here for today's suggestion.
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Thursday, September 30, 2004: "fother" for "father"
This week has been dedicated to the names of family members (so far, muther, bruther, and ont). Let's continue with perhaps the most controversial of my proposed reforms, "fother" (on the pattern of "bother", which has the right vowel, short-O) for "father" (which has the wrong vowel, A, as in "gather").
British spelling reformers object that the broad-A in "father" is not the same sound, in their dialect, as the O in "bother". This page would like to be collegial and propose words that can be reformed the same way across the English-speaking world / "Anglosphere", but at end we can't let Britain hold the United States back.
70% of all native speakers of English reside in just one country, the United States, and our population grows about 10% (or more) every decade. It grew by 33 million from 1990 to 2000, the equivalent of more than half the total population of Britain, in just ten years! By contrast, Britain's population is less than 60 million and static. There's no reason for 300 million Americans (and counting) to have to write stupidly to accommodate Britain.
Noah Webster, the great American lexicographer, was indeed happy to distinguish American spellings from British, to show pride in his Nation. Spellings Webster proposed in 1783 and which were widely adopted here, like "color", have still not been adopted in Britain. So there's no point in waiting for that antique society to catch up before moving on. Britain will likely be backward for a very long time when it comes to spelling.
So let the British write "father", and just as we know what they mean when they write preposterous things like "programme" and "gaol", they will know what we mean when we write "fother".
Munday, September 26 thru Wensday, September 29, 2004:
"muther" for "monther"
"bruther" for "brother"
"ont" for "aunt"
(Personal commitments earlier this week delayed these entries.)
"Mother" does not rhyme with "bother". Nor does the first syllable rhyme with "moth" or "troth". The word is pronounced "muther" so should be written "muther". "Brother" doesn't rhyme with "bother" either. Nor does its first syllable sound like either "broth" or the first syllable of "brothel". And "aunt" is often mispronounced as tho spelled "ant", which produces a needless homonym that's rather insulting to your mother or father's sister! So let's rewrite these words sensibly: "muther", "bruther", and "ont".
Sunday, September 26, 2004: "conker" for "conquer"
There is no W sound in "conquer", but the use of QU renders that unclear. By far most QU words have a W sound (quiet, quad, query). A few don't (quiche, antique, briquette). And in a couple, some people aren't sure: you can hear both /kaurt(er)/ and /kwaurt(er)/ for "quart(er)". Let's adopt the unambiguous spelling "conker".
Saturday, September 25, 2004: "erly" for "early"
We have here another of those many words that were spelled more simply in Middle English (erli) than they are in Modern English. I think I see what happened, from the fact that the Old English word from which it derives was aerlice and various other words spelled worse now harkened back to Latin, skipping over French. There may have been a reaction against The Conquest and the influence of French in creating Middle English from Old English, and in the process, to the mind of Anglo-Saxon scribes, destroying the purity and beauty of the original language. So they decided to purify their 'bastardized' version of English (which they may have regarded as a very late, corrupted form of Anglo-French) by reconnecting with its ancestry in Old English and Latin, and avoiding, to the extent possible, the 'taint' of French.
"Debt" came into English from French "dette" (no B). That should have been good enuf, don't you think? Not to a Middle English scribe. He researched the word, found it derived from Latin debitum, put a B in it! even tho no one ever pronounced a B and dropped the final TE as 'too French'. In similar, albeit slightly twisted fashion, a medieval scribe trying to regain English's lost purity may have wanted to write "aerly" for "early" but met with objections, so settled for putting an A back into it, but after the E.
No matter how it happened, the spelling of Middle English was often better than the spelling of Modern English, which is more than a little absurd, that things should get worse with progress. So let's restore some sanity by making Modern English spelling as representative of sound as the spelling of Middle English was: "erly".
Friday, September 24, 2004: "tume" for "tomb"
There are only two words (with their derivatives) in all of English in which the letter combination O-M-B is used for the sound UEM: tomb and womb. That's two too many. Why should O be used to express a U sound? And why should we tolerate a silent-B? Let's just spell this word sensibly, on the pattern of flume and assume: "tume".
Thursday, September 23, 2004: "carribu" for "caribou"
This word, for North American reindeer, has a French form but derives from the Micmac Indian language of Canada which is a little odd, since Micmacs roamed areas where you wouldn't expect there to be many reindeer (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec). In any case, the O before the U is at best unnecessary (compare jujitsu and Zulu) and at worst potentially confusing for new readers of English "Does it rhyme with thou?" Let's just drop the O.
The other issue here is that AR is most commonly pronounced with a "broad-A" (or short-O, the same sound), as in "car", "afar", and "marginal". Here, however, the sound is a regular short-A, which is commonly written with two R's, as in "arrogant", "narrow", and "barren". Let's use a double-R here too: "carribu" (plural: "carribues" or just "carribu").
Wensday, September 22, 2004: "gard" for "guard"
Unlike guar or guacamole, there is no W sound in "guard" and the vowel is not I or E, so there is no need for anything between the G and the main vowel to show that the G takes its "hard" sound rather than its "soft" sound (like J). To make that distinction we do sometimes put a U between a G and I (guide, guile) or G and E (guess as against gesture) but sometimes don't (gill but aspergill; geese but gee). In "guard", however, the U is just superfluous, and in fact a great many businesses use the "gard" spelling as part of their name or the name of their products or services. They're smart to do so. Let's all save a letter: "gard".
Tuesday, September 21, 2004: "soccur" for "soccer"
What much of the world calls "football", Americans call "soccer" a term that is becoming more common elsewhere as well. It derives from the abbreviation "assoc." (pronounced, presumably, AE-sok) for "association football".
CC is an extremely bizarre way to spell a K-sound before E in English. CC is ordinarily pronounced KS, as in accent or success. Another word with an OCCE combination exists, bocce, an originally Italian lawn-bowling game, but that CC takes the CH-sound (boch.ee), as in "church".
We could just simplify "soccer" on the pattern of "rocker" and "locker", but "socker" is already a word, for someone who punches someone or something. How else might we spell this word clearly? How about: "soccur".
("Soccer" is today's word because CBS television last nite attacked the sport soccer in the debut of its sitcom Listen Up.)
Munday, September 20, 2004: "werk" for "work"
It seems appropriate at what is for most of us the start of the workweek to reform the word work, which has the wrong vowel written. Work does not rhyme with fork or cork but with jerk and berserk. Let's spell it that way: "werk".
Sunday, September 19, 2004: "amfitheater" for "amphitheater"
One often hears the mispronunciation "ampitheater" for this word, even tho dictionaries do not show that as an acceptable variant. Simply replacing the (stupid) PH with (intelligent) F will solve that problem: "amfitheater".
Saturday, September 18, 2004: "bair" for "bear"
EA is a very ambiguous spelling that can be pronounced many ways long-E (beak, fear), short-E (bread), long-A (break), short-O (or broad-A) (heart), Û (or short-OO before R) (early), even two syllables joined by a glide (1. long-E/Y-glide/schwa (beatific); 2. long-E/Y-glide/short-A (beatify); 3. long-E/Y-glide/short-O (caveat) and others! as well as the AI-sound in today's word, bear.
Sometimes we see more than one pronunciation in a single phrase, such as the name of the major brokerage firm Bear, Stearns & Co. (pronounced Bair Sternz).
The Middle English form of the word had no A (beren for the verb, bere for the animal), and the sound system was clear in those days, so people knew to assign the AI-sound. Now, things are so confused that only a respelling will make plain to new readers of English (be they English-speaking children or students of English as a Second Language) how to say this word: "bair".
Friday, September 17, 2004: "dum" for "dumb"
There is a B at the end of the word "dumb" but it's not pronounced. That's dumb. Moreover, as other spelling reformers have pointed out to me, the derivative "dummy" does not have a B, and the comparative "dumber" looks to rhyme with "lumber" and "number", which is misleading. So let's just excise the silly silent-B from the root and its derivatives, and have done: "dum", "dummer", and "dummest".
Thursday, September 16, 2004: "dror/s" for "drawer/s"
There are actually two words in the spelling "drawer", one of two syllables (a person who draws) and one of one syllable (an open-top box that slides in and out of a piece of furniture). It is the second I propose be changed to "dror", which will not only show people the proper pronunciation but will also eliminate one of the English language's hundreds of homographs and make plain that "drawer" is two syllables and refers to one who draws.
As for "drawers" for underpants, that becomes "drors".
Wensday, September 15, 2004: "garantee" / "garanty" for "guarantee" / "guaranty"
"Guar" is a word, pronounced "gwar" (rhymes with "are"), for a plant from which derives "guar gum", "A water-soluble paste made from the seeds of the guar plant and used as a thickener and stabilizer in foods and pharmaceuticals" (Dictionary.com).
"Guarantee" and "guaranty" are words related to each other that have similar meanings but nothing at all to do with the guar plant.
In "guarantee", the stress is on the third syllable. In "guaranty", the stress is on the first syllable. Both words mean assurance of performance. And neither of them has a W-sound, as in "guar", so neither should be written with the U that signals a W sound: "garantee"/"garanty".
Tuesday, September 14, 2004: "frum" for "from"
There is no O-sound in "from". It doesn't rhyme with "CD-ROM" or the second syllable of "barometer". -OM- is a very ambiguous spelling that is sometimes pronounced with a long-O (bromide, chromosome), sometimes with a short-O (promise, dromedary), sometimes with a schwa (carom, compromise), and, perhaps uniquely in "from", with a full short-U. Since this is one of the first words kids and other new learners of English are taught, let's giv them a simple sound-to-spelling correlation from the outset: "frum".
