Quick, the rambunctious white dogs with the black spots, soon to go bounding across a movie screen near you — spell their name! If you’re like most folks, you use an o — dalmations. But it’s dalmatians — as in from Dalmatia, the southwest region of Croatia cradling Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the Adriatic Sea. But, hey, you’re in good company. The office E-mail at EW suggests that most staffers can’t spell the word — though our copy editors can. (They also point out that Webster’s 10th Edition dictionary lowercases the d, while American Heritage uppercases it.) The tony women’s magazine Mirabella, however, recently published an item about Disney’s live-action update of the cartoon classic 101 Dalmations. Oops.
”T-i-a-n is very unusual, and there’s a tendency to regularize language,” says linguist and punster Richard Lederer, author of Fractured English. ”People hear shun and figure, who needs the dictionary? And we don’t do old-fashioned spelling bees anymore, so you get people spelling prima donna ‘pre-Madonna.”’
The folks at Disney had to learn to spell dalmatian too. ”I was guilty from day one,” admits Jay Heit, the production executive who oversaw 101 Dalmatians. ”Then I really got into making sure it was spelled right.” So when Inside Edition reported that Disney was having a hard time getting enough dogs, Heit got steamed — about the o. ”They’re pointing fingers about how we’re going to traumatize the poor puppies,” he recalls, ”and they misspelled the name in the graphic!”