Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
October-December 2005

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Saturday, December 31, 2005: "sted/dy" for "stead/y" (and derivatives)

Nine days ago we addressed the related term "instead" (to insted). Let's wrap up the year by reforming the rest of the "stead" family: stead, steady, steadily, steadiness, bedstead, farmstead, homestead, steadfast, steadfastly, steadfastness, unsteady, unsteadily, unsteadiness, and any other that may exist in the English language, along with all their inflected forms, by dropping the A and, where necessary, doubling the D if what follows might incline some readers to see the E as long.

Borrowing from December 22nd's discussion,

EA is ambiguous. It is most often pronounced long-E (lead, fear, heat) but also pronounced short-E in a number of common words (bread, head, feather). Alas, it has other sounds as well: long-E then schwa (apnea, theater); long-E then short-A (react, preamble); long-E then long-A (create, nauseate); perhaps others. Even related words of similar spelling are pronounced differently: pleasing but pleasant.

Let's make clear which sound occurs in the second syllable of today's word, and save ourselves a letter each word, to boot.

So, let's bring 2005 to a ringing conclusion with a veritable fireworks explosion of reforms to an entire family of words: "sted", "steddy", "steddily", "steddiness", "bedsted", "farmsted", "homested", "stedfast", "stedfastly", "stedfastness", "unsteddy", "unsteddily", and "unsteddiness".

Hallelujah! and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2005: "quizeen" for "cuisine"

For this Food Friday, let's reform the French-derived word for "cooking", which has come to mean type of cooking (e.g., Chinese, Italian, or Mexican cuisine) and, less commonly, plain-old "food".

UI is ambiguous: circuit (short-I) but circuitous (long-U plus short-I), alleluia (long-U plus consonantal-Y), acquiesce (W plus long-E), fruit (long-U), beguile (long-I), etc.

The sound of the CUI in "cuisine" is more commonly written QUI : quick, acquit, liquid. So let's just use QUI, which is what people who hear the word will likely first visualize. English will be easier to use if people are able to guess how what they hear is to be spelled.

INE is also ambiguous: fine (long-I), aborigine (two syllables, short-I and long-E), heroine (short-I), magazine (long-E). The sound in "cuisine" is that shown clearly in words like seen, queen, teenager, and between. So let's just write it that way.

The S in "cuisine" does not have an S-sound, but is pronounced Z. If it's pronounced Z, why not just write Z?

As you can see, just about everything that could be wrong with a word this short is wrong with "cuisine". Putting all these changes together, we get "quizeen". The only remaining question is whether the Z needs to be doubled to show that the I is short. I don't think so, because the first element is the common word "quiz", so readers will see "quiz" and pronounce it with a short-I. Moreover, if we double the Z (quizzeen), some readers will see the doubled consonant as an indication that the first syllable is stressed, which it is not. Today's proposed reform is thus: "quizeen".

Thursday, December 29, 2005: "saffire" for "sapphire"

I have often attacked the spelling PH for F as stupid, which it plainly is. What to say, then, about PPH for F? Super-stupid?

If people accept PH for F, and see PPH, they should be able to rely on there being a P-sound followed by an F-sound, as in campfire, capful, upfront. There is no such sequence in "sapphire".

The P is presumably doubled to show that the A is short. But PPH is not PH. Why not double both letters: PPHH? PHPH? If one accepts PH as a sensible way to spell the F-sound, PPHH and PHPH become sensible. After all, in Spanish, "Estados Unidos" (United States) is abbreviated EE.UU. But this isn't Spanish, isn't Greek. This is English, and we have a perfectly good, single letter to express the F-sound. It's called F (pronounced"ef"). We use one of them to show the sound regardless of context, but sometimes use two of them to show that the vowel before it is not pronounced long: "saffire".

Wensday, December 28, 2005: "shennin blonk" for "chenin blanc"

This Wine Wensday, let's fix the spelling of the name of a grape and the white wine made from it. There are four things wrong with the present spelling.

First, the CH does not represent the English CH-sound (as in church) but the French CH, which is the English SH-sound. This is English, not French.

Second, the E of the first syllable could be read as long, since there is only a single-N (compare denial, gardenia, intervening).

Third, "blanc" could be seen to have a short-A rather than short-O / broad-A sound. Compare the legal term "banc" (pronounced exactly like the word "bank") and the common spelling "banc" in the name of bank holding companies (e.g., bancshares, bancorp).

Fourth, the ending -NC is so rare as to be almost "un-English", being found in only one ordinary formal word, zinc, and a couple of slang terms (sync and bronc; and sync is not accepted by everyone but written "synch" by some people).

Happily, there are quick fixes for all of these little problems. (1) Change the CH to SH; (2) double the first N to cue the reader to see the E as short; (3) change the A in "blanc" to O; and (4) change the final-C to K: "shennin blonk".

Tuesday, December 27, 2005: "edifiss" for "edifice"

I was thinking today of this fancy word for "building" in connection with the ball that is soon to descend a flagpole atop an old Times Square tower to mark the New Year. So let's address this ambiguously spelled word today.

"Edifice" is parallel to "sacrifice" but pronounced differently. As I pointed out here December 21st,

-ICE is ambiguous and misleading. In many words it sounds just like the short word it appears to be, for frozen water, ice, having a long-I: advice, entice, suffice. In many other words, it has a short-I: apprentice, justice, service. In a few words, it is pronounced with a long-E: caprice, police. So we need to indicate which pronunciation ... this word takes, and the simplest way to do that is just to write -ISS, as in bliss, hiss, and miss[.]

Let's make that simple fix: "edifiss".

Munday, December 26, 2005: "sluce/way" for "sluice/way"

The I in today's traditional spelling is not just superfluous; it is also ambiguous. Is it pronounced, as in suicide or the familiar Spanish name Luis? If not, why is it there? It shouldn't be: "sluce/way".

Sunday, December 25, 2005: "radeo" for "radio"

Many people will be listening to Christmas music on the radio today, while opening gifts or traveling to Grandma's, so this seems an apt time to address this word.

IO is an ambiguous spelling (bio, diode, biography, Ionic, iodine), and radio is an electronic device that fits well with stereo and video. So let's just conform its spelling to theirs: "radeo".

* On August 4, 2005, this site also offered reform of "audio", to "audeo".

Saturday, December 24, 2005: "woch" for "watch"

The traditional spelling of today's word contains the wrong vowel and a silent letter.

"Watch" should rhyme with batch, catch, hatch, match, patch, snatch, etc. Instead, it rhymes with the last name of a former Mayor of New York and People's Court TV judge, Ed Koch. The vowel sound is short-O, so the vowel written should be O.

Moreover, the T is silent. CH represents the CH-sound (as in church) perfectly well without a T. It is only the absurd use of CH to represent a K-sound in some words — all of which should be changed to use K or C instead — that has led to our accepting a T in some words but not in others: attach but patch; beech but stretch; rich but retch and pitch; much but crutch. It is this kind of needless variation that makes English so very hard to use, especially for new readers from countries where it is not the native language. And it is that kind of confusion that this site hopes to reduce, as to make English easier to use in international communications: "woch".

Friday, December 23, 2005: "berray" for "beret"

There are three things wrong with the traditional spelling of this word for a soft, brimless cap. The present spelling could be read as similar to the hair clasp spelled "barrette": ber.rét.

(1) There is no reason for a silent-T to exist in this word — or any word, for that matter. Alphabetic writing is supposed to convey sound. No sound, no writing.

(2) The vowel in the second syllable is a long-A, not an E.

(3) The sound of the E in the first syllable is unclear, because there is an E in the second syllable after a single consonant, so some readers might think that second-E works as the "silent-E" that shows the vowel of the preceding syllable to be long: bee.ret.

Fortunately, there are quick fixes for all these problems: "berray".

Thursday, December 22, 2005: "insted" for "instead"

EA is ambiguous. It is most often pronounced long-E (lead, fear, heat) but also pronounced short-E in a number of common words (bread, head, feather). Alas, it has other sounds as well: long-E then schwa (apnea, theater); long-E then short-A (react, preamble); long-E then long-A (create, nauseate); perhaps others. Even related words of similar spelling are pronounced differently: pleasing but pleasant.

Let's make clear which sound occurs in the second syllable of today's word, and save ourselves a letter to boot: "insted".

Wensday, December 21, 2005: "solstiss" for "solstice"

This would ordinarily be Wine Wensday, but this Wensday happens to fall on the winter solstice, so we'll just have to bump wine words to another time. Because "solstice" is a bad spelling we should fix while we're thinking of it.

There are four pronunciations for this word, which differ as to the first syllable: sól.stis, sóel.stis, sául.stis. So we can't change the first syllable. OL is hard to pin down, as discussed yesterday in relation to "oligarch", so it's okay to leave as-is. Whatever people see it to be, they will say, and they will likely agree with lots of other people in their choice. That's not the problem.

The problem is that -ICE is ambiguous and misleading. In many words it sounds just like the short word it appears to be, for frozen water, ice, having a long-I: advice, entice, suffice. In many other words, it has a short-I: apprentice, justice, service. In a few words, it is pronounced with a long-E: caprice, police. So we need to indicate which pronunciation the second syllable of this word takes, and the simplest way to do that is just to write -ISS, as in bliss, hiss, and miss: "solstiss".

Tuesday, December 20, 2005: "monnark" for "monarch", "oligark" for "oligarch"

Today's twosome each includes the shorter word "arch", but it's not pronounced that way, with the English CH-sound (as in church). The last syllable of both is, instead, pronounced exactly like the familiar word "ark". So let's spell it that way.

"Monark" contains the feminine personal name "Mona", so the O in "monark" might be seen as long. If we double the N, however, we clarify that the O is short: "monnark".

"Oligark" does not similarly mislead the reader as to the sound of the O. We have many words in which the sequence -OLI- is said with a short-O (e.g., politics, abolish, Oliver). In fact, bizarrely, doubling the L would mislead some people to think the O long, on the pattern of poll, roll, and toll.

So our twofer for Tuesday is: "monnark" and "oligark".

Munday, December 19, 2005: "cuvver" for "cover"

"Cover" includes the shorter word "cove", but does not sound like it. -OVE- is an ambiguous, and strange, spelling. Sometimes it is pronounced with a long-O, as in rove and over; sometimes with short-U, as in glove and today's word, cover; sometimes with a long-U, as in move and approve; even, sometimes, a short-O, as some people pronounce hover. There's no reason for such uncertainty. We can show that this word has a short-U sound, not any of the others.

The convention in English is to double a following consonant to show a short vowel: saver but savvy. Let's use that: "cuvver" (and derivatives such as "cuvverage", "discuvver/y", "uncuvver", "undercuvver").

Sunday, December 18, 2005: "shrude" for "shrewd"

EW is a silly way to spell the long-U sound. E has two sounds, long as in see and short as in bet. In some unstressed positions, it becomes a schwa, the neutral, unstressed vowel of the second E in telephone. Never, however, does it have a U-sound, either long as in rude or short as in cut.

Since "shrewd" rhymes with rude, let's just write it that way: "shrude".

Saturday, December 17, 2005: "incandessent" for "incandescent"

There is no good reason for there to be a C in this word. A double-S is a simpler and more intuitive way to spell an S-sound after a short vowel, and SC could mislead new readers to wonder if the C is said differently from S (like "hard-C", a K sound?) or if the S and C combine to form an SH-sound (as in cognoscenti). So let's just replace the C with a second-S and thus make this word easier to read and, especially, to spell: "incandessent".

Friday, December 16, 2005: "vinnegur" for "vinegar"

This Food Friday, let's make a slight change to the name of an ingredient in many foods.  The traditional spelling is misleading in two ways. First, it contains the smaller, familiar word "vine", but is not pronounced that way. Second, the spelling AR at the end could be read as rhyming with bar or cigar, whereas the sound is actually as in augur, bulgur, yogurt, and hurdy-gurdy. There's a quick fix for both problems: "vinnegur".

Thursday, December 15, 2005: "moteef" for "motif"

"Motif" is the masculine form in French of the English word "motive", which derives from and is identical to the feminine form of the same French word. The French know to pronounce the I in "motif" as long-E. In English, however, we would ordinarily see -if as having a short-I sound, as in if and sans-serif. To make plain the proper sound in English, this word should be spelled like beef and reef: "moteef".

Tuesday and Wensday, December 13 and 14, 2005: "scollar/ship" for "scholar/ship" and "scolastic" for "scholastic"

SCH is an ambiguous spelling that can be pronounced SK, as here; SH, as in schist, schnauzer and Doberman pinscher; an S-sound and a CH-sound in ordinary sequence (escheat, eschew). It can even be silent, as in one pronuncation of "schism". If we drop the H from today's word, the sound becomes clear. However, "scolar" would be ambiguous as to the sound of the O because the first syllable is stressed. This is especially the case in that "cola" is a very commonly used word. If we double the L, the reader is likely to see the O as short, as in collar, which it is.

The related words "scholastic" and "scholasticism" take stress on the second syllable, so a double-L is not necessary, since any unstressed vowel is likely to be pronounced as a schwa.

We can therefore respell these related words, all derived from Latin "scola" meaning "school", as a group, on consecutive days: "scollar/ship" and "scolastic/ism".

Munday, December 12, 2005: "exquizit" for "exquisite"

There are two things wrong with today's word: (1) the -ITE ending leads the reader to believe it is pronounced with a long-I, as in "trite"; (2) the S is pronounced Z, not S, so should be written Z, not S.

We can fix the first problem by simply dropping the final-E, and the second simply by substituting Z: "exquizit".

Sunday, December 11, 2005: "thret/ten" for "threat/en"

Why is it that if you take "treat" and put an H into it, the EA changes sound? It shouldn't. Since the EA in "threat" represents a short-E, we don't need the A. "Thret" will do very nicely, parallel to "fret".

The verb form of "threat" would then require a second T to show unambiguously that the E remains short when an -EN is added, just as "forgot" adds a T before -EN to become "forgotten".

So today we have a twofer: "thret" and "thretten".

Saturday, December 10, 2005: "onnor" for "honor" and, consequently, "onnest" for "honest"

Two days ago we dealt with a silent-H in second position, after the initial-R in "rhizome". Today we deal with a silent-H in first position. (Well, perhaps I should say that the H is silent in most of the English-speaking world, tho I have heard a Jamaican man I used to work with pronounce it! Honest!)

The mere fact that ancient Latin apparently did not pronounce H in initial position does not warrant our putting an H where it isn't said. Spelling should represent sound. No sound, no letter.

We cannot simply drop the H, however, because that would leave us with a single consonant after the O ("onor", "onest"), which would be ambiguous. "Onor" would be read as oe.naur; "onest" could be read as oe.nest, oe.nast (where A represents schwa, the neutral, unstressed vowel of A in about), wun.ast or even wunst, since o-n-e is pronounced wun! So we have to double the N to make the sound clear in both words: "onnor", "onnest".

Friday, December 9, 2005: "crembrulay(s)" for "crème(s) brûlée(s)"

For this Food Friday, let's reform the accent-ridden name of a toasted-custard dessert. English does not employ diacritics, so all the accents — all three of French's accents, acute, grave, and circumflex occur in this term — must go, especially since pretty much no one who hasn't studied French can remember how many accents, of which type(s), there are, nor where they go. That's step one.

Step two is to shove the two words of the French together since in English neither means anything alone.

Step three is to phoneticize the spellings, singular and plural. Tho there is a spelling-pronunciation of the "crème" part, to kreem, that's not the way most knowledgeable people say it. So let's spell the correct pronunciation in English fashion. For the plural, since English does not pluralize both nouns and adjectives, and since we have pushed the two elements together, the English plural takes a single-S, at the end of the second element, which is now just the end of a three-syllable word. So today's food term is: "crembrulay" and, as its plural, "crembrulays".

Thursday, December 8, 2005: "rizome" for "rhizome"

On this frigid pre-winter day here in New Jersey, my thoughts turn to next spring, and what I want to add to my garden. Irises come to mind, and irises grow from rhizomes, subterranean horizontal stems that throw leaves upward and roots downward.

The word "rhizome" is perfect except for one extraneous letter, a silent-H. Let's just drop it: "rizome".

Wensday, December 7, 2005: "aperiteef" for "apéritif"

This Wine Wensday, let's address the term for a wine or other alcoholic beverage used as an appetizer before a meal.

There are two things wrong with the current spelling. First, there is an accent over the E, and English does not employ diacritics, so the accent has got to go.

Second, the vowel sound in the last syllable is not an I, either long or short, but long-E. The simplest unambiguous way to spell a long-E in such a position is EE.

The A has two pronunciations, broad-A (which, in English, is also short-O) and schwa. If it were only broad-A, we might respell the word operiteef (compare operation) or opperiteef (compare opposite). But since most people actually say a schwa, and A is a common way of representing schwa, especially in initial position (about, ajar, amazing), we can simply leave the present A. Those who see it as broad-A will say broad-A. Those who see it as schwa will say it as schwa. Putting this all together, we get: "aperiteef".

Munday and Tuesday, December 5 and 6, 2005:
"fosfor/us" for "phosphor/us"

"fosforic" for "phosphoric"
"fosforesse/nt" for "phosphoresce/nt"
"fosfate" for "phosphate"

I wanted to present this little word family on consecutive days, but to do it now would bump Wine Wensday again, so I'll offer all four in two days rather than four (two twofers).

Each of these words uses not one but two instances of the bizarre letter combination P-H to represent the simple F-sound. PH for F makes no more sense than VQ for F, PW for S, or TP for R. Forming a P-sound and H-sound in quick succession does not create anything like an F-sound. F is shorter than PH. PH is also ambiguous. In some words it is indeed pronounced like an ordinary P and H in succession: uphill, uphold. In other words, PH is pronounced like a simple P: Phnom Penh and common pronunciations of diphthong and naphtha. Indeed PH is even silent in a few words: phthisis, phthisic, and one pronunciation of Phnom Penh. So let's get rid of it in all these words and substitute a simple F.

As for "phosphoresce/nt", SC is a needless and confusing spelling for a simple-S sound. It leaves new learners unclear as to whether the C is pronounced, and if so, how. Is the C pronounced "hard", like K? Or do the S and C combine to sound like SH (cognoscenti)? No and no.

The -SCE indicates not only that the E immediately before it is short but also that its syllable is stressed. So we shouldn't merely replace -SCE with -SS, because "fosforess" would not be seen to be stressed on the last syllable. If we end it with -SSE, however, the reader will know to stress that syllable (finesse, largesse, politesse).

So we can now offer this entire little family in simpler form: "fosfor", "fosforus", "fosforic", "fosforesse", "fosforessent", and "fosfate".

Sunday, December 4, 2005: "ador" for "adore"

Sunday during the Christmas season is a good time to consider this word, which is one letter longer than it needs to be. The E really is silent, since its presence or absence would make no difference whatsoever as to how the word is pronounced. Since that is so, let's just drop it, okay?: "ador".

Saturday, December 3, 2005: "sinareo" for "scenario"

Today's word, like Thursday's, has a needless silent-C. You can check that day's discussion for more on why we shouldn't use a silent-C.

Today's word also has two wrong vowels. The first syllable contains E, but is pronounced short-I. If it's pronounced short-I, let's just write an I.

The third syllable comprises the single letter I, but it's pronounced as an abbreviated long-E. If it's pronounced E, let's just write E.

As you can see, the spelling "scenario" contains the right vowels, just in the wrong places! Let's flip them.

The second syllable contains an A, but because it occurs before an R and because some people see "scenario" as a foreign word even tho it has been part of English since 1880, there is a lot of disagreement as to how that A is pronounced. Some say it like AI in "hair"; others as in the word "are"; still others as a short-A as in "bat". No matter. We don't need to clarify that. We'll just leave the A as-is, and let people say whatever they want.

Putting this all together, then, we get: "sinareo".

Friday, December 2, 2005: "boolyabase" for "bouillabaisse"

This Food Friday, let's direct our attention to a term for fish stew or soup that came into English at latest 150 years ago but still bears a preposterous French spelling that is at least 3 letters too long — and almost impossible to remember.

The original pronunciation of this French-derived term is something like bùeyabés. We don't say that in English, and there is no way to make sense of the present spelling according to the conventions of English.

Altho dictionaries may prefer a long-U (or long-OO) in the first syllable, many speakers actually use a short-OO. No matter. Today's respelling accommodates both pronunciations: "boolyabase".

Thursday, December 1, 2005: "transend" for "transcend"

There's no need for a C in this word. It adds nothing but length, ambiguity — is it supposed to be pronounced? if so, pronounced how? like K? do the S and C combine to sound like SH (cognoscenti)? — and the need to remember an arbitrary spelling that makes no sense. Why should we have to remember silent letters? Which silent letter is it we have to remember? Why is it there? And where in the word is it supposed to go, before the S or after it? If it's silent, it could be anywhere.

Apologists for the crazy spelling of English assert that valuable information is conveyed by silent letters, such as the ancient origins of the word. But most people don't care about ancient origins. They just want to be able to read and write without unnecessary complication. We could push other kinds of information into spelling, for instance, the year by which the word entered the language. But we don't write "trans1350cend" (or a letter-coded version of the date, say "transACEJcend", do we? We don't need to know a word's history to know how to use it. Nor should we have to know a word's history to know how to spell it.

We should not impose upon spelling, which is merely supposed to convey sound, the obligation to show history. The C in "transcend" is a historical irrelevancy, and intruding a truly silent letter into this or any word is an absurdity.* Let's get rid of it: "transend".

* What we call "silent-E" when E is used to make a vowel long is not really silent but part of a separated digraph, say, AE or OE. The vowel without the E would sound different: chang(e), ow(e).

Wensday, November 30, 2005: "jin" for "gin"

On this Wine Wensday, let's broaden the field to another spirit, gin. G before I and E is sometimes pronounced G and sometimes J. Which, cannot be predicted (gin but begin). That confuses new learners, and is needless. Let's change as many soft-G's to J's as possible: "jin".

Tuesday, November 29, 2005: "porcelin" for "porcelain"

Today's word requires only a simple, one-letter fix. "Porcelain" contains the shorter word "lain", but doesn't sound like it. The A is both superfluous and misleading, so should be dropped. We'll save a letter and clarify the sound: "porcelin".

Munday, November 28, 2005: "cloizonnae" for "cloisonné"

I was watching Antiques Roadshow over the weekend and noticed what I regarded as an odd, anglicized pronunciation of "cloisonné", which I had always assumed retained its French pronunciation, klwòzanáe. (You can say LW and RW in the same syllable in French, tho not in English.)

I looked it up, and lo and behold, it has been anglicized. As its use by antiques experts showed, the anglicized form is standard, so we should get rid of the French spelling.

To begin with, there are no accents in English, so our spellings must not employ accents. Our typewriters don't have "dead keys" by means of which we can easily add accents to typed material, and altho some people know how to use accented characters in advanced word-processing computer programs, most people in English-speaking countries do not. So the accent has got to go.

Without an accent (cloisonne), the E at the end of this word will be seen as silent, and the second syllable stressed: cloisón, which is very wrong.

The E is said, but as long-A. So we need an A and either a following-Y or following-E. Even as anglicized, this word's main stress still falls on the last syllable, which -AY would not indicate. -AE calls attention to the long-A at the end of the word, so would make it more likely that people give it stress.

What else is wrong with the traditional spelling? The S is wrong; it's a Z-sound, so let's write a Z. And there you have it: "cloizonnae".

Sunday, November 27, 2005: "mischif"/"mischivus" for "mischief"/"mischievous"

Of today's paired words, the second is the more troublesome in leading to the odd spelling mispronunciation mischéeveeyas by unconscious confusion of the unnecessary E of the second syllable in "mischievous" with a necessary E-sound in words like "previous". Native speakers do not mispronounce "mischief", but new readers find its spelling odd, since it contains the familiar word "chief" but has nothing to do with Indians, police, or fire departments, and doesn't sound like "chief". It also contains IE, which looks like the familiar I-plus-silent-E that shows a long-I sound (lie, pie, tie; cries, tried, "Would you like fries with that?") but has a long-E sound. Let's fix that. The sound is a simple short-I, so let's just spell it with a simple I, without more.

I have already offered, a year ago,* reform of "chief" to "cheef". With this reform, the two words "mischief" and "chief" will be utterly severed from each other in people's minds. They have never been connected eytmologically or in sense, but spelling has misassociated them and caused confusion as to pronunciation for new learners.

Once we have reformed "mischief" to get rid of the superfluous and misleading E, we can move on to reform its derivative, "mischievous". Dropping the E alone would leave "mischivous", which would probably solve the mispronunciation problem as regards flipping an E-sound from the second to the third syllable. But it leaves the odd ending -OUS, which looks as tho it should rhyme with "house" or computer "mouse" but does not. There is no OU-sound in that common ending, so all such words should drop the O, since -US would suffice (circus, syllabus, cumulonimbus): "mischif", "mischivus".

* November 25, 2004.

Friday and Saturday, November 25 and 26, 2005:
"turky" for "turkey"
"triptofan(e)" for "tryptophan(e)"

These words are related to the Thanksgiving holiday just celebrated, and to each other. Tryptophan, or tryptophane (two spellings, two pronunciations) is an amino acid produced during the digestion of turkey. In concentrated form, it can induce drowsiness, which has given rise to the widespread belief that eating turkey can induce sleepiness. Some scientists dispute that, but a lot of people do feel drowsy after a turkey dinner. That could be due to other factors, such as post-prandial dip (a natural diversion of energies to the internal digestive organs, away from other parts of the body) or the relaxed feeling of well-being that comes from having eaten well. Be that as it may, we have the preposterously spelled words "tryptophan" and "tryptophane", and the overlong and ambiguous "turkey" to reform.

There is no Y-sound in the names of the amino acid: no long-I nor consonantal-Y. Rather, the sound is a simple short-I, so should be spelled that way.

PH is a silly, cumbersome, and ambiguous spelling for a simple F-sound. Forming a P-sound and H-sound in quick succession does not create anything like an F-sound; F is shorter than PH, and clear; and the letter combination PH in some words is indeed pronounced like an ordinary P and H in succession: uphill, uphold.  Moreover, in some words, PH is pronounced like a simple P: Phnom Penh and common pronunciations of diphthong and naphtha.

The two current spellings of this weekend's chemical term, one with a final-E, one without, are pronounced differently, and that difference can be accommodated by retaining the E/no-E distinction: triptofan, triptofane.

As for "turkey", this Food Friday's selection, -EY is ambiguous. It is often pronounced as tho written -AY: grey, whey, hey, they. If the E is dropped, what remains is clear, parallel to "murky" (which the pronunciation of "turky" would not be).

So, let's write "triptofan(e)" and "turky".

Thursday, November 24, 2005: "jacuzy" for "Jacuzzi"

Today's word is one of those brand names, like "Kleenex", that has become an ordinary, generic term for the kind of thing it is. As "kleenex" (lowercase-K) has come to mean "facial tissue" (as distinct from "toilet tissue", which has no brand-name shorthand term), "jacuzzi" (with a lowercase-J) has come to mean "whirlpool bath". Let's keep the lowercase J if we mean merely "whirlpool bath" rather than "whirlpool bath bearing the brand name 'Jacuzzi'."

Moreover, the spelling "jacuzzi" is ambiguous. It looks as tho it should take an Italian pronunciation: yok.úed.zee or yok.úet.see. But nobody says it that way. The usual pronunciation is simply ja.kúe.zee.

If one were to try to read the current form as English, the double-Z would lead the reader to think the preceding-U short (ja.kú or já, whereas it is actually pronounced long.

Moreover, the I at the end is ambiguous. Some words with an I in final position are pronounced with a long-I: alibi, alkali. Others sound in long-E:* ski, Mississippi. A final-Y, however, is much more commonly pronounced long-E than long-I.

So let's cut out one of the Z's and replace the I with a Y to make this word shorter and clearer: "jacuzy".

* In Britain, a final -Y is often pronounced short-I, which seems preposterous to North Americans.

Wensday, November 23, 2005: "brunello dee montalcheeno" for "Brunello di Montalcino"

It's Wine Wensday again. Let's reform the name of what the online encyclopedia Wikipedia calls "one of the most well-known (and expensive) wines of Italy, comparable to France's great Bordeaux wines".

The usual English pronunciation is only semi-Italian. The first element, Brunello (which does not need a capital letter, since it is only the term for a variety of grape and wine, not a person or place), is pronounced the same in English and Italian. The second element is given an Italian pronunciation; the English would be die. The third element is given a largely Italian pronunciation except that the first-O is pronounced as an English short-O, not long, as it would be in Italian. Since to show the correct pronunciation of this third word, we have to change the spelling of what was a placename, the town of Montalcino, the new form is no longer the name of that place, so also does not need a capital letter. Thus an English spelling for this premium Italian wine should be "brunello dee montalcheeno".

Tuesday, November 22, 2005: "fite" for "fight"

The top hilited story on AOL's welcome screen today is headlined "Fighting Mad About the War" — people are fighting about fighting — so this seems an apt time to offer reform of the word "fight".

-IGH-, with two silent consonants, is a preposterous way to show a simple long-I. The popular culture has simplified some words with -IGHT to -ITE: nite, lite, twinite. This seems a sensible and readily recognizable way to reform today's word too: "fite".

Munday, November 21, 2005: "nicnac" for "knickknack" or "nicknack"

Today's word has four — count 'em, four — silent K's: knickknack". When you take them out, you are left with the simple, elegant "nicnac".

I had originally thought to take out the C's and leave a medial K, "niknak", but I think a lot of people would regard that as "un-English" and prefer a form parallel to "picnic". So that's what I'm going with: "nicnac".

Sunday, November 20, 2005: "ogur" for "ogre"

The present spelling suggests that today's word should be pronounced óg.ree or óg.rae, comparable to "cadre" (cád.ree) or "padre" (pód.rae); or possibly óe.gra, parallel to "raison d'être". It's not, but like "Oh, Gert" without the T. The vowel sound comes before the R-sound, not after.

Since G before E is often soft, sounding like J, people have hesitated to change the British form "ogre" to "oger", as Americans (70% of all native speakers of English) have changed almost all other British -RE's to -ER — centre, litre, sceptre to center, liter, scepter. ("Theatre" is still in common use in the U.S., tho "theater" is preferred, and a very few other words that present the same kind of problem as "ogre" also remain: "massacre" and "acre" cannot be rewritten "massacer" and "acer" because C has the same hard-sound / soft-sound feature as G.*

If we put an A, O, or U between the G and R of "ogre", the G will be read as having the G-sound, not a J-sound. However, "ogar" would probably be read like the fish gar. "Ogor" would be read like "Igor" (as óe.gaur). But "ogur" would be read right, since there are many words that use UR for the sound most commonly written ER (murmur, bury, flurry). So let's use that: "ogur".

* I have already offered "massacur" for "massacre" (June 13, 2005), and "acre" is on the list of words to be reformed in the future.

Saturday, November 19, 2005: "dizine/r" for "design/er"

"Intelligent design" is a topic much in the news, so let's approach the word "design", which is certainly not intelligently spelled.

The casual observer can see no connection between "designing" and the ordinary sense of the word "sign". Nor does the prefix DE-, as in "deconstruct" or "deform", seem relevant here. Nor are the sounds the same. There is no S-sound, but a Z; no long-E sound, but a short-I. And don't get me started about the insane silent-G!

The word's present spelling is, in short, about as wrong as you could make it. Let's fix it, to show a short-I and Z-sound, and remove the ridiculous silent-G: "dizine/r".

Friday, November 18, 2005: "roal" for "roll"

While I was trying to decide on a word for this Food Friday, a Pillsbury-doughboy commercial for dinner rolls came on TV.

-OLL- is ambiguous. There are many words in which it irrationally takes a long-O, despite there being a double-L after the O (boll, poll, toll, and today's roll), but others in which it has a short-O sound (doll, moll, follicle, rollicking). The simplest unambiguous way of representing a long-O before L is probably -OLE (dole, mole, pole, sole), but "role" is already taken. Another common way of spelling the combination of long-O and L is -OAL (coal, foal, goal, shoal), and "roal" is not taken. So let's use it: "roal".

Thursday, November 17, 2005: "labirinth" for "labyrinth"

There is no Y-sound in today's word — no long-I nor consonantal-Y — but only a short-I sound. So let's just write I so the reader experiences no uncertainty as to what sound to plug in on first seeing the word. A labyrinth may be hard to negotiate, but the spelling of the word need not be: "labirinth".

Wensday, November 16, 2005: "vinyerd" for "vineyard"

This Wine Wensday, let's address the place from which wines come, the vineyard. This is a very confusing word for new learners of reading, since it is a compound of two words learned earlier, "vine" and "yard", but sounds like neither of them. Let's write what it actually sounds like: "vinyerd".

Tuesday, November 15, 2005: "simbol" for "symbol"

There's not only no reason to use a Y to represent the short-I sound; there's also good reason not to use it. It can be confusing to new readers, who cannot know how to pronounce it, since vocalic-Y is usually pronounced either long-I or long-E (psychology, gynecology) but occasionally, as here, as short-I. Let's just use an I for the short-I. Isn't that simpler and more sensible?: "simbol".

And of course derivatives like "simbolic/al/ly", "simbolism" and, a word I heard on the Comedy Channel's Colbert Report last nite, "simbology".

Munday, November 14, 2005: "sharade/s" for "charade/s"

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in today's word. Rather, the word starts with the SH-sound, so should be spelled with S-H: "sharade/s".

Sunday, November 13, 2005: "karotty" for "karate"

I have some work to do on a flyer for a friend's karate school, so let me address this word today. "Karate" looks, to new readers, as tho it should be pronounced in the fashion of "berate" and "irate", where the final-E is silent, merely serving to show that the A of the prior syllable is long (bee.ráet, ie.ráet), or perhaps "accurate" and "pirate", where the final-E is just silent and indicates nothing about a prior syllable (áak.ya.rat, píe.rat — the single-A represents schwa), if it is considered English, or  in a pseudo-Japanese fashion (kah rah táy) if it is considered foreign. It's not any of those but more like "Pilates" (pi.lót.eez).

"Karate" is one of a group of over 100 well-known words and names in which a final-E is pronounced long-E, from abalone and coyote to Penelope and Phoebe, machete and psyche. The far more common way of writing a final long-E in English is -Y. Let's use that, since it plainly shows the reader that what follows the T is pronounced, not silent. If we write "karaty", however, it will be read wrong, either as having a stressed long-A in the second syllable (ka.ráe.tee) or as being the word "karat" with an E-sound tacked on (kár.a.tee).

The actual vowel of the second, stressed, syllable is short-O (which is also broad-A). So let's write an O. But "karoty" would still be seen as having a long vowel in the middle syllable because there's only one T. If we double the T, however, everybody reads it right: "karotty".

Saturday, November 12, 2005: "sorce" for "source"

There is no OU-sound in this word, nor even a long-U, the other common pronunciation of OU. Rather, today's base word is exactly parallel to the first part of sorceror, which neither contains nor needs a U.  So let's save a letter and eliminate possible confusion for new readers as regards the pronunciation: "sorce".

The same change should also be made to derivatives, such as "resorce","outsorcing" etc.

Friday, November 11, 2005: "cennotaf" for "cenotaph"

This is Friday, which we would ordinarily give over to words having to do with things to eat, cooking techniques, and the like ("Food Friday"). But this is also November 11th, what used to be called "Armistice Day" but is now called "Veterans Day" in the U.S. and "Remembrance Day" in Canada. So let us instead solemnly honor the dead of World War I for whom this holiday was established.

World War I ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 — but combatants were killing each other up to that very moment. WWI, the "Great War", the "War to End War" and "... to Make the World Safe for Democracy", killed some 10 million people of many nations, mostly in Europe, but did not end war. Quite the contrary, most historians agree that it produced World War II, and indeed some historians regard the two World Wars as but a single war with a 21-year intermission.

After this (first) catastrophe, thousands of monuments to the dead went up all over the affected countries. For the most part they are cenotaphs, "monument[s] erected in honor of [a] dead person[s] whose remains lie elsewhere".

There are two problems with the present spelling of this infrequently heard word. One is the preposterous spelling PH for the simple F-sound. The other is that a single-N implies that the E before it is long, tho it is actually short. We can easily fix both problems: "cennotaf".

Thursday, November 10, 2005: "cartoosh" for "cartouch(e)"

The King Tut exhibit is in Los Angeles, and a female Egyptologist was a guest last nite on CBS Television's Late Late Show speaking to host Craig Ferguson about, among other things, cartouches, so this seems an apt time to offer this word.

There is no OU-sound in the word, nor a CH-sound (as in church), so should be no OU nor CH in the spelling. The word starts like "cartoon" but ends with an SH-sound, so let's spell it that way: "cartoosh".

Wensday, November 9, 2005: "reoha" for "rioja"

It's Wine Wensday again, so let's address a dry red table wine from northern Spain whose name contains the confusing Spanish J, which is properly pronounced as a harsh H like a cat's hiss. English doesn't have that sound, so we are left to substitute another. All too often, the substitution people make is not a simple English H but a French J, pronounced ZH. No. Let's write an H so people will say an H, not a J-sound, not a ZH-sound.

Tho most people won't have trouble with the "rio" part of this word, seeing it as in Rio Grande, new learners might be misled by words like "violation" and "bio" (as in the short form of "biography" and combining form bio-, as in biodiversity). So let's substitute EO while we're changing this word anyway: "reoha".

Tuesday, November 8, 2005: "cortezh" for "cortege" / "cortège"

In watching a documentary about several generations of the Russian royal family, I heard today's word used of a group of participants in a bridal procession, whereas every time I'd heard that word before was in reference to a funeral. It turns out that cortege can refer not just to any procession but also to a group of attendants, a retinue. Be that as it may, the unusual usage drew my attention to this word and its French spelling, which needs to be fixed for English.

The more formal, and more French, spelling uses a grave accent* over the first E: cortège. Since English does not use diacritics, few typewriters in the English-speaking world have 'dead keys' for accents, and few people know how to create overstrike characters in English-language word processors. Eliminating all diacritics is about as unobjectionable an approach to spelling simplification as one can offer. So the accent has to go.

The first part of "cortege" is okay: cort is phonetic. -EGE, however, is ordinarily pronounced -ej (allege) or -aj (where A represents schwa: college). So that part of "cortege" needs to be changed. The customary way of representing the sound of the G in cortege that is given in dictionary pronunciation keys is ZH, so let's use that: "cortezh".

* When "grave" refers to the accent character, many educated speakers employ the French pronunciation, grov, to distinguish it from "grave" as in cemetery (pronounced graev). However, not everyone does that. So we can't reform the spelling "grave" to "grov" because many people do not distinguish the sound of the two uses but say graev everywhere.

Munday, November 7, 2005: "premmiss" for "premise" and "premiss"

I generally prefer shorter forms when making proposals for spelling simplification, but the key concept here is simpler spelling, not shorter spellings. Today's proposed reform is one letter longer but a lot clearer, and thus worth doing. The current spellings look as tho they should be pronounced prée.mies, prée.miez, or pree.mís, but certainly not pré

Not surprisingly, the better of the two alternate spellings, "premiss", is the variant, while the worse is standard. But even "premiss" has a problem in showing the pronunciation of "pre", a very common prefix that is usually pronounced with a long-E. Here, the sound is short-E.

The way English often indicates a short vowel is by doubling the consonant after it. Conversely, one common way to indicate a long vowel is by putting a silent-E after it, usually immediately following one consonant (take, concise) but sometimes after a consonant cluster (change, bathe). In "premise", we have what appears to be such a silent-E, to signal that the I is long. How the S is to be pronounced is unclear, since some parallel spellings take an S-sound (precise), others a Z-sound (rise). So we can't just write "premmise" and be clear, first because the I will be seen as long and second because the sound of the S is unclear. We need to double both the M and the S, and drop the final-E, to make everything clear. Let's do that: "premmiss".

Sunday, November 6, 2005: "preest" for "priest"

Sunday seems an appropriate time to address this term for a leader of religious ceremonies. This word contains the smaller word "pries", pronounced very differently. The vowel sound of "pries" is long-I. The vowel in "priest" is long-E. Priest is, thus, ambiguous. Let's replace it with an unambiguous spelling: "preest".

Saturday, November 5, 2005: "fungshway" for "feng shui"

The peculiar spelling "feng shui" for something pronounced "fung shway" is the correct pinyin spelling (albeit without accents) for a term that combines the Chinese words for wind and water. Pinyin* is "a system for transliterating Chinese into the Latin alphabet: introduced in 1958 and adopted as the official system of romanization by the People's Republic of China in 1979." Unfortunately, whatever person or committee created pinyin did so in apparent ignorance or at least disregard of the way other romanic languages use the Latin alphabet, because it employs various letters and letter combinations in very odd ways.

No matter. This is English, not Chinese, and the authentic Chinese writing is ideographic, not alphabetic, so we have two reasons to disregard a misleading pinyin spelling and instead write this term so it will be quickly and correctly said by people who speak English.

Since English has no two words "feng" and "shui", nor "fung" and "shway" (which is what they sound like), there is no reason for this term to be in the form of two words. It is a single, indivisible term in English, so should be a single, compound word. The pronunciation should be clear from the spelling, according to English conventions: "fungshway".

* Definition from Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary, 1993. I confirmed in my copy of The Pinyin Chinese-English Dictionary, ed. by Professor Wu Jinrong (Commercial Press and John Wiley and Sons, 1979), that the version we ordinarily see, feng shui, is correct pinyin.

Friday, November 4, 2005: "kidny" for "kidney"

On this Food Friday, let's deal with a minor change to the name of an organ meat (as distinguished from a muscle meat). "Kidney" contains a needless, and thus effectively silent, E. We can drop the E without harm, and thus make it easier for people to spell this word upon hearing it.

Altho kidney is sometimes heard in the singular (e.g., steak and kidney pie, kidney dialysis), there are two kidneys per individual person or animal, so the plural is also often heard. The plural of kidney simply adds S: kidneys. The plural of kidny would be kidnies, by application of the well-understood rule, "change Y to I and add ES". That rule is predictable. Adding S to words ending in -EY is not so predictable. "Money", for instance, has two plurals, the sensible "moneys" and the nonsensical "monies", which requires one to change EY to I and add ES. As so often happens in English, the less reasonable spelling is the more common.

Is "monies" a unique spelling, or does its pattern apply to other -EY words? Why should new readers have to wonder? Let's just change all -EY words to -Y words, and then the formation of the plural becomes plain. We can start with kidney: "kidney".

Thursday, November 3, 2005: "simpathy" for "sympathy"

There is no Y-sound (no long-I vowel sound nor consonantal-Y) in today's word, so should be no Y. Spelling should be simple. In thinking of a word they know how to say, people should ideally be able simply to plug in the most common way of spelling each sound to end up with the correct spelling.

This is the say-spell or hear-write test of the phoneticity of a language's spelling system. The other measure is the see-say test. Opponents of spelling reform often argue that tho there are a great many ways of spelling many sounds in English, most educated people will be able easily to decipher what they see. That is plainly not true of a great many words when new readers, either children who speak English as their native language or foreign(-born) students of English as a Second Language, first encounter an unfamiliar word. In the last sentence, for instance, great, many, words, new, foreign, and unfamiliar could easily be read wrong by new students, and either is problematic. The larger issue is that there is more to written communication than reading. One must also be able to write, and here English is preposterously over-complicated. New readers might guess, for the list above, grate, menny, werds, nue, unfamillyer, and ether (or ither). Things don't have to be so complicated.

If you hear a short-I, you should be able to write an I and be right: "simpathy", and its common derivative "simpathetic".

Wensday, November 2, 2005: "feonsay" for "fiancé(e)"

English does not employ diacritics, so the accent in the traditional spelling  of these two paired words has to go. The traditional French spellings also oblige us to adjust to the gender of the person intended, "fiancé" if it be the future husband, "fiancée" for the future wife. But English does not vary according to gender, so this pair of words is doubly un-English. Let's reduce two words spelled in a foreign fashion to one word spelled in English fashion: "feonsay".

Tuesday, November 1, 2005: "croshay" for "crochet"

There's a commercial now running about a woman teaching viewers to crochet a cover for their air freshener, so let's address this French-form English word, which has a CH for an SH-sound, a silent-T, and an E for a long-A sound between the two. English is not French, and what may make sense in French often makes no sense at all in English. Let's give this English word an English spelling: "croshay".

Munday, October 31, 2005: "sackarin" for "saccharin"

There will be a lot of candy given and received in today's Halloween observance, most of it full up with sugar. But there are alternative sweeteners today, the oldest of which is saccharin. Tho saccharin is a low-cal sugar substitute, it has a slightly high-cal spelling that is not only silly, for containing a CH but no CH-sound (as in church), but also for having one letter too many. Let's help this word shed 11% of its body fat: "sackarin".

Sunday, October 30, 2005: "jackolantern" for "jack-o'-lantern"

This seems an appropriate word for the day before Halloween. The only issue for me in simplifying this word was whether to use an O or A after "jack". I think an O is better because (1) any vowel can be schwaed in unstressed position, (2) we are accustomed to seeing O as an abbreviation for "of" (o'clock, for instance, and Land O'Lakes dairy products, whose website is at, not landoflakes nor landalakes), so leaving the O would arouse less hostility from opponents of spelling reform, and (3) an A would suggest to some people that you are "jacking a lantern", since "jack" can be a verb. So it seems simpler just to take out the hyphens and apostrophe but leave the O: "jackolantern".

Saturday, October 29, 2005: "avalanch" for "avalanche"

The E at the end of today's word adds nothing but length and possible confusion, since it does not serve as the silent-E that indicates that the vowel of the prior syllable is long. That vowel is A, and it is short, not long. We don't write launche, ranche, or branche, so shouldn't write avalanche either: "avalanch".

Friday, October 28, 2005: "ramocky" for "rumaki", "ramaki", "remaki"

This Food Friday, let's revise the confused, nonstandardized spellings of an originally Japanese appetizer many of us know only by its description, not its name: bacon-wrapped chicken livers (or other items so wrapped). The pronunciation is standard; the spelling is not. Let's agree on a single phonetic spelling, using the pattern of "rocky" and "stocky": "ramocky".

Thursday, October 27, 2005: "thum" for "thumb"

There is no need for a B in this word, the name of a digit that many people use more often than ever before, to work cellphone keyboards and other electronic devices. Since the B adds nothing but length, let's just drop it, okay?: "thum".

Tuesday, October 25, 2005: "sute" for "suit"
Wensday, October 26, 2005: "swete" for "suite"

Let's deal with these related words together. Both derive from French siute, meaning things that follow one another nicely.

Sute was one spelling of "suit" in Middle English, and is a better spelling than "suit", which could be two syllables, like the word "suet", or be read such that the U is given the value of W, as it is in "suite".

"Suite" is exactly parallel in spelling to "quite", but pronounced quite differently. Its usual pronunciation in all senses is the same as "sweet", but that spelling is taken. For one meaning, a set of furniture for a single room, some people say what sounds like our other word, "suit". The present spelling gives the reader no guidance as to which pronunciation a writer intends. We can fix that.

People who say "sweet" everywhere can simply write swete. People who wish to distinguish the furniture sense can write suete, to distinguish from both the other pronunciation of "suite" and what is now written "suit". Or they can simply substitute the word "suit", as respelled, for the misleading "suite". If they wish to retain a spelling distinction between traditional "suit" and "suite" pronounced as tho "suit", the third spelling, suete, gives them that ability. So today's two words resolve to two or possibly three reformed spellings: "sute" and "swete", at the least, and possibly "suete" for people who wish to distinguish a set of furniture from both a suit of clothes and a suite of rooms: "sute", "swete", "suete".

Naturally, all derivatives follow suit: spacesute, swimsute, snowsute, etc.

Munday, October 24, 2005: "anackronism" for "anachronism"

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word. If we simply drop the H, we will end up with the right consonant sound (K), but the word's syllabic stress would be unclear: anacronism would seem to take stress on the first syllable, like "anabaptist" and "anaphylactic". If instead of merely dropping the H, we replace it with K, the correct syllabic stress emerges: "anackronism".*

* And derivatives, of course, like anackronistic/ally.

Sunday, October 23, 2005: "mistery" for "mystery"

On weekends, the Biography cable channel's entire primetime lineup is mysteries, so let's address the word "mystery" this weekend.

The letter Y does double duty in English, as a consonant and a vowel. The consonantal Y-sound is as in yes.

As a vowel, it takes three sounds! (1) The usual vocalic Y-sound is long-I, as in my. (2) Mid-word, it often represents the short-I sound, as in today's word, abyss, hysteria, and synchronize, tho even mid-word it can represent a long-I (tyke, psychiatry, pylon, type, myopia). (3) Y also, and especially at the end of a word, can represent a long-E (trigonometry, biology, acidity, and the -LY ending of many adverbs).

That is too much work to push off onto one letter!

Sometimes there is more than one Y in a word, pronounced differently one from the other (gynecology, psychology, even syzygy). How are new readers to know which sound Y takes, where?

Let's unburden Y of its short-I sound. We already have a letter to represent the short-I sound. It's called "I". Let's use that letter in the first part of today's word: "mistery".

Saturday, October 22, 2005: "cattegory" for "category"

We have been hearing and seeing today's word a lot lately, in discussions of the changing level of violence of the many hurricanes that have made news this year.

The spelling "category" could be seen by new learners as two syllables, "cate" and "gory". Gory is a word, and its pronunciation is clear. "Cate" looks like it should be pronounced like the familiar nickname Kate. Indeed, there is an Australian actress named "Cate" (Blanchett) pronounced Kate.

But today's word is not two syllables, cate-gory, but three: "cattegory".

Friday, October 21, 2005: "bernaze" for "béarnaise / bearnaise"

This Food Friday, let's address the peculiarly spelled name of a sauce in French cooking.* Altho there are two somewhat frenchified pronunciations induced by the spelling (bair.náez and, especially pseudo-French, bae.yer.náez), the usual pronunciation is simply ber.náez. The usual English spelling for a long vowel followed by a Z-sound at the end of a word takes -ZE, employing the silent-E convention (raze, freeze, phoneticize, doze, even fuze). So let's use that convention to simplify this word: "bernaze".

* "A sauce of butter and egg yolks that is flavored with vinegar, wine, shallots, tarragon, and chervil." (American Heritage Dictionary)

Thursday, October 20, 2005: "slauter" for "slaughter"

Cable channel Comedy Central is running a promo for its extreme cartoon series Drawn Together in which a new character that seems so sweet turns murderous and announces, 'playfully', that you can't write "slaughter" without "laughter". "Slaughter" is displayed in writing above her head, and then the S is taken away to leave "laughter" — a gruesome but effective demonstration of the madness of traditional spelling. We can fix this particular pair of irrationally spelled words.

I have already offered lafter for "laughter" (July 7, 2004) and onslaut for "onslaught" (July 31, 2005). Using the pattern of onslaut, then, the proposed reform for today's word simply drops the silent-GH: "slauter".

Wensday, October 19, 2005: "monsaneeya" for "manzanilla"

On this Wine Wensday, I'm going to do something I generally don't: take sides in a pronunciation dispute. Today's word, the name of "A pale, very dry sherry from Spain", has four pronunciations, according to my various references: mòée.ya, màée.ya, màíl.a, and màíl.ya. That's what happens when you have an ambiguous, foreign spelling.

The màíl.ya pronunciation derives from one version of how LL is pronounced in Spain. In prior times (if not even now, in some districts), American schools commonly taught what they regarded as Spain-Spanish, in the elitist belief that Spain's was the purest and truest Spanish, whereas Latin American Spanish was somehow lesser, which reflected condescending social attitudes toward Latin America at the time. The pronunciation they taught for LL is like LY in English, where the Y has its consonantal value (as in yes) rather than any vowel sound. An acquaintance of mine from Spain, however, recently cued me in to what may (or may not) be a recent change in Spain under the influence of the cultural weight exerted by Spanish-speaking Latin Americans (7 times their number) who do not use that sound: that even in Spain, today, a plain Y-sound rather than LY is most common. However, perhaps that pronunciation gained currency among teachers of Spanish here only because, decades ago, some 'authority' hooked onto a nonstandard, dialectal pronunciation of LL and assumed it was standard throughout Spain, but plain-Y has in reality always been how most Spaniards pronounced LL.

In any case, since màíl.ya has an English short-A, Z-sound, and short-I, not a Spanish broad-A, TH-sound for Z, and long-E as the word would be pronounced in (most of) Spain, it is at best a bastardized pronunciation that should be discarded.

Màíl.a, which is fully anglicized, will sound ignorant to many Americans nowadays, given general familiarity with the sound system of our second most widely spoken language, Spanish.

That leaves mòée.ya and màée.ya. The first is more respectful of the word's Spanish origins, so I offer that one: "monsaneeya".

Tuesday, October 18, 2005: "clenz/er" for "cleanse/r"

The current spelling of today's base word is misleading twice. First, it contains the word clean but doesn't sound like it. Second, it contains the sequence -NSE, which suggests that the S should sound like S, not Z. Compare rinse, tense, sense. Altho -NZ is not a spelling found in any present word (tho we are familiar with it in the compound proper noun Mercedes-Benz), it is plain from the way the language works how it must sound. There are a few words ending in -NZE, of which only bronze is well-known. A rare word with that ending is winze ("a vertical or inclined shaft driven downward from a drift into an orebody"), but it has an alternative spelling that is unique: windz. Of course, there are  a lot of present words that end in Z, singular (quiz, whiz, blitz) or double (fizz, frizz, pizzazz). Tho it's nice to fit a reform into a large, pre-existing pattern, an entire family of words of similar form, it's not really necessary to justify making a change from a spelling that is unclear to one that is clear: "clenz".

Munday, October 17, 2005: "graffic/s" for "graphic/s"

PH is an absurd spelling for the F-sound, so we should simply replace it with F, everywhere. In this particular pair of words, the A in the first syllable is short, so we need to double the F, as we do with traffic: "graffic/s".

Plainly, all derivatives, such as "graphical/ly", would also be revised: "graffical/ly".

Sunday, October 16, 2005: "hoal/ly" for "whole / wholly"

There's no need for a W in this pair of words, as attested by the fact that there is a homophone for the base word that does without it, "hole". Because of that homophone, we should not use that spelling for this word. There is, fortuitously, another common pattern for the long-O plus L sound, -oal. We can use that to retain distinct spellings for these two homophones. It is convenient to have different spellings to clarify which of homophones you mean, and obliterating such differences leads to needless hostility to spelling reform. So let's not write this "hole", which would also produce a problem with the adverbial form. Would people prefer "holely" or "holy" — another homophone? Using -oal allows us simply to add the -ly without complication or confusion: "hoal/ly".

Saturday, October 15, 2005: "arkive" for "archive"

It occurred to me only today to see whether I had yet proposed reform to the word "archive" and its derivatives, and was surprised to see I had not. There are archives of all words dealt with in the past on this site, but the word "archive" was not one of them. Now it will be.

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in "archive". Unlike the case with words in which a CH that sounds like K is followed by A, O, or U, we cannot simply drop the H, however, because C before I is pretty much always "soft", sounding in S. "Arcive" would, thus, be read as órsiev. So we have to substitute K for the CH: arkive.

We then have to deal with the various derivatives, such as "archival" and "archivist". Let's: "arkive", "arkival", "arkivist".

Friday, October 14, 2005: "osseoggo" and "chabotta" for "asiago" and "ciabatta"

This Food Friday, let's address two words not familiar to me before I saw a commercial that the Sonic sandwich company is running for its new "Tuscan Grilled Chicken Sandwich". Their website describes the new sandwich thus:
"For a unique taste with a little Italian flair, try the new Tuscan Grilled Chicken sandwich. A tender, grilled chicken breast with asiago cheese, crisp lettuce, ripe tomato and savory pesto mayonnaise served on our new toasted ciabatta bread. Enjoy a little old world flavor. Only at SONIC."

So let's address both of these Italian food names.

Italian is a long-familiar European language written in the roman alphabet, and it is the custom in English that we lift loanwords intact from their language of origin if (a) they derive from a written language and (b) that language is written in the roman alphabet. But when the language is not written, as was the case with a host of American Indian languages that new arrivals from Europe borrowed words from, or when the writing is in another form than the roman alphabet (be it a different alphabet, like Russia's cyrillic, or in a nonalphabet form like the devanagari alphasyllabary, Chinese ideographs, or Japanese kana characters), the person borrowing writes them down with roman letters in what seems to him the clearest way to convey those sounds to others. This can produce a number of different transliterations, especially in different European languages, that vie for awhile until one is settled on in each borrowing language — and then the resulting roman form may be lifted from Spanish or French into English, with more complications! This is one of the ways we arrived at the chaos we call "traditional orthography".

To simplify all this, we need to approach words borrowed from languages written in the roman alphabet the same way we do words from unwritten languages — as tho the whole non-English-speaking world is illiterate and only our way of writing counts, because within English, only our way of writing should count. Using that approach, how should today's twofer, asiago and ciabatta, be written? Like this:  "osseoggo" and "chabotta".

Thursday, October 13, 2005: "appropoe" for "apropos"

I am sometimes moved to offer a particular word for a particular day by things I read in the news or hear on TV, but today's word does not need a specific spur from current events, for it is always apropos.

There are an awful lot of words in English, some 65% of our overall vocabulary, that derive from French. Native speakers of English who study French might be grateful for that, in that it allows them to recognize more words than they could otherwise easily absorb, but the pronunciation is so different that those words might almost as well be written in the cyrillic alphabet. If they were, maybe we wouldn't have so many educated people defending the retention of spellings that may make perfect sense in French but which make no sense at all in English.

"Apropos" looks like Greek to us, as to be pronounced a.próe.pas or a.pró That is not, however, the way it's pronounced. Not in English. Not in French.

As so often happens in French, the final-S is silent. Silent?! So why is it there? Good question. There's no good answer — "just because", as children argue.

There should not be an S at the end of this word. Nor should the first P be single, since that spelling leads the reader to think the A is like that of ajar or afield, a schwa, that is, utterly unstressed, whereas the first syllable of this word has a distinct short-A that bears secondary stress. Primary stress falls upon the last syllable, in the French fashion.

We can readily indicate that the initial-A in this word is pronounced short by doubling the P. We can also drop the silent-S. That would leave appropo, but that would be read by different people as a.próp.o, ápp.ra.po, or a.próe.po. If we add an E to the end, however, perhaps most people will understand that that syllable takes the greatest stress: "appropoe".

Wensday, October 12, 2005: "bruet" for "brut"

This Wine Wensday let's address the unphonetic spelling of a very dry type of champagne. "Brut" contains the shorter word "rut", which is spelled right, as is "but", which is "brut" without the R. Both these shorter words contained in the pattern of "brut" have a short-U, but "brut" has a long-U and sounds exactly like "brute" — which is also spelled right for its sound, because it has a silent-E to signal that the U is long. "Brut" should rhyme with "but" and "rut". It does not.

"Brute" is already taken for how the wine's name is actually pronounced, but "bruet" is not, and is phonetic (compare accrued, glued, rued). So let's use that: "bruet".

Tuesday, October 11, 2005: "fech" for "fetch"

There's no need for a T in this word. The letter combination C-H is of course the very essence of what we regard as the "CH-sound", and it has that sound after every vowel: attach, beseech, rich, pooch, such". Since the T is superfluous to formation of the CH-sound, it is effectively silent, so can be dropped. Kids and other new learners of English should not have to try to remember which CH-sounds take a T and which do not. None of them needs a T, so let's drop the T in this one: "fech".

Munday, October 10, 2005: "aul/reddy" for "al/ready"

EA is most commonly, but certainly not always, pronounced long-E. These two words include the shorter, ambiguously spelled word "read", which is pronounced reed in the present but red in the past. We don't have to perpetuate that ambiguity in these words, but can simply reform that part to "reddy".

What to do with the "al-" part of "already" is problematic. AL- is most commonly, if not almost always, pronounced like the nickname "Al" for "Alan": alabaster, alibi, alchemy, altitude. One might argue that there are enuf prominent and frequently used words where it is pronounced the same as "all" (aul) to justify leaving it as-is. I think it is wiser to revise those words too, and use AU if that is the sound.

So let's start off the week with a twofer: "reddy" and "aulreddy".

Note: I originally thought there were enuf words to justify leaving AL, but thought better of it later, preferring to change those other words too. So I changed this to "aulreddy" on March 25, 2011.

Sunday, October 9, 2005: "neglizhay" for "negligee" / "negligé(e)"

Two of the spellings of this French loanword, negligé and negligée, retain one of the accents of the original négligé. Curiously, one was dropped but the other retained by some people. Other people, abiding by the English practice of doing without accents, use none. -GEE is ordinarily pronounced like the ordinary word "gee" (jee), as in mortgagee, refugee, and squeegee, but not here. Rather, the word retains its French soft-G, which is represented in English loanwords and pronunciation keys by ZH, and long-A pronunciation for EE. But this word came into English by, at latest, 1755. It's time to fully anglicize it: "neglizhay".

Saturday, October 8, 2005: "trupe" for "troupe"

My younger sister sent me a link to a video of a performance by a Chinese dance troupe of "hearing-impaired" performers who execute elaborately synchronized maneuvers with the help of cues from people offstage, so I chose "troupe" for today's word.

There is no OU-sound in "troupe". Rather, the vowel is a simple long-U, which can be unambiguously rendered using the silent-E convention alone, and dropping the O: "trupe".

Friday, October 7, 2005: "pattay da/fwoggrah" for "pâté de foie gras" or "pate de foie gras"

On this Food Friday, let's address an accent-burdened term for a paste from the liver of specially fattened geese or ducks, used mainly in hors d'oeuvres. English does not employ diacritics,* so getting rid of the accents is the first step in reforming this phrase. Few people know which of the letters in this phrase take accents anyway. Even if they remember the É in pâté they might well forget the Â.*

Merely removing the accents would leave the word "pate" ambiguous, because there is an ordinary English word "pate" (meaning the head, and especially the top of the head). The "de foie gras" part of the phrase would remain unphonetic and thus very unclear to people who read English but not French.

So the next step is to convert the spelling to English norms. For this purpose, we must split the spellings in two, one for the phrase used together, and one for the two main elements, "pate" and "foie gras", each of which can be used separately. (The "de" would not be used alone.)

The phrase comprises two logical elements, the noun "pate", meaning paste, and the adjectival phrase "de foie gras", meaning "of goose [or duck] liver". So the phrase should be treated as two words: pate defoiegras, the second one a compound word. Only then can we apply English spelling conventions: "pattay dafwoggrah". People who use a broad-A in "pate" do so because they know the word comes from French. They will thus continue, on their own, to use broad-A in the first syllable of "pattay", and can justify it because broad-A is a sound commonly applied to A (father, part, almond).

Used alone, foie gras should be pushed together as a compound word, since neither element stands on its own: "fwoggrah."

Thus do we arrive at the full solution: "pattay da/fwoggrah".

* Accents, umlauts (ö), cedillas (ç), tildes (ñ), and such.

** People who have studied French know that the circumflex accent represents what was once an S immediately following the vowel over which the accent is displayed, so if you know that "pâté means "paste", but there is no S in the French form, there is probably a circumflex accent over the A. Not everyone, however, has studied French — or should.

Thursday, October 6, 2005: "sinnergy" for "synergy"

I saw a Toyota commercial last nite for its "Hybrid Synergy Drive". Look at all the Y's! Three Y's, three pronunciations? "Y"?

Oh, sometimes the same letter does take different pronunciations depending upon its place in the word, whether it bears stress, whatever. Here, however, there is a stressed Y in the first syllable of both "hybrid" and "synergy", but they are pronounced differently, long-I (the vocalic "Y-sound") in "hybrid" but short-I in "synergy".

A Y at the end of a word is ambiguous, sometimes taking the Y-sound (cry, quantify), sometimes taking a long-E or, in Britain, short-I (quality, biology), sometimes both in the same spelling (multiply). This is why we need spelling reform.

"Hybrid" is a defensible spelling, because the Y there takes the Y-sound. "Synergy" is an indefensible spelling, sincle its first Y not only does not take the Y-sound but also precedes a single consonant followed by an E, which would lead the reader to see any vowel in that position as long due to the influence of a silent-E. Thus, twice, the spelling leads the reader to say síenerjee. By contrast, the Y in "hybrid" has a long-I sound despite the absence of a silent-E in the second syllable.

When we change the first Y in "synergy", then, we must also double the N in order to show that the E in the second syllable does not signal a long pronunciation of that I. So we end up with this little family of words: "sinnergy", "sinnergism", and "sinnergistic/ally".

Wensday, October 5, 2005: "muscatell" for "muscatel"

This Wine Wensday let's address a non-trendy wine. Even cheap wines can have spellings that could stand improvement.

One might argue that "muscatel" is perfectly phonetic, but there are a couple of little problems.

First, it is unusual, tho certainly not unheard of, that a three-syllable noun bears stress on the last syllable. New readers might thus be inclined to put the stress elsewhere, typically on the second syllable.

Second, the E might be seen as the "silent-E" marker for the long pronunciation of the vowel in the prior syllable, in this case A, as it is in, for instance, bagel and hazel (nut).

Putting these two things together would leave new readers saying (internally if not aloud) muskáetal, where A by itself represents schwa and the accent shows syllabic stress.

If, however, we simply double the L, we will at once incline readers to see the last syllable as the word "tell" and thus to see a full short-E in that syllable, and signal that the word's stress falls on the last syllable. That syllabic shift would also, by natural processes, make it unlikely that the A would be pronounced long, and thus make it far more likely that people will see the A as a schwa, which it does indeed represent. So let's just double the L to make this word a little clearer: "muscatell".

Tuesday, October 4, 2005: "indite/ment" for "indict/ment"

The re-indictment of Tom DeLay, Congress's House Majority Leader, in Texas yesterday and my own grand-jury service Tuesdays until early December prompted me to address this pair of words today.

There actually is a rare word "indite" (which takes as its extension "inditement") that means to set down in writing. But since it comes from the same roots as "indict" and is utterly unknown to the general public, we would be foolish to retain an irrational spelling for the far more common word just to avoid confusion with a word so rare that almost nobody knows it.

So, altho reforming "indict" and "indictment" this way will technically create two new homonyms, it doesn't matter, because almost nobody will know if we don't tell. Shh!: "indite/ment".

Munday, October 3, 2005: "berch" for "birch"

This word came to mind because earlier today I looked, unsuccessfully, for the Pathmark Supermarkets store-brand birch beer, and later was reminded by an email from Canada of a stand of birches in a provincial park on the north shore of Prince Edward Island.

"Birch" is not an accurate phonetic rendering of the sounds of this word, as you can plainly appreciate if you substitute a T for the R. The actual sound is the one that is most ordinarily spelled ER, so let's write what we hear: "berch".

Sunday, October 2, 2005: "-sof-" for "-soph-"

Let's do something a little different today. Instead of dealing with an individual word (and its derivatives), let's reform an entire small cluster of words at once, those incorporating the element -soph-, meaning "wisdom": sophist/ic/ate/d, sophistication, sophistic/al/ly, sophism, sophistry, sophomore, sophomoric/ally, philosopher, philosophic/al/ly, theosophy, theosophic/al/ly, unsophisticated, and the like. All should take the simple change of the silly and ambiguous spelling PH to a simple-F.

PH for F is indefensibly absurd, but that doesn't keep some people from defending it. One Brit actually claimed on the Guardian newspaper's website, that "'Ph' results in a softer sound than 'f'. I'm always amazed to find that people don't see that." They don't see (actually, hear) that because it's not to the tiniest degree true. S/he is delusional.

PH is only one of at least three ridiculous spellings for the single sound usually represented by F (or, after a short vowel, often FF): PH, GH (laugh, rough), and LF (as in half, calf). In most cases, PH was taken from loanwords brought in from Latin that derived from Greek, and medieval English scholars thought that that was useful information — or wanted to show how smart and educated they were, so affected a pseudo-Greek way of spelling words derived from Greek. Sometimes they got carried away, however, and applied PH to F sounds in words that had no relationship to Greek whatsoever, just because they wanted to seem smarter and better educated than they were — which is the same reason some people oppose spelling reform today. They enjoy showing off how many ridiculous spellings they can remember, and pretend that PH conveys valuable information to them because they of course know Greek intimately, so are able to derive today's meanings by parsing the etymology. Of course, one could answer, "If you're so smart, why can't you recognize the same etymology in phonetically spelled words? Spaniards know that -fon- means "sound" and -fil- means "love" and don't need a PH to know they derive from Greek. Why wouldn't you?"

Moreover, PH isn't even always pronounced F. Sometimes it represents the ordinary sound sequence P followed by H: uphill, uphold, flophouse. Everyone pronounces it V in the common name "Stephen", and some Brits pronounce it V in "nephew". It's even completely silent in a few scientific words like phthisic, phthiocol, and as most people say phthalein.

So let's just stop pretending that PH for F is defensible and get rid of it everywhere. The -soph- cluster is one good place to do so. Where the prior vowel is short, FF would be better than single-F, to cue that pronunciation.* Conversely, where the vowel before the S is short, doubling the S would cue that pronunciation. Moreover, in some of these words, the phil- group, we have a second PH which should also be replaced. And we don't need an E at the end of "sophomore". Putting this all together, then, we end up with: soffist, sofistic/ate/d, sofistication, sofistic/al/ly, soffism, soffistry, soffomore, soffomoric/ally, filossofer, filosoffic/al/ly, theossofy, theosoffic/al/ly, unsofisticated.

* I myself had been misled by the spelling to think that words like "sophist" have a long-O. They do not, which I found out only today in checking these words in the dictionary!

Saturday, October 1, 2005: "fashist","fashistic","fashism" for "fascist", "fascistic" and "fascism"

Today, let's deal with the ever-popular epithet "fascist", which is ordinarily used with no thought to precision but only as name-calling for anyone on the Far Right of the political spectrum —  or even a parent or principal who is a strict disciplinarian.

SC is the Italian spelling convention for what is in English conventionally spelled SH. This is English, not Italian, so we should use the English spelling convention, not the Italian: "fashist", "fashistic", "fashism".

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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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