Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
July-September 2005

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Friday, September 30, 2005: "mackarony" for "macaroni"

This Food Friday, let's fix the ambiguous spelling of a category of pastas, tubes of various sizes and shapes. The present spelling has an I at the end, which in English is often pronounced long-I (alibi, alkali, pi, cacti, alumni, fungi, etc.). Altho a final Y is occasionally also pronounced long-I, especially in one-syllable words, it is usually pronounced short-E (or, in Britain, short-I) in words of more than one syllable, so is a better spelling in final position.

-ACA-, for having a single-C, could be seen as having a long-A in the first part (cloaca, fracas, placate, vacation), a broad-A (guacamole, maraca), or a schwa (academy, macaw,  abracadabra). It would be good to have an unambiguous spelling there. -ACCA- might do, but it is unusual. -CK- is the way we ordinarily represent a K-sound after a short vowel (backache, jackal, package).

Putting these two changes together, then, we arrive at "mackarony".*

* In checking the origin of this word in the dictionary, I discovered that "macaroni" has an obscure second meaning: "an English dandy of the 18th century who affected Continental mannerisms, clothes, etc. Also, maccaroni." Suddenly a seemingly nonsensical portion of the colonial-era American song "Yankee Doodle" made sense:

"Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni."

Thursday, September 29, 2005: "hussle/r" for "hustle/r"

I passed a small billboard a couple of days ago for rap artist Cassidy's "I'm a Hustla" music CD and was struck by the absurdity of changing the -ER in "hustler" to -A but leaving a silent-T. So let's address the odd standard spelling of this pair of words and get rid of the pointless silent-T: "hussle/r".

Wensday, September 28, 2005: "blonkdablonks" for "blanc de blancs"

It's Wine Wensday again, so let's address an odd French name for a white sparkling wine. The name means "white of whites", and in French is pronounced blònn doo blónn — where NN represents nasalization of the prior vowel, OO is the short-OO of "good", and the two accents represent, respectively, secondary stress in the first word and primary stress in the second) — but who cares? This is English, and we have our own conventions, one of which is, often, to close up into one word what started out as separate words, for instance, inasmuch, heretofore, undertow, schoolmaster — whatever.

In English, we pronounce a final-C as K (ad hoc, prosaic). We also pronounce the final-S of plurals. So, altho French does not, in the French phrase that names this wine, distinguish in pronunciation between the singular "blanc" and the plural "blancs", we sure can.

The French-A in both is "broad-A" in English, which is the same sound as English short-O. "Blankdablank" would be a tad too anglicized for my tastes, for suggesting an English short-A (as in, well, "blank", or "bank") and would suggest a sense of "blank" or "blankety-blank" (a euphemistic substitution for a string of obscenities) rather than "white", the French sense of blanc. I think we should retain the broad-A / short-O sound in any English respelling.

So let's compromise and settle upon a semi-anglicized spelling that accords some respect to the French origins of this wine's name: "blonkdablonks".

Tuesday, September 27, 2005: "attashay" for "attaché / attache"

Let's get rid of another un-English written accent and French CH. There is no English CH-sound (as in church) in this word, and the final vowel sound is not long-E, as in Apache — which today's word looks to rhyme with — but long-A. The consonantal sound is SH, and the last syllable equals the familiar word "shay", so let's spell it that way: "attashay".

Munday, September 26, 2005: "theef, theeves" for "thief, thieves"

Hurricane Rita gave rise, as civil disruptions all too often do, to looting, so this is an appropriate time to offer today's word.

IE is an ambiguous spelling, sometimes conveying long-I (tie, allied, alkalies), sometimes long-E (remedies and many other plurals), sometimes long-E plus schwa (needier, alien, prettiest). EE is unambiguous, so preferable: "theef", and its irregular plural, "theeves".

Sunday, September 25, 2005: "nel" for "knell"

A headline on ("Katrina May Be Death Knell for Historic Community" — referring to Turkey Creek, a neighborhood of Gulfport, Mississippi) moved me to address this word today.

There is no reason for a K to be in this word, since there's no K-sound in it. Just dropping the K would leave "nell", but that is a common woman's name. Since it would be better not to create a new homograph, and shorter spellings are better than longer, dropping the second-L seems advisable for the noun. The verb, much less common, would have to retake a second-L before adding -ED or -ING (nelled, nelling), but that follows a normal rule people are familiar with, and those verb forms are rarely heard. What we do generally hear is the noun, and we can both significantly shorten that and make it phonetic simply by dropping the first and last letters of the current spelling, to leave the simple, elegant "nel".

Saturday, September 24, 2005: "tabbloe/s" for "tableau/x" or "tableau/s"

In English, EAU is a preposterous and ambiguous spelling that takes more than one pronunciation (e.g., beau, beautiful, bureaucracy). EAUX is even more absurd. Our current word "tableau" and its traditional plural "tableaux" (it also has a partially anglicized plural, "tableaus") employ both these ridiculous spellings.

How, however, are we to rewrite them? Well, how about "tablo"? That looks like a variant of "table", pronounced táe.blo. That is not the right sound for "tableau".

"Tablow" or "tabloe" looks like the first syllable should contain a schwa, whereas it actually contains short-A. "Tabblo" and "tabblow" both look as tho the word's stress falls on the first syllable, which is indeed as some people say the word. But most refined speakers stress the second syllable. If we write that syllable with OE, people are more likely to put the stress on that syllable rather than the first.

And so we derive a spelling that not only reflects the speech sounds but also cues the reader that s/he should put the stress on the second syllable. Moreover, since the new spelling conforms to ordinary English usage, there is no reason for X to be used to show the plural. S will do perfectly well: "tabbloe/s".

Friday, September 23, 2005: "unyon" for "onion"

It's Food Friday again, so let's address one of the most common ingredients in cooking, the onion, whose spelling is peculiar. We have already dealt with one almost identical word, "union" (to eunyon), in which the initial vowel is pronounced long. Here, the initial vowel not only is short but is also a U, not an O. Compare another almost identical word, "anion", in which the initial vowel is short, but retains its own quality (that is, short-A, not short-U or -O) and the -ion is the word "ion", pronounced as two syllables, a long-I followed by schwa.

No matter how you look at it, "onion" is an absurd spelling. There is a well-known surname that is an exact rhyme for "onion": Runyon.* That is a sensible spelling, so let's just drop its R for its rhyme: "unyon".

* The most famous person with that name is the American writer Damon Runyon. Oddly, the original spelling was "Runyan", but when a typographical error showed it as "Runyon", he liked that better, so kept that spelling thereafter.

Thursday, September 22, 2005: "reneg" for "renege"

Tho I don't usually take sides in pronunciation differences, there is one pronunciation of this word that seems plainly to be a "spelling pronunciation" that should be eliminated: ri.néeg.

There are two other common pronunciations, ri.níg and ri.nég. Plainly the present spelling is ignored. "Re-" is often shortened from long-E to short-I in unstressed position, so that's OK. Readers will do that on their own. Similarly, people who now say ri.níg, ignoring the spelling, will continue to do so. What we are really concerned with, then, are new readers encountering this word and having guidance as to how to pronounce it. The present spelling leads to the third pronunciation, ri.néeg, which is almost unheard and plainly derives not from natural use but simply from the spelling. The natural pronunciations, oddly, ignore the spelling. Changing the spelling won't eliminate the pronunciation ri.níg, but might eliminate the pronunciation ri.néeg, which is a step in the right direction. People who say ri.nég will now have a spelling that reflects that pronunciation, not defies it: "reneg".

Wensday, September 21, 2005: "caraff" for "carafe"

This Wine Wensday, let's reform the name of a measure by which wine is sold, the carafe: "A glass or metal bottle, often with a flared lip, used for serving water or wine."* (The American Heritage Dictionary). "Carafe" is a peculiar spelling that looks as tho it should be said ka.ráef, or perhaps káar.a.fàe. In actuality, the word has only two syllables, and the silent-E does not signal that the vowel of the preceding syllable is long, because in fact that vowel is short. Most people say a short-A. Some (according to Random House) say a short-O (or broad-A — the same sound).

Fortunately, traditional spelling provides simple conventions by which the proper pronunciation of this word can be made plain. If we drop the final-E and replace it with a second F, we at once indicate that the vowel of the second syllable is short and that the second syllable is stressed, which automatically renders the vowel of the first syllable a schwa, et voilà! we have a clear spelling: "caraff".

* There is a second meaning for "carafe", which involves not wine but coffee (or 'cafe', which "carafe" resembles), the pot in today's drip-coffeemakers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005: "refuze" and "reffuse" for "refuse"

Today, let's separate the two sounds and meanings of what now looks like one word.

The verb could be made plain simply by changing the S to a Z, because the verb has a Z-sound.

The noun, however, has a very different sound. The first-E is short, and the S does take an S-sound. We can leave the S, but we need to double the F to show the vowel of the first syllable is short. That also suggests that the first syllable is stressed, which it happens to be, so this one change happily conveys two useful bits of information, and distinguishes the noun plainly from the verb: "reffuse" and "refuze".

Munday, September 19, 2005: "kemical" for "chemical", "kemist/ry" for "chemist/ry"

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in these closely related words. The sound is K, so let's just write it with a K.

Spanish, an international language with at least as many native speakers as English, isn't timid about changing Latin or Greek spellings to conform to its own, rigidly phonetic, orthography. In Spanish, these words are químico (masculine adjective "chemical" and noun "chemist") or química (feminine adjective and noun "chemistry") — with Spanish QU-, not Latin CH-, for the K-sound. (Spanish doesn't employ K in its own words, only in recent borrowings from non-Latin sources.)

English needs the self-respect that Spanish has: "kemical" and "kemist/ry".

Sunday, September 18, 2005: "skech" for "sketch"

A commercial for Skechers footwear reminded me that that company sees no need for a T in its name and the public has no trouble accepting that spelling, so I offer today a reformed spelling for the base word sketch: "skech".

Saturday, September 17, 2005: "numatic" for "pneumatic"

I'm having trouble finding a replacement configuration for a spare tire to replace the "donut" that came with my car but which was destroyed by a sharp-edged hole in a concrete roadway, and was thinking on the way home from another failed trip to look for the right combination of rim and tire that it might be much simpler (albeit rougher as regards the ride) if the tires on our cars were solid rubber rather than pneumatic (filled with air) — which gave me today's word.

The P in this word is silent, so should be dropped, for adding nothing but length and confusion. The EU is needlessly long and misleading since most people say a simple long-U without an initial Y-glide. So we can drop the E too, cutting this word by 22%. People who do employ a Y-glide can supply that without there having to be a written E or Y to guide them: "numatic".

Friday, September 16, 2005: "sautay" for "sauté" or "saute"

On this Food Friday, let's address a term from cooking. To sauté is to do what most people think of as "frying", to cook in a small amount of fat in a shallow pan — that is, "pan-frying" as distinct from "deep-frying".

The word formally retains its French form, as various of our cooking terms derive from French. But English doesn't use accents, and this word long ago became fully 'naturalized' and is now undeniably English, so the accent has got to go. Without the accent, which is in any case how it would usually be typed, the word looks as tho it should be pronounced merely saut, one syllable. A final-E that is not silent is often pronounced EE (epitome, calliope), which is not its sound here. So simply leaving the -E without an accent won't do.

The actual sound of the second syllable here is long-A, which in final position in English is usually spelled -AY. One might argue that -AY does not plainly show that stress falls on the last syllable, so AE might be better, to draw attention to the fact that there's something unusual about this long-A. But the only common words in English with -AE that are not Latin plurals, which usually take the pronunciation long-E, are reggae and sundae, and syllabic stress does not fall on their last syllable.

By contrast, in words like away, allay, array, portray, and repay, stress does fall on the last syllable, so a simple -AY will do. That also simplifies inflected forms. With "sautae", one would have to wonder whether to retain the E or perhaps change the E to a Y when adding -ING ("sautaeing" or "sautaying"), whereas if you write "sautay" to begin with, there's no possibility of confusion ("sautaying").

The last issue is whether to change the AU to O, since a (very) few people use a French pronunciation of the AU as long-O. Since almost everybody uses the AU-sound (as in haul and astronaut) in "sauté"; those who say long-O see the existing AU as long-O despite its spelling; and AU is the way it is now written, there's no reason to change to O: "sautay".

Thursday, September 15, 2005: "limf/oma" for "lymph/oma"

Today's word has, according to Random House, the distinction of being a "pseudo-Gk form, by assoc. with nympha < Gk nýmphe NYMPH". The original Latin form was "limpa". So it is really hard to defend either a Greek-derived PH for the F-sound in this pair of words or a Y for their short-I sound: "limf/oma".

Wensday, September 14, 2005: "osty spumonty" for "asti spumanti"

This Wine Wensday, let's address a familiar sparkling wine whose spelling is perfect for Italian but absurd for English, where a final-I is often, but certainly not always, pronounced long-I (alkali, alibi, alumni, hi-fi, sci-fi) and a final-E is usually silent or long-E (abalone, epitome, jujube (the candy), linguine, terpsichore).

Oddly, both my Random House Unabridged Dictonary on CD-ROM and include the name of this wine but neither gives a pronunciation (save for syllabic stress), which pretty much leaves chaos, doesn't it?

Some people will assign an Italianate pronunciation (óstee spuemóntae);* others a partially anglicized pronunciation that retains the broad-A's but conforms both endings to long-E (óstee spuemóntee); others (especially those who, for "pasta", say páasta rather than pósta) a more-anglicized pronunciation, with short-A in the first element but broad-A in the second (áastee spuemóntee); yet others short-A's in both elements (áastee spuemáantee). The pronunciation I have heard most often is óstee spuemóntee, so let's go with that. Since dictionaries give no guidance, how is anyone to challenge it?

With all drastic respellings of wine names, there is a simple way to introduce them, as pronunciation guides in parentheses under the regular name on the label. Whether they then become the standard spelling would depend on public acceptance. In the meantime, people would have clear guidance as to how the name is to be pronounced — in this case: "osty spumonty".

* All phonetic transliterations are in Augméntad Fanétik, which uses the Fanetik sound system with accents to show syllabic stress.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005: "rabeez" for "rabies"

Today's word is not a plural, and the final sound is Z, not S. There is no long-I sound, so should be no IE. The present spelling is, in short, quite mad, so should be changed: "rabeez".

Munday, September 12, 2005: "triumf" for "triumph"

There is neither a P-sound nor an H-sound in this word, so should be no P nor H in the spelling. There is no more justification for writing the F-sound as PH than for writing it as XQ or VB: "triumf".

Naturally, all derivatives would also shift to F: triumfant, triumfantly, triumfal, triumfalist, etc.

Sunday, September 11, 2005: "disentery" for "dysentery"

Opponents of spelling reform go nuts over suggestions that DYS- should be changed to DIS-, claiming that there is a useful distinction (dystinction?) between the two prefixes. But almost nobody knows that distinction.
DYS-: "a combining form meaning 'ill,' 'bad,' used in the formation of compound words: dysfunction."

DIS-: "a Latin prefix meaning 'apart,' 'asunder,' 'away,' 'utterly,' or having a privative, negative, or reversing force . . . ; used freely, esp. with these latter senses [underscoring added]"

Random House Unabridged Dictionary

As a practical matter, then, both prefixes are negative, so what difference would it make to 99.6% of people if all words that have a prefix that sounds like "dis" were spelled with D-I-S? None.

There is no Y-sound in DYS-, no long-I, no consonantal Y, not even the long-E (or, in Britain, short-I) of Y in final position as in today's word. Why (Y?) should the two Y's in "dysentery" be pronounced so differently?

Because DIS- is a common prefix, it will be read in itself and not altered by the presence of a following-E. People will not see it as "dice-entery", so we don't have to double the S. Besides, doubling the S would produce "dissentery", which might lead some readers to think it has something to do with "dissent" and thus induce them incorrectly to stress the second syllable (disénteree).

The only real problem with this word is the first Y, which we can fix simply by replacing it with the I it sounds like: "disentery".

Saturday, September 10, 2005: "debree" for "debris"

There are two spellings and three pronunciations for today's word. The two spellings differ only in that some people use an acute accent over the E, as in the original French word from which the English word derives: "débris". In that English does not employ accents, and very few people in English-speaking countries write the accent in ordinary typing (emails, for instance), eliminating the accent formally is one obvious reform few will quarrel with. Eliminating a silent-S is another we can all agree on. Changing an -IS that sounds like EE to -EE is scarcely more controversial, altho some Britons might argue for -Y instead, since they stress the first syllable. But in the interest of international comity, they would probably go alone with -EE.

The one remaining issue is what to do about the E in the first syllable. The three pronunciations that the Random House Unabridged Dictionary show are, respectively, dabrée (where A represents schwa* and an acute accent shows syllabic stress), dáebree, and, "esp. Brit.," débree. Hmm.

An A ("dabree") would plainly suffice for the first pronunciation, and arguably the second, if one were to look beyond the BR to the E's and take one of those E's as the silent-E that marks a long vowel. But only an E in the first syllable ("debree") would do for the British pronunciation.

Since any unstressed vowel can be schwaed in English, an E would do for the pronunciation  dabrée. Would it also do for the pronunciation dáebree? I think so, since people who now employ that pronunciation harken back to the French É, even where the accent is not written, so can supply the appropriate French sound even tho the accent isn't written in the new spelling either. So E in the first syllable should suffice for all three pronunciations, and all the pieces fall into place: "debree".

* Schwa is the neutral, unstressed vowel sound of A in "about", the second-E in "telephone", U in "circus", etc.

Friday, September 9, 2005: "cressent" for "crescent" and "crasont" for "croissant"

This Food Friday, as a tribute to New Orleans, let's deal with two versions of a crescent-shaped bread, "crescent" (roll) and "croissant".

New Orleans got its "Crescent City" nickname from the admiring comment of a French hot-air balloonist who in 1837 was struck by his view of the crescent formed by the Mississippi River at that point in its flow. For that sense, of something shaped like the first and last quarters of the moon, we have the ordinary English word "crescent", which entered English in 1400 as "cressaunt" — no second-C. As with many words from Middle English, later scholars 'fixed' words that had wandered from their Latin roots (in this case, luna crescens for "crescent moon") by re-Latinizing them. But the C in English "crescent" is silent. In Latin, SC took a different pronunciation from the simple S-sound, probably our SH-sound. So the SS in Middle English cressaunt should not have been changed to SC.

"Crescent roll" is the plain-English form of French "croissant", which in turn is a translation from German. To quote

"French croissant was used to translate German Hörnchen, the name given by the Viennese to this pastry, which was first baked in 1689 to commemorate the raising of the siege of Vienna by the Turks, whose symbol was the crescent.[*]

Speakers of French have no trouble pronouncing "croissant" with a uvular-R followed in the same syllable by a W-sound. Native speakers of English tend to mangle the French pronunciation, dropping the R altogether as to leave cwossonn (where NN represents nasalization of the short-O sound before it) or dropping the nasalization and pronouncing the T: cwossont. Nowadays, however, a fully anglicized pronunciation is most common, and that's the one we'll offer here,** along with a spelling for "crescent" that replaces the silent-C with an S, to show that the prior E is short: "cressent" and "crasont".

* Oddly, the crescent we associate with Islam was actually taken from Christian Constantinople (and even pre-Christian Byzantium), which the Turks conquered and made their capital.

** People who dislike the 'classless' pronunciation crasont are of course free to retain "croissant" as a French word and pronounce it in the French manner.

Thursday, September 8, 2005: "apoccalipse" for "apocalypse"

I noted this word in a story about New Orleans today. It is very unphonetic. The single-C would lead many people to think the O is long, and the Y would lead people to think the vowel of the last syllable is long-I. If we double the C, the O will be plainly seen to be short. If we change the Y to I, the short-I sound of the last syllable also becomes plain. Altho one might be tempted to remove the final-E, that would make the word look like the plural of some kind of "lip", so it is better to retain the final-E, as in "eclipse": "apoccalipse".

Wensday, September 7, 2005: "ommaronay" for "amarone"

It's Wine Wensday once more, and so I offer for reform the name of an Italian wine not yet universally known. This is a good time to introduce reform, before any spelling pronunciation can establish itself. The traditional spelling "amarone" would likely give rise to an anglicized pronunciation of áamaroen or aamaróen, just as "provolone" (properly pronounced proevalóenee in English) has given rise to the spelling pronunciations próevalòen and pròevalóen.* We can head that off by reforming its spelling now: "ommaronay".

* In these transcriptions, an acute accent (´) indicates primary syllabic stress; the grave accent (`) indicates secondary stress.

I thought this word might not be well enuf known to warrant inclusion in this project, until, while channel-surfing on a boring afternoon of TV, I heard it mentioned at the beginning of the PBS cooking show Lidia's Family Kitchen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005: "efemmera/l" for "ephemera/l"

Today's twofer has one plainly silly element, the preposterous P-H combination for the simple F-sound. The fix for that is simple: just substitute F for the PH.

Some reformers wouldn't stop there but would want to double the M, (a) to indicate that the E right before it is short, not long, and (b) to indicate that the syllable before the M(s) is stressed. But some readers would ask, "What about the initial-E? It's usually pronounced more like a short-I, so shouldn't we change it to I? And if we want to show that the vowel of the first syllable is short, wouldn't we have to double the F too?" — whereupon you would get two sets of double letters (effemmeral or iffemmeral), so the spelling cannot cue syllabic stress.

Other reformers would respond that it's not necessary to change the initial-E, since there's no harm if people pronounce it as an abbreviated long-E or even give it the short-E sound. Yet others will object that two M's would suggest that the word derives from French femme, and thus has something to do with things feminine — tho you'll note that both "feminine" and "female" have only one M.

Spelling reformers can overthink these things.

I think the strongest case can be made for leaving the initial-E as-is and doubling the M to show at once that the second-E is short (that is, you don't look beyond the M to see the third-E as signalling that the vowel before the M is long — which I readily confess I myself did when I first encountered "ephemeral", so read it ef.é and that the word's stress falls on the second syllable. That's good value for one letter, especially since we saved a letter in changing PH to F, so we still end up with a word no longer than the original: "efemmera/l".

Munday, September 5, 2005: "fizzic/al" and "fizzics" for "physic/al" and "physics"

Today, let's address a 'threefer' (three words for the effort of one), the related words (shortest to longest) physic, physics, and physical. Working backwards, we have an exact parallel to physical in the word "quizzical". So let's use that pattern, which is perfectly phonetic, for all these words: "fizzic", "fizzics", and "fizzical".

Sunday, September 4, 2005: "sistem" for "system"

Today's word has become very common in the computer age. It is irrationally spelled, so should be fixed. There is no Y-sound in "system", not a long-I, not a consonantal Y. Rather, the sound is just short-I, so should simply be spelled with an I: "sistem".

Saturday, September 3, 2005: "vail" for "veil"

The present spelling of today's word suggests that it could be the spelling of veal or vile — compare the two pronunciations of either. Since it is neither of those, we need a spelling that is clear as to what it actually is. The simple substitution of A for E gives us that: "vail".

Friday, September 2, 2005: "lettus" for "lettuce"

For this late-summer Food Friday, let's address the main ingredient in a prime summer food, salad, and which is also a key ingredient in many diets year-round: lettuce. There are lots of words that end with the sound combo schwa-S, as does this word. Most are spelled with -OUS, but many are spelled just -US: bonus, circus, citrus, hiatus, rumpus, status, Venus, etc. -UCE, by contrast, suggests a very different pronunciation, as in deduce, induce, produce (both senses), and what many people who consume lettuce are trying to do, reduce. Let's make the spelling convey the right sound on first sight: "lettus".

Thursday, September 1, 2005: "sene" for "scene"

Commercials are now running for MyScene Goes Hollywood: The Movie, which appears to be some kind of animated film for preteen girls. What matters for our purposes is the nonphonetic spelling of one key word in the title, "scene". There's no reason for a C to be in that word. The C adds nothing but length and possible confusion. Is it pronounced, like the C in "scant"? Trying to remember how to spell it, one needs to remember that there is a silent letter, what it is, and where it is. Is it an E (seenE)? An A (seAne)? A C?!? Why? Drop it out of the word and the word's sound remains plain, so let's just drop it: "sene".

Wensday, August 31, 2005: "swovvay" for "soave"

It's Wine Wednesday again, so let's address the Italian wine "soave", which looks as tho it should have three syllables (so.ó or only one (soev). It actually has two: "swovvay".

Tuesday, August 30, 2005: "sogga" for "saga"

"Saga" contains the smaller word "sag", which is pronounced differently. The longer word is of a form that would lead some new readers to think the first A is long, since there is only a single-G following it. Thus, s-a-g-a is a doubly misleading spelling. We can fix it: "sogga".

Munday, August 29, 2005: "coteree" for "coterie"

Altho most words ending in -IE take a long-E sound, some do not (hogtie, magpie, underlie), so it would be better to have a clear indication in this word whether the last syllable contains a long-E or long-I. We could write a simple Y, "cotery", but that suggests that stress falls on the first syllable, whereas many speakers retain the original French stress on the last syllable.  -EE, on the pattern of "guarantee", suggests that stress falls on the last syllable, but does not require it. People who prefer to stress the first syllable can still do so:  "coteree".

Sunday, August 28, 2005: "fragmiteez" for "phragmites"

The discussion of yesterday's word, "meadow" (to "meddow") included mention of a large marshland in my area, the New Jersey Meadowlands (to "Meddowlands"), which brought to mind the reeds that cover much of that area: phragmites. defines "phragmites" thus:

"Any of several perennial reeds of the genus Phragmites in the grass family, found worldwide in marshes and wetlands and having stems up to nearly 6 meters (20 feet) long."

These are the familiar woody reeds with tassels on top that predominate in many marshes, alternating with cattails in a sea of reeds that blow in waves with the wind. The reeds are familiar. Their name is not, perhaps in part because of the very peculiar spelling of their name, which suggests two syllables, when the word is actually three. Let's write it so it is plain: "fragmiteez".

Saturday, August 27, 2005: "meddow" for "meadow"

Today's word contains the smaller word "mead", which is pronounced differently. "Mead" has a long-E, "meadow" a short-E. We can't just remove the surplus A in "meadow", because that would leave the pronunciation unclear: medow. If, however, we double the D, the quality of the E becomes plain: meddow. The only question remaining is if readers will see the OW as long-O, as in shadow, or the OU-sound, as in endow. There are a great many more words ending in OW in which the sound is a simple long-O than the OU-sound, so I don't think we need to worry about people reading it wrong: "meddow".

Of course, derivatives would also be reformed. Here in North Jersey, there is a large marshy area known as the Meadowlands, which contains various sports facilities (Giants Stadium (NFL), the Continental Airlines Arena (NBA), and Meadowlands Racetrack). Naturally, "Meadowlands" would become "Meddowlands".

Friday, August 26, 2005: "salommy" for "salami"

It's "Food Friday", so let's have some salami. A final-I is often pronounced long-I, as in alkali and alibi. Not here. So let's change the I to Y. That would leave "salamy", which suggests that the second syllable is unstressed, the vowel is a schwa, and the last syllable is pronounced like "my". All wrong. The second syllable actually bears the syllabic stress, and the vowel is a full short-O or broad-A. So let's just change it to O and double the M to show at once that the syllable is stressed and that the O is short. That also solves the pronunciation problem of the last syllable, since the word now looks parallel to "Tommy": "salommy".

Thursday, August 25, 2005: "clarrifie" for "clarify" and "scarrifie" for "scarify"

I watch a lot of foreign (non-U.S.) television, especially now that I have digital cable, so hear a great many foreign accents regularly. I listen for mistakes that are, likely, caused by the defective present spelling of English. Yesterday I heard someone say "clarified" with a broad-A/short-O in the first syllable. The speaker apparently felt that "clar-" rhymed with "star". It does not.

In traditional spelling, AR is usually pronounced broad-A followed by R (or short-O followed by R; same sound in the United States): bar. If instead a short-A (as in at) is intended before an R, we sometimes indicate that by doubling the R: bar but barracks. That is not a foolproof solution (barroom, bizarre), but it does usually work. So let's employ that convention to, well, clarify "clarify", at least in that part.

There would remain, however, one problem with "clarrify": that a final-Y is usually pronounced long-E or, in Britain, short-I: city, biology, ecstasy. In some words, like this one, the final-Y is instead pronounced long-I. We need to 'clarify' that too. "Fie" is a word pronounced that way. So let's just put "fie" at the end of today's word, as earlier revised to include a double-R, and everything should then be clear.

One issue remains.

I thought — and remember, I've spoken English practically from birth, and have read it from a very early age — that "scarify" was pronounced like "scar" (parallel to bar) with -ify added. It is not. I found out only today, for intending to contrast it with "clarify", that it is not distinct from but parallel to clarify. So let's 'clarify' that parallel word as well, and create a twofer for today: "clarrifie" and "scarrifie".

Wensday, August 24, 2005: "boezhalay" for "beaujolais"

It's Wine Wensday again (I skipped last Wensday — we don't want this site to develop a drinking problem). Today, let's address "a light fruity red burgundy wine from the region of Beaujolais", France. Tho "Beaujolais" is clear in French, it is very muddy indeed in English.

(1) EAU can be pronounced long-O (bureau), but it can also be pronounced long-U with an initial Y-glide (beauty), or short-O (bureaucracy). (2) There is no J-sound in this word, but the voiced-SH that is often represented by ZH in transliterating foreign words from non-romanic alphabets (muzhik). (3) We might leave the O after the J, since any vowel can be schwaed, but in this particular location it would appear to some readers to have a short-O quality. (4) AI is usually long-A (abstain), but can be flat-A (affair), short-A (plaid), even short-E (again). And (5) there's no need for an S anywhere in this word, because there's no S-sound.

Let's fix all these problems: "boezhalay".

Tuesday, August 23, 2005: "pruve" for "prove" (and derivatives)

Today's word contains the smaller word "rove", pronounced quite differently. "Rove" contains a long-O; "prove", a long-U (without an initial Y-glide), which might also be regarded as a long-OO. We could add an O to the longer word, to make it "proove", parallel to groove, but that is also parallel to hooves, which many people pronounce with a short-OO (as in good). Let's try to reserve OO for that sound, when possible, and use some other spelling for long-U.

People in Britain and dialects close to Britain's tend to see most long-U's as having an initial Y-glide, where most Americans and many Canadians pronounce only the bare long-U (or long-OO). For instance, "student" and "news" are pronounced styúedant and nyuez in Britain but most often stúedant and nuez in the United States. No one, however, even tries to use a Y-glide after R: krue, never kryue, for "crew". "Prove" has an R, so we can simply write "pruve", which is clear in all dialects, for this base word and all its many derivatives: "pruve", "dispruve", "apruve", "repruve", "impruve/ment", etc.

Munday, August 22, 2005: "peke" for "pique"

This odd little French borrowing is ordinarily heard in only two expressions: a "fit of pique" and "to pique [one's] curiosity". Its spelling is indefensible, since the QUE is not pronounced as a syllable to itself as in the common misspelling "barbeque" for barbecue, and there is no I sound but a long-E. Reforming it presents problems because there already exist two words that take the most common ways of representing its sound: "peek" and "peak". "Peke" (parallel to "eke" and "Zeke") is available, save for the uncommon use of that term as short for "Pekingese" (dog) . Since some dictionaries do not recognize "peke" for "Pekin(g)ese" (there are two spellings for the dog's name), let's just pretend that nobody recognizes it and apply that spelling to today's word: "peke".

Sunday, August 21, 2005: "ismus" for "isthmus"

A lot of people try to pronounce all the letters in "isthmus", not knowing that the TH is silent. How would they know? It's not self-evident. The same people try to say all the letters in the similar word asthma, not knowing that the TH in that word is also silent. Alas, we might not be able to reform asthma because it has two pronunciations, one with an S-sound, one with a Z-sound, and some people would not accept that "asma" covers both pronunciations. But we can revise "isthmus" and its derivatives: "ismus", "ismuses" or "ismi", and "ismian".

Saturday, August 20, 2005: "clamiddea" and "clamidoffila"
for "chlamydia" and "chlamydophila"

"Chlamydia" is a family of bacteria which in people causes a form of venereal disease that is often asymptomatic but can cause sterility in women. In cats (where its cat-specific form is also called "chlamydophila"), it can produce severe eye damage, respiratory illness, loss of appetite, and even, in young kittens (as I found to my horror), death. Its spelling is the least of its predations, but is still noxious.*

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in these related words. Nor is there a Y-sound; not a long-I, not a consonantal Y. There is as well no PH-combo (as in uphold) in the cat-specific term. So let's fix all these problems: "clamiddea" and "clamidoffila".

* Altho this project does not generally address scientific words, "chlamydia", because of its commonness as a sexually-transmitted disease, has entered the general lexicon.

Friday, August 19, 2005: "biskit" for "biscuit"

It's "Food Friday" again, so let's deal with the bizarre spelling of this word for a tiny loaf of bread or, in Britain, a cracker or cookie. It looks as tho it should be pronounced bís.kyue.wit or at least bís.kwit. It is not. Let's just spell it as it is said: "biskit".

Thursday, August 18, 2005: "sinopsis" for "synopsis"

There is no "Y-sound" in this word, meaning no long-I vowel sound and no consonantal Y. So we don't need a Y in the spelling. The sound expressed by the Y is a plain old short-I, so let's just put an I there and have done with it: "sinopsis".

Tuesday and Wensday, August 16 and 17, 2005:
"hether" for "heather" and
"fether" for "feather"

EA most commonly expresses the long-E sound, and could ordinarily be replaced by EE with no confusion as to sound. Not here. "Heather" is parallel in form but not sound to heathen. Heathen has the customary long-E; "heather" does not. Similarly, feat has long-E, but "feather" does not. Let's just drop the A from both these words and make them parallel in form and sound to whether and tether: "hether" and "fether".

Munday, August 15, 2005: "para/shute" for "para/chute"

In this long word, the only thing wrong is the C. There is no CH-sound (as in church) in parachute, nor in the related word chute (as in the children's board game "chutes and ladders") — which is also an informal short form for "parachute". Instead, we have an SH-sound in both, so let's just write the SH we say: "para/shute".

Sunday, August 14, 2005: "anounce/ment" for "announce/ment"

In this part of the United States, candidates for next year's federal elections (e.g., for New York's Senate seat now held by Hillary Clinton) have already started to announce, and we should be hearing a lot of announcements of this type in the next few months. So let's address the slightly odd spelling "announce".

A double consonant often means something in terms of pronunciation, for instance, that the vowel before it is short rather than long, or syllabic stress falls on the syllable before the doubled consonant. The NN in "announce/ment" serves no such function, so is misleading. Let's just save ourselves a letter and some possible confusion for new readers by dropping the second N: "anounce/ment".

Saturday, August 13, 2005: "turnament" for "tournament"

The Professional Golfers' Association Championship is being played about 10 miles from my house, so this seems an opportune time to offer today's word. There is no OU-sound in tournament. Tho there are two pronunciations (túernamant and térnamant), the reform proposed accommodates both. People who want to see a U-sound have a U to justify their pronunciation. People who want to see an ER-sound have "turn". Is everybody happy?!: "turnament".

This change will also break the false mental link between "tournament" and "tour", two words that are only distantly related.

Friday, August 12, 2005: "lazonya" for "lasagna / lasagne"

Today is "Food Friday", initiated last week with the word "food" itself (to "fude").

Let's start the list of specific foods with one of my favorites, the bizarrely spelled "lasagna" — or is it "lasagne"? Nobody seems to know. But whether the third syllable contains an A or E pales before the absurd -GN- for the -NY- sound as in canyon, and an S for what is actually the Z-sound. Moreover, the vowel in the middle syllable is short-O, not short-A. Let's fix all these problems at once: "lazonya".

Thursday, August 11, 2005: "tred/mill" for "tread/mill"

There's no need for an A in this pair of words. So let's just drop it, OK?: "tred/mill".

Wensday, August 10, 2005: "cabbernay fronk / soevinyoen" for "cabernet franc / sauvignon"

Today is Wine Wensday again, so let's deal with a pair of well-known wines, both of which have "cabernet" in the name. There is no T-sound in cabernet, so should be no T. The last syllable is not pronounced like the ordinary word "net" but rhymes with "say". The spelling should show that clearly.

Tho some people might argue that the B has to be doubled because the initial-A in "cabernet" is short, others might argue that the influence of "cabinet" would suffice to incline people to say a short-A. Still, "cabinet" has an I after the single-B, whereas "cabernet" has an E, which often marks a long vowel before an intervening consonant (as in "Abe", "babe", and "habeas corpus"). So yes, we do need to double the B.

"Franc" is a commonly used English name for the present or past currency of various countries that speak French, and as such is pronounced as our regular word "frank". In the wine's name, however, it retains the French pronunciation of the A: short-O.

Sauvignon is harder to reform. "Sovinyone" might be seen as comparable to "everyone" and as having a short-O in the first syllable. "Soevinyoen" is admittedly a tad odd-looking but it accords with many words in which OE represents long-O (doe, toe, hoedown).

So we lift two glasses this Wine Wensday: "cabbernay fronk" and "cabbernay soevinyoen".

Tuesday, August 9, 2005: "graet" for "great"

The traditional spelling of today's word is ambiguous, and very confusing to new readers inasmuch as EA is most commonly pronounced as tho EE (long-E), but there are a relative few but very frequently used words in which it is pronounced as short-E (bread, head, dead, death, breath, etc.). The phrase "meet and greet" would be pronounced quite differently if written "meat and great".

There's already a word "grate", which would be the most obvious way to respell great. "Graet" is, however, available. AE is itself in many cases ambiguous, having been taken into English without reform from Latin in many words. But there are English words in which AE does represent long-A: sundae and reggae as everyone says them, plus maelstrom, Gael and (originally Latin) vertebrae, as many people say them. So AE, especially in a single-syllable word, is a substantially better spelling for the long-A sound than is EA. I will resist the temptation to offer the spelling grrrrr-aet!:* "graet".

* For anyone who does not recognize this spelling, there has for decades been a very famous series of commercials in the United States for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes cereal in which "Tony the Tiger" pronounces "great" with a growl.

Munday, August 8, 2005: "magazeen" for "magazine"

I was on Magazine Street here in Newark (NJ) today, so thought I'd address that word. The ending -INE is ambiguous, sometimes expressing a long-I, just as it looks (valentine, airline), sometimes a long-E (gasoline, dentine), sometimes a short-I (clandestine, engine), and sometimes even more exotic sounds (aborigine).  -EEN is clear: "magazeen".

Sunday, August 7, 2005: "tyfoon" for "typhoon"

A headline on Netscape today announced that more than a million people in China have been evacuated from their homes ahead of typhoon Matsa, so this seems an appropriate time to address this word.

Typhoon is defined as "A tropical cyclone occurring in the western Pacific or Indian oceans." Both typhoon and cyclone have a Y pronounced as long-I, which is typically regarded as "the Y-sound", so we needn't change that. And OO for a long-U that has no Y-glide is a clear and reasonable spelling. But PH for the F-sound is just plain silly, so let's change that: "tyfoon".

Saturday, August 6, 2005: "foke/s" for "folk/s"

There is no L-sound in this word, so should be no L. We cannot, however, simply drop it, because the O is long but "fok" would be seen as having a short-O, as in "amok" (as distinct from "amuck"). We can, however, use the silent-E convention to show the long-O: "foke/s".

Friday, August 5, 2005: "fude" for "food"

I'm initiating a new feature today, "Food Friday", with a proposed reform for "food" itself. Most of us will remember our confusion as new learners in seeing that "food" and the exactly parallel word "good" do not rhyme. "Good" rhymes with "could" and "hood". "Food" rhymes with "rude" and "allude". Let's make it look like them too: "fude".

Thursday, August 4, 2005: "audeo" for "audio"

"Audio" is closely associated with "video" and "stereo", so it should be easy for people to accept changing the ambiguous -IO ending (bio, imbroglio) to the relatively clear -EO: "audeo".

Wensday, August 3, 2005: "bordoe" for "Bordeaux"

It's Wine Wensday again, the day we address the silly spelling of many of our names for wines and things associated with wine. Today let's deal with "Bordeaux", which looks like báur.dee.àuks or báur.dee.ùks but is actually just baur.dóe. We could write this "bordo", but that looks as tho the stress falls on the first syllable. "Bordoe" is more likely to be seen as having stress on the second syllable.

Tho the wine's name is usually (tho not always) capitalized, that is only because it is a geographic name for a city and its distinctive winemaking region in France. English is not French, so French ways of spelling should not control words brought into English.

We don't, in this project, ordinarily suggest changing proper nouns, but a wine is not a person or place, just a commodity. So we don't need a capital letter in it. Tho this project does not ordinarily deal with capitalization either, there are special cases.  The names of wines derived from placenames that are not themselves placenames so do not need to be capitalized, is one: "bordoe".

Tuesday, August 2, 2005: "werry" for "worry"

A poll of Americans and Japanese about concern that World War III might occur in their lifetime prompted me to address today's word.

-ORR- is very ambiguous. In a stressed syllable, the vowel is usually seen as broad-A or short-O (borrow, tomorrow, corridor as most people say them) or AU (torrid as most people say it, lorry, abhorred). Only in "worry" (and its derivatives) is ORR pronounced ER or UR.

Since most people rhyme "berry" and "hurry", and ER is the way this sound is most commonly spelled (especially in multitudinous agent words (purchaser) and comparatives (bigger), let's go for the spelling that new learners are more likely to think of when they hear the word spoken: "werry".

Munday, August 1, 2005: "reconnasance" for "reconnaissance" and "reconnoissance"

There are two bizarre spellings for today's word. There are also two pronunciations, one with an S-sound where the double-S lies, the other, oddly, with a Z-sound despite the double-S! I think the proposed reform accommodates both pronunciations, while getting rid of unnecessary and misleading letters: "reconnasance".

Sunday, July 31, 2005: "onslaut" for "onslaught"

A news story on Netscape today about famine in Niger brought on by the "onslaught" of drought and locusts prompted me to use this word today. We've already dealt with "drought" (to "drout").

The GH in "onslaught" adds nothing but length and confusion. Let's drop it, shorten the word by two letters, and make it easier for people to learn: "onslaut".

Saturday, July 30, 2005: "oddisy" for "odyssey"

A commercial for a Honda Odyssey prompted today's word. "Odyssey" is a bizarre spelling in at least three ways. First, the O is short, but there's only a single D beyond it. Second, there are two Y's, each representing a different sound, but neither of them the long-I sound one might regard as "the Y-sound". And third, there's a needless E before the final Y.

"Odyssey" rhymes with "oddity", so should take that form: "oddisy".

Friday, July 29, 2005: "endorfin/s" for "endorphin/s"

An article on Netscape today about Cardio Tennis contained two words I considered for today, "euphoria" and "endorphin/s". Since I'm undecided about what to do with the IA in "euphoria" (leave it or change it to EA),* I selected "endorphin/s".

There is no P-sound in this word, and no H-sound (contrast uphill, uphold, and upheaval, which have both), so should be neither a P nor an H in the spelling. The actual sound is F, so let's just write F: "endorfin".

* Suggestions, anyone? I'm leaning toward "euforea".

Thursday, July 28, 2005: "eukarist" for "eucharist"

The Pope made news today in affirming the practice of denying Communion to Catholics who divorce, then remarry without getting an annulment from the Church, so "eucharist" (another word for "communion") seems apt.

There is no CH-sound (church) in this word but a simple K-sound. Let's spell it with a K: "eukarist".

Wensday, July 27, 2005: "shardanay" for "chardonnay"

It's Wine Wensday again, the day we address the many nonphonetic spellings of the names of wines that come into English unchanged from other languages.

Today's wine is "chardonnay", which is a perfectly reasonable spelling in French (where the wine originated) but a silly spelling in English. (French is spelled even more absurdly than English, save that you generally know how to say a French word when you see it written, even if you'd have no idea in the world how to spell it if you only heard it said.)

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this wine's name.* Instead, CH is the way French ordinarily represents the sound English ordinarily writes SH. The second syllable is written "don" but does not rhyme with that English word. Rather, the vowel in that syllable is schwa, which English most often represents with an A. The third syllable is identical in both spelling and sound to the English word "nay", so we can retain that part unchanged. Putting all these little changes together, we end up with "shardanay".

* Actually, the wine's fuller name is "Pinot Chardonnay", but we have already dealt, last Wensday (July 20th), with "pinot" (to "peeno").

Tuesday, July 26, 2005: "spacial" for "spatial" and "spacial"

The space shuttle was launched today, after a long delay following the last one's catastrophic disintegration, so my thoughts turned to "space" and its peculiarly spelled adjective, "spatial".

"Spacial" is actually an acceptable variant, but "spatial", an unreasonable spelling, is (unreasonably) preferred. Let's get rid of the irrational "spatial" — just banish it from use: "spacial".

Munday, July 25, 2005: "euneek" for "unique"

Words starting in UN- are very ambiguous, especially to new readers, because in many of them, the UN- is a negative prefix, always pronounced with a short-U: uninformed, unevolved. In other such words, the U is long, and introduced by a Y-glide: uniformed, univalve. Spelling should make plain when a short-U or long-U is intended. EU- is a well understood rendering of long-U with a prior Y-glide (since a Y-glide is actually a very-short E sound). So let's use that convention here.

Further, there is no I-sound in the second syllable, not short, not long, but a long-E. And there is no QU-sound (quick, question) but a simple K-sound. So the spelling "unique" is about as wrong as can be. Let's fix all three of these problems: "euneek".

Saturday and Sunday, July 23 and 24, 2005:
"vittle/s" for "victual/s"

"chitlins" for "chitterlings"

Cable channel TV Land is running a 48-hour marathon of the ironically named 1970s sitcom Good Times.* Nor surprisingly, the term "chitterlings" came up, since that TV family liked traditional Southern black cooking: victuals.

"Chitlins" is in fact one of two variant spellings for the formal word "chitterlings". The other is "chitlings", but there is no NG-sound in the actual pronunciation, so "chitlins" is much the better respelling. There is no established alternate spelling for "victual" (a verb, meaning to provision, as well as noun), but I imagine it would be "vittle", so let's adopt that too: "vittle/s" and "chitlins".

* The theme song includes lyrics like, "Temporary layoffs — good times. "Easy credit" ripoffs — good times. Ain't we lucky we got 'em? Good times."

Friday, July 22, 2005: "tyme" for "thyme"

It's Food Friday again. Yesterday I mentioned that an article on poor cooking skills in the U.S. employed a number of words that could profitably be reformed. One such was "thyme", an herbal seasoning properly pronounced the same as "time" but which has acquired the ignorant mispronunciation tthiem — plainly labeled "spelling pron." in my Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary. Let's stop misleading people, and write this word as it sounds: "tyme".

Thursday, July 21, 2005: "nife" and "nives" for "knife" and "knives"

An article about poor cooking skills among Americans that was highlighted on Netscape today contained a number of words that would be good to reform, but let's settle on one: that key food-preparation item and, alas, weapon, the "knife" (with of course its irregular plural, "knives"). Centuries ago, the K was pronounced, but it hasn't been pronounced for a very long time. We dropped the sound. Let's drop the letter: "nife" and "nives".

Wensday, July 20, 2005: "peeno greejo" for "pinot grigio"

Here we are at Wine Wensday again, the day when we address the ridiculous spellings that popular wines still have in English, retained from the original languages of the countries those wines come from. Today, let's deal with "pinot", which is a type of grape, and more specifically "pinot grigio" (literally, a "gray" wine made from pinot grapes).

The T in "pinot" is silent, because the word is French. Oddly, "grigio" is Italian, but is paired , in the name of this wine, with a French term. "Grigio" is, in Italian, pronounced grée.joe, not grée.jee.òe, because GI is just an Italian spelling convention for the soft-G sound before A, O, or U. A clear English rendering of the sounds, then, is as the name of the wine should be spelled: "peeno greejo".

Tuesday, July 19, 2005: "vencher" for "venture"

"Venture" has no U-sound but is parallel in sound to "backbencher" and "thirst quencher". Let's make it parallel in spelling too: "vencher".

Munday, July 18, 2005: "jossle" for "jostle"

Yesterday we got rid of the silent-T in "witch". Let's get rid of another silent-T today, in a word appropriate for the start of the workweek, a time when many of us rush to find a spot on the subway or bus: "jossle".

Sunday, July 17, 2005: "wich" for "witch"

The latest Harry Potter children's book went on sale yesterday, to much international hoopla.* The film remake of the classic TV sitcom "Bewitched" debuted three weeks ago and is still in some theaters. So this seems an apt time to address this word. Quite simply, we don't write "ritch" or "sandwitch", so don't need a T in this word either: "wich".

* The name of the author of the Harry Potter books needs its spelling reformed. It is "Rowling", which many people read as "ROU-ling", parallel to "howling", "prowling" and "scowling", but which actually rhymes with "bowling".

Saturday, July 16, 2005: "cashay" for "cachet"

"Cachet" looks parallel to "ratchet", as tho pronounced "catch it", but is actually parallel to "sashay". It should be spelled that way: "cashay".

Friday, July 15, 2005: "kom" for "calm"

I know that I am "pushing the envelope" here as regards little changes that people in general might find easy to accept, in at least two ways. First, I recognize that there is a common mispronunciation of this word as "kolm", where the O represents short-O/broad-A, and the L is pronounced. One could also write this, in folk phonetics, as "kahlm" or "cahlm".

But (a) my American Heritage electronic dictionary does not recognize that pronunciation at all; (b) my Random House Unabridged electronic dictionary recognizes it, but only with a negative usage label: "spelling pron. kälm)" — which means that it is uneducated, a mispronunciation used only by people who don't know what's right — and haven't troubled to look it up in the dictionary — so allow themselves to be influenced by an absurd spelling to say it wrong; and (c) does not recognize it at all.

So let's just admit aloud that "kolm" (or, if you prefer, "kahlm" or "cahlm") is wrong. Now what?

If we just drop the silent-L, we are left with "cam", which represents two entirely separate terms, both of which take the pronunciation kam (with a short-A as in at). One of those words refers to an automotive part that opens and closes valves in an internal-combustion engine and is controlled by the camshaft. The other is short for "camera", as in "webcam". Thus, we can't just drop the silent-L and leave c-a-m.

If we change the A to O, it will be read correctly as regards sound, but "com" is a widely known Internet abbreviation for domain names that are "commercial", so it might be read wrong as regards meaning. Thus "com" is less than ideal, especially in countries where abbreviations generally do not take periods (e.g., Britain, where the punctuation mark called a "period" in the United States is usually termed "full stop").

If we try to distinguish "calm" from ".com" (dot-com) by writing "comm", we run up against another pre-existent spelling, an abbreviation for (1) "communication/s",  (2) "committee", and (3) "commission"! With a following-L ("comml"), it is, again, short for "commercial", so people who see "comm" (especially without a period) might think it not a word to itself but an abbreviation for "commercial".

Do we ignore all that and write "com" or "comm" anyway? I don't think so.

I'd prefer a new spelling that is distinct from all abbreviations and shows a stark break from the erroneous spelling pronunciation, with its sounded-L. So I'm inclined to propose "kom".

If that is a step too far for most people, and they think "com" would do and not be confused with any other meaning, that's fine with me. But I think "com" comes with too much baggage, and the possibility of confusion with the abbreviation for "commercial" (especially in populations that do not always use a period with abbreviations) is so substantial that the better choice would be "kom".

(If this seems to you a long discussion, of a complicated thought process, for what is now only a 4-letter word, you're right. Spelling simplification, in a language as huge and complicated as English, isn't simple.)

Thursday, July 14, 2005: "ruteen" for "routine"

A story in today's AOL News about the hospitalization of William Rehnquist says "The chief justice ha[d] maintained a regular work routine despite speculation about his future at the court." Of the problem words in that sentence, we have already addressed "chief" (cheef), "justice" (justiss), "work" (werk), and "court" (cort). Today we'll address "routine".

There is no OU-sound in that word, and the vowel in the second syllable is ambiguous (compare "alkaline" (two pronunciations), "brigantine", "valentine"). That's asinine. So let's drop the O and change the -INE to -EEN (on the pattern of "sateen" and "velveteen", more than "sixteen" and "umpteen") to make the pronunciation plain: "ruteen".

Wensday, July 13, 2005: "merloe" for "merlot"

Today is Wine Wensday, time to tackle one of the many silly spellings we retain for the names of wines. Most of these come from the languages of the countries where the grape varieties originate, and English is too respectfully modest — or is it just lazy? — to revise the spellings to English form. Let's deal this Wensday with one of today's more popular red wines, "merlot", which has a needless silent-T and is usually, but not always, stressed on the second syllable. Since English does not employ accents to indicate syllabic stress, we have to guess about that, but some spellings are more indicative than others. Thus I offer not merlo, which would ordinarily be seen as having stress on the first syllable, but merloe, which could be stressed on the first syllable but might be seen as cueing the reader to put stress on the second. Thus both common pronunciations are covered: "merloe".

Tuesday, July 12, 2005: "cheeta" for "cheetah"

The final-H in this word is both unnecessary and misleading. The second syllable does not rhyme with "ah" but with the final syllable in innumerable words ending in A (area, parka, stamina). So let's save a letter and show new readers plainly that the second syllable of this word is just a plain old schwa: "cheeta".

Sunday and Munday, July 10 and 11, 2005:
"disiple" and "apossle" for "disciple" and "apostle"

These two words are often confused, even without the issue for new readers of how they are pronounced.

A disciple, in Christian history, was one of the 12 men chosen by Jesus to follow Him and spread His word. All of the disciples met Jesus personally, during his normal human life. An apostle was one of the early leaders of the Christian church who took upon themselves to spread the Gospel, whether they had met Jesus or not.

In any case, these two religious words both have silent letters, for no good reason. The C in "disciple" adds nothing but possible confusion (is it said, as a K-sound, or not?), as the T in "apostle" adds nothing but confusion (why is there a T? is it supposed to be pronounced?).

Let's just drop both silent letters from these two words, and thus eliminate one needless letter apiece, and immeasurable confusion for future readers: "disiple" and "apossle" (on the pattern of "hassle" and "tussle").

Saturday, July 9, 2005: "atmosfere" for "atmosphere"

The Gulf Coast of the United States is awaiting the crashing arrival of Hurricane Dennis, so this seems an appropriate time to offer reform of the word for the part of our planet where hurricanes form, the atmosphere. PH is a silly, and ambiguous, way to spell the simple F-sound. In some words, PH is said just as it looks (uphill) or like a plain old P (the most common pronunciation of diphthong). In others, it isn't pronounced at all: phthiocol, phthisic). Let's just write the F-sound as F: "atmosfere".

Thursday and Friday, July 7 and 8, 2005:
"nerish" and "flerish" for "nourish" and "flourish"

There is no OU-sound in either of these words. Rather, both are parallel in sound to "perish" and "cherish", so should have parallel spellings: "nerish" and "flerish".

Wensday, July 6, 2005: "manuver" for "maneuver" (or, mainly British, "manoeuvre")

This word, in its current sense, has been in English for 250 years, and has already undergone one spelling reform in the United States, tho Britons retain the most cumbersome and absurd spelling. Even the American form is one letter too long, since the E before the U adds nothing but length and possible misspellings. Rather than have to wonder, "Is it EU or UE?" — since there is no logical reason for it to be one rather than the other — let's just drop the needless first E entirely: "manuver".

Tuesday, July 5, 2005: "presher" for "pressure"

After this long holiday weekend, millions of Americans are returning today or tomorrow to the stresses of demanding jobs, so this seems an appropriate time to address the word "pressure". The letter sequence U-R-E suggests a long-U. There's no long-U in this word. S-U-R-E is a word in itself, but the "-sure" in this word isn't pronounced like the word "sure". That is, "pressure" is not a compound word formed from "press" and "sure", and is not pronounced as tho it is. Rather, "pressure" rhymes with "thresher", so let's spell it that way: "presher".

Munday, July 4, 2005: "firewerks" for "fireworks"

As I write, I hear the short whistle and little explosion of firecrackers and other fireworks in personal celebrations of Independence Day by some of my neighbors, and tonite I'll be attending the municipal display in Belleville, a northern suburb of my city, Newark (NJ). So let's offer a little change to this word today, replacing the wrong vowel, O, with the right one, E: "firewerks".

Sunday, July 3, 2005: "clorene" for "chlorine"

Many Americans will be splashing in swimming pools, public or private, this long Fourth of July weekend, so "chlorine" seems an apt word to address. Its present spelling has two problems: (1) a written CH but no CH-sound (as in church); (2) an -ine ending but no I-sound (not long-I as in vine, valentine, or asinine), not short-I as in margarine, sanguine, or clandestine). Fortunately, these two little problems have quick little fixes: drop the H and change the I to E (as in convene, kerosene, and benzene): "clorene".

Saturday, July 2, 2005: "flox" for "phlox"

A semi-wild flowering plant that was in my front yard when I bought the house has started blooming again. I think it's a type of phlox, and it takes over more of the yard every year. So I offer this irrationally spelled word today. There is no P-sound in "phlox", nor an H-sound. If you push a P-sound up against an H-sound, you don't get an F-sound, any more than you would if you were to push a G-sound up against an H-sound (as in "laugh"), or made any other combination of consonants (BH, ZQ, WX, you name it). There is only one F-sound. It's simple. Why should its spelling be complicated?: "flox".

Friday, July 1, 2005: "palacial" for "palatial"

The base word from which today's word derives, "palace", is written with a C. Why on Earth would we change it to T in the adjectival form? Apparently, the word skips over the English form of the noun to go directly back to the Latin original, "palatium". That's ridiculous. "Palace" should take "palacial".

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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".

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