Language Rules

Definately Fixing Alot Of Americas Grammar 1 Word At A Thyme

Language Watch: ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ (Film)

with 48 comments

When watching the new Bond film (Casino Royale) last night, I had to sit through a number of trailers, as you do. One of them caught my eye:

The Pursuit of Happyness

Disregarding the fact that the film looks like an incredibly boring, ‘American dream’ kind of film with Will Smith pursuing happiness for himself and his young son (by working hard, thus leaving his poor Black neighbourhood behind and eventually ‘making it’ through hard work and enabled by the US of A and the freedom and choice it provides, blah blah blah, propaganda blah blah blah), I could not believe my eyes when at the end of this very dull trailer, the film title was revealed:

The Pursuit of Happyness

Is it me or is this spelling of ‘happyness’ totally bloody wrong? Did I just use a question mark where there shouldn’t be one? I just couldn’t believe it. So, here are two questions for today:

  1. Is the spelling of ‘happyness’ right or wrong? It isn’t recognised by dictionary.com
  2. Why would they spell it incorrectly, if it is indeed incorrect? Are they so thick that no one in the chain of producing a Hollywood film actually fucking notices? Or is it an intentional spelling error? If yes, WHY WHY WHY?

Please enlighten me.

Boycott this film.

PS: We should at some point create some template letters/emails to send to governments, media companies, and anyone else in a position of public responsibility that uses language incorrectly. As I’ve argued before, I do strongly believe they have a responsibility to use it correctly.

Written by lenina

2006 Dec 7 at 05:46

Posted in spelling

48 Responses

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  1. I, too, am dismayed by the spelling of that movie title. I noticed it months ago when I caught the trailer on Apple’s trailer website, and wondered whether the error was intentional. If it WAS intentional, I can’t begin to understand why; if it wasn’t, I’m just ruefully shaking my head…

    I would SO get behind your creating a template of letters to send to entities which abuse our language. It’s under seige, and the perpetrators should be called to task about it!

    mrschili

    2006 Dec 9 at 19:07

  2. I’m not sure why I’m even responding, but after conducting about 5 seconds of research, I found…

    “The spelling for “Happiness” has been changed by Chris Gardner to “Happyness.” This is not because of anyone’s spelling abilities. It has special significance in the book and the movie.”

    Also, the beauty of art is that it does not have to conform to rules. (However, I do agree that governments have a responsibility to use language correctly.)

    Happi

    2006 Dec 11 at 14:38

  3. Thanks Happi! That’s cleared that up then. I still think that it may have an influence on unsuspecting viewers, unless the ‘Happyness’ – spelling is explained in the film. I wouldn’t know as I’m not going to watch it. I agree with you regarding governments’ responsibilities but I’d extend that to other organisations and media firms that are in the public domain.

    I’m _absolutely for_ using language creatively BTW, and I don’t mind acronyms, smileys, and all other sorts. I’ve studied literature extensively and found for example Gertrude Stein’s omission of punctuation as stylistic device very interesting indeed.

    lenina

    2006 Dec 12 at 08:24

  4. Oh good, so I’m -not- alone. The spelling of ‘happiness’ got my attention right away and I cheked a dictionary just in case.
    This woulnd’t be the first time that a Hollywood production released a film with a misspelled title: ‘Two Weeks Notice’ came out a few years ago, much to the chagrin of people who can actually spell. (hint: It’s supposed to be Weeks’). So it doesn’t surprise me that it has happened again. Funny, this is the only place that I’ve see that actually recognizes it.
    It’s possible that the spelling has some sort of figurative significance, but from what I know of the story, the main character (played by Will Smith) wants a very ordinary kind of happiness: financial security. His method of persuing it, however, is definetely unorthodox (or is it?).
    The bottom line is, I refuse to pay $9.75 to see a hokey movie–based on a book, no less!–whose title is misspelled!

    Rhapsodomancy

    2006 Dec 20 at 00:05

    • Unless anyone has pointed it out already, in which case my comment is obsolete, when commenting, or ranting as you are doing, on correct spelling, that comment itself should be free of all spelling errors, at the risk of being null and void. Cast the first stone etc. You might have typed it too quickly, granted, but given your topic you should have checked. Your spelling “that I’ve see” is wrong, as is “his method of persuing it”. You also have a strange usage of hyphens to express thoughts, usually – and I do say usually – they are spelled with a space before and after, but you should at least maintain the same form throughout any single text.

      It seems to me that you are all guilty of violating the adage “innocent until proven guilty”: surely you cannot assume that no one in hollywood chcked the spelling? So surely you must arrive at the conclusion that there is a reason for it? You should have watched the movie before you judged it. Or, even better, never judge at all, just make sure you do not make the mistakes you accuse others of.

      Finally, just as a random comment, there are more examples in titles: Aladdin’s theme song “a whole new world” ought to be “a wholly new world”.

      Tom De Backer

      2011 Jul 5 at 06:27

      • Yes yes yes, I missed an ‘e’ in ‘checked’, I apologize for the error.

        Tom De Backer

        2011 Jul 5 at 06:32

      • eh ano ngayon

        John

        2013 Aug 4 at 02:48

  5. Actually, here’s what I found on rottentomatoes.com

    “Spelling of the title
    The main character takes his son to Mrs Chu’s day-care centre in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He points out to the proprietess that the word is misspelled on the mural the children have painted (“Fun, Joy, Happyness”). She replies that it doesn’t matter whether “happiness” is spelled correctly, only that children have it (he contemplates the concept of the “pursuit of happiness” as written into the US Declaration of Independence) ”

    Whew! There’s hope yet.

    Rhapsodomancy

    2006 Dec 20 at 00:08

  6. Wow, thanks for the comments, Rhapsodomancy! BTW I’ve clicked on your link to check out your blog but it’s taking ages to load. Isn’t blogspot the same as blogger? Way.Too.Slow.

    Also, interesting observation with regard to ‘Two Weeks’ Notice’. You’re right of course. I haven’t really noticed it before but there again, I think it was a RomCom and those don’t interest me at all.

    lenina

    2006 Dec 21 at 05:35

  7. Hey lenina–

    Yep, those two are the same. The slow load probably has something to do with your internet connection. My blog isn’t so fascinating anyway, unless you like to read about knitting :>
    The “Two Weeks Notice” example actually comes from a book by the awesome Lynne Truss called “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”. She brings up a number of very good examples about the complexity (and comedy) of English grammar.

    Rhapsodomancy

    2006 Dec 21 at 06:03

  8. Thanks for that – my friend is into knitting but not into Computers – otherwise I would have passed on your blog! I’ve read about Truss’ book and mentioned it in a post on my own blog – http://tinyurl.com/yzflfu – I definately [only kidding – I meant ‘definitely’] want to read it some time. I even went to the library today and should have remembered it.

    I also read an article about this book in a broadsheet last week-end. I might use that as an incentive to write something about it on here. Soon.

    lenina

    2006 Dec 21 at 13:05

  9. From the “The Pursuit of Happyness – Official Site”: Get this…

    http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/thepursuitofhappyness/
    “WILL SMITH
    the PURSUIT of
    HAPPYNESS

    NOW IN THEATERS”

    Two words longer than seven letters, both spelt like three year olds would try on their first attempt.

    Bob

    2006 Dec 27 at 20:15

  10. This really irritates me as well. I studied advertising at university and this reeks of guerilla marketing. Consider that perhaps they have intentionally spelt it incorrectly to begin a word of mouth dialogue over this very bland sounding film. Infact, the very creation of this blog, as well as every dinner-party conversation and every time you’ve each brought it up with partners and friends, could be a method of word-of-mouth advertising. Clever, but it certainly does expose the weakness and immorality of the advertising industry doesn’t it?

    Andrea

    2007 Jan 4 at 12:57

  11. For me it’s a total turn-off though. A total total total turn-off. I can write about this a million times and it still won’t work on me or (hopefully) my friends. I know what you mean about guerilla marketing though – especially, creating controversy and how it backfires. Sony are quite good at doing it right, and sometimes at doing it wrong. Example: http://biz.gamedaily.com/industry/adwatch/?id=13192

    I’ve also started to be more aware of advertising strategies, especially, when writing on my own blog. For example, when blogging about stuff, I no longer include links to ‘immoral’ or irritating sites or companies. Since much of web 2.0 is about link exchange, tagging, networking, I choose to not give certain sites traffic from my blog. It doesn’t mean that I won’t discuss them (give them exposure), but I won’t increase their status via offering direct traffic to their websites.

    lenina

    2007 Jan 5 at 11:09

  12. Thanks for the explanation re incorrect spelling of “Happiness” and a relief to see others are irked by shoddy English too. Could anyone please explain the curious title of another (fairly) recent release – “A Scanner Darkly”. Since when do adverbs relate to nouns? Are we dealing with adverbs and nouns? Is that the point (which is explained within the film, a la “Pursuit of H..”)? Answers please!

    Guy, London

    2007 Jan 8 at 08:29

  13. I found this thread while Googling for an explanation of the spelling in this film’s title. With regard to that, I am enlightened.

    However, I feel I must take Rhapsodomancy to task for his/her own poor use of English (and/or shoddy spell-checking) in post 4.

    “…and I cheked a dictionary…” That would be “checked”.
    “This woulnd’t be the first time…” That would be “wouldn’t”.
    “(hint: It’s supposed to be Weeks’).” The parentheses are preceded by a period, making the one following them redundant. Also, the positioning of the period makes the content of the parentheses a sentence in itself, thereby requiring a period before the parentheses are closed.
    “…the only place that I’ve see that actually recognizes it…” That would be “that I’ve seen”.
    “His method of persuing it…” That would be “pursuing”.
    “…is definetely unorthodox…” That would be “definitely”.

    If you’re going to consider yourself one of the “people who can actually spell”, it’s better not to make six elementary mistakes of spelling and grammar in such a short piece of writing. If you care enough to post online about the spelling in the title of a movie you’re not even going to see, you should care enough to spell correctly in that post.

    Pat, London

    2007 Jan 10 at 17:47

  14. In response to Guy regarding “A Scanner Darkly” — as a three word phrase, you’re right, it makes no sense grammatically.

    However, it’s actually a play on “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” which is a line in the Bible. The line has inspired a number of titles, including Ingmar Bergman’s classic “Through a Glass, Darkly.”

    I suspect the Bergman film is what inspired Phillip K. Dick’s original novel, “A Scanner Darkly,” which is what the movie is based upon.

    PattiTheWicked

    2007 Jan 11 at 13:04

  15. I think this blog post has had the most traffic so far, and the most comments! Not bad :). Just type this into Google: ‘pursuit of happyness spelling’ and this blog post is the second result from the top.

    Pat London: I sympathise with your comment but it’s also a bit OTT. I always feel a bit nervous myself when posting on here in case any errors creep in. I fear someone is quite righly going to crack a whip! Though I do have the non-native speaker excuse…

    lenina

    2007 Jan 12 at 12:41

  16. Thanks for the corrections, Pat. I’m guilty as charged. We mortals aren’t perfect, fortunately. If we were, what would we have to strive for? If you look at the times during which I furiously typed my last posts, you’ll see that they occured in the wee hours of the morning :) (And I don’t consider myself one who can actually spell; please re-read that post!) And really, you want to see some AGGREGIOUS spelling errors?! Look elsewhere, sir.

    I’m a bit torn about the title, “A Scanner Darkly”. I know nothing of the plot so I can’t say if it’s fitting. I actually don’t mind language manipulation and ‘mistakes’ when they have real artistic merit/meaning. That part’s subjective, isn’t it!

    Rhapsodomancy

    2007 Jan 16 at 02:40

  17. For crying out loud… Get off your high-horses, and go and see the film.

    In it, Will Smith notices the word spelled incorrectly, and asks for it to be corrected…

    Leroy

    2007 Jan 17 at 12:07

  18. w0w c0me 0n pe0ple.. is it that seri0us.. beside the fact that this is really great m0vie.. maybe if y0o saw it then y0o w0uld kn0e.. 0f all the brillant pe0ple wh0 wr0te and directed the m0vie and even acted in it.. d0 y0o really think that they w0uld let a spelling err0r g0 s0 far…. w0w.. thats all i have t0 say!

    ladytiff

    2007 Feb 9 at 22:23

  19. Here a completely off topic question about “The Pursuit of Happyness” What was that handle on the wall of the apartment. It was in the scene where Chris’s wife brought his son home late. I can’t for the life of me figure out what it might have been used for. It has been driving me crazy. Anybody ….. please !

    Pauline

    2007 Apr 14 at 21:02

    • Did you ever get an answer about the handle on the wall? I am also curious as to what it is. If it relates to the story the audience deserves to know.

      Harry

      2010 Jun 28 at 19:36

      • I totally want to know the answer to this question as well. Anybody?

        Livllov

        2011 Feb 26 at 21:37

    • Old houses used to have gas lines that ran through pipes. Handles like that would be used to open and close the pipe at that spot. There was probably a gas powered light fixture on the wall above the handle.

      Greg

      2011 Jul 10 at 08:44

      • Thank you so much… I read through all the comments to find that one answer. I’ve seen the movie before and tonight it stuck out to me that I had no idea as to what that was. I would’ve been awake all night.

        Tyler

        2012 Feb 20 at 01:55

      • Thank you for answering this :)

        Jeff

        2016 Mar 23 at 02:25

    • Haha, thank you for asking this question. I’m watching the movie right now for the first time and paused it at that scene to google and try to find out what that “know” is? :) Your question showed up in this blog. Thanks again lol ;)

      Jeff Dolezal

      2016 Mar 23 at 02:22

      • “knob” not know ….i must have read too much of the main content of this blog

        Jeff

        2016 Mar 23 at 02:24

    • I know this conversation is long since over, but watching the movie on Netflix (again), I found myself asking the same question.

      On the Director’s cut, I learned that the handle on the wall actually opened and closed the front door without having to run down stairs to do it.

      Here is where I found that response:

      http://www.sheffnersweb.net/blogs/accuratemaps/culture-and-communication/interesting-directors-comments-on-dvd/

      I hope it helps.

      Damond Nollan

      2016 May 27 at 19:30

  20. it is kind of funny to see the comments here, despite three (maybe four) people coming and saying the reason why happiness is happyness we still seem not to notice to bash up will smith and his movie for no apparent fault of his/them..

    now I am not exponent of the language myself.. but i respect it a lot, so wouldn’t comment on the proper usage.. but want to say that why bother about the small little things that actually make life a lot happyer .. which is again the point of the movie in its own way

    also it is indeed a beautiful watch.. do see it

    maneesh

    2007 Apr 14 at 21:11

  21. no, i’m not going to comment about the incorrect spelling of THAT word in THIS movie title. i’d just like to say that “the pursuit of happyness” is just that: A PURSUIT. it’s the most depressing movie i’ve seen. good acting by will smith, but it’s too depressing to go watch on the big screen.

    and yes, in the film, will smith asks that “happyness” be corrected and tells his son that it’s spelled incorrectly. (guess i couldn’t help commenting on the spelling, hehe)

    reeyah

    2007 Apr 15 at 02:46

  22. Look at the screenshot from “The Pursuit of Happiness”. What do you think? Is it an unintentional misprint?

    It’s at 1:04:11

    One more typo from "The Pursuit of Happyness"

    Val

    2007 May 3 at 13:08

  23. I’m amazed by the amount of self righteous people here.

    This comment made me laugh–for all the wrong reasons:
    “The bottom line is, I refuse to pay $9.75 to see a hokey movie–based on a book, no less!–whose title is misspelled!”

    Lighten up.

    NIcky

    2007 Jun 17 at 19:46

  24. Who doesn’t know how to spell happiness? A 10 year old would know how to spell happiness. Are you angry at Boyz II Men for misspelling boys? Get over it!

    Kate

    2007 Jun 21 at 22:35

  25. It is “happyness” because attaining happiness, according to that president dude is impossible. So therefor, lets change the way the word is spelled, keep the meaning and be able and believe yourself that it can be reached.

    .......................................................

    2007 Sep 21 at 22:38

  26. I only came across this because I was looking for the line in the movie. But if you actually WATCH the movie they explain why Happyness is spelled that way. In the film the daycare with Will Smith leave his son is run by these Asian people and the name of the day care center is something Happyness and they spelled it wrong and in the film Will Smith’s character comments on this when he sees the sign at one point. One time he says this “It’s not H-A-P-P-Y-N-E-S-S Happiness is spelled with an “I” instead of a “Y” and another he says something that I can’t remember about ‘the place were they spell happiness wrong’. It was an artistic thing not a language thing.

