Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
April-June 2005

Click here for today's suggestion.
Click here for a list of possible future words.
Click here for a brief statement of the principles that influence the selection of words.

Thursday, June 30, 2005: "a/rize, a/roze, a/rizzen" for "a/rise, a/rose, a/risen"

A documentary on clown-dancing or "krumping" opened in theaters this month, called Rize. So this seems an appropriate time to offer this set of closely related words.

The consonant sound in the second syllable is Z, as in civilize, not S, as in concise. So we can readily just substitute Z for S in the present and past tense. In the past participle, tho, the vowel is short, so a single-Z won't suffice to make the pronunciation plain. We can, however, simply double the Z to show the short-I: "rize", "roze", "rizzen"; "arize", "aroze", "arizzen".

Wensday, June 29, 2005: "keonty" for "chianti"

It's "Wine Wensday". I've decided to address the various oddly-spelled names of wines on Wensdays, absent a more compelling choice for Word of the Day.

Today, let's reform an old standard, albeit not one of the trendy wines that come into and fall out of favor periodically. Its straw-covered bottles seem always to be popular as an icon of Italian restaurants. In Italian, it's spelled perfectly; in English, absurdly. There is no CH-sound (as in church), so should be no CH. There no I-sound, not long (as in ice), not short (in), so should be no I. Only the N and T are right, so let's replace the other four letters to represent this word as English writes things: "keonty".

Tuesday, June 28, 2005: "re/serch" for "re/search"

The Internet is a prime means of doing research by conducting searches on key terms. Since the rise of search engines, "search" has become a very commonly heard word, but it has an extra letter that not only adds nothing but length but also introduces an element of ambiguity, since EA is most commonly pronounced as tho EE, but also has other pronunciations, as in idea, nuclear, ideation, pear, heart, etc. So let's just drop the A: "serch" and "reserch".

Munday, June 27, 2005: "onwee" for "ennui"

Today's word, like many strangely spelled words in English, is originally French, and follows spelling conventions that people who read French know how to deal with but which do not accord with the conventions of English. It's been part of English, however, since — at latest — 1670! It's long past time to anglicize it: "onwee".

Sunday, June 26, 2005: "yoak" for "yolk"

Today is prime brunch day, so let's address one brunch mainstay, eggs, which contain a "yolk" (not to be confused with the entirely different word "yoke", whose spelling we should not use in reforming "yolk").

The L is silent for almost everyone, tho there is a spelling-pronunciation used by a few people in which the L is sounded. does not recognize the pronunciation with a sounded-L, so we can safely discard it and provide solid guidance to people that the L is silent by eliminating it. In its place we can put an A, since OA is a common way of showing the long-O sound, and "oak" serves as a handy model: "yoak".

Saturday, June 25, 2005: "shablee/s" for "chablis"

The weekend is here, so relaxing with a glass of wine over brunch or dinner will strike many people as a good way to ease conversation in their weekend socializing. It's hot in much of the U.S. today, so a chilled white wine will seem appropriate to many, and tho (I am told) that chablis is no longer "the" white wine among the discerning, it is still a popular, fairly inexpensive choice.

Presently, the plural and singular are the same. That should and, happily, will change if we phoneticize this term: "shablee", singular, "shablees", plural.

Friday, June 24, 2005: "adoby" for "adobe"

This word is very similar in form to its anagram,"abode", but not pronounced like it. A single-E at the end of a word is usually, but certainly not always, silent. There are over 100 common English words in which it represents a full long-E (epitome, anemone, simile, facsimile, etc., etc.). Still, compared to the innumerable words in which a final-E is a silent-E, that pronunciation is odd, so that spelling should be discouraged. A final-Y is customarily pronounced long-E, so let's adopt that pattern for this word: "adoby".

Thursday, June 23, 2005: "kord" for "chord"

Last week I offered two terms from music, "chorus" and "choir", for reform (to "korus" and "kwire"). Let's revisit the music area.

"Chord" has no CH-sound (as in church), but we shouldn't just drop the H, because that would leave "cord", which is already a word. If, however, we use K to replace the CH, we get a word that is phonetic but distinct. It has an unusual look, as suggests plainly that it is the less-common of the homonym pair cord/chord. So let's do it: "kord".

Wensday, June 22, 2005: "nome" for "gnome"

There are two rare words spelled n-o-m-e, neither of which most people will ever hear. One relates to a province of ancient Egypt, the other to a province of modern Greece. But almost nobody knows that there is any such English word. More native speakers of English will have heard of the very small town (pop. 3,500) in Alaska by that name, end point of the famed Iditarod dog-sled race each winter. But there is no ordinary English word of that spelling, and context would prevent confusion, so there's no need to look at some other formulation, like "noam" (which some people might see as two syllables, parallel to "Noah") or "noem" (which other people might see as two syllables, parallel to "phloem"). I think we can safely get rid of the ridiculous silent-G in "gnome" simply by dropping it: "nome".

Tuesday, June 21, 2005: "blozzay" for "blasé" or "blase"

English doesn't employ accents, so this French word with its acute accent is "un-English". Its accent cannot be typed on most typewriters in English-speaking countries, nor in most emails. Some people know how to create an accented vowel in their word-processing program, but many don't, or know how but don't bother. So let's get rid of the accent. Once we do that, however, we get what looks like a parallel to "blaze" but with an S sound at its end. That's not how the word is pronounced. It's pronounced "blozzay", usually with stress on the second syllable, but not always. Let's not worry about the syllabic stress. We don't in other words, but people somehow know that if the sounds are plain, they can figure out whether the stress is on one syllable or another: e.g., "to detect" versus "a defect". Let's just write the speech sounds (phonemes) and let people figure out the syllabic stress once they recognize the word: "blozzay".

Munday, June 20, 2005: "epiffany" for "epiphany"

This is an originally religious word that has become commonplace in the secular world meaning "personal revelation" or "sudden realization". It contains the bizarre consonant pair PH for the F-sound. Because that cluster is two letters, the I before it is perceived as short. So we can't just substitute a single-F, because "epifany" might be seen as having a long-I. If, however, we simply double the F, as is a common way to indicate a short vowel (differ, riffraff), we get a more rational spelling that is no longer than the present irrational spelling: "epiffany".

