Wiesenberg (s011 pan): Sophie gets a spelling lesson

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the “Aunt Sophie” series covers pan (or panguingue), which is a multi-player form of rummy, often played for money.

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Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie gets a spelling lesson

“More coffee, Dollink?” offered Aunt Sophie. We were still in the coffee shop of the Anaheim Cardroom. This promised to be a longer than usual advice session. Cars at the edge of the parking lot were starting to become more than indistinct, ghostly shapes. The faintest tinge of pink touched the undersides of the few clouds on the eastern horizon. The lack of clouds straight overhead signaled another blazing Southern California day ahead.

“Thank you,” I replied, “and maybe we better have some breakfast with it.”

“Of course, tsatskeleh,” said Aunt Sophie, signaling for the waitress. “Are you still as good a speller as when you were on tv and won that prize in the seventh grade?”

“Well,” I hesitated, “I think I’m still a pretty good speller. Why? What do you want me to spell?”

The way it is

The waitress arrived. Aunt Sophie ordered latkes and sour cream for both of us, and a mushroom omelet and bacon for me. Fresh-squeezed orange juice completed the fare. “It’s not so much what I want you to spell,” she continued, “as to tell me why something is spelled the way it is.”

“When I was at Stanford,” I ventured, “I did take a course in etymology. So, ask. I’ll try.”

“You’ve seen ads,” Aunt Sophie went on, “in The Card Player for pan in some clubs. When they speak of the size of the game, they call it `kondition’ with a k. And some of the writers in that same publication also spell it that way. In fact, I recently read an article in which the writer drew attention to that strange spelling and said that readers shouldn’t wonder about it, that it was definitely correct. Why is that?”

“In fact,” I laughed, “one of the ads spells it `k-o-n-d-i-t-i-o-n’ twice and `k-o-n-d-i-t-o-n’ twice. I don’t know if they couldn’t make up their minds or if that was a typographical error. I’m not sure why they spell that way, but I suspect out of ignorance. They must think that somehow the ordinary word condition is different from the word condition when it means the value of each chip in a pan game. In fact, they are both the same word. There’s a lot of precedence in English for words having many meanings, often unrelated to each other. Condition can also mean, among other things, something to do to your hair after shampooing. It also means to get used to.”

Depending on context

The potato pancakes, juice, eggs, and bacon arrived. The waitress “warmed up” our coffees. “As long as we’re talking about words,” I ventured, “do you know that `warm up’ means several things, depending on context. If you come in from out of the cold, to warm up means to attempt to adjust your external temperature to that of the surroundings. If you’re talking about soup, it means to heat the stuff on the stove. If you’re referring to coffee, it means to refill the cup.

“As to that strange spelling, a small group of scholars entertain an interesting theory. They feel that pan players have a fascination with the letter k. This may have arisen originally from a love of kings, because they don’t comoque, and is shown in another variant spelling. You’ll notice that a number of writers insist on spelling the word that means not having managed to get your pay on the board `p-e-k-k-e-r-e-d.’ I have my own theory about that one, though. Despite the fact that pecker is an accepted part of pan terminology — so much so that little old ladies use the word with nary a blush — some writers feel that it is somehow less than decent to spell the word that way in public, and that they will give it some respectability by spelling it with two k’s, as if changing the spelling can somehow alter the derivation of the word.”

“Listen, bubeleh,” chided Aunt Sophie, “I know when you’re pulling my leg.”


“Not really,” I responded. “I mean, I don’t know for sure why some ad writers and columnists use those strange spellings, but I suspect there’s some truth in my theories.”

I glanced out the window. The first rays of the morning sun were just touching the top of the Matterhorn across the freeway. “And now, my dear,” I concluded, “it’s time for me to retire to the comfort of my bed. Thanks for breakfast.”

“But,” spluttered Aunt Sophie, “I haven’t finished asking. I wanted to know all about manufacturing, when to split, when to save…”

“Those topics,” I appended firmly, “will keep until the next time you corral me. Good night.”

Note from Michael Wiesenberg: I don’t know where it came from, but, particularly at the time I wrote this (in the 1980s), it seemed to have been in vogue to spell some of the pan terms peculiarly, particularly the word “condition.” A few writers who specialized in pan seemed particularly fond of bastardizing these terms; also, those who wrote the copy for the cardrooms. One of the advertisers did it regularly in its ads. It has long been my contention that sign painters, typesetters, marquee installers, and advertising copy writers are functionally illiterate. This is borne out by the signs announcing that many antique shops also carry “collectables” (which is spelled “collectibles”), and by the ad that regularly ran in Poker Player and Pan Player+ with this “kondition” spelling. In two places in the ad, the typo “konditon” appeared, and the club never corrected it, even after many months of running the same ad. Ironically enough, however, the issue in which the preceding story ran was the issue from which the club pulled its ad. I’m sure a lot of my readers worked their way through this one scratching their heads.

Next: 012 Aunt Sophie quits splitting


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