    Imani

    2008 Apr 23 at 20:32

  27. I believe the spelling mistake was intentional because in the movie the main charicter clearly points out the spelling error so I believe that they know they spelled “happiness”
    wrong.

    yellowmellow

    2008 May 4 at 19:17

  28. just checking the time whats up?

    justcheckingthetime

    2008 May 4 at 19:31

  29. Why boycott the film ? It’s just that “happyness” is spelt differently :D

    The awesome one

    2008 Jun 25 at 19:09

  30. The title references to an essay by Lemeul Haynes written in 1776. The article dealt with equality between blacks and whites and in it, referencing the sentence in The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, he misspells ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’.

    Racism is an underlying theme in the film. He is forced to get donuts and coffee at his internship, forced to park cars. Race is also highlighted in the differences between the homeless and the rich. Personally, I think that the rubix cube is also important in relation to racism. “…make every side the same colour” Where colour is not an issue and everyside is the same.

    Hello Yes

    2008 Nov 30 at 09:45

  31. NGEOW,,, THE MOVIE IS FASCINATING AND I LOVE IT.. SPECIALLY THE LAST PART. BUT THE TITLE MAKE MY MIND DRIVE TO CRAZYNESS..
    BUT I THINK THAT THE TITLE IS INTENTIONALYY LIKE THAT BECAUSE IT JUST SHOW THAT CHRIS GARDENER MADE A LOT OF WRONG CHIOCES BUT IN THE END HE REACH HIS GOALS BECAUSE OF HIS DETERMINATION,,,
    JUST SIMPLY SAYING THAT KEEP THE RIGHT MEANING OF HAPPINESS BESIDES OF THE SPELLING

  32. It’s 2010, and this intentional mis-spelling STILL bothers me.

    In fact, EVERY TIME I type or write happiness, I’m reminded of that movie’s stupid title.

    Jackson

    2010 Apr 7 at 09:42

  33. I’m not going to bother explaining the reason for the misspelling of ‘happiness’ in the title of this movie. Rather, I’d like to just take a short, albeit emotional, moment to explain to you all why you’re sophomoric imbeciles. Yes, it is now time to get out your dictionaries and look up ‘sophomoric’; I doubt you know what it means.

    Firstly, before offering criticism on anything — be it a steak or a movie that grossed in the millions of dollars — always (and this should go without saying, but for you ignorant, pretentious cretins I’ll be as didactic as possible) do as much research as you possibly can. In this case, as the subject in question is a film, go out and see the film. Perhaps, after viewing the film, do a little reading and further enlighten yourself. This might save you from making ridiculous remarks.

    Secondly, after engrossing yourself in both sides of an argument — as we have thus far learned to do — attempt to present them both to your audience; in this case, your audience being those few readers you might have.

    Finally, after presenting all theories and opinions you have uncovered in your extensive research, give your own opinion. Yes, this is the part where you get to be as arrogant and effectually abrasive as you want. Hell, I think you’re next rant should be on the atrocious grammar of Shakespeare. After all, he hardly wrote like you — that is, he didn’t write badly.

    Aggravated person -- (yes, I'll revive this in my anger).

    2010 Oct 11 at 21:15

  34. If you watched the movie, you’d see why it’s spelled wrong…on purpose. Geez.

    Sylvie

    2010 Dec 10 at 10:45

  35. Seeing as this is a true story, why all the fuss about the different aspects? This is how it happened, the racism and this guy’s struggle, etc. And I agree with Sylvie… go watch the movie before critisizing anthing.

    zinzani

    2012 Apr 5 at 15:40

  36. Through hard work, enabled by God. The movie was an excellent biography of a real man’s struggle to take care of his child. Unlike his own childhood, fatherless, he wanted to provide and be a great father to his own son. This was a true story of someone never giving up and depending on God to move the mountains, rivers, oceans and valleys to make a way. Watch the clip to understand there is a reason for the purposeful mistake

    Nik

    2014 Sep 18 at 01:10

  37. Hey honey pie.

    If you had the capability of watching a film in it’s entirety, you would have the capability to follow that artistic little nugget.

    You really have no excuse here, and here’s why:
    The intentional misspelling is explained twice.
    Once beginning at minute 4:38 and ending at minute 4:45 and then in more depth during the lead character’s conversation with his son beginning at 16:39 and ending at 16:45.

    I do agree with you though, this government, founded by people who raped, pillaged, and murdered the true people who occupied the land, and took their land, is a fucking piece of shit country full of idiots and imbeciles who blindly follow that same government that has no interest in the welfare of it’s people.

    jason

    2015 May 7 at 19:30


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