Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Les Miserables

debate

Important: Is It Spelled Les Mis or Les Miz?

From time to time, there are issues so divisive that they threaten to tear apart the entire Vulture staff, and, if left untended, could destroy the very fabric of reality as we know it. It is incumbent on us, then, to address these issues in a manner befitting their extreme importance. Today's hot topic: When you abbreviate Les Misérables, should you spell it Les Mis or Les Miz? Amanda Dobbins and Kyle Buchanan will now plead their cases.

AMANDA: I suppose we should start with the obvious (and, in my opinion, unfair) fact that Vulture has chosen Miz as the house style. As best I can recall, we went with Miz because you wrote the first post and chose that vulgar “z.” So my first question to you, Kyle, would be: Why did you do that?

KYLE: Let me put this in terms you can understand, Amanda. With your strict adherence to Mis, you reveal yourself to be the unyielding Javert to my progressive, humane, sexy Valjean. Miz is the future. Miz is fun. Do you hear the people sing? They are singing Miz, not Mis. It is way more fun to sing words that end with a Z, as Victor Hugo once famously wrote.

AMANDA: The "fun" — or, to quote our boss Ben Williams, the "glamour and excitement" — of the letter Z is something that I have heard a lot about in recent weeks, mostly from the traitors on our staff. (It should be noted that I am outnumbered like ten to one by the Miz team, and that I have bravely agreed to stand up for my beliefs despite that opposition. If that makes me Javert, well, fine. I like fancy hats.) But to your point: Z might be a more festive letter, but it misses the whole point of the majestic musical that we call Les MiSérables. This is not a "fun" experience. We are not here to party all night and throw our Zs around like boozehounds at the Thernardier Inn. We are here for the drama and the weeping. For the misery. That is spelled with an s.

KYLE: But it IS a fun show, in some ways! Perhaps the creators never intended for us to snark on Cosette, speculate about the sexuality of Enjolras, or search YouTube for thumping dance remixes of “A Little Fall of Rain,” but we do those things because they keep our fandom fires burning, and because the subculture around Les Miz is so much fun to be a part of. It’s as though Les Mis is what the show's creators hand to you, and Les Miz is what happens to the show after you’ve filtered it through your own perspective.

AMANDA: As someone who has spent the better part of December combing through lesmisconfessions.tumblr.com (note the URL!) in service of a borderline-insane countdown to the movie, I can promise you that I do understand the subculture surrounding this musical.  You can also personally attest that no one takes more joy from random IM singalongs than I do. (Sorry about that.) Still, I believe that part of Les Mis’s appeal comes from its gravity — this is a story about loss, and broken dreams, and redemption, rather than some shrieky play about a dude who runs around an opera house in a mask scaring people. The title is “The Miserables,” for Christ’s sake. Why can’t we show a little respect for these people’s suffering? And for their native language?

KYLE: If we cared about their native language, Anne Hathaway wouldn’t be dreaming her dream in a British accent, now would she? It’s part of the Miz-ification of this musical: Perhaps the source material was sober and straightforward, but once you add singing and stick the whole production on a glorified Lazy Susan, you’ve got to contend with an additional camp allure that’s unavoidably transformative.

AMANDA: By all means, please keep Anne Hathaway and her confusing vowels for Team Miz. But I think you’ll find that this nation’s 14-year-old girls (and the grown-ups who used to be them) hear nothing but pure, honest emotion in the talent show staple that is “On My Own.” Our performances may be campy to you, but they feel desperately real and sad. “Sad” is also spelled with an s.

KYLE: I should note that as much as you profess to be on your own, Eponine-style, when it comes to flying the tattered French flag for Les Mis, I do see that spelling used in old-guard journalistic entities like the New York Times. I should also note that the New York Times refers to gay men as “homosexuals” and is unable to profile a rapper without timidly referring to “an expletive that is too colorful to print in a family paper.” So if that is the company you wish to keep on the barricades, so be it. Boom! Shot down like Gavroche.

AMANDA: While you were ranting about old media, I was Googling pictures of Eddie Redmayne in his velvet suit the official website for the beloved and long-running musical Les MiSérables.  You will be interested to learn that its official address is www.lesmis.com. You might also be interested to learn that www.lesmiz.com redirects to its superior, S-honoring relative.

KYLE: But just look at those URLs! Which is more fun to read, and more pleasing to the eye? It certainly is not “Lesmis,” which sounds like a short-lived sapphic club founded at Radcliffe College in the late fifties.

AMANDA: That is a great name for a sapphic club! I hope someone is founding such a club right now. Or maybe it could be a fan fiction society, where Fantine finally finds a supportive and loving partner in Madame Thenardier. Then Cosette could join, and we would have Marius for ourselves. Surely you could agree to that, Kyle?

KYLE: Here is what I will agree to, Amanda: The next time I talk to Eddie Redmayne (he’s snoring next to me right now but has earned the right to sleep in today), I will ask him which version he prefers, Les Mis or Les Miz. This will be the tie-breaking vote, and after he inevitably rejects your dour Les Mis, you will have two options: You can either jump into the cold, turbulent Seine, your entire worldview rocked, or you can hop aboard Team Les Miz, for it is the future.

AMANDA: I will continue to live on the silver-paved streets where Eddie Redmayne walks with me till morning and where there is no Z in Les Misérables. Oh wait, that is the actual world we live in. Les Mis to the end.

Photo-Illustration: null/Universal Pictures