Munday, September 13, 2004: "bich" for "bitch"
Let's start the week off with a bang, the ever-popular word for "female dog" (which has metaphorical uses too). If we don't need a T to know how to pronounce rich, which, ostrich, and sandwich, we don't need a T to know how to pronounce "bitch" (nor, I suspect, beeotch: beeoch). Let's save a letter: "bich".
Sunday, September 12, 2004: "caut" for "caught"
The G and H in "caught" are silent, so there's no reason for them to be there. "Caught" is the past tense and past participle of the irregular verb "catch". There's no G or GH in catch, nor in any of the ancestral words from which it derives, so there's no reason for them to be in any inflected form of catch: "caut".
Saturday, September 11, 2004: "prair" for "prayer"
On the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it seems appropriate to offer reform of the word "prayer", since so many people have prayed today, for the souls of victims; for peace, forgiveness, healing. (Regardless of whether it accomplishes the ends prayed for, prayer does make a lot of people feel better and help them come to terms with grief and control rage.)
There are actually two words in the spelling "prayer": (1) a person who prays (pronounced PRAE-yer) and, more commonly, (2) the act of praying or what one prays for (pronounced prair). We can leave the first alone and fix only the second, which looks to be two syllables but is only one, and make it conform to its sound: "prair".
Friday, September 10, 2004: "briggadeer" for "brigadier"
Concluding 'military week' (Monday, "sargent"; Tuesday, "lutenant"; Wensday, "captan"; Thursday, "kernal"), let's climb the chain of command to the last nonphonetic rank, "brigadier (general)".
The ending -ier can be pronounced a number of ways: IEYER as in "amplifier"; EEYER, as in "carrier"; YAE, as in "atelier"; EEYAE, as in "couturier" or "croupier"; ER, as in "brazier" or "glacier"; and EER as in "bombardier" or, today's word, "brigadier". The most common pronunciation is EEYER, in the comparative of many adjectives ending in Y: easier, cheesier. Change the spelling to -eer, however, and the reader knows exactly how to pronounce it.
One unclear sound remains. The I before a single-G could be pronounced long, but here it's short. To show that, we need to double the G: "briggadeer".
Thursday, September 9, 2004: "kernal" for "colonel"
Continuing 'military week, let's climb the chain of command to the next higher rank, "colonel".
"Colonel" is one of those famously preposterous spellings that people who make fun of English orthography love. How did we get a "ker" sound from "colo"? You can't get there from here without a dictionary, and if you have to use a dictionary, you don't need to memorialize the etymology in the word's own form.
Dictionary.com gives the history of the word thus:Alteration of obsolete coronel, from French, from Old Italian colonello, from diminutive of colonna, column of soldiers, from Latin columna, column. See kel-2 in Indo-European Roots.
I suspect that some overeducated, pretentious 'authority' in the Middle Ages, espying an ultimate origin in Latin "colonna", decided to reform the more-reasonable "coronel" (which is the modern Spanish word) to "colonel", and we have had to memorize this idiotic spelling ever since. No more!
"Colonel" is pronounced the same as the existing word "kernel", and it is a strong preference of this site to avoid creating new homophonic homographs (distinct words spelled and pronounced the same), so "kernel" is out. But "kernal" is available. Problem solved: "kernal".
Wensday, September 8, 2004: "captan" for "captain"
Continuing this week's military theme, I offer today a simplification of the word for the next higher rank, captain. This is a little more problematic than the other two, in that "captan" is parallel in form but not necessarily in pronunciation to "capstan" and "caftan" (or "kaftan"), which some people do pronounce with a schwa in the second syllable but others, like me, ordinarily say with a full short-A.
Still, the words with schwa in a -tan ending are far more numerous than those with a full short-A, e.g., charlatan, cosmopolitan, (Good) Samaritan, Puritan, sultan, tartan, titan.
The last syllable in "captain" certainly does not rhyme with those of abstain, attain, obtain, pertain, explain, ingrained, or entertain. So let's just drop the needless and potentially confusing I and write "captan".
Tuesday, September 7, 2004:"lutenant" for "lieutenant"
Yesterday's word was "sargent" for "sergeant". Today, we move up a rank. But before that, and as an integral part of this reform, let's deal with "lieu", the unfonetic part of "lieutenant".
We could have chosen "lieu" as today's word, and then added on, to simplify "lieutenant" instead of the other way around.
"Lieu" is a French loan word pronounced "lyoo" in French, where the OO is short, as in "good" you can do that in French, but not in English, which pretty much automatically makes every vowel in final position either long or schwa (the neutral unstressed vowel as in both A's in "America"). "Lieu" means "place, stead", and when originally borrowed could be used as a word in itself. Nowadays, however, "lieu" is heard only in the expression "in lieu of", meaning, appropriately, "in place of, instead of", and is pronounced as if spelled "loo". However, we mustn't write "lootenant" because "loo" is an existing word, for "toilet" or "lavatory" in Britain and the more British-oriented parts of the "Anglosphere". Americans don't use it (the term, that is).
The British also peculiarly mispronounce "lieutenant" as tho spelled "leftenant". Australians are confused about this, and their navy says "lutenant" while their army says "leftenant"! The website from which I learned that speculates that the distinction may have arisen during the Napoleonic Wars, when the British navy had only occasional conflict with the French, so didn't reject a French pronunciation, while the army, slogging away every day against the French, couldn't bear to use a French pronunciation for their own officers. Interesting, but unknowable. Suffice it to say that that Australian website suggests we should all, across the English-speaking world, say "lutenant". I agree. If some people want to say "leftenant", let them respell the word to show that pronunciation. You can't get "lef" out of "lieu".
In any case, "lieutenant" means, literally, "place holder", which sounds, today, rather demeaning, as might make one think of the "seat-fillers" who take the place of celebrities at the Oscars who have to go to the loo, so the cameras don't show holes in the crowd. But it's really more important than that, as in "lieutenant governor", a person who can stand in for the governor and take his place if he (or she) should be out of state or die. Similarly, in the military, a lieutenant is someone qualified to take the place of the next higher up in the chain of command if he (or, nowadays, she) were absent or killed!
In any case, we have today another twofer: for "lieu", "lu" and for "lieutenant", "lutenant".
Munday, September 6, 2004: "sargent" for "sergeant"
I have often been surprised, in checking the origins of words, that Middle English was spelled more simply. Not in the case of this word. The Middle English form, tho presumably fonetic for its day, was sergeaunte. With this word, it's the Old French form that's simpler, sergent. We are familiar with the spelling "sargent" from the famous American portraitist, John Singer Sargent. There are also some small towns whose names have that spelling, which is clear as to pronunciation and simple to spell from the sound. So that's the spelling the word should have: "sargent".
Sunday, September 5, 2004: "marrage" for "marriage"
The I in "marriage" is silent. Let's get rid of it: "marrage".
Saturday, September 4, 2004: "tarmigan" for "ptarmigan"
I defy the enemies of spelling reform to justify the spelling "ptarmigan".
Standard arguments for retaining ridiculous spellings include the silly "it shows the origin of the word in another language, and thus cues people who know that language as to the meaning". But the silent-P in "ptarmigan" does no such thing. (And most of us who want to know what language a given word comes from check a dictionary, which is the only way to be sure rather than just guess.) Dictionary.com states that this ludicrous silent-P was added to a Scottish Gaelic word, "tarmachan", on the model of "Greek words like pteron, wing". As a commonsensible resident of the Appalachians might say, "Don't that beat all?!"
It is impossible logically to defend a silent-P in "ptarmigan". Chop it. Slash it. Burn it. Destroy it!: "tarmigan".
Friday, September 3, 2004: "zilafone" for "xylophone"
Dictionary.com remarks of this word, "Alphabet books for children frequently feature the word xylophone because it is one of the few words beginning with x that a child (or most adults, for that matter) would know." But there shouldn't be any words in English starting with X, since an X in initial position is never pronounced like X anywhere else (KS, GZ, or GZH), but always as Z! Do we really need four different pronunciations for X? I don't think so. With an X that's not pronounced like X and a PH that's pronounced like F, "xylophone" is one of the stupidest and most preposterous spellings in English. Let's toss it on the trash heap of linguistic history: "zilafone".
Thursday, September 2, 2004: "bute" for "butte"
Why is there a double-T in "butte"? Doesn't a double consonant ordinarily signal a short vowel? On the model of Bette Davis, then, shouldn't "butte" be pronounced "butty"? (There are lots of single-E's at the end of a word that are pronounced long-E, from "sesame" and "epitome" to "Penelope" and "facsimile".) Let's get rid of one needless and misleading letter and make this word simpler: "bute".
Wensday, September 1, 2004: "pritty" for "pretty"
P-E-T-T-Y and P-R-E-T-T-Y should rhyme. They don't, because the vowel in "pretty" is wrong. It should be I. Let "petty" and "Betty" rhyme. "Pretty" rhymes with "kitty", so should be spelled like "kitty": "pritty".
Tuesday, August 31, 2004: "minnit" for the noun "minute"
Today's reform, respelling the noun "minute" as "minnit", not only conforms the spelling to the sound but also eliminates a spelling-homonym with the adjective "minute" (mie-NUET), meaning very small. Let the adjective keep the spelling "minute". We can spell the noun: "minnit".
Munday, August 30, 2004: "diper" for "diaper"
Almost no one pronounces "diaper" with three syllables unless s/he is trying to sound grand and more educated than s/he really is. Truly well-educated people ignore silent letters. They don't say "ev-er-y" for "every" or "di-a-per" for "diaper". A corporation could quickly popularize this respelling by adopting it for a brand name, say "Diperz", to break in on a market dominated by brands like Pampers, Huggies, and Luvs (see "love", our Word of the Day for June 4th). One company offers "Drypers", a play on words that shows plainly that most people think of "diaper" as two syllables. Since almost all of us say it that way, let's spell it that way, and then evryone will say it as the two syllables it is: "diper".
Sunday, August 29, 2004: "brekfast" for "breakfast"
This Sunday's word is the name of the early meal many Americans don't have except on Sunday,"breakfast". The word has two elements which combine to show its meaning: "break" and "fast". The "fast" which eating in the morning "breaks" is the chunk of 8 to 12 hours, most of them spent sleeping, that we generally do not eat from the end of dinner to the time we wake. But most people do not think of breakfast as the breaking of a fast, and the pronunciation isn't the same for either element of the word.
Moreover, the spelling in Middle English was exactly that proposed today, so in making this reform we would merely be returning to the sensible spelling of hundreds of years ago in place of the nonsensical, relatively recent and pretentious respelling that has forced us to remember to put in a useless silent-A for no good reason: "brekfast".
Saturday, August 28, 2004: "farmacy" for "pharmacy"
This is yet another word that was spelled better, farmacie, in Middle English than it is in Modern English. That makes no sense to me. Shouldn't the modern world be more rational than the Middle Ages, not less?
Scores of millions of American visitors to Mexico and to Hispanic neighborhoods in their own country will have noticed signs saying "Farmacia" and not been puzzled as to what that might mean. Spanish is far closer to Latin, from which we got "pharmacy", than is English, yet sees no need to retain a foolish (phoolish?) PH just to show that the word originally came from Greek. Nor should we. Who cares whether it came from Greek, Russian, or Chinese? Why should that make a difference in the way it's spelled?
(And how far back are we to go? "Fool" doesn't come from Greek, so we might not spell it "phool", but it does come from the Indo-European root "bhel-". Should we therefore spell it "bhool" and just remember that here the BH sounds like F? Hey, as far as I'm concerned, BH as F is not one whit more 'phoolish' than PH as F.)
Some opponents of spelling reform pretend that changing words like "pharmacy" could confuse people as to meaning, such that they see "farm" in the word and think "farm" as in Old McDonald. Not bloody likely. If we don't confuse the words "farm" and "pharmacy" when we hear them, we won't confuse them when we see both written with the F we hear in both: "farmacy".
Friday, August 27, 2004: "lern" for "learn"
Today's word was rationally spelled in Middle English (lernen, when the final-N was pronounced) but somehow acquired an unnecessary and misleading A along the way. EA is ordinarily pronounced EE, so "learn" should NOT have an A in it, because that misleads the reader.
Wally ("Famous") Amos hosts a PBS television program on literacy called Learn to Read. If you look at that three-word title closely, you see that two of the three words are spelled stupidly. To the new learner, it reads as "Leern toe Reed". It could even be read as "Leern toe Red"! No wonder it's so hard to read and write English!
Structurally and phonemically, English is very easy. It is by far the least-complicated major language in grammar regular verbs have only two forms in the present tense, e.g., "learn" and "learns". That's unusually easy. It contains no difficult sounds like the U in French "plume" or clicks in some African languages. But its spelling is insane, and everyone struggles with it. Even those of us who ordinarily spell well can be misled in reading unfamiliar words or have to use a dictionary or spellchecker for particular words we want to write.
Let's eliminate needless difficulties, as in today's very common word: "lern".
Thursday, August 26, 2004: "alfa/bet" for "alpha/bet"
Yesterday's word was "hieroglyph/ic/s" (the three related words as separated by the slashes), which relates to one way of writing, pictographs, in which one draws stylized pictures to represent the things or ideas talked about. Today's word, "alphabet" derived from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha (our subword today) and bet(a) , is the other main way of writing, in which the things one draws relate not to the objects or abstract concepts being talked about but only to the sounds of the words that speak of them. Pictographs relate directly to the objects; alphabets relate only to speech sounds. Ideally.
In English we have screwed around with the alphabet idea and lost some of the benefits of what has been called "The Alphabet Effect", the impact of the way we write on how we think. Our present writing "system" is only partly phonetic (which analytically breaks down what we say into individual speech sounds and words when we write and puts them back together when we read). It is also partly hieroglyphic or pictographic, in which what we see is more a picture of a word than a representation of its sounds. We don't really sound-out "chamois" or "knight". Each of those is a word-picture we recognize on sight as tho it were a little picture of a bee for the word "be" in a child's wordgame book.
Alphabetic writing, when done right, is more efficient than the word games we play now, and this site hopes to guide society as to minor improvements that will make English more alphabetic and thus more efficient to use and learn.
In today's word, let's just substitute F for PH, as do Spanish, Italian, and other languages closer to the Latin and Greek from which the word derives: "alfabet".
Wensday, August 25, 2004: "hiraglif" for "hieroglyph"
The bizarre spelling of "hieroglyph" (and its derivatives, "hieroglyphic" and "hieroglyphics") is, in a way, oddly appropriate, in that the 'spelling' is more a picture using letters as picture elements (meaningless shapes) than it is a representation of the sounds of the word, which alphabetic writing is supposed to be. Yu can't "sound out" hieroglyph, so "phonics" is useless, even misleading. Does the IE represent long-I, one syllable, or two adjoining vowels, long-I and short-E, in two syllables? Is the Y supposed to be pronounced like Y in "why", or the first Y in "mystery", or the second Y in "mystery"? We can usually (but not always) assume that PH is to be pronounced "F". The mystery there is why it isn't just spelled F. And the O isn't pronounced either long-O or short-O, but is a schwa, so could at least as well be written A, E or U. Only the H, R, and G are clear!
Let's clear away all the confusion, as to produce a simple threefer: "hiraglif", "hiraglific" and "hiraglifics".
Tuesday, August 24, 2004: "tauk" for "talk"
T-A-L-K and T-A-L-C should be pronounced the same. They're not. The first is three phonemes (speech sounds: T, AU, and K) in four letters, one of which is silent. The second is four phonemes (T, AA, L, and K) in four letters, one of which is wrong (the C should be a K). We can reform the spelling of "talk" very easily, on the model of "auk", a diving sea bird. Reform of "talc" will hav to wait until "tauk" is well established, whereupon "talc" could be rewritten "talk", altho many people will see that as both inadvisable and unnecessary, since a final-C would ordinarily be pronounced K anyway. For now, let's simplify "talk" by getting rid of the silent-L and making the vowel sound plain: "tauk".
Monday, August 23, 2004: "Munday" for "Monday"
Today's werd is the name of its day, which has the wrong vowel in its first syllable. "Monday" is the only werd in formal English that starts with M-O-N-D. The only other werd that starts with M-O-N-D is the slang term "mondo", which has the right vowel for its pronunciation. Let's start the workweek right, with an intelligent spelling for the day, which shows its actual pronunciation: "Munday".
Sunday, August 22, 2004: "wate" for "weight"
The spelling w-e-i-g-h-t is indefensibly absurd. It has two silent letters, G and H, and a misleading vowel combination, EI, that is usually pronounced as in either of the pronunciations of that letter combination in the werd "either": EE as in "tee" or IE as in "tie".
Reforming the spelling of "weight", however, presents us with the 'weighty' problem of what to du about the related verb, "weigh". "Way" is the spelling of a common werd, and it would be best if a new spelling for "weigh" didn't produce a new homonym tho we hav lots of spelling homonyms and, for that matter, "way" already has some 17 meanings as noun and 3 as adverb, so what's one mor? The three-letter werd "bow" has two pronunciations, with 7 meanings for 'bou' and 12 for 'bo', from a knot in shoelaces to the front part of a ship to something that propels an arrow to a gesture of respect. Look up "run". The American Heritage electronic dictionary shows 27 meanings for the intransitive verb, 28 for the transitive, and 32 for the noun! We distinguish among them by context, not spelling.
So, creating one mor spelling homonym in a language filled with them wouldn't be an outrageous thing to du if it makes the pronunciation clearer and saves some letters. Or we could write "wae" (on the pattern of "Mae", "sundae", and "reggae"), which has no current use, and avoid the problem of confusion with "way". But we don't hav to decide that right away.
Tho it would be good to reform the entire family "weigh", "weight", "weighty", it isn't really necessary. Having one form for the noun and adjective, and another for a related verb wouldn't be the most striking oddity in English spelling, now would it? So let's use the model of "fate", "date", and "mate" for something tied into all those things: "wate". For "weighty", we can use the pattern of the casual expression "matey": "watey" or save another letter and write "waty".
Like dieting, we can put off to some other day what to du about "weigh". There's no reason, however, not to 'slim down' the noun today: "wate".