Sunday, June 19, 2005: "hypocondrea/c" for "hypochondria/c"

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word, and the pronunciation wouldn't change if we dropped the second H.

Further, the sound of the I is not either of I's own sounds, long as in "dial" and short as in "it". Rather, the sound is long-E, so let's write E: "hypocondria/c".

Saturday, June 18, 2005: "vaen" for "vein"

The vowel sequence EI is very ambiguous: either (two pronunciations), beige, being, deice, deify, spontaneity (two pronunciations), etc. "Vein" rhymes with "vain" and "vane", so we shouldn't use either of those spellings. V-a-e-n, however, is available and clear, so let's use that: "vaen".

Friday, June 17, 2005: "stummak/ake" for "stomach/ache"

Last nite's episode of the syndicated sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond addressed a spelling issue. Raymond's wife, Debra, reminds him of a time he misread as stoe.móch.a.cha the (compound) word "stomachache". Who can blame him, really?

The two elements in that compound word are both spelled preposterously. "Stomach" has the wrong vowel in the first syllable and a CH where there is no CH-sound (as in "church"). "Ache" equally has a CH with no CH-sound. How is anyone to know that "stomachache" is not a Russian or Spanish word with two CH-sounds? Raymond was reading rationally. English is spelling irrationally.

Let's fix this long word and, by back-formation, its first element too (we have already offered "ake" for "ache"). Let's use a U for the first vowel, a double-M to show the U is short, and K for each K-sound: "stummak/ake".

Wensday and Thursday, June 15 and 16, 2005:
"korus" for "chorus"
"kwire" for "choir"

Tho I'd prefer to offer minimal changes, not every absurdly spelled word lends itself to a minor fix. "Chorus" would, at first glance, seem to. We could just drop the needless and misleading H. There is no CH-sound (as in "church") in the word, and if you simply drop the H, the C alone would handily express the K-sound because of the regular rule that C before A, O, and U is hard. Unfortunately, there are two frequent derivatives, "choral" and "chorale", to consider.

"Corale" would work, but "coral" is already taken, for the rocklike deposit left by tiny marine animals that builds up into reefs, some forms of which are used in jewelry. Nor could we double the R to distinguish from present "coral" (and backform "corus", then, to "corrus"), because there's already a word "corral", pronounced the same way as present "chorale"!

What to do? If we replace the CH in all these words with a K, we get phonetic spellings that are distinct: korus, koral, korale.

"Choir" presents different problems. It is so bizarre that simply dropping the H wouldn't work, because we'd be left with "coir", which is already a word, pronounced as it looks, for a fiber from the husk of a coconut. Nor would simply changing the CH to K work, because "koir" would still be unphonetic. That's because the OI in "choir" doesn't have the English OI sound (join, point, asteroid), but the French OI (pronounced 'wah') plus a semisyllable for the added R. It would be nice if we could simply respell it "quire", but altho that once was a variant for "choir", that spelling is now used for a word that refers to a quantity of paper.

"Choir" rhymes with "wire". So let's spell it parallel to "wire". The one question remaining, then, becomes whether to use a C or K before the w-i-r-e: "cwire" or "kwire". CW is an utterly "un-English" spelling. KW is only an unusual English spelling (kwashiorkor, Kwanza, and in many compound words: backward, silkworm). It is much used in folk phonetics, especially for business names (kwik, kwest, kwill). Let's go with that: "kwire".

So now we can offer all these musical terms reformed: "korus", "koral", "korale", and "kwire".

Tuesday, June 14, 2005: "ossillate" , "ossillating", and "ossillation" for "oscillate", "oscillating", and "oscillation"

Today's weather forecast is for temps to reach 98 degrees Fahrenheit, so I am going to have to buy some more fans (because even if I install my air conditioner(s), I may still need to move the air around within and between rooms). Today thus seems an apt time to propose reforming this word for a swinging motion.

The present spelling may lead some new readers to think there is a K-sound after the S (compare British "sceptic"), which would give us the Popeye-sounding "oskillate"! Let's just replace the C with a second S, to show that the initial O is short: "ossillate", "ossillating", and "ossillation".

Munday, June 13, 2005: "massakur" for "massacre"

Unfortunately, today's word is always apt and needs no special tie-in to warrant being used on this site.

Its traditional spelling looks as tho it has something to do with "acre" (which odd little word is pronounced áe.ker) or is pronounced as tho written more fully as "massacree". Nope. Neither. Let's spell it to look as it sounds: "massakur".

Sunday, June 12, 2005: "gaf" for "gaffe"

An online article  I saw today about things not to do in a job search is titled "Gaffs and Goofs", which struck me as containing a goof, the spelling "gaff" for what is usually written "gaffe", meaning a social blunder. I checked my two electronic dictionaries. It turns out that "gaff" is recognized by the American Heritage but not by the Random House Unabridged as an acceptable variant for "gaffe". Ordinarily, "gaff" means a large metal hook for landing large fish.

Let's fix this. We can drop two needless letters from "gaffe" and still retain a distinction from "gaff": "gaf".

Saturday, June 11, 2005: "clorofil" for "chlorophyl(l)"

I'm gardening early morn, before the oppressive heat of late* takes over the day, so it occurred to me, in taking a break, to reform the ridiculous spelling(s) "chlorophyl(l)."

The spelling "chlorophyll" has four absurdities: (1) CH where there is no CH-sound (as in church); (2) a PH for the F-sound; (3) a Y for the short-I sound; and (4) a double-L where one would do .(The spelling with a single-L is now recognized as an acceptable variant.) Let's fix all four of these silly and needless problems just by rewriting the word sensibly: "clorofil".

* We have been 10-15 degrees below normal for months. All of a sudden, at the start of this week, we shifted into August mode, and are now afflicted by mid-90s midday. What ever happened to spring?

Friday, June 10, 2005: "epissle" for "epistle"

Last nite, in watching some documentary or other on one of the many informational channels I now have on cable TV, I heard someone observe that most of the 27 books or chapters of the New Testament are letters. The customary term for each of those letters is "epistle".

There is no T-sound in "epistle", so should be no T. "Episle", however, would be ambiguous: e.píe.zool? é (cf. "isle")? ep.íe.yal? ep.íe.sool? what?!? If we simply replace the T with S, we have a clear respelling: "epissle".

