Diarmuid Breatnach

(The author is known as a traveller to many exotic places, including expeditions in search of mythical lands, most famously “The United Kingdom”, the “Republic”, “Norn Ireland” and “The Mainland.” Here he writes about the land of Dyslexia).

Dyslexia is, as the suffix “-ia” suggests, a country …. think of India, Mongolia, Russia, California [now relegated to a vassal state], Hibernia [also something of a vassal state], Narnia [er .. no, that is an imaginary land in a series of children’s tales]. The existence of Dyslexia strangely was not even suspected until 1881, when Oslawd Khanber claimed to have visited the land. His discovery was widely doubted until confirmed by Ludorf Linber in 1887. The people of this newly-discovered land were distinguished by all having a difficulty to varying degrees in spelling and/or in remembering sequences of numbers. Khanber and Linber both named this land (and the rest of the world agreed) “Dyslexia”, from the Greek root “dys” meaning “bad/ abnormal/ difficult” and “lex” meaning “word” (although in Latin it means “law”, understood as “written word”).

Dyslexia was, like many other lands and people, not named by the natives themselves, but by people from elsewhere. Such examples abound, for example “Australia”, “America”, “Scotland”, “Eskimo”, “Teddy Boys”, “Pagans”, “Celts”, “Saxons”, “Teagues”, “Gypsies”, “E.T.s” etc. Attempts to identify what the Dyslexics themselves called their land have so far collapsed in confusion, with different spellings and even pronunciations hotly argued for against others.

In fact, there have been accusations of racism aimed at those who named the land “Dyslexia” and the people “Dyslexics” — it seems particularly cruel to create a word itself so difficult to spell to name a people with a known disability in spelling. Previously, Dyslexics just called themselves “people” and the land “the land”, while those who came across migrants from there before Dyslexia was actually discovered called them other names such as “stupid”, “slow”, “thick” or “people with ADD or ADHD” (1) . However, most “Dyslexics” today have not only adopted the name and learned to spell it but are wont to proudly declare “I’m Dyslexic” (but rarely “I am a Dyslexic”).

When Dyslexia came to the attention of the rest of the World no-one seemed astonished that it should be discovered long after the North and South Poles, the Mariana Trench, the Matto Grosso Plateau and indeed a great number of planets. What did astonish the World was that Dyslexia had apparently independently within its borders invented television, radio, Ipads, microwave ovens, central heating and hot showers and of course the internal combustion engine and nuclear power.

This proliferation of technology would have been normally amazing (if anything normal can be said to be amazing, or vice versa) in a previously undiscovered country but what was really, really amazing was that everyone in Dyslexia had overcome a disability to climb to such industrial heights. The obstacles must have been tremendous. Imagine confusing, for example, sodium chloride, a common table salt, with sodium chlorate, which is used as a weedkiller (and also as an ingredient in making home-made bombs, a curious fact since nitrogenous fertiliser, with a directly opposite effect to sodium chlorate when spread on weeds, is also sometimes used in making home-made bombs). Anyway, shake sodium chloride in small quantities on your weeds and they probably won’t like it but most will survive – especially those that actually like a little of it, like relatives of the cabbages and such. Shake a little sodium chlorate on your food, however and …. well …. no, don’t try it – without urgent and skilled medical attention you will die quickly and painfully. For another example, imagine confusing “defuse” with “diffuse”: one goes to de-escalate a conflict and ends up spreading it around. Other confusions are possible between the noun or verb “ware”, the (usually) adverb “where” and the past tense verb “were”. And so on.

For physics, knowledge of and accuracy in mathematics is essential – algebra, logarithms, binary codes, sines and co-sines, square roots (these last are mathematical constructs, not mythical regulated-shape carrots as propagated by anti-EU campaigners). In calculating distances, heights and depths, spaces and circumferences, ability in geometry, trygonometry and ordinary mathematics is required. Somehow, the Dyslexics, the inhabitants of Dyslexia, had overcome their disability or compensated for it in some way, so that they had as flourishing and environment-poisoning an industrial society as the most developed parts of the world, such as the United States of America (most developed industrially, that is).