Saturday, August 21, 2004: "narl" for "gnarl"
"Gnarl" and its derivatives (gnarled, gnarly, etc.) is from Old English, in which the G was pronounced. It's related to similar werds in German, Swedish, etc., that employ a KN at the beginning of the werd and in which to this day the K is pronounced. But in Modern English the G is silent, so should not be written: "narl".
Friday, August 20, 2004: "rist" for "wrist"
"Wrist" is another of those werds from Old English in which a W was once pronounced but no longer is, so should no longer be written: "rist".
Thursday, August 19, 2004: "arain" for "arraign"
News reports often feature this legal werd and its derivative, "arraignment". When we hear it, we don't think of it having a G, but it does hav another of those pesky silent-G's for no apparent reason, since the Middle English form, arreinen, had no silent letters at all and the French werd from which it derived, araisnier, had a silent-S! Even the Latin from which it ultimately derives provides no justification for a silent-G. If anything, that werd, adrationare, should hav given rise to a silent-D and/or T: adraitn. Why not? If we're just going to insert random silent letters into werds, why not write "adraitn" for "arraign". A silent-D and T would at least suggest a link to a werd that "arraign" actually bears a relationship to. The present silent-G, by contrast, dropped from the clear blue sky.
"Arraign" also has a double-R, when doubling a consonant is a device often used to indicate that the syllabic stress falls before the doubled consonant. Since the stress here falls after the doubled consonant, the R should not be doubled. A single A at the start of a werd, followed by another element, is frequently seen in English (abet, ajar, astern) , and we know how to pronounce such werds. If we doubled the consonant, we'd be confused: abbet, ajjar, asstern. So let's get rid of the silent-G and double-R in "arraign" to end up with the simple, elegant "arain".
Wensday, August 18, 2004: "complection" for "complexion"
"Complexion" is, according to my electronic American Heritage Dictionary, one of only four werds in the entire English language that end in X-I-O-N, and two of those, "suffixion" and "transfixion", ar rarely used. "Crucifixion" is the only such werd other than "complexion" that most people would encounter. By contrast, there ar dozens of werds that end in -ection or -iction.
Spelling simplification is not necessarily about shortening werds (tho it often does produce that result) but rather about making spelling easy to predict by making the patterns consistent. In Britain, a number of werds that Americans spell with -ction ar instead spelled with -xion (e.g., "reflexion" and "inflexion"), so they hav gone in the opposite direction which, curiously, is not one of the werds they spell with -xion! Rather than try to remember which du and which don't take -xion, it's a lot simpler just to spell all such werds with -ction. Let's start with "complection".
Tuesday, August 17, 2004: "fonetic" for "phonetic"
Ironically, the werd that means "written as it's said" is not itself written as it's said. That would be funny were it not so stupid.
The spelling of English is so bizarre that it's as tho a group of college students got together to invent a ridiculous spelling "system" and then sell it to the public for its asserted "benefits", such as showing the history of the werd in its form and honoring the languages from which English derives even tho it makes learning to read and write extremely difficult. Further, they even played with the way the Greek alphabet is to be transliterated, assigning two letters, PH, to the one Greek letter that is the equivalent of the Roman letter F. And they got away with this crazy prank! for centuries!
Playtime is over now. English is a language with a lot of work to do. It is the world's No. 1 means of international communication, so it is important that it be learned and used easily, which means it must be as close to phonetic as possible. What better way to show we're serious about making English easy to use than by reforming the spelling of "phonetic" itself: "fonetic".
Monday, August 16, 2004: "ressle/r" for "wrestle/r"
Yesterday's werd, "wrangle/r", had a silent-W that was once pronounced but no longer is. Today's werd, "wrestle/r" has, in addition to a silent-W, a silent-T that also was once pronounced, but no longer is, so should no longer be written either. The reformed spelling we should apply is indicated by the nonstandard alteration we sometimes hear, "rassle", which, intelligently, has neither a W nor a T. Let's emulate that eminently sensible pattern for the standard werd/s: "ressle" and "ressler".
Sunday, August 15, 2004: "rangle/r" for "wrangle/r"
The silent-W in "wrangle" and "wrangler" was once pronounced, but no longer is, so should no longer be written. The silent-W in "write" and thus its derivatives is a tougher case to call, inasmuch as we already hav "rite", "right", "wright" (with its many combined forms), and the surname "Wright". One of the principles behind this site is that ideally a simpler spelling should not create a new homograph (spelling-homonym). Since we can easily drop the silent-W in "wrangle" and "wrangler" without creating new problems,* we hav again today a twofer: "rangle" and "rangler".
* Just so the nitpickers out there know, I did find one entry in Dictionary.com for "rangle" ("To range about in an irregular manner"), but it bears the usage label, "[Obs. or Prov. Eng.] ", and one should not inconvenience the billion and mor people trying to use English around the world for the sake of avoiding trivial confusion with a werd that no longer exists in the language except for a few "provincials" in Merry Old England.
Saturday, August 14, 2004: "jepardy" for "jeopardy"
On last nite's Tonight Show with Jay Leno, an actor playing George Bush in a takeoff on the quiz show Jeopardy! read the werd "jeopardy" as tho it were spelled "geopardy" and had something to do with danger to the planet: JEE-oh-par-dy. Well, that's the way it's spelled, as tho it is to be said that way. But we don't say it that way, so shouldn't spell it that way either. We need to : "jepardy".
Friday, August 13, 2004: "welth" for "wealth"
Why is there an A in "wealth"? It didn't hav one in its Middle English form (welthe). Some pretentious fool inserted one for no good reason. Perhaps he wanted to show a connection to "weal" but "weal" didn't hav an A in Middle English either! It was spelled "wele"! It's embarrassing that Middle English and Old English, both of which were phonetic, were spelled better than Modern English. Let's change that: "welth".
Thursday, August 12, 2004: "foran" for "foreign"
Yesterday's pre-reform werd was "sovereign", which is similar in form to today's bizarrely-spelled werd, "foreign". Both write two letters, EI, to represent a schwa (the neutral, unstressed vowel so common in English such as the second E in "telephone", the U in "circus", and both A's in "America"). That EI combination suggests that the sound of the second syllable rhymes with either "fine" or "seen" which it doesn't. And there's a G in there for no reason, because it isn't pronounced and doesn't even indicate the werd's origins, because the werds it came from don't hav a G!
Why du we put up with such nonsense? And how did this spelling get so crazy?
Learning to read English is like hazing. Before it happens, people dread it. While it's going on, they endure it, because it's expected of them. But once it's over, they think "That wasn't so bad" even if it was horrendous and feel that if they had to go thru it, others du too. That is both ungenerous and unwise, because a lot of people never du come out whole on the other end, but ar turned off to reading, with all the costs of illiteracy to society and the individual.
Some crazy people hav held positions of power in the literary and educational elite of the English-speaking world. They actually inserted silent letters ON PURPOSE, knowing that adding such letters would make English harder to read! The G in "foreign" is a case in point. There was no G in the Middle English version of the werd, nor in the French werd from which it derived, nor even in the Latin werd from which the French ultimately derived! Somebody just popped one in, for no rational reason, and for centuries after, fools and sheep hav retained a stupid, useless, silent-G! It's time to get rid of it, and simplify the vowel. Let's use the model of "sovereign" and its intelligent variant, "sovran": "foran".
Wensday, August 11, 2004: "sovran" for "sovereign"
"Sovran" is actually a recognized variant of "sovereign", but, as is so often the case, the intelligent spelling variant is virtually unused, while the stupid variant is evrywhere in evidence. It is odd to write two vowels to express a schwa, the unstressed neutral vowel in the last syllable of "soverEIgn". And a silent-G in the middle of a werd is also unusual and indefensible. Some businesses, including a rather large Southern bank that was bought by Bank of America, hav gladly used the "sovran" spelling, which dates back at least to John Milton's epic poem, "Paradise Lost" (1667). There was no silent-G and no EI in the Middle English form, "soverain", nor the similar French form before that, nor even the Latin original before that ("superanus")! So let's just get rid of all this clutter and return to the simple and sensible "sovran".
Tuesday, August 10, 2004: "erth" for "earth"
E-A-R is ordinarily pronounced EER, as in the werds "ear" and "year". That's not the sound in "earth" (nor, with a capital letter, "Earth", the name of our planet). So let's just drop this needless and misleading extra letter: "erth" / "Erth".
Monday, August 9, 2004: "soriasis" for "psoriasis"
Putting a silent-P at the beginning of "psoriasis" is just plain pstupid: "soriasis".
Sunday, August 8, 2004: "merchandize" for the verb "merchandise"
This actually is recognized as a variant spelling, but for both the noun and the verb and it is essentially never seen. If we simply popularize the -IZE ending for the verb alone, we will make a clear distinction between noun and verb, and guide people to the proper pronunciation of each: verb with a Z-sound, noun with an S-sound.
Saturday, August 7, 2004: "mosk" for "mosque"
QUE is a silly way to spell the K-sound. "Mosque" is the only werd in the entire, enormous English language in which the sequence O-S-Q-U-E exists. That's one too many.
"Mosque" is from French, which took it from Italian, which took it from Spanish, which took it from Arabic! At each step of the way except ours, from French to English, each new language changed its spelling to make it mor appropriate to the borrowing language. (Dictionary.com givs the etymology thus: "French mosquée, from Old French mousquaie, from Old Italian moschea, from moscheta, from Old Spanish mezquita, from Arabic masjid.") Those languages had mor respect for themselves than has English.
Oddly, "mosque" (by any spelling) is falling out of favor among American Moslems, who ar replacing it with the original "masjid". Still, to the extent it remains in English, it should hav a short, simple spelling: "mosk".
Friday, August 6, 2004: "naw" for "gnaw"
The G in "gnaw" was pronounced when first written, in the prior Old English werd ("gnagen") and then its Middle English version, "gnauen", which is the only reason it was written. There were no silent letters in Old English or Middle English. There shouldn't be any in Modern English either. We don't say a G, so shouldn't write a G: "naw".
Thursday, August 5, 2004: "peregrin" for "peregrine" (falcon)
Although Dictionary.com shows PER-a-green as a variant pronunciation for this unusual werd, the bird isn't green in color and almost no one pronounces its name as tho it were green. The last syllable doesn't rhyme with "brine", which is parallel in form, but with "grin", so let's spell it -grin and be clear on the pronunciation: "peregrin".
Wensday, August 4, 2004: "hor" for "whore"
This is another of those werds that for incomprehensible reasons muved from a phonetic spelling, "hore", in both Middle and Old English, when the E was pronounced (as tho written, today, "hora"), to a nonphonetic spelling in Modern English. WH is most commonly pronounced today as tho written either HW (most careful speakers in the U.S.) or just-W (some speakers in the U.S., almost evryone in Britain). But there ar some werds in which it is pronounced as tho written just-H. Let's rewrite all those with just an H, starting with "hor".
Tuesday, August 3, 2004: "effervesse" and "effervessent" for "effervesce" and "effervescent"
The C in "effervesce" is a holdover from a Latin form in which SC combined to form the SH-sound of English. We don't say "effervesh", so shouldn't spell it in a Latinate/Italianate form that suggests that pronunciation. We can intelligently eliminate the C, but leave the following-E, which may have been placed there to show that the C is "soft", so shouldn't be pronounced K, but usefully serves to show that the word's stress falls on the last syllable (as in "finesse", "largesse", and "politesse"). The derivative "effervescent" can then be changed to "effervessent", so we end up with a rationally-spelled twofer: "effervesse" and "effervessent".
Monday, August 2, 2004: "plak" for "plaque"
As a Google search for "plak" will show, this obvious shortening is used in a number of business and product names, in both of the werd's major senses, a commemorative or explanatory sign and a film on teeth. However, this simple but elegant spelling is not yet recognized as an acceptable variant for general use. It should be.
The werd is French in form because it was borrowed from French. But the French may hav borrowed it from Middle Dutch, "placke". Since that spelling was "un-French", the French changed it to a French form. Why don't we hav that kind of pride, so that when we borrow a werd that is "un-English", we change its spelling to a form mor comfortable and natural for us?
English, like Dutch, is a Low German language. ("Low" refers to altitude, Low German being the dialects spoken at or close to sea level, along the coasts occupied by Germanic peoples, such as the Netherlands (low-lands), as against High German, spoken in higher altitudes, such as the Bavarian Alps.) It would thus be mor appropriate to emulate a Dutch spelling than a French one, but "placke" or "plack" is needlessly long. Let us simply use four letters to express the four phonemes (speech sounds) of this English werd: "plak".
Sunday, August 1, 2004: "caf" for "calf"; "cavs" for "calves"
Silent-L is not very common but causes problems in reading various werds that might hav a silent-L or might not and not just for new readers. When is L silent and when not? If the L in "calf" is not pronounced, how about the L in "calm", "palm", "balk", "balm", "Palmer", and "almond"? Because of this uncertainty, yu hear both pronunciations for all these werds except the surname "Palmer", where the L is essentially always pronounced. It's time to sort this mess out, starting with "calf".
We can just drop the silent-L, yielding the efficient three-letter spelling "caf" for a werd of three phonemes (individual speech sounds). Some people will think that "looks funny" and "calf" doesn't?? so would prefer "caff". Would they like us to write "iff", "itt", "att" and "onn" too? Well, even "caff" is better than "calf". But why write four letters for three sounds if three letters will do? Let's just spell it "caf".
Since "calf" is irregular in form, not just in spelling, we need to revise its plural, "calves", as well. "Cavs" works fine. We couldn't very well write "caves", to separate the V and S with an E, which we sometimes du in forming plurals (but unpredictably; we sometimes don't), because that would produce the plural of "cave". "Cavves" would be ridiculous. "Cavs" is a familiar werd from sports references to the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association. The spelling "cavs", with a single V, shows again that we don't need a second F in the singular. So we hav today another twofer: "caf" for the singular; "cavs" for the plural.
Saturday, July 31, 2004: "pirana" for "piranha"
This werd, the name of a warm-water carnivorous fish, derives from the Tupi Indian language via Brazilian Portuguese (because the fish is found mainly in Brazil). In Portuguese, -NH- is the way one spells the Ñ sound of Spanish (as in "mañana") or -NY- sound of English (as in "canyon"). Tho pi-RON-ya and pi-RAN-ya ar shown as proper pronunciations for this werd at Dictionary.com, such pronunciations ar essentially never heard. Perhaps ichthyologists (fish scientists) use such pronunciations. Nobody else does.
If we want to teach people to say pi-RON-ya or pi-RAN-ya (this latter a bad choice, since it mixes an English short-A with a Romance Ñ), we should spell the werd "piranya". Since, however, almost nobody says that, we can simply drop what is to most people a silent-H: "pirana".
Friday, July 30, 2004: "werd" for "word"
It had to happen sooner or later. Today's the day that "word" is the word. Yu may be so accustomed to the look of "word" that you think, "What's wrong with 'word'?" Put an S in front of it and yu'll see that the vowel is wrong: "sword". "Sword" has the right vowel, but a needless silent consonant, W. (We hav already fixed that, on July 16th.) O-R is ordinarily pronounced as in "or", "nor", and "for". That's not the sound in "word". So let's change one letter to show the right sound: "werd".
Thursday, July 29, 2004: "flem" for "phlegm"
"Phlegm" is one of those really weird spellings that English is littered with for no apparent reason. It is also a word that, at an earlier time, was spelled better but is now spelled worse. In Middle English, which borrowed the word from Old French, the spelling was "fleem", "fleume", or "flemie", each representative of the way each variety was pronounced, all with an F, not PH and none with a G. Then some pretentious scholar reached back over a thousand years of history to restore a pseudo-Greek spelling to a word that originated in Greek but had been part of Latin and its derivatives for well over a millennium. I say "pseudo-Greek" because PH is not Greek but an odd way of transliterating the Greek letter phi , whose romanic equivalent is F! If yu're not going to write in the Greek alphabet, why on Earth would yu transliterate one Greek letter as two Roman letters rather than the one Roman letter it equates with? That's just a silly affectation. And why would yu go to the trouble of adding a letter that is not to be pronounced? Perhaps it was a way to keep literacy beyond the reach of the masses, reserved instead to the "in" crowd of the self-anointed elite. No matter. The spelling "phlegm" is indefensibly absurd.
The derivative "phlegmatic" is distinct in sound and sense from most people's understanding of "plegm", and harkens not to mucus but to a different meaning of "phlegm": "One of the four humors of ancient and medieval physiology, thaut to cause sluggishness, apathy, and evenness of temper." A simplified rendering of this word would be "flegmatic". So today's choice is a twofer: "flem" and "flegmatic".
Wensday, July 28, 2004: "du" for "do"
"Do" is an odd way to spell something that rhymes with "goo". "Doo" might 'do', but why use three letters when two will du?
Tuesday, July 27, 2004: "shuv" for "shove"
Presidential candidate John Kerry's wife Teresa Heinz Kerry made quite a splash recently in telling a journalist to "Shove it", so I thaut this a good time to address the nonphonetic spelling S-H-O-V-E. The combination O-V-E is unpredictable as to pronunciation, sometimes being pronounced UV ("above"), sometimes OVE ("rove"), sometimes UVE ("move"). UV is always clear: "shuv" (it).
Monday, July 26, 2004: "tord/s" for "toward/s"
"Toward/s" looks as tho it should be pronounced as two syllables, but that is a "spelling pronunciation", that is, an artificial mispronunciation induced by misleading spelling. "Toward/s" is one syllable. The "ward" part of the word isn't separate; yu're not going to a ward when yu go toward something, so should not pronounce the word as tho yu are.
As to whether the word has an S on the end or not, that is a dialectal and personal choice. As usual, the British prefer the longer and mor cumbersome form, with the S; Americans generally prefer the shorter form, without the S. But some Americans (pretentious people? people insecure about what they may perceive (wrongly) as casual speech?) think the longer form is mor dignified (it is not) so prefer that. Be that as it may, the main word is one syllable, so should be spelled that way: "tord".
Sunday, July 25, 2004: "yot" for "yacht"
English is filled with silent-GH's. Silent-CH is rare in fact, aside from that in "yacht", I can't think of any and no mor justified, ever, than a silent-GH. Simply dropping the CH would leave "yat", which would lead people to make it rhyme with "bat", "cat", and "fat", which it doesn't. However, if we change the A to O, we hav a perfectly phonetic spelling that works equally well in the U.S. and Britain (which pronounce the word slightly differently): "yot".