Thursday, June 9, 2005: "camomile" for "chamomile"

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word for a common herbal tea, so we can drop the H with no loss. "Camomile" is in fact an accepted variant spelling for this word, but the spelling with the needless and misleading H is the standard spelling. That makes no sense. There are two common pronunciations for the last syllable, one with long-I, the other with long-E. So let's just leave that unchanged but make the more sensible variant spelling into the standard spelling, and outlaw the absurd spelling with a silent H: "camomile".

Wensday, June 8, 2005: "jerny" for "journey"

There is no OU-sound in this word, and the E before the final-Y is needless. It adds nothing but length. The only question remaining, then, is whether to write this "jurny" or "jerny". Since ER is by far the most common way of writing this sound (jerk, herb, adverse, person, and on, and on), it's simplest just to use ER, so that people guessing how to spell it when they hear it will supply the most common spelling and be right!: "jerny".

Munday and Tuesday, June 6 and 7, 2005:
"shue" for "shoe"

"canoo" for "canoe"

I chose these two words for the first two days of the workweek because of the children's rhyme, "One, two, buckle my shoe". "Shoe" is unphonetic. It appears to rhyme with "toe" and "Joe", but does not. Its vowel is long-U, without a Y-glide, which sound is often spelled OO. We can't use that formulation here, because there already is a word "shoo" (meaning go away). We can, however, use "shue", parallel to "blue", because no one would try to insert a Y-glide between an SH-sound and a long-U any more than they would try to insert a Y-glide between the L and long-U in "blue". Altho we could save a letter in the singular by dropping the final-E (to "shu"), there's no point, really, because "shoe" is usually used in the plural, and you'd have to put the E back in to make plain that the U is long. "Shus" would suggest a short-U. So let's just leave the E where it is.

There is only one other common English word in which a final-OE represents a long-U: "canoe" (contrast "Tahoe"). With that word, we can use OO, since there is no word "canoo" — well, wasn't until now: "shue" and "canoo".

Sunday, June 5, 2005: "eunyon" for "union"

I recognize that this suggestion may seem odd and objectionable to a lot of people, for varied reasons. But "eu-" is a common first element in many words (eucalyptus, eulogy, euphemism), so people know to pronounce it as long-U or OO with a Y-glide in front of it.

"Union" is similar in spelling to "anion", but pronounced very differently: yúen.yan (where A alone represents schwa) as against á Many new readers see "union" as looking like the way "onion" should be written.

There are many words in which the pronunciation of an initial-U is not instantly clear, especially to new readers: uniform, uninformed, unit, untie, ululate (two pronunciations), umiak, umlaut, unanimous, unaffected, etc. It would be very convenient to have a spelling convention to clarify when there's a Y-glide before the U sound when a word begins with U. "Eu-" is one such way; "yue-" is another. I suspect "eu-" would be more readily accepted than "yue-", so propose we start with "union": "eunyon".*

* Compare "canyon".

Saturday, June 4, 2005: "iyern" for "iron"

There is only one word, with its many derivatives, in the entire English language in which the sequence i-r-o-n is pronounced íe.yern, but it is a word learned early. Because it is in the nature of the human mind to take that which is learned first and apply it to things learned later, and equally to remember best what is odd, the peculiar pronunciation íe.yern has contaminated other i-r-o-n sequences, where it doesn't have that odd pronunciation at all but instead a pronunciation more in keeping with the actual letters, -íe.ran- (where A represents schwa): environs, environmental, irony; or -ie.ron-: ironic. None of these words  has anything to do, in origin or sense, with the metal.*

To provide guidance to people that the name of the metal is pronounced differently from what are today misperceived as related words, let's just respell the word for the metal as it is pronounced, but leave unchanged the unrelated words where the letter sequence i-r-o-n is pronounced as it looks: "iyern", "gridiyern", "andiyern", "flatiyern", etc., but "environs", "environmental", "irony", "ironic", etc.

* There is a rare use of "irony" that an unabridged dictionary reports, which does mean "consisting of, containing, or resembling iron" and is pronounced like the metal, but almost no one ever uses "irony" that way, and most dictionaries will not even show such a meaning.

Friday, June 3, 2005: "alot" for "allot"

Today's word contains the subword "all", but that is illusory. It has nothing to do with "all" and isn't pronounced like it. Nor is the first syllable stressed, which is one common reason that consonants are doubled. So the present spelling is doubly misleading.

One sometimes sees "alot" used in place of the phrase "a lot", meaning often. But, as various spelling reformers have advised, this is a nonstandard usage that should not control standard spelling. "Alot" is modeled on words like about, ajar, and ahead, all of which are stressed on the second syllable, as is "allot". So let's do it: "alot".

Thursday, June 2, 2005:  "sinthesis" and "sinthettic" for "synthesis" and "synthetic"

There is no Y-sound in these related words — not a consonantal Y, not a Y-glide as part of a diphthong, not a long-I sound — so there should be no Y written. The vowel is short-I, so let's just write I, which in context will, properly, be read as short.

Moreover, a single-T after the E in the adjective makes the pronunciation unclear. In "synthesis", the first syllable bears the stress. But in "synthetic", the second syllable takes the stress. To show that more clearly, and to show as well that the E is short, we should double the T after the E: "sinthesis" and "sinthettic".

Wensday, June 1, 2005: "baloon" for "balloon"

Today is the first anniversary of the start of this project, so let's celebrate with (figurative) balloons.

The LL in "balloon" is doubly misleading. First, it suggests that the vowel in the first syllable is AU (as in "haul"), because b-a-l-l spells "ball". Second, doubling a following consonant often signals that the preceding syllable is stressed (fallen). Neither cue is correct. So let's just drop the second L, save a letter, and give no misleading cues as to how the word should be pronounced: "baloon".

Tuesday, May 31, 2005: "rododendron" for "rhododendron"

The rhododendrons in the sunnier spots of my neighborhood are blooming (tho mine, in partial shade, are not yet out). So let's deal with this word today. There is an H in the traditional spelling of this word, but there is no H-sound. So let's just drop the H. The word is long enuf with only the sounded letters written: "rododendron".

Munday, May 30, 2005: "justiss" for "justice"

Let's start the week off right by talking of justice. This word, in its traditional spelling, appears to children to contain two shorter words, as tho it is a compound like "playmate" or "schoolchildren". But "justice" is not a compound of "just" and "ice", and the second element is not pronounced like "ice", even tho in some words, -ice is pronounced exactly like "ice": mice, dice, advice, and, most appropriate on this Memorial Day, sacrifice.

