” a.k.a. Gerard Nolst Trenité, along with extensive notes about the history of the poem. (The original author changed it extensively over time, eventually nearly doubling the length of the original.)

I find it interesting to compare this version with the version I patched together. Mine is fairly close for a while, but some lines are quite divergent; and then it gets to the part where a dozen lines are missing from mine; and then the divergence dissolves into, well, chaos.

I’m especially chagrined that I assumed the word darky was from the original; nope, turns out the corresponding word in the full version is khaki. Apologies for having “restored” that word.

3 Responses to “The Chaos: Full version”

  1. David Webb

    Er… you said the full version had khaki and not darkie, but then the Spelling Society site (archived) specifically said they changed some words. I would like to see the final 1944 version to find out what word stood there. I certainly don’t trust the Spelling Society not to have played PC politics by inserting a word from one of the numerous previous versions.

    • Jed

      Er… what the Spelling Society said was this:

      “This version is essentially the author’s own final text, as also published by New River Project in 1993. A few minor corrections have however been made, and occasional words from earlier editions have been preferred.”

      I feel that it’s a stretch to interpret that as saying “we decided for political reasons to change a word that the author intended to be there.”

      I agree that it would be interesting to see the exact text of the 1944 version, but I don’t feel the need to privilege that version as being definitively correct, given the number of other versions that were published earlier, presumably with the author’s agreement. If the Spelling Society chose to replace a word from the 1944 version with a word that the author had used earlier in a previous version, that doesn’t seem to me to be an inherently bad thing.

      (I would be even more interested in seeing a set of all of the author-authorized versions, to watch how the piece changed over time. This piece is an especially good reminder to me that a work doesn’t necessarily have a single definitive form, that it can go through major changes even after publication.)

      I’m also not clear on why you, who I don’t know, are feeling the need to defend my unfortunate addition of the word darky to the version of the poem that I published. If you’re in favor of using that word, then I would rather you not post here.

      And I’m not seeing a reason that you would assume that some random internet source (where I found the version that included that word) is more likely to reflect the author’s original intent than a carefully curated version that draws almost entirely from a specific authorized version.

  2. Yuri

    Stumbled on your post while doing my own research on “The Chaos”. Sorry to say, I’ve found that “darky” was indeed there, at least in one of the older versions (which is not that surprising considering it was 1922).
    Here’s the proof (p.126):


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