Saturday, July 24, 2004: "thaut" for "thought"
"Thought" is very irregular, being a bizarre inflected form of the verb "think" and in having two silent letters (G and H) and a vowel combination, OU, that suggests a different sound than it really has. OU is usually seen as the OU-sound, as in "ouch", tho it is also sometimes pronounced long-U, as in "coupon"; short-U, as in "tough"; and intermediate-U (short-OO) as in "boulevard". Rarely is it pronounced AU as in "haul". It shouldn't take this much thought to pronounce any word we see. So let's just get rid of all this confusion: "thaut".
Friday, July 23, 2004: "depo" for "depot"
The silent-T at the end of "depot" is a legacy from French, the word's language of origin. In French, the word is actually dépôt, which provides etymologists a little information that yu don't need to understand the word's English meaning. In French, an O with a "hat" over it, the circumflex accent, shows that it was originally OS. A French scholar seeing dépôt as "depost" could guess that it comes from Latin "depositum", so that if he didn't already know what "depot" meant, he'd be able to make some sense of it from its origin. Ordinary speakers of English don't hav that kind of information nor interest, but get the meaning from the word's use, or from a dictionary.
Aside from taking up mor space for no reason, the T introduces an element of uncertainty as to pronunciation. Is it pronounced, as in similar words like "ingot" or "marmot"; silent, as in the familiar woman's name "Margot" (e.g., Kidder); or pronounced by some speakers but not by others, as in "argot"? Let's end the uncertainty by dropping the needless T: "depo".
Thursday, July 22, 2004: "mor" for "more"
The silent-E at the end of "more" is at best unnecessary, since the OR shows the sound plainly, and at worst misleading, in suggesting a long-O rather than AU sound. We find "or", "nor", and "for" clear without a needless extra letter. Less is "mor".
Wensday, July 21, 2004: "naut" for "naught" /"nought"
The silent-GH adds naught: "naut".
Tuesday, July 20, 2004: "siv" for "sieve"
Here's another word that shows "phonics" to be almost useless in teaching people to read and write English. S-I-E-V-E. Hmm. How would yu pronounce that? Well, IEVE in "believe" is pronounced EEV, so SIEVE should be SEEV, no? No. OK. IE in "tie" is long-I, so SIEVE should be pronounced as tho spelled "sive" and thus rhyme with "hive" and "thrive", right? Wrong. It's pronounced "siv", so let's just spell it as we pronounce it: "siv".
Monday, July 19, 2004: "flud" for "flood"
OO is a very ambiguous spelling that can be pronounced long-U ("food"), short-U ("flood"), the intermediate-U of "good" even AU ("floor"). When people ar trying to spell things out phonetically, they tend to use OO to represent long-U; they would never, for purposes of indicating pronunciation, employ OO to show short-U. So why should we ever use OO for short-U? Let's just write what we say: "flud".
Sunday, July 18, 2004: "helth" for "health"
Altho "health" and "heal" ar historically related, few people inseparably associate the two, and the vowel differs. The EA in "heal" is pronounced as a long-E; the EA in "health" is pronounced short-E. Tho EA may be a reasonable way to represent a long-E, it is an unnecessarily long spelling for short-E, which is generally spelled with just a single-E before a consonant. The EA in "health" can be misread as a long-E, so it is far more reasonable to drop the silent-A to make the sound clear: "helth".
Saturday, July 17, 2004: "simitar" for "scimitar", "scimiter", and "simitar"
Yesterday's word was "sword"/"sord". Today's word is the name of a type of sword, mainly associated with the Middle East, that has a curved blade. The C is silent, so let's slice it away. One of the three spellings for this word does that, but of course is not the preferred form. It should be: "simitar".
Friday, July 16, 2004: "sord" for "sword"
In Old English, from which the spelling "sword" derives, the W was pronounced, which is the only reason it was written. The rule in Old English was to write only what was actually said. Good rule. We don't pronounce the W today, so shouldn't write it either: "sord".
Thursday, July 15, 2004: "caracter" for "character"
This is another of those words that came into English without a needless letter but somehow got one added. In Middle English, the spelling was "caracter", borrowed from Old French "caractere". So how did it get a silent-H? Who knows? Who cares? The H shouldn't be there, because it would lead new readers to think it starts with "the CH-sound", as in "ouch". It also confuses people when they think of the similar word "caricature". Does that hav an H too? No, it does not. Nor should "character": "caracter".
Wensday, July 14, 2004: "evry" for "every"
The second E in "every" is silent, and we should be used to silent-E's, since there are so many of them in traditional spelling. However, the mere fact that there is an E between the V and R has induced some people who would like to sound cultured, to pronounce that E and create "every" into a three-syllable word, which also needlessly lengthens every derivative (such as "everybody" and "everywhere"). "Every" is TWO syllables, not three, so let's spell it as two syllables: "evry".
Tuesday, July 13, 2004: "munth" for "month"
The vowel sound in "month" is plainly a short-U. Why not simply spell it the way we say it?: "munth".
Monday, July 12, 2004: "hemmorij" for "hemorrhage"
The extra letters R and H add nothing but confusion. The British have it even worse than we Americans, with THREE needless letters: "haemorrhage". You'd think that "hemorrhage" would be ridiculous enuf. Here, as so often in English spelling, less is more, more elegant and sensible.
But a single-M is not enuf to show that the first-E in this word is short. We need to double the it.
Another problem area is the -AGE ending, which should be pronounced with a long-A, as in the word "age" itself, "outrage", and "multistage". Here, the vowel sound is a schwa so close to short-I that we might as well write it with an I. After that comes a J-sound, which is, bizarrely, spelled with GE. Why would we write a J-sound with anything but J? And why would we write two letters when one will do?: "hemmorij".
Suinday, July 11, 2004: "muve" for "move"
The letter combination O-V-E would ordinarily be pronounced with a long-O, as in "cove", but is also pronounced as tho UV (as in "above") and UVE (as in "prove"). Why so many pronunciations for one combination? Let's remove all doubt as to which pronunciation is intended in "move" by changing one letter: "muve".
Saturday, July 10, 2004: "colesterol" for "cholesterol"
There's no reason there should be multiple sounds for the single spelling CH, which should be reserved for "the CH-sound", as in "church". An H in "cholesterol" adds nothing but needless length to a word that's already long enuf, and confusion for new learners of English, be they children or students of English as a Second Language. Let's just drop it, okay?
Friday, July 9, 2004: "rath" for "wrath"
This is another of those words from Old English in which a letter once pronounced, W, is no longer pronounced. Old English would not hav written the W if it didn't say it. Nor should we: "rath".
Thursday, July 8, 2004: "colone" for "cologne"
"Cologne" is a silly spelling that looks like it represents a three-syllable word (ka-LOG-nee). The G is silent, in English; in French, from which this spelling derives, the G combines with the N to form an Ñ / -NY- sound as in "canyon". We don't say any such thing in "cologne"; why should we even try to spell it, in a French manner at that, for a word that has long been English? The G serves no purpose. Let's just drop it: "colone".
Wensday, July 7, 2004: "lafter" for "laughter"
Yesterday's word ("daughter") was parallel in form to today's, but we cannot offer the same solution as we did yesterday merely dropping the silent-GH because the result. "lauter", would not remotely reflect the sound. We need a slightly more complicated change to arrive at simplicity: drop the silent-GH and the U, which could be seen to combine with the A to mandate the sound in "haul", and substitute the one letter F for the three letters dropped. The new form is simple, elegant, and parallel in both form and sound to "after" and "rafter": "lafter".
Ideally, we should also change the root word of this derivative word, "laugh". "Laf" is clear and elegant in its simplicity, but some people think it 'looks better' with FF: "laff". Since no other syllable follows in this one-syllable word, there's no reason to double the consonant. We don't write "iff", "itt", or "upp", do we? "Laf" would follow the rule about doubling consonants if an ending is added: "laffing", "laffed" (unless we choose "laft"). And if there is no present willingness to either adopt "laf" or "laff", we can put that issue on hold. There's no reason, however, to hold on to "laughter" just because we can't agree on what to do with "laugh". Let's reform now what we can reform now and put off to later what we can't agree on now: "lafter".
Tuesday, July 6, 2004: "dauter" for "daughter"
This is one of the first two-syllable words children learn to spell, because, as a term for a common family member, it is a word they must use often and it has a silent-GH. Another word they encounter around the same time, "laughter", is absolutely parallel in form but completely different in sound. This puzzles kids, and other new learners of English, as well it might. Neither of these parallel words is spelled sanely, but let's deal with "daughter" first, because all we need do to make it sensible is drop the silent-GH: "dauter".
Monday, July 5, 2004: "tork" for "torque"
"Torque" is the only word in the entire English language spelled with -orque. Every other word with that sound is spelled with -ork (e.g., cork, dork, fork, pork, and stork). There's no reason whatsoever not to spell "torque" the same: "tork".
Sunday, July 4, 2004: "morgage" for "mortgage"
Why, yu may wonder, is there a silent-T in "mortgage"? The T is part of the first element in the word, mort-, which means "dead" (as in "mortal"); the second element, "gage", means "pledge". Tho I hav seen two explanations as to the meaning, one doesn't make much sense, namely, that if the debt secured by a mortgage isn't paid, the property is taken and becomes then 'dead' to the former owner. The other explanation makes much better sense: that even if a person dies before paying off the debt, the lender has the right to collect the remaining debt or seize the property on which the debt was premised. This is especially reasonable an interpretation given that mortgages ar often taken for very large amounts of money to be repaid over very long periods of time, during which one can reasonably expect that a significant proportion of borrowers will die. The lender would want to be secure before lending such a large amount of money, so permanently secures repayment with property that cannot be given away without the mortgage going with it, so that the debt survives the death of the borrower and the property on which it was taken continues to secure the loan. Perhaps it even means that the debt is permanent, until extinguished by full payment (and the debt itself thus rendered 'dead').