Dyslexics are said, despite this disability with letters and numbers, to be of above-average intelligence. They had to be, to develop all those complicated benefits of industrial society despite their handicap.

Strangely, one may think, many Dyslexics have become literary figures famous throughout the world, Hans Christian Andersen, Agatha Christie, F. Scott Fitzgerald and WB Yeats among them. Contrary to popular belief among non-natives, James Joyce was not from Dyslexia. This prevalence of Dyslexics among so many giants of literature and indeed of virtually every other field of human endeavour has given rise to a group of Dyslexians who call their disability “the gift of Dyslexia”.

The Dyslexics are often garrulous and sociable and this is especially true when in Dyslexia itself. The difficulty in remembering telephone numbers for example makes every telephone call an adventure. Say a native wished to phone another native called Cathy (also known as Cthy, or Ktay, Thyca etc), and the phone number was 731 1062 (please note, this is an imaginary telephone number by which Cathy or no-one else can be reached). The Dyslexic might phone 371 1026 – all the correct digits but in a different order (note, this also is an imaginary telephone number by which no-one may be reached).

The conversation, somewhat simplified, might go like this: “Yes, hello?” (female voice, breathless with anticipation of another adventure).

Our caller: “Hi, is that Cathy?”

Recipient (giggling): “No, it’s not. There isn’t any Cathy here. I’m Wanda.”

Our caller: “Oh, hi Wanda, you sound very nice. How about going on a wanda with me?”

Wanda (with a little giggle but playing cautious): “Maybe …. What’s your name?”

Our caller: “Terry.”

Wanda: “Where were you thinking of wandering with me?” (A moment’s pause while both mentally translate the last part of that into “wandering on me”).

Terry (clearing his throat which has suddenly gone dry): “Well, there’s a nice new Indian restaurant opened up in town. Do you like Indian food, Wanda?”

“Ohhh, Terry, I love it. So spicy!” (Very slight pause as both translate “spicy” as a description for food flavouring into a metaphor instead). “When were you thinking of?”

“Er … tonight too soon?”

“No, I happen to be free tonight.”

“Shall I come and pick you up? Say …. seven pm?”

“That would be lovely, Terry. I live off the Trans City Road, tenth left, first right, eighth left, in Hopeful Street, the seventh house on the left-hand side if you’re coming from town, with a brown and white door and a hydrangea bush in the garden.”

“Got it – tenth left off the Trans City Road, tenth left, first right, eighth left, Hopeful Street, seventh house on the left-hand side, brown and white door and a hydrangea bush in the garden. At seven pm. I’m looking forward to meeting you.”

Most Dyslexics are always open to adventure, ‘going with the flow’. One never knows what a simple telephone call may bring or to what an appointment or written address may lead. But as a result, Dyslexics are also philosophic about missed appointments, forgotten birthdays and so on; they waste little time mourning something lost and instead look forward to something gained. Terry might or might not make it to Wanda’s but they both know the world is full of other possibilities. Cathy, for example, who failed to receive a call from Terry to congratulate her on her gaining a dystinction in her dyploma, received later that evening what non-natives would term “a wrong number” call from a Sofia who had meant to call a Geraldine. Sofia had intended trying to patch up a long-running difficult relationship with Geraldine and instead found herself making the aquaintance of Cathy, who seemed much nicer and more understanding than was Geraldine. Sofia soon put her problems with Geraldine aside and agreed to Cathy’s suggestion that they meet for a late coffee (which they both knew could lead to an early drink and who-knows-what from there). Cathy had by now forgotten that she was hoping Terry would call.

Dyslexia is not just another land, nor even just a strange one – it’s an entirely different way to live.



1.   A supposed disability the existence of which is hotly debated but has exonerated many teachers accused of bad teaching methods and states accused of having too large classes in their schools and which has been profitable for some educational psychologists and extremely so for some chemical companies.

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