There are, alas, a great many words ending in -ice which are pronounced unlike "ice". Most are pronounced -iss (hiss, dismiss). Others are pronounced -eece (as in fleece) or -eese (as in geese) (e.g., police, the female name Bernice). Others have multiple pronunciations (cantatrice). This is exactly why English is so very hard to learn to read and write.

We can start breaking down this confusion by assigning I-C-E only to the sound of the word "ice", and reassigning unambiguous -iss to those that rhyme with "miss" and either -eece or -eese to those that rhyme with fleece or geese. Let's start with "justice" (which is always a good place to start): "justiss".

Sunday, May 29, 2005: "coff" for "cough"

I have, I'm afraid, a personal reason for offering this word today, a cough I can't seem to get rid of, in part because of the wretched weather in the Northeast U.S., temperatures 10 degrees and more below normal with lots of rain. Every nice day we think we can open up the house finally to let the spring air in, only to be severely chilled into closing the house up again a day or nite later.

In any case, GH is a ridiculous way to spell the F-sound, so changing it to a simple F (or two) shouldn't be controversial. How, tho, to spell the vowel? Many people use an AU-sound, as in haul. Others use a short-O. Fortunately, the familiar word "off", which we learn very early, provides the perfect solution, since it too is pronounced those two ways, so if we simply put a C before "off", we get a simpler spelling that accommodates both common pronunciations:  "coff".

Saturday, May 28, 2005: "tomain" for "ptomaine"

We don't often hear this term nowadays, tho it's still very much with us as a generic term for any form of food poisoning caused by bacterial action. So it's still appropriate to eliminate the silent-P. While we're at it, we might as well eliminate the silent-E too, saving two letters (25% of the word's length) while losing nothing in the way of clarity: "tomain".

Friday, May 27, 2005: "mam" for "ma'am"

As people head out to paint the town red this Friday, or enjoy the service at a hotel this long, Memorial Day weekend (in the U.S.), they are likely to hear waiters and others utter this polite form of address often. It's a very common word with a very uncommon spelling that contains an apostrophe (to replace the D dropped from "madam" to make a shorter, less formal and thus more friendly word). There's no reason for this simple term to have a complicated spelling: "mam".

Wensday and Thursday, May 25 and 26, 2005:
"asend" and "asent" for "ascend" and "ascent"

"desend" and "desent" for "descend" and "descent"

These two sets of paired words contain the same silent consonant for no reason. We just plain don't need a C in any of these words: "asend", "asent"; "desend", "desent".

Tuesday, May 24, 2005: "onsomble" for "ensemble"

This common word entered the English language over 250 years ago, but its French spelling has influenced some people to see it as still-foreign. It is not. Let's change its spelling to accord with English custom: "onsomble".

Munday, May 23, 2005: "tele/fone" for "tele/phone"

A fellow spelling reformer suggested I use the word "phone" and its formal name, "telephone", for a Monday, the start of the regular workweek in an age when many people must use the phone a lot at work.

PH is a preposterous and inefficient way to spell the F-sound, and travelers are accustomed to seeing this familiar word with an F, so let's bring it home to save ourselves one letter lots of times: "telefone" and its more common short form, "fone".

Sunday, May 22, 2005: "houze" for the verb "house"

"House" has various uses, as noun, adjective (house brand), and verb. The verb is pronounced differently, but in reading, part of speech is not always evident at first glance, so in some sentences, people may misread the verb as the noun and have to go back and correct themselves when the sense becomes clear. Let's save them that trouble by simply substituting a Z for the S in the verbal form: "houze".

Saturday, May 21, 2005: "scurge" for "scourge"

Today's word contains a smaller word pronounced differently, "scour". There is, properly, an OU-sound in "scour". There is not in "scourge". The present spelling also gives rise to the occasional mispronunciation skaurj. So let's delete the needless and confusing O.

There is a second problem with the present spelling, a GE for a J-sound. We have a J. Let's use it: "scurj".

Friday, May 20, 2005: "onturozh" for "entourage"

Following up on yesterday's word, "rouge" (to ruezh), I propose another respelling that employs ZH. "Entourage" is one of those French words that we have taken into English but never anglicized as to basic pronunciation (e.g., to én.ter.aj). It's still both said and spelled in the French manner, but has been in English since about 1834! It's time for us to respell this bad boy: "onturozh".

Thursday, May 19, 2005: "ruezh" for "rouge"

"Rouge" is parallel in form but not pronunciation to "gouge". "Gouge" actually has an OU-sound; "rouge" does not. Nor is the -ge in "rouge" pronounced the way -ge is usually pronounced, like J, as it is in "gouge". ZH is a customary way of showing the ZH-sound in pronunciation keys and in transliterations from non-romanic alphabets (such as muzhik from Russia's Cyrillic alphabet) , so people know how to pronounce it. "Rue" is a familiar French word, as is "rouge". So they match well: "ruezh".

Wensday, May 18, 2005: "mustash" for "mustache"

Today's word looks like a phrase, as in "that tooth must ache". It is not. (There is an even more absurd common spelling, "moustache", which looks to have something to do with a mouse.) The second syllable does not have a K sound, does not have a CH-sound (as in church), so should not be spelled with a CH: "mustash".

Tuesday, May 17, 2005: "fo" for "faux"

AOL today hilites a story, "Is 'CSI' for Real?", that "explore[s] the difference between forensics and faux-rensics". So let's address the increasingly common adjective/prefix "faux".

In French, this word's spelling is comprehensible according to common rules. In English, it makes no sense at all, but looks to rhyme with "walks" (indeed, the parallel name of the historical landscape artist Calvin Vaux, who with Frederick Law Olmsted designed New York's Central Park, does indeed rhyme with "walks").

There is a long-established English word pronounced the same as the current word "faux" but written "foe". There is not, however, a word written "fo", so that spelling is available. Let's use it: "fo".

Munday, May 16, 2005: "cort" for "court"

Today's word is always apt, since courts play a huge role in our society, not just as a place to resolve conflicts but also, nowadays, as a source of entertainment! In any case, there is no OU-sound in "court". So let's save a letter and make this word look as it sounds: "cort".

Sunday, May 15, 2005: "hoos" for "whose"

On April 10th I offered "hoo" and "hoom" for "who" and "whom" after having considered advice from various spelling reformers. Today, having received more feedback, I address the third member of the who-troika.

Years ago I took a photo of a bronze plaque at a beach in Galveston, Texas to show my sister that the misspelling who's had actually been cast in metal. "Whose" is the possessive form of "who", so might be reformed to follow the regular pattern of the possessive, as someone did in Galveston. If we write hoo, the possessive should be hoo's, right? Not so fast.

"Whose" is also the possessive for "which"! So it's not a regular possessive in every use. It is also parallel to his, hers, yours, and theirs, special forms of the possessive. Those all end in S without an apostrophe. So let's conform the plural of hoo to that pattern: "hoos".

Saturday, May 14, 2005: "sekwoia" for "sequoia"

I don't generally do this, but I'm taking sides in a pronunciation dispute. The two electronic dictionaries I have at hand, American Heritage and Random House, both recognize only one pronunciation for "sequoia", which contains a KW-sound for the QU. However, the Japanese car company Toyota is presently running a commercial for its "Sequoia" model that employs the pronunciation sa.koy.a.

If the people who initially wrote down that word, which was the name of a Cherokee scholar, had intended it to have only a K-sound and not also a W-sound, there would have been no reason for them to spell it with QU. A simple K would do. The fact that they used QU pretty clearly indicates that they intended the term to be pronounced with a KW-sound, since it would have been simpler just to write the shorter spelling "sekoia" (or "sekoya") if they intended only a K-sound.

Some people, however, see QU as ambiguous, and pronounce words like "quarter" with no W-sound, only a K. That is almost always wrong. But let's not condemn all such pronunciations offhand. For today, it is enuf to proclaim for the guidance of all careful speakers, that there is a W-sound in the word "sequoia", by spelling it clearly: "sekwoia".

Friday, May 13, 2005: "sheedzu" for "shih tzu"

A member of this Tibetan breed of toy dogs (the name of which is sometimes capitalized: "Shih Tzu") recently disappeared with a car stolen from one of New Jersey's hoity-toitiest suburbs. It was, fortunately, recovered in my city, Newark. So let's address this bizarrely spelled breed name today. Because of the spelling, the breed is often called shitsu, which strikes native speakers of English as more than a little shocking! It actually should be pronounced as it should as well be written: "sheedzu".

Thursday, May 12, 2005: "cowardiss" for "cowardice"

Today's word (inspired by yesterday's comic panic that erupted in downtown Washington, DC when a little Cessna airplane violated the no-fly zone around major government buildings) contains two smaller words, "ice" and "dice", which do not sound like the last syllable of the larger word, so mislead readers as to how the larger word is pronounced. The last syllable actually rhymes with "bliss", "hiss", and "dismiss". So let's spell it in that fashion: "cowardiss".

Wensday, May 11, 2005: "duvay" for "duvet"

I keep hearing this term, so finally looked it up today. It turns out to be a down-filled comforter with removable cover.  It's a French word, as its current form suggests. That origin, however, is irrelevant to how it should be spelled. It's English now, and is not pronounced with a T-sound at the end. So let's get rid of the silent-T and spell the word as it sounds: "duvay".

Tuesday, May 10, 2005: "fateeg" for "fatigue"

The term "compassion fatigue" has, alas, become commonplace, so let's confront the second word of that phrase. There is no reason for a silent UE to be at the end of this word. "Fatig", however, would not be right. So let's replace the I with EE. Now we have a clear representation of the actual sounds of this word: "fateeg".

Munday, May 9, 2005: "aggorafobia" and "aggora" for "agoraphobia" and "agora"

The longer of the two related words above has become common in the past 20 years. It looks, to most people, as tho secondary stress should fall on the second syllable and primary stress on the fourth, a.gàur.a.fóe.bee.ya. That is not the case. Rather, the proper pronunciation is àag.a.ra.fóe.bee.ya. Inasmuch as we should eliminate the preposterous PH for F in any case, we might as well clarify syllabic stresses at the same time, by using the common convention of doubling the consonant that follows a stressed syllable.

The shorter word, "agora", takes the same change to show that it is the first, not the second syllable, that is stressed: "aggorafobia" and "aggora".

Sunday, May 8, 2005: "breth" for "breath"

Today's word is one of a pair, "breath" (pronounced bretth, where TTH represents the unvoiced TH-sound) and "breathe" (breeth, where TH represents the voiced TH-sound). The two are occasionally confused in writing. EA is a very ambiguous spelling, most commonly pronounced EE. So by simply dropping the needless A in "breath", we can starkly distinguish the two words without more: "breth" vs. "breathe". We could go the extra step of changing "breathe" to "breethe" (parallel to "seethe"), but it's not really necessary. It's enuf to change one of a confusable pair: "breth".

Saturday, May 7, 2005: "epittomy" for "epitome"

The first time a new reader of English encounters today's word, s/he almost always reads it wrong, as ép.i.toem. Tho where syllabic stress lies may remain a problem, because this word has an unusual stress pattern, we can at least clarify that there is a fourth syllable at the word's end. Thus, with minimal change, today's word would be "epitomy". For some people, the least change is the best change. But we could go one little step further, to double the T as might provide guidance to careful readers that the second syllable is stressed. That seems wiser to me, even if it is a slighter greater change, because tho it would be one letter longer, it would be much more than one letter clearer: "epittomy".

Friday, May 6, 2005: "idil" for "idyll"

The TV competition American Idol was very prominent this week, with controversy swirling around an alleged affair between judge Paula Abdul and a former contestant, so let's take this opportunity to address the homophone for "idol", "idyll". The two words are pronounced exactly the same, with the second syllable containing a schwa or a syllabic-L (depending on how you see such things), neither a short-O nor a Y-sound. Distinguishing between the two very different words is useful, so let's save a letter by ditching the needless second-L, and substitute an I for the misleading Y: "idil" (and its derivative, "idillic").

Thursday, May 5, 2005: "duzzen" for "dozen"

"Dozen" looks as tho it should be pronounced like "dozing". Let's fix that: "duzzen".

