In first grade, I took a spelling test with the word “of” on it. O-F. Of. My guess is that every student in the class that day spelled the word correctly; every student except for Malcolm, the slowest in the class. As I looked over at his test, I saw that he had spelled the word U-V. “Uv.”

I remember thinking “Geez, how dumb is this kid?” But as I sat there, I realized that spelling “of” with a U and a V made a lot more sense than spelling it with an O and an F, which were two letters corresponding to sounds which had nothing to do with the sounds in the word “of.”

Why was this ever-so-simple word spelled in this completely illogical way? The best answer I could come up with at the time was: That’s just the way it is, that’s the way it’s always been, that’s what adults told me was the truth, and that’s how I have to spell the word to get it right on this test and be a good student. So I better just shut up, look smart, and use an O and an F.

I didn’t know it then, but this little realization was my first brush with an understanding of what indoctrination was. All of us in the class that day so quietly and without question accepted a truth because it was backed by authority and tradition. It was the rule, and the world would see Malcolm as dumb, and not the spelling.

The spelling of “of” may not be a worthy battle to build a life around, but as I grew older this memory helped me become aware of the fact that the world is a place that comes with a lot of strange rules and assumptions that we often fail to question. As a teenager, I dubbed these rules “uvisms.” Spelled with a U and a V.

Growing up, I recognized the presence of these uvisms in the expectations and assumptions levied on me by my surroundings. For me, this manifested itself in a defiance of suburban mediocrity and the questioning of traditions and mindsets given to me by a set of well-meaning immigrant parents, that had little relevance to who I was as a person raised in this country.

Uvisms led me down the path that many of us take away from religion—mythologies backed by the weight of generations and generations of people, when subject to questioning, seemed to me, to be as relevant as the O and the F.

Looking back at the 20th century, I saw uvisms be torn apart, as racist and sexist traditions were abandoned. And in modern times, in the ever-losing argument that has said “Gay marriage has never existed, why do we need to have it now?”

I have learned that there are many rules and traditions. Many of them are there for good reasons. Many of them are not. You don’t have to follow all of them.

I believe in the misspelling of the word “of,” and the necessity for each generation to question the assumptions of the previous.

January 22, 2024

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