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Stephen King ruined a generation's ability to play “cemetery.”

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 The Pet Sematary movie poster and book cover

Photo illustration by Slate

Sometime in the middle of the ’90s, when I was about 11 years old, I noticed a paperback copy of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary on my mother’s nightstand, a shrieking cat’s green eyes calling to me from the cover. I was discovering “adult books,” and my mom noticed me, as long as I didn’t tell my dad. That was bad enough. Some months later, she rented Mary Lambert’s utterly terrifying 1989 adaptation as a “treat.” By the time a giggling undead toddler sliced ​​into Herman Munster’s ankles on a staircase, I was forever scarred.

But I’ve come to believe that Pet Sematary left me with a deeper scar, a psychic affliction more profound than the one from the flashbacks about the emaciated sister, or from the cat’s multiple deaths, or from “No fair! No fair! No fair! ”The damage is in the title itself: Sematary . An obvious misspelling, maybe — most of us probably know the real word starts with C . But can you spell the rest? It’s not [cemetary] or cemetary . It’s cemetery . And it’s a word I will never be able to write with confidence because of my fateful early exposure to King’s gruesome vision (or his characters’ spelling abilities). I have since learned not alone. Like Ludacris and The Santa Clause after it, Pet Sematary has polluted the minds of a generation, 1983 to present.

Already, the new film adaptation, due in theaters this weekend, has inspired new and old confusion:

This horror is real. And it is international. In France, where children should be writing as cimetaries posters are counting it’s Simetierre . A Portuguese, it should be properly written Cemitério but posters are advertising Samitério de Animais. (Strangely, Germany and Spain seem to be spared. I guess some countries still care about their young people.)

 The Pet Sematary movie posters in Portuguese and French

Photo illustration by Slate

In Pet Sematary, we learn the sign on the titular cemetery is misspelled by the children who created it as a resting place for their fallen pets, an error replicated by King in the title. (In the new version, an 8-year-old girl, somewhat implausibly, points out the misspelling.) But should you be inclined to grant one of the great horror writers, I don’t know, “artistic license,” I submit he knew exactly what he was doing. Please note this parenthetical, later in the novel:

Rachel would call this morning, they would get Church fixed, and that would put this whole nonsense of Pet Semataries (it was funny how that misspelling got into your head and started to seem right) and death fears behind them.

Hmm! It’s hard to find others who suffer from this infirmity. When I asked my colleagues — people who write and proofread for a living — whether they shared my troubles, it was clear it was a widespread issue. Some spelling-bee types proudly rattled off cemetery but never mind them. Most people got the C and first E correct but were flummoxed by the final vowel and went with an A perhaps because of words like secretary or because it just sounds like it should be A . Or they may have spent their entire lives staring at the word played incorrectly on their mother’s bedside stands and in scary movie roundups. As one correspondent admitted to me, “Now that I look at it, maybe the” atary “at the end of the title has affected my memory. I definitely looked at the cover or that book as a teenager more often than I looked at any real cemeteries. ”Indeed!

The cycle is about to start as the stylish new version of the story arrives in theaters, perpetuating a curse that has infected too many already. Disgusted, I decided to reach out to King directly to see if he had any words of explanation or contrition. He sent a quick reply to my email message. It read, in full:

Peter Straub, the novelist, called me after he got the manuscript. In a very diffident tone, he said, “Stevie, you misspelled cemetery.” I laughed and told him to read the book.

Steve

Sure, read the book. See the movie. But don’t say you’re warned.

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