But regardless of what the T was for, the word didn't always hav it, but as long ago as 1393 was part of Middle English with no T! We don't say a T; the word didn't hav a T hundreds of years ago. It shouldn't hav a T today. The T is a "dead letter" so should be buried in the word's history, leaving only "morgage".
Saturday, July 3, 2004: "brite" for "bright"
This is a common informal spelling that has been adopted in some product names, such as 3M's Scotch-Brite line of cleaning tools. "Bright" is a bizarre and unphonetic spelling that kids and other new learners of English cannot "sound out". "Brite" is a superior, simple, and rational spelling that should be adopted formally as well as informally. "Bright" is a synonym for "intelligent", but its spelling is dumb. Let's make it intelligent, as it ought to be: "brite".
Friday, July 2, 2004: "napsak" for "knapsack"
There's no reason for a silent-K to appear at the beginning of "knapsack". One excuse used by defenders of present-day spelling chaos for retaining irrational spellings is that the presence of a silent letter can cue the reader to a word's etymology (the language or languages from which it originates) and that that might be helpful to a few people who (a) know about word origins and (b) care about which English word (or part of a word) comes from which other language. In order for etymology to be at all useful, however, the person reading has to know the nuances of different foreign languages, as to understand, for instance, why some words ar supposed to take an -IZE or -ER ending while others hav -ISE or -OR (because they ar taken from different languages).
But how a word might hav been used hundreds of years ago is hardly necessary to understanding it as used today, and may actually cloud the issue. We understand English words as used in English, not as their ancestors may hav been used in French, Dutch, or Russian. Almost nobody cares where a word may hav come from hundreds of years ago. They just want to know how to spell it now.
In the case of "knapsack", the origin is in any case unclear. Some sources think it may derive from Dutch; others from a wider language (that included Dutch or led to the development of Dutch), Middle Low German. What difference does it make? We don't speak a K-sound at the beginning of "knapsack", so shouldn't write a K there.
Moreover, to coin a term, "bad spelling drives out good". People who learn "knapsack" first tend to think that all words that sound like N-A-P ar spelled K-N-A-P, and thus assume that "nap" in carpets and "nappy" for hair ar both spelled with a K. They ar not. So let's end the confusion and the taint of more-regular words by respelling knapsack to get rid of the initial-K.
We could stop there ("napsack"), but why not go further?
"Sack" would be no less clear as to sound if spelled "sak" (which happens to be one spelling in its etymology), so we could usefully drop two letters from "knapsack". While writer's cramp is much less a problem in the computer age than it was when everything ordinary people wrote was painstakingly drawn by hand, shortening the language still saves time, effort, paper, and ink/toner and even defends against today's version of writing cramp, repetitive stress injury or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Pactiv Corporation, which offers the Hefty brand of plastic bags, has used "sak" as part of the name of various of its products for a long time CinchSak, HandySak, SteelSak. Good for them! Corporations can lead the charge for better spelling by using simpler spellings when creating and marketing products. Maybe some maker of knapsacks can help us make spelling easier by using "napsak" in the name of its products.
Perhaps good spelling can drive out bad, so why not widen the "napsak" influence by adopting "ruksak", "havversak", and "bakpak" too!
Thursday, July 1, 2004: "cantalope" for "cantaloupe"
This one's really simple. There is no U-sound (as in "flu") nor OU-sound (as in "ouch") in "cantaloupe", so there should be no U in the spelling. The word is pronounced "cantalope" so should be spelled "cantalope". Thanks for coming. Stop by tomorrow.
Wednesday, June 30, 2004: "Wensday" for "Wednesday"
Today's word is the name of this day, the preposterously spelled "Wednesday", which looks to new learners of English to be a three-syllable word: Wed-nes-day, two of which ar words to themselves, "wed" and "day". If they think about this, people just learning to read may wonder, "I know what 'wed' means and what 'day' means. But what does 'nes' mean?" It doesn't mean anything. "Wednesday" is "Woden's Day", Woden being a Germanic god with qualities similar to Mercury, for whom the same day in Roman usage was named (compare French mercredi for Wednesday).
Because the name is so irrationally spelled, it's hard for new learners to remember whether it's "Wendesday", "Wedensday", or "Wednesday". Knowing that it comes from "Woden's Day" would lead one not to the correct form but "Wedensday".
Since the word is only two syllables, pronounced "Wenz-day", why write what looks like three? In that many old users of English dislike the look of a Z where they ar accustomed to S, I propose the compromise simplified spelling "Wensday".
Tuesday, June 29, 2004: "buro" for "bureau"
I got this efficient spelling from The New York Times' list of departmental emailboxes, which has been using it since, at latest, November 2001. I don't recall having seen that intelligent usage in the Times newspaper nor online edition itself, but I don't usually hav time to read the Times.
In French, from which the spelling "bureau" derives, EAU is unambiguous as to sound, even if it is inefficient for O. In English, however, it has at least four pronunciations in frequently used words, long-O as in "bureau" and "plateau", short-O as in "bureaucracy", schwa as in "bureaucrat"; and YUE as in "beautiful".
"Buro" is crystal-clear as to sound, and its derivatives "burocracy" and "burocrat" differ in sound according to generally understood rules (in the first, a stressed O followed by two consonants is generally short; in the second, an unstressed O in a middle syllable of a polysyllable tends to schwa). By contrast, it's very hard to explain to kids why EAU should be pronounced so many ways, each of which has simpler and shorter spellings. Let's use the better spellings: "buro", "burocracy", "burocrat".
Monday, June 28, 2004: "rench" for "wrench"
This is another of those Old English words in which what is now a silent letter was once pronounced. Had it not been pronounced at the time it was reduced to writing, the W would not hav been written, because Old English was phonetic. That's more than we can say for Modern English. It wouldn't occur to a writer of Old English to put in a letter that wasn't sounded, because the very purpose of an alphabet is to convey sound.
If Old English was phonetic, but Modern English is unphonetic, doesn't that make Old English more advanced than Modern English? That doesn't make very good sense, does it? So, let's make Modern English as advanced today as Old English was in its day and write this word the way we say it: "rench".
Sunday, June 27, 2004: "nich" for "niche"
"Niche" rhymes with "rich", not "fiche". "Rich" is from Old English, so has always been part of the English language. "Niche" was borrowed from French, but the borrowing was so long ago, 1611, that it has been fully "naturalized", so does not take the French pronunciation (neesh). "Fiche" (short for "microfiche") was borrowed from French recently (1951), and has NOT been fully naturalized, in part because it would then become a homonym for "fish", as in tuna. So "fiche" is "feesh" and "niche" is "nich". Keeping an E on the end of "nich" misleads people into thinking it is still French. It's not. It's English: "nich".
Saturday, June 26, 2004: "hankerchif" for "handkerchief"; "kerchif" for "kerchief", "neckerchif" for "neckerchief"
Threefer: The spellings "handkerchief" and its common plural, "handkerchieves", ar among the most difficult for children and other new readers of English to learn, because they make no sense. The D is silent, or should be a G, and the familiar word "chief" at the end isn't pronounced "cheef". Nor is -chieves pronounced "chives". But if it's pronounced "cheeves", why isn't it spelled that way, or "cheves"?
If yu look up the history of "kerchief", yu find that it derives from French "couvrechef" (head cover), and the "ker" part is thus a radical shortening and phoneticization of "couvre". By comparison, then, dropping the E from the "chief" part wouldn't be at all drastic, would it? Once yu do that, all the derivatives fall into place, and it is no longer necessary to change the F to a V in the plural, since "kerchifs" works just fine everywhere in this little word family.
Friday, June 25, 2004: "ruf" for "rough"
The Simplified Spelling Board, established in the U.S. in 1906, suggested this eminently sensible spelling early on, but for some reason, schools and publishers insist on the ridiculous spelling "rough", which kids and foreign learners of English would never be able to sound out. (So much for "phonics" as the solution to our functional-illiteracy problem.)
"Ruf" is perfectly phonetic and easy to read, and does not form a homonym for "ruff", as in collar or mane. Why not write "ruf"?
Thursday, June 24, 2004: "dout" for "doubt"
This is another word stupidly respelled by scholars in the Middle Ages (see "debt" at June 21, belo). That era is called the Dark Ages. Perhaps "Dim Ages" would be more appropriate.
"Doubt" came into Middle English as "dout", from French "douter", but overeducated scribes thought that because it came from Latin "dubitare", it should hav a B, even tho nobody pronounced a B, even then, and English is not Latin. If French, which is even more crazily spelled than English and a direct offshoot of Latin, doesn't use a B and, sans doute, it does not English (a Germanic language in origin and structure) certainly shouldn't: "dout".
Wednesday, June 23, 2004: "nite" for "night"
A great many people cannot be bothered writing the ridiculous silent-GH in words like "night" and "light" see June 8th entry, belo), but educators and publishers insist on using the longer, and preposterous, formal spellings rather than the popular phonetic spellings. When will they catch up with the common sense of the common man?
Tuesday, June 22, 2004: "thru" for "through"
This is one of the oldest proposed spelling simplifications in English, which is widely used informally and even formally, as in the official name the "New York State Thruway". Still, schools keep teaching and publishers continue printing the moronic spelling "through". Stop it!
Monday, June 21, 2004: "det" for "debt"
When English first borrowed this word from French, it had no B but was spelled "det" or "dette". Self-important, overeducated scribes in the Middle Ages decided that since it came from Latin "debitum", which in turn came from "debere", there ought to be a B in it, even tho nobody ever pronounced a B. So, instead of simplifying spelling, scribes in the Middle Ages complicated it. Let's just go back to where we started: "det".
Sunday, June 20, 2004: "shampane" for "champagne"
Yesterday's word, "gnat", has a silent-G we can easily drop. Today's also has a silent-G we can easily drop, but that would leave "champane", an improvement, but still unclear. If, however, we also change the C to S, we get "shampane", which is perfect. Let's celebrate!
Saturday, June 19, 2004: "nat" for "gnat"
Why should there be a G in "gnat"? I don't know. Yes, English has lots of silent consonants, now, but didn't always. All those consonants that ar now silent were once pronounced, and only because they were pronounced were they written. But, equally, because they ar no longer pronounced, they should no longer be written. As "gnat" was first spelled with a G because that was a correct rendering of the sound at the time, so should we correctly render the sound today: "nat".
Friday, June 18, 2004: "foto" for "photo"
PH for the F-sound is silly, but some people think that once it's learned, it doesn't cause problems, so we might as well leave it. Ah, but that's not quite true. Aside from wasting time, energy, and ink/toner in needlessly overlong words like "phonograph", PH is not always pronounced F. In one common personal name, "Stephen", it is pronounced V. In the name of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, it is pronounced P or is silent! In at least two medical terms, "phthisis" and "phthisic", it is silent. Since PH is a silly and needless spelling that isn't even consistently pronounced, why not just do away with it?
A good place to start is the informal word "photo", the more commonly uttered term for a "photograph". Whether we decide to use an F instead of PH in the longer word and its derivatives or not (fotograf, fotografy, fotografer, cinematografy), surely we can use what seems an informal spelling for an informal word: "foto".
Thursday, June 17, 2004: "improvize" for "improvise" (and, thus, "improvvization" for "improvisation")
The simpler spelling of American English as against British is deliberate, the result of a spelling-reform movement that was one part nationalism and one part rationalism. It was much easier to teach millions of immigrants from multitudinous different languages, spellings that made some sense than spellings that made no sense. And so the bulk of the English-speaking world (the U.S. alone comprises some 70% of all native speakers) got a number of simpler spellings. But many oddities remain to trip us up.
In general, authorities on both sides of the Atlantic (Noah Webster in the U.S., H.W. Fowler in England) agreed that -ize is a better spelling than -ise for words that have a long-I sound. But British schools and publishers defy Fowler and still inflict the silly -ise on everyone. Let's get rid of the exceptions and standardize this rule everywhere, not just in all words but also in all countries. The pair "improvize" and "improvvization" is a good place to start. Kids have better things to learn, and schools have better things to teach, than foolish spellings.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004: "vaccume" for "vacuum"
Few new learners of English would guess that two U's in a row is right in "vacuum", and this word is very commonly misspelled. Two C's, right? No? But a double following consonant is how we show a short, stressed vowel. There should be two C's, shouldn't there? In the second syllable, it's UA, right? No? UU? yu're kidding! There ar supposed to be three syllables, divided between the U's? No way!
Let's just make it "vaccume".
Tuesday, June 15, 2004: "shef" for "chef"
We should start whittling down the uses of CH for sounds other than "the CH sound" (as in "ouch", "rich", and "church"). "Chef" is a good place to start. Many Americans will hav noticed that in Spanish accents, "chef" really is pronounced 'chef' (not 'shef'), because that is proper Spanish, el chef, taken from French but immediately pronounced, not just spelled, in the Spanish fashion. We should be that confident in our own language, and respell borrowed words as we say them: "shef".
Monday, June 14, 2004: "dor" for "door"; "dornob" for "doorknob"
Twofer: "Door" is parallel in sound not to "moor" but to "or", "nor", and "for". So let's make it "dor". While we're at it, let's make the preposterous spelling "doorknob" shorter by two needless letters: "dornob".
Sunday, June 13, 2004: "tho" for "though"
This is a popular informal spelling that should be adopted formally. OUGH is one of the oddest and most unpredictable of spellings for new learners of English. It can be prounced long-O (thorough); UE (through); UF (tough); AU (thought); AUF (trough); OU (bough). Enough! Cut the word in half, and save some ink and uncertainty: "tho", in formal writing as well as informal.\\
Saturday, June 12, 2004: "yu" for "you"; "yor" for "your"
Twofer: OU is usually seen as the sound in "ouch". Why, then, isn't the pronoun for the second person instead spelled parallel to "flu"? This is such a common word that simply dropping one needless and unphonetic letter would make a major impression upon people that we really ar serious about making English easier to read. If we do reform the spelling to "yu", getting rid of the needless O, we will hav to reform the spelling of its possessive, which is parallel in sound to "or" but is now written as tho it rhymes with "our" and "flour". Simply adding an R to "yu" wouldn't work, because "yur" would be read as "yer". However, dropping the needless U from "your" would work fine: "yor". Two crazily spelled words: drop one of the needless letters (O) from one and the other (U) from the other and you get two intelligently spelled words. What a good deal: "yu" and "yor".
Friday, June 11, 2004: "frate" for "freight"
"Freight" has two silent letters, GH, and an odd spelling for the vowel, EI, which suggests either of the two pronunciations of "either", so can be easily misread by new readers as "frite" or "freet", but would not be seen as "frate" which it is. Let's just drop the GH and change the spelling of the vowel to show clearly that it's a long-A: "frate".
Thursday, June 10, 2004: "liv" for the verb "live"
Silent-E at the end of a word usually signals a long vowel, but the vowel in the verb "live" is short. (As in Star Trek's Vulcan greeting, "Live long, and prosper.") Changing the verb to "liv" has the added advantage of getting rid of one of the hundreds of confusing homonyms in English, live / live (which would become liv / live). The adjective "live" (as in "live wire") does hav a long vowel, so a silent-E there makes sense. After this little reform we will be able to know instantly whether to say "liv" or "live" when we see the word written.
Wednesday, June 9, 2004: "ar" for "are"
Why is there a silent-E on "are"? We don't write "bare" for "bar" or "stare" for "star". Why make this very frequent word look as though it rhymes with "glare", "mare", "fare", "dare", and a host of other words with the A-R-E sequence? "Are" prounced AR is, if not unique in English, at least so unusual as to be bizarre. Here's one silent-E we can drop with no loss in clarity, but indeed a gain. Less is more: "ar".
Tuesday, June 8, 2004: "lite" for "light"
The popular informal spelling "lite", which has been adopted as the name of a major beer, should be accepted formally, for use everywhere. Silent-GH is one of the silliest features of present spelling. Tho it was once pronounced, probably like the CH in the German word "ich", it hasn't been pronounced in centuries. That was then. This is now. We pronounce the word as "lite". Let's write what we say, just as the Old English did.
Monday, June 7, 2004: "giv" for "give"
Silent-E at the end of a word usually signals a long vowel, but the vowel in "give" is short. So let's just drop it, okay?
Sunday, June 6, 2004: "campane" for "campaign"
Why is there a G in "campaign"? It adds nothing but confusion for new learners of English. We could simply drop it, but that would leave "campain", which suggests some kind of discomfort, like joint pain. While some campaigns can be a pain, I prefer to think they give us a chance to see thru hack politicians as readily as we see thru a pane of glass: campane.
Saturday, June 5, 2004: "raut" for "wrought"
"Wrought" is one of the craziest spellings in English, and that's quite a distinction, since English has thousands of crazy spellings. "Wrought" has seven letters, THREE of which ar silent! Why? Moreover, the vowel shown is wrong! OU suggests the sound in "out", but "wrought" does not rhyme with "rout". Out with "wrought"!
Friday, June 4, 2004: "luv" for "love"
This is a popular informal spelling that should be adopted formally. "Love" is not parallel in sound to either "move" or "rove". The vowel is short, so there shouldn't be a silent-E after it, because silent-E ordinarily signals a long vowel. Kids just learning to read would luv not to hav to remember that "love", "prove", and "cove" don't rhyme.
Thursday, June 3, 2004: "belo" for "below"
The W in "below" adds nothing but possible confusion for people just learning to read, be they kids or people studying English as a Second Language. OW could be pronounced OU as in "ouch": compare "how", "now", "brown" and "cow"! If we write "go", why not "belo"?
Wednesday, June 2, 2004: "bild" for "build"
The U in "build" adds nothing but potential confusion as to whether the word has one syllable or two (compare "Buick"). And there's no W sound as in "quick". We just plain don't need a U in "build". So cut it out. While we're at it, let's also cut the U out of the past/past tense of this verb too. So today's word is a twofer: "bild" and "bilt".
Tuesday, June 1, 2004 (Day One!): "hav" for "have"
Silent-E at the end of a word usually signals a long vowel, but the vowel in "have" is short. We don't write "hase" or "hade" for "has" and "had", so shouldn't add a silent-E to "hav". Let's just drop it, okay?
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