Wensday, May 4, 2005: "asfault" for "asphalt"

If we just change the ridiculous PH to the rational F in today's word, we will be left with "asfalt". That might be good enuf, inasmuch as it is parallel to "salt", but A-L-T has different pronunciations in different contexts, even at the end of a word: "shalt" is not parallel in sound to either "salt" or "halt", even tho it differs by only one letter from each. Compare "alto", "altitude", "maltreatment", "royalty", "schmaltz", etc. So let's make the proper pronunciation of the second syllable plain too: "asfault".

Tuesday, May 3, 2005: "poizon" for "poison"

I pulled up a patch of poison ivy from my yard last week and have had a little adverse reaction,* so am selecting "poison" as the word for today.

S and Z are paired sounds but not the same. Z is an S-sound with the voice added. Since we have a plain and simple way to show that, by writing Z, there is no reason to write S for a Z-sound in nongrammatical uses. One might make the case for leaving S as a grammatical marker of plural (things), the third-person singular verb form (sells), or possession (dog's), but none of those applies here. Why should people have to guess whether to make an S-sound or Z-sound? Let's just write Z to show the Z-sound: "poizon".

* In my teens I became immune to poison ivy, but decades of nonexposure apparently rendered me susceptible again, tho my reaction is nothing like the horror some people experience, judging from a "grody" slide show I found online.

Munday, May 2, 2005: "pedofilia" for "pedophilia"

The Michael Jackson trial and priestly sex abuse are still in the news, and the State of Florida just passed a tough anti-pedophilia law, so this word is, alas, appropriate for today. PH for the F-sound is, simply put, preposterous and indefensible, so let's just ditch the PH for F: "pedofilia" (plus "pedofile" and any other derivative).

Saturday and Sunday, April 30 and May 1, 2005:
"discurrij" for "discourage"

"encurrij" for "encourage"

On March 19th I offered "currij" for "courage" but did not deal with its two common derivatives. Let's do that now. Here's the argumentation from that main entry, updated to include these two derivatives.
There is no OU-sound in "courage". Its first syllable sounds not like "sour" but like the first syllable of "curry", so let's spell it that way. Moreover, the -AGE ending should be pronounced like the word "age", with a long-A, but is actually pronounced with a schwa so close to short-I that we might as well spell it with an I. And the G does not take G's own, unique sound, but J's sound. We have a J. Let's use it: "discurrij" and "encurrij".


Naturally, all derivatives, such as "encouragement" and "discouragingly" take the same changes.

Friday, April 29, 2005: "obsene" and "obsennity" for "obscene" and"obscenity"

I had the misfortune of opening an obscene spam email today which somehow got thru AOL's spam filter (I have reported it). But this gave me today's word.

"Obscenity", "obscene", etc., do not need a silent-C. Moreover, "obscene" and "obscenity" differ in that the E in the second syllable is long in "obscene" (as the silent-E after the N suggess) but short in "obscenity", which is not clear if there is only a single-N in both words. So we need to double the N in the reformed version of "obscenity": "obsene" and "obsennity".

Thursday, April 28, 2005: "bivuac" for "bivouac"

In this ceaselessly militarist age, this word is appropriate to consider not just today but any day. There is no OU-sound in "bivouac". Let's save a letter: "bivuac".

Wensday, April 27, 2005: "anker" for "anchor"

CHOR should be pronounced like "chore", no? Or as in "chorus" or "choreography", perhaps. "Anchor" is the only common word in English in which c-h-o-r is pronounced ker.  That's one word too many: "anker".

Tuesday, April 26, 2005: "eejis" for "aegis" and "egis"

This unusual word has two inadequate spellings. The "aegis" spelling (a) can mislead readers into thinking that the vowel of the first syllable is long-A rather than long-E, and (b) gives no guidance as to whether the G is hard or soft. The "egis" spelling could be pronounced egg-iss, even egg is (iz).

There is only one letter that conveys the hard-G sound: G, singly or doubled. But there are two ways to spell the J-sound, J or G, mainly before I or E. But G before I and E can still be hard-G: give, get. We should in time change all soft-G's to J, but some such changes are more contentious than others. Changing an unusual word is a good way to start: "eejis".

Munday, April 25, 2005: "kue" for "queue"

Today's word was once unusual in the United States, where "line" is customary, tho common in Britain. Since "queue" was chosen for the waiting line of jobs sent to computer printers, however, it has become common in the U.S. too. This now-common word, which is not at all complicated in sound, is spelled absolutely preposterously, and many people can't really remember how to spell it. They will recognize it when they see it, but have to think hard when asked how to spell it. That should never happen. Every word should be easy to spell, and a simple change would indeed make this word easy to spell, at the same time retaining a distinction from the much more common word of the same sound, cue: "kue".

Sunday, April 24, 2005: "hedfone/s" for "headphone/s"

There are two problems with the traditional spelling of today's word: first, EA is usually pronounced long-E, and second, PH is a preposterous way to spell the F-sound. A simple revision fixes both problems: "hedfone/s".

Saturday, April 23, 2005: "skwod" for "squad"

AOL today hilited a children's cartoon show called "SKWOD", which is apparently some sort of acronym for an organization of skateboarders fighting another acronymed organization, "CRANK", a sinister crime syndicate. I wouldn't ordinarily propose so drastic a change as "squad" to "skwod", but if this cartoon catches on, the change will be out there for ready adoption.

-QUA- is an ambiguous letter combination that has many pronunciations, in words as diverse as aquatic and Sasquatch (where different people pronounce it differently), squall, piquant, quarter (which some people pronounce with a KW sound but others pronounce with only a K), quasi (two pronunciations for the QUA) and quality. By contrast, "wod" is clear. So, drastic tho it might seem, "skwod" is a better spelling than either "squod" or the current "squad": "skwod".

Friday, April 22, 2005: "apostrofy" for "apostrophe"

Today's word is a pair to yesterday's, "catastrophe" (to "catastrofy"). There are two problems with the traditional spelling of this long word for a little mark of punctuation: PH is a needless and foolish spelling for the F-sound, and the final-E is said as a separate syllable but looks as tho it is just a silent-E. Indeed, French has the exact same spelling for this word but does not pronounce the final-E as a separate syllable. Let's simplify the English word to show the proper sounds: "apostrofy".

Thursday, April 21, 2005: "catastrofy" for "catastrophe"

There are two problems with the traditional spelling of this word: PH is a needless and foolish spelling for the F-sound, and the final-E is said as a separate syllable but looks as tho it is just a silent-E. Indeed, French has the exact same spelling for this word but does not pronounce the final-E as a separate syllable. Let's simplify the English word to show the proper sounds: "catastrofy".

Tuesday and Wensday, April 19 and 20, 2005:
"goormay" for "gourmet"
"connasur" for "connoisseur"

When you look up "gourmet", you find "connoisseur" as the central part of the definition, so let's deal with both these words together. Their spellings may make sense in French, where they are phonetic, but they make no sense at all in English, where they are wildly unphonetic. If they are phonetic in French, they should be phonetic in English: "goormay" and "connasur".

Munday, April 18, 2005: "releef" for "relief", "releeve" for "relieve"

IE is an ambiguous spelling that often expresses long-I (being I + silent-E): pie, tie, tries — would you like fries with that? It is confusing for new learners of English to see relies and be told that it has a long-I in the second syllable, but relief, only one letter different, has a long-E in its second syllable. There is a simple fix for this, simply to replace the I in relief with an E (producing E + silent-E, a standard spelling for long-E).

We can make the same substitution in the related verb, "relieve", which yields a word parallel to peeve and sleeve. So today we offer a twofer: "releef" and "releeve".

Sunday, April 17, 2005: "speek/er/s" for "speak/er/s"

This is a special case. In general, we won't suggest that one phonetic spelling be replaced by another, and EA is very often pronounced as long-E, tho it is also often pronounced differently (nausea (where it has two different pronunciations, EE-schwa and just-schwa), pear, heart, azalea, break, head), so is ambiguous. However, "speak" is closely related to "speech", which has a superior spelling. So let's just conform the two spellings on the better model: "speek" and "speeker/s".

Saturday, April 16, 2005: "scrole" for "scroll"

Today's word was once regarded as old-fashioned, if not even obsolete, in that literary works once published on sheets joined together into a continuous surface wound onto sticks were long ago replaced by books, with separate pages, any one of which one could jump to. Then the computer came along, and the book model was replaced by the scroll model! (Who said it — "Everything old is new again"?) So we see this word a lot now. Thanks to the huge amount of publishing that is done new each day on computers, we can implement a change to its spelling in the main body of its users very quickly.

"Scroll" does not rhyme with doll, loll, and moll but with dole, mole, and stole; nor with the first syllable of pollen and mollify but with that of stolen and moleskin. Let's make the spelling consistent with the pronunciation: "scrole".

Friday, April 15, 2005: "profilactic/profilaxis" for "prophylactic/prophylaxis"

On cable channel Comedy Central's Daily Show Wednesday, host Jon Stewart joked about a beluga whale that had swum up the Delaware River to "[his] old home town, Trenton, New Jersey".* Stewart said that altho in Trenton's glory days, it was a major steel and manufacturing center, when Stewart himself was there, it was known for manufacturing only prophylactics (condoms) and Champale, so he guessed the whale was looking for a good time.

In any case, "prophylactic", and "prophylaxis", are spelled absurdly. PH for F is utterly arbitrary and irrational, not one whit more sensible than, say, QH, and less reasonable than VH (since V is the voiced pair to F, and an H could show that the combination VH is the voiceless version of V, which is exactly what F is. But we don't write VH for F, do we? So we shouldn't write PH or any other combination for F either. F is not a complicated sound that needs two letters to express it. It's a very simple sound, and one letter will do: F.

As for Y for short-I, why should people have to try to remember that this particular short-I sound is written Y? Let's just use an I for the short-I sound. So today's twofer is "profilactic" and "profilaxis".

* Jon Stewart is actually from Lawrenceville, a close-in, ritzy suburb northeast of Trenton but southwest of Princeton.

Thursday, April 14, 2005: "onnix" for "onyx"

We don't write "syx" or "Unyx", so shouldn't write "onyx". This is another of those words that were spelled better in Middle English — as "onix"! — but were changed by weird scribes who wanted them to look more Latin. English isn't Latin. It should be spelled consistently according to English conventions. Another of those conventions is to write a double consonant to show that the preceding vowel is short. Let's do that too: "onnix".

Wensday, April 13, 2005: "seezon" for "season"

AOL Health today greeted visitors with the headline "Season Of Sneezin'", which led me to today's suggestion. There is no "sea" and no "son" in season: "seezon".

Tuesday, April 12, 2005: "papermashay" for "papier-mâché"

The present spelling of this English word, which takes the form of a hyphenated French phrase, is absurd, and bears no relation to the English pronunciation. Without accents, the second element is parallel in spelling but not sound to "ache". The first element contains the extremely ambiguous sequence IER (compare carrier, atelier, croupier, brazier, bombardier). Kids learn to use the stuff the phrase refers to and pronounce the term (which does not have a complicated sound) long before they learn to cope with its insane spelling. They shouldn't have to learn an insane spelling. We should reform it — change the phrase to a single, compound word, remove the accents, and phoneticize it: "papermashay".

Munday, April 11, 2005: "fenomenon" for "phenomenon"

PH for F is dumb. Period. "Phenomenon" and its derivatives (phenom, phenomena, phenomenal) are among hundreds of words from which this inexcusably stupid spelling should be banished. Let's get on with it. Today's word is "fenomenon".

Sunday, April 10, 2005: "hoo/m" for "who/m"

I delayed in offering this reform to get some feedback from other spelling reformers, as to whether to offer hu/em or hoo/m. Most agreed that hoo and hoom are better, because some readers might see hu as hyu.

The present spelling, wh-o, should be pronounced like the current word whoa. Tho some opponents of spelling reform might complain that "hoo" looks more like a pronunciation key than an actual spelling for general use, English has lots of -OO words, from ballyhoo and bamboo to woo, yahoo, and zoo.

In the objective case, "who" becomes "whom", so "hoo" would become "hoom", parallel to broom and groom.

This little respelling will cause a slight change in a mnemonic in journalism. Instead of 4 W's (who, what, where, when), 1 H (how), and 1 'Y' (why) being the essentials that a news story must include, it will now be 3 W's, 2 H's, and 1 Y (3-2-1 — that's easy to remember).

Today, then, we offer a twofer: "hoo" and its grammatical pair, "hoom".

Saturday, April 9, 2005: "acter" for "actor"

A fellow spelling reformer suggested I use this word today, because weekends are the main moviegoing time (which is why films generally debut on Fridays, and their fortunes are indicated by the first weekend's box-office receipts). So let's do it.

Dictionaries recognize only one pronunciation for this word: aak.ter. However, for some reason (or no reason), the -OR ending of a few words is often misread pompously as -AUR: aaktaur, mentaur. No, it's just aakter and menter. So common is the pompous mentaur pronunciation that it is recognized by dictionaries, so we can't change that. We can, however, change actor: "acter".

Friday, April 8, 2005: "opake" for "opaque"

"Opaque" has a needless QU where K will do, and doesn't rhyme with plaque, macaque, or claque. Let's just make it look as it sounds: "opake".

Thursday, April 7, 2005: "cleeshay" for "cliché"

Tho "cliche" may mean "overused", the spelling with an accent is not. Rather, since most writers of English do not have accents on their typewriter keyboards nor know how to insert them into emails and such, the form cliché is cumbersome at best, and cliche is ambiguous (compare quiche, niche). There is no CH-sound (church) in this word (unlike niche, which does contain one), so there shouldn't be a CH in the spelling. There's no I-sound, short or long (it, mine), so there should be no I in the spelling. The sound of the second syllable is that of a common English word and surname, "shay". So let's just put all this together to create a sensible spelling for this commonly used but absurdly spelled word: "cleeshay".

Tuesday and Wednesday, April 5 and 6, 2005:
"gess" for "guess"

"gest" for "guest"

"Guess" looks like it should be pronounced like the current word "goose", and "guest" could be "goosed"!

There is a U in these words only to show that the G is hard, as in "get" (hard-G is the "G-sound", there being no other way to spell it), not soft, as in "gelatin" (which contains a J-sound). But the better way to deal with this is to change all soft-G's to J, and leave G for the G-sound.

Inasmuch as we already have "jest", people would draw the appropriate contrast for "gest". We also have the informal "Jess" for "Jesse", "Jessica", and the like, so again people would be inclined to see a G here as a contrast to the J.

So let's write "gess" (which takes past tense "gessed", parallel to "messed") and "gest".

Munday, April 4, 2005: "redd" for "read" (past /participle)

A fellow spelling reformer suggested I use "read" as the word for Monday, since it is the day most kids start their school week and adults start the workweek, and nowadays most jobs entail reading.

"Read" pronounced "reed" (another word entirely) is the present tense of this important word, and that causes no problem. EA is a common way of showing long-E, and the read/reed distinction is convenient.

But the past tense and past participle cause real problems, and that needs to be fixed. In a law firm word-processing department that I used to work in, a proofreader told me a little story. At the end of their shift (that New York firm worked round the clock, all three shifts), one pair of proofreaders left a job they couldn't complete in the basket for the next shift to pick up, with the part they had read clipped and marked "Read" — which they intended be pronounced "red", meaning "[This part has been] read [already, so pick up with the next part]." The next shift, however, saw the notation as being "Read [(pronounced "reed") this]", as an imperative suggesting urgency. So they read (pronounced 'red') it all over again! They must have been puzzled to see proofing marks on it, but perhaps assumed the attorney wanted special care taken with that document. In any case, from then on, all proofreaders in the department marked the section already read as "Done".

Alas, we can't simply write the past /participle of "read", "red", because that's already taken for the name of a color (which, a news item today reports, has fallen out of favor with teachers for marking papers because it's too harsh!). But "redd", as in the famed black comic Redd Foxx and an English surname (Google produces over a million listings for "redd"), is available. Since -D is a common past-tense marker for words ending in E (seethed, revised), adding it to the phonetic spelling "red" to show that the word is a past /participle seems especially appropriate: "redd".

Sunday, April 3, 2005: "sammon" for "salmon"

There is no L-sound in "salmon", but there is in "salmonella". So let's break the visual link and make plain that the name of the fish does not contain an L-sound but the name of the bacteria does: "sammon" (vs. salmonella).

Saturday, April 2, 2005: "pontif" for "pontiff"

As the Roman Catholic Church readies to elect a new Pope, let us drop a needless letter from one term for "pope".

English is completely inconsistent about when to use a single, and when to use a double consonant. We write "if" but "tiff" and "pontiff"; "beef" but "buff"; "serif" but "riff". Why?

Sometimes we double a consonant to show that the vowel before it is short (hammer) or given syllabic stress (enthrall), but most of the time we don't (amethyst, ellipse). And we sometimes feel the need for a double consonant before verb endings -ed and -ing if the last vowel is short (impelled), but we're not even consistent about that (controlled).

"Pontiff" would be pronounced no differently if it had a single-F or double. Indeed, the double-F suggests that it should be stressed on the second syllable. It should not, and that's reason enuf to drop the second F. Moreover, the adjectival form of "pontiff" is "pontifical" — one F!

As a noun, "pontiff" takes no verb ending -ed or -ing, and the noun ending -s doesn't, and wouldn't, change its pronunciation. Its earlier form was "pontife" — one F. It derives from Latin "pontifex" — one F. It needs only one F: "pontif/ical".

Friday, April 1, 2005: "payed" for "paid"

Friday is payday for most Americans, so reforming this word today seems apt.

Altho AI is a common way of expressing the long-A sound (raid, laid), it is ambiguous for also being a common way of showing the flat-A (fair, fail) and an occasional way of representing a short-A (plaid, plait), short-E (the extremely common words again and against, as most people say them; laisser faire), long-I (aisle, balalaika), two adjoining vowels (archaic, contraindicated), even a schwa (certain, bargain).

This particular irregular verb form, "paid", is parallel in spelling but not pronunciation to another very common irregular verb form, "said". And there's no reason for "pay" to be irregular, because its past and past participle are said as tho spelled "payed" anyway. So let's just spell this word as it sounds and eliminate one needless irregular verb for people to have to learn: "payed".

Click here for today's suggestion.
Click here to return to the archive index.

Click here for a brief statement of the principles that influence the selection of words.

SSWD is a project of L. Craig Schoonmaker , Newark, New Jersey, United States, creator of Fanetik: Reformed (Phonetic) Spelling — at Least for Teaching. For information about other ways to change irrational spellings, search the Internet for "spelling reform".

Comments? Suggestions? Please contact our webmaster: