Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
January-March 2006

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

Friday, March 31, 2006: "kechup" for "catsup" / "catchup" / "ketchup"

This Food Friday, let's address the various names for one of our most popular condiments. We don't need a T to show a CH-sound (as in church), any more than we need to write this sound in the German fashion, TSCH. CH alone will do.

Nor do we need more than one name for this one condiment, especially not the pretentious "catsup", which some people, obedient to the spelling, actually say phonetically, cat-sup. No, that's a spelling-pronunciation, as is 'catch-up'. I ordinarily don't condemn any common pronunciation, but when a mispronunciation is the consequence of an absurd or inadequately clear spelling, I do take the stand that spelling should not mislead, so spelling-pronunciations should be eliminated. We can do that easily here simply by adopting one, streamlined spelling for this sauce: "kechup".

Thursday, March 30, 2006: "duce" for "deuce"

Most people do not pronounce this word with a Y-glide, but even if they did, they wouldn't need an E before the U to tell them to do that. They don't need it in words like deduce, induce, and reduce, so don't need it here.

Some people might argue that "duce" will look like the nickname for Mussolini, "Il Duce" (eel dúe.chae). But (a) that is a very dated reference. Few people are alive today who were alive during Mussolini's reign and, going forward, fewer and fewer people will remember that nickname. Further, (b) the mere fact that there may be a familiar foreign word or name of similar appearance is no reason not to adopt a simpler spelling for an English word. We mustn't straitjacket English to accommodate Italian.

We don't need EU where U will do, so let's just drop the E and save ourselves a letter: "duce".

Wensday, March 29, 2006: "leebfroumilk" for "liebfraumilch"

This Wine Wensday, let's reform the name of "a white wine produced chiefly in the region of Hesse in Germany."*

The present spelling is completely preposterous in English. IE is ordinarily pronounced long-I (die, French fries, relied); the English AU-sound is that in haul, autumn, and pause. And the CH does not express the English CH-sound (as in church) but a palatal sound we don't have in English. We substitute a simple K-sound, so should substitute a simple written-K.

The IE is easy: just change it to EE.

The AU is a little more complicated, because there are two common ways of showing that sound, OU and OW. But OU is sometimes read as long-U (routine, froufrou) and OW is often read as long-O (show, arrow, owed, blowout (where the OW represents long-O and the OU-sound of the second syllable is represented by OU), and the first, but not second OW in know-how, which you must just know how to say, since the spelling doesn't help). There is thus no absolutely clear way of showing this sound, but OU is most commonly given the OU-sound, so let's use that.

Along with the change of CH to K, we end up with: "leebfroumilk".

* Definition from the Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006: "getto" for "ghetto"

The H in the traditional spelling of this common word is utterly unnecessary, since "get", with a hard-G, is one of the most common words in the English language, learned very early. People would not be inclined to see "getto" as "jetto", so we can drop the H with no loss in clarity: "getto".

Munday, March 27, 2006: "anackaris" for "anacharis"

Aquarium-fish enthusiasts will know this name of a plant often used to decorate fishtanks as to provide a comfortable environment for the fish and an attractive scene for the viewer. Many fish also nip at the many little leaves as a food supplement. Anacharis (a.náak.a.ris) has other names, such as elodea, ditchmoss, and waterweed, but the one I am accustomed to is anacharis.

There are two things wrong with the present form of this word. First, there is no CH-sound (as in church), so should be no CH written. The second thing is that the syllabic stress is less clear than it could be. Let's see if we can fix these easily.

I suspect that either "anaccaris" or "anackaris" would solve both problems. One might see the current spelling, "anacharis", as àan.a.ká, or even àan.a.chá, because CH could start a syllable. Neither CK nor CC, however, could start a syllable, so it would be plain that the syllable stressed precedes either of those letter combinations.

Is one clearly preferable in terms of predictability, such that someone who hears the word spoken can more easily guess how to spell it? My guess is that a CK would be more likely guessed than a double-C, so that's what I opt for: "anackaris".

Sunday, March 26, 2006: "nuvo/ reesh" for "nouveau/x riche/s"

Today, let's address a word many people may not realize has been fully "naturalized" into English, "nouveau". The Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary defines it thus:
newly or recently created, developed, or come to prominence: The sudden success of the firm created several nouveau millionaires. [1805–15; < F: new; OF novel < L novellus; see NOVEL2]

 As you can see from the etymology above, this word has been in English a long time, especially in the phrase "nouveau riche" (whose plural currently takes the grotesque but pure French form "nouveaux riches". It's time to respell both "nouveau" alone and the phrase "nouveau/x riche/s".

"Nouveau" is easy: "nuvo". Some Brits might object that they would see that as having a Y-glide: nyue.vo. But Brits aren't going to adopt spelling reform anyway. They're still writing "colour", which we abandoned in the United States 200 years ago! So we cannot perpetually adjust around British sensibilities. The British are holding back spelling reform. Sometimes we just have to ignore them to move on.

We can leave syllabic stress unindicated, since some uses do put the stress on the first syllable, others on the second.

For the phrase, "nuvo reesh" shows plainly the pronunciation of both the singular and plural. The two are invariable in sound so should be invariable in spelling: "nuvo/ reesh".

Saturday, March 25, 2006: "maurn" for "mourn"

There is no OU-sound in this word so should be no OU. Most people pronounce it as a homophone for "morn", but we can't use that spelling because it's already taken.

We can, however, leave the U but replace the O with an A, as to show the AU-sound (as in haul, auditorium and aura), which is what most people say in both "mourn" and "morn".

Some people may insist that the vowel they perceive in "mourn" is more like a long-O, but it really is not possible to say a long-O in the same syllable with a following-R. Instead, you get a semi-syllable split off from the O just at the R. Were we to use OA for the present OU (moarn), the tendency to pronounce a semi-syllable would become a serious temptation to pronounce a full additional syllable, as in moa, boa, and protozoa. "Maurn" would retain the monosyllabic integrity of the word.

In that there are some words in which at least some people pronounce AU like long-O (au pair, cause célèbre, gauche, mauve, one pronunciation of vaudeville), people inclined to use a long-O in "mourn" could justify doing so even with the new spelling: "maurn".

My thanks to "Clap..." for suggesting this word.

Friday, March 24, 2006: "burgur" and "loggur" for "burger" and "lager"

Let's have a twofer today, a hamburger and a beer for Food Friday.

In by far most words, GE represents a soft-G, or J-sound. But not in some. "Burger", with its food variants (hamburger, cheeseburger, baconburger, chiliburger, etc.) is one exception. "Lager" is another. There are a few others too: auger, anger, and comparatives (bigger) or agent nouns (bagger) of words that in their root end in G, plus other words whose root ends in NG (hanger). How are readers to know that hanger is not parallel in sound to ranger or anger? They can't.

This project does not aspire to change any grammatical ending, but "lager" is not an agent noun for "one who lags" or "lages", nor the comparative of an adjective "lag" or "lage", so that restriction does not operate here.

GE is, as these examples show, very ambiguous, and new learners of English should not have to even try to cope with such absurdities. Rather, we should find some other way of showing hard-G unambiguously, even if we don't simply change all soft-G's to J. Using UR instead of ER in at least some words would accomplish that. We can start with these two ingredients of a fun Friday-nite meal: "burgur" and "loggur".

My thanks to "yao..." for suggesting "loggur".

Thursday, March 23, 2006: "jellus" for "jealous"

"Jealous" is a preposterous spelling. EA most commonly represents the long-E sound, because there would be no reason to express a short-E with two letters when one, a single E, will do. And there is no OU-sound in this word, so should be no OU written. To show the short-E unambiguously we need to double the L, but since we're dropping the A and U, we save a letter anyway: "jellus".

Wensday, March 22, 2006: "stuwerd" for "steward"

Last month I offered reform of the hifalutin French-origin term for a wine steward, "sommelier" (to summalyay). This month, let's address the English word steward.

EW is a silly way to spell long-U, and in fact it is occasionally pronounced as it literally looks, short-E followed by a W-glide, which ends up sounding like long-O! The best-known example of that is the word sew, but there's also a British town called "Shrewsbury". In the town of the same name in my state, New Jersey, that is pronounced only Shrúez.bur.e. But in Britain it can be pronounced Shróez.bur.e. (Indeed, I think that in medieval times it was pronounced more like Shróevz.bur.e, judging from the Derek Jacobi TV series about a medieval monk turned detective, Brother Cadfael.)

EW also often represents long-E followed by a consonantal-W between syllables, as in bewail, bewilder, bewitched, prewar, reward, rewind, etc.

So let's just substitute U to show a long-U, and leave the W as the consonant to separate syllables. That would yield "stuward".

But that wouldn't really solve the problem, because UW, if actually pronounced short-U followed by a W-glide, also approximates a long-O sound. Moreover, "ward" is a word to itself, with an AU-sound. The sound in that word is more like that in "word", which is more typically written with ER (nerd, herd, shepherd). So let's change that too. An E after the W would also serve to indicate clearly that the U in the first syllable is long, lest anyone see it as short: "stuwerd".

Tuesday, March 21, 2006: "anser" for "answer"

Most silent-W's appear at the beginning of a word (write, wrong, wreck), but here we have one in the middle of a word, for no reason. Let's just drop it, OK?: "anser".

Naturally, derivatives will also change. I have already offered (on February 14, 2005) "masheen" for "machine", so "answering machine" becomes "ansering masheen".

Munday, March 20, 2006: "acur" for "occur"

The traditional spelling of this word is all wrong. There is no O-sound, not short-O as in on, not long-O as in oaf. And a double consonant ordinarily marks a short vowel before it, a stressed syllable before it, or both. The vowel before the double-C is a schwa, not a short-O, and the word's stress is on the syllable after the doubled consonant.

We can't just drop the second-C, because "ocur" would be read either oé.ker on the model of over, or oe.kér, on the model of O'Neill. So we need to replace the O with an A, which in this position will be read correctly, as a schwa, which automatically shifts the word's stress to the second syllable: "acur".

Sunday, March 19, 2006: "tarrif" for "tariff"

The wrong consonant is doubled in the traditional spelling of this word. A doubled consonant generally serves one or both of two purposes, first, to indicate that the preceding vowel is short, when it might otherwise be thought long, and second, to indicate that the syllable before it is stressed. Neither of those conditions holds here.

The double-F is not necessary to show that the I is short, because no one would think it long before a final-F.

And the second syllable does not take the stress. The first syllable does.

Moreover, the sound of the A is ambiguous. In many words, AR is pronounced as in bar (broad-A, or short-O: same sound) or area (flat-A), and the way we commonly show that a particular A before R is not to be pronounced that way is to double the R: narrow, arrogant, barrel. It would be better to double the R more than just drop the superfluous final-F, because "tarif" might be read as either tór.if (remember that short-O is the same sound as broad-A) or táir.if. Indeed, it might be seen as ta.ríf or ta.réef (on the model of the now-familiar Arab name Tariq).

So let's single the F and double the R: "tarrif".

Saturday, March 18, 2006: "catalist" for "catalyst"

I got an email today with this word spelled in the simpler form. The 'mistakes' people actually do make can point us to how things ought to be spelled, and the inability of this one correspondent to remember that there's a Y in "catalyst" shows plainly that we need to get rid of that silly Y.

He didn't have trouble with the single-T, and in the related word "catalysis", I doubt he'd have trouble with the single-L. So we don't need to write "cattalist" or "catallisis", which is good, because some opponents of spelling reform might seize upon that discrepancy between related words to torpedo any change in either.

The only thing we need to change is the Y, which represents a simple short-I sound. If the sound is short-I, let's just spell it with an I across this entire little family of words: "catalist", "catalisis", "catalitic", "catalitical", and "catalitically".

Friday, March 17, 2006: "leprecaun" for "leprechaun"

Ordinarily, this being Friday, I would offer a reform to a word having to do with food, drink, or cooking ("Food Friday"), but today is also Saint Patrick's Day, and I didn't find any famous Irish food that needs to be respelled. So let's instead deal with the name of the "little people" of Irish lore.

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word. Instead, the CH represents for English speakers a simple K-sound, which is also the hard-C. Tho one is tempted to substitute a K to suggest for purists a more complicated sound than a simple hard-C (as might be pronounced in a guttural fashion), many people will see no distinction between a K and hard-C, and a K without a C before it will "look funny" to many readers. They would find "lepreckaun" OK but not "leprekaun". A hard-C without a K, however, would be much more readily accepted: "leprecaun".

The question remains whether to change the AU to O, since most people do not employ the AU-sound (as in haul) in this word. But some do. Those who pronounce a simple short-O even tho they see plainly an AU in the traditional spelling will continue to say short-O. Those who say an AU-sound would prefer a spelling that does not bar that pronunciation. And everyone can agree that retaining the AU leaves the word closer to the traditional spelling, which for many is a virtue in any proposed reform. The problematic part of the present spelling is the CH for a K-sound. We can eliminate that ambiguity and save a letter at the same time simply by dropping the H: "leprecaun".

Thursday, March 16, 2006: "asault" for "assault"

One of today's top news stories is about an assault on insurgents in northern Iraq, so let's address the word "assault".

A double-S suggests at once that the vowel before it is short and that the syllable before it is stressed. Neither condition holds in this word. The vowel is not short-A. If it were, the sound would be that of "ass", a term narrowly used for donkeys but more commonly used as a vulgar epithet. The vowel is actually a schwa, that neutral, unstressed vowel that is the most common vowel sound in English, the A's in America, U in circus, second-E in telephone, etc. And that brings us to the second point, that the first syllable does not take the stress. The word's stress is on the second syllable, so the double-S again misleads the reader. We can save ourselves confusion at the same time as we save ourselves a letter, just by dropping an S: "asault".

Thanks to "Monsters..." for suggesting this respelling. (The "..." represents a shortening of the email address of the person at issue, to protect his or her privacy while still extending recognition for the contribution.)

Wensday, March 15, 2006: "marsolla" for "marsala"

This Wine Wensday, let's address "A sweet or dry fortified wine of Sicilian origin" used in cooking (e.g., veal marsala). ALA is an ambiguous sequence, as shown plainly by the word "gala", which is pronounced variously gáil.a, gá, gáal.a, and gól.a. OLLA, while not foolproof, is much more likely to be seen as indicating a short-O (or broad-A: same sound) in the second syllable: "marsolla".

Tuesday, March 14, 2006: "naycher" for "nature"

Let's stick with the -URE ending discussed in the past two days. It really is highly ambiguous. Today's word is parallel in spelling to mature, but pronounced very differently. "Nature" has only one pronunciation (not counting R-dropping dialects), náe.cher. "Mature" has four: ma.túer, ma.tyúer, ma.chúer, and ma.chér!

Let's reform the spelling of "nature" to clarify that it is not pronounced parallel to any of the pronunciations of mature.

Tho some people might think it looks odd to put an AY in the middle of a word, there are in fact a lot of words where that occurs, for instance, maypole, maybe, bayberry, paycheck, bayonet, betrayal, hayseed, jaywalking, kayo, and on and on.

For the second syllable, we could write CHER or CHUR. One could argue that a few people might see CHER as the French word for "dear", pronounced like the name of the singer "Cher" (shair); or that others might see it as parallel to the way some people say "merry" (close to "Mary"). CHUR retains the U of the traditional spelling and is clear as to sound, so some people might think that the better choice. But spelling reform should increase the predictability of spelling, and we have many words in which -CHER appears, from preacher to teacher, muncher to moocher, rancher to richer, but not a single word that ends in -CHUR. So CHER is the better choice after all: "naycher".

Munday, March 13, 2006: "velure" for "velour/s"

There is no OU-sound in "velour", just a long-U (or long-OO, as ever you may think it: a long-U sound without a Y-glide). Unfortunately, we can't just substitute a second-O ("veloor"), because OO is ambiguous: "door", "boor", "Moore" (respectively, daur, buer, and Muer, Maur, or Moer).

Altho a few people, mostly in Britain, might see "velure" (or "vellure") as having a Y-glide, most people do not use a Y-glide with a long-U after L. There's only so much that spelling can do without a full-scale, systematic spelling reform, so we can't make this absolutely clear to every single person in the English-speaking world. But we can do better than "velour", and especially than "velours", with a preposterous silent-S.

Do we need to double the L ("vellure")? I don't think so. The present spelling doesn't have a double-L, and that doesn't cause a problem. In fact, were we to double the L, we might mislead some readers into thinking the first syllable takes the stress. It does not. The spelling "vellure" might even lead to the mispronunciation vélyer. So let's not double the L: "velure".

Sunday, March 12, 2006: "failyer" for "failure"

"Failure" looks as tho it should be parallel in pronunciation to "allure"  or "lure". It is not. Rather, its second syllable is pronounced like that of lawyer and sawyer, so that's how it should be spelled: "failyer".

Saturday, March 11, 2006: "ren" for "wren"

There's no way to justify a silent-W, so let's just drop it, okay?: "ren".

Friday, March 10, 2006: "linggweeny" for "linguine" or "linguini"

This Food Friday, let's reform the name of a type of pasta much like spaghetti but flattened. The proper Italian spelling has an E on the end that is pronounced long-A in its language of origin. We pronounce it long-E in English. Because it is pronounced long-E, some people have back-formed a different spelling, with a final-I, on the supposition that because it is Italian and ends in a long-E sound, it must end in the letter I. It does not. To clarify the actual sound in English, we need merely put a Y at the end, which will pretty much always be read as long-E in such a situation (at the end of a three-syllable word). One problem solved.

-(N)GUIN- is ambiguous. It could be read with a hard-G but no W-sound (guinea pig, Guinness, intriguing); with a nasalized NG-sound and hard-G and W-sound (sanguine, consanguineous, penguin), even with only a nasalized NG-sound and neither a hard-G nor a W-sound (haranguing, tonguing).* Note that in all these words, the I after the U is pronounced short-I, but that is not the sound it takes in "linguine", where is represents long-E!

As shown above, it is not really possible, in traditional spelling, fully to clarify whether there is or is not an NG-sound or hard-G sound, or both, where the sequence NG is followed by other letters. We can, however, make that plain with a tiny innovation, doubling the G, so the letter sequence is NGG. Tho that sequence may be found only in "mahjongg" today, it is perfectly reasonable, so we should use it.

We can, however, clarify that the vowel of the second syllable is long-E, simply by writing EE. We could end with the entire familiar sequence "weenie", but that would be misleading in making some people think "lingweenie" is a kind of hotdog. WEENY, altho a variant of "weenie", will not trigger that association in most readers. So today's proposed reform is: "lingweeny".

* Coincidentally, "linguina", the singular of "linguine", means "little tongue".

Thursday, March 9, 2006: "poliggamy" for "polygamy"

Cable service HBO is advertising a new comedy about a man with three wives that debuts this coming Sunday, so this seems an appropriate time to address "polygamy" (and its derivatives "polygamous" and "polygamously").

The two Y's in the traditional spelling are pronounced differently. The first is pronounced short-I, the second (except in some British dialects), long-E. Neither takes "the Y-sound", which is either long-I or consonantal-Y. In long words,Y in final position tends to be pronounced long-E, and people know to say it thus, so that's not a problem.

However, "gamy" is a word to itself, pronounced with a long-A.

Further, tho "poly" as short for "polyester" or "polytechnic" is pronounced with a short-O, it also has a long-E, as do some other "poly-" words, such as "polysyllabic". More, the sequence "poly" is found with a long-O in "roly-poly". Such unpredictability!

With all these variables, different readers could easily see "polygamy" as "poly-gamy" (póeleegàemee), "poly-gammy" (póeleegàamee), "polly-gamy" (póleegàemee), or "polly-gammy" (póleegàamee). Not good.

To reduce the variables, we should do more than just substitute I for the first-Y ("poligamy"), since the absence of a double consonant after it could lead some people to read the I as long or an abbreviated long-E. If, however, we double the G ("poliggamy"), we plainly show the I to be short. We also suggest strongly that the short-I is stressed, which pretty much automatically turns the A into a schwa, as eliminates the possible misreading "-gamy" with a long-A.

As regards the derivatives "polygamous/ly", there is the further issue that -OUS- has no OU-sound, so we should drop the O, leaving only -US- (compare abacus, hibiscus, status).

So today's threesome is: "poliggamy", "poliggamus", and "poliggamusly" Whew!

Wensday, March 8, 2006: "rozay" for "rosé" or "rose"

This Wine Wensday, let's address the name of a category of wines, "a pink table wine in which the pale color is produced by removing the grape skins from the must before fermentation is completed".*

English does not employ accents, so the accent must go. Unlike the case with many other words in English that employ an accent in the formal spelling, the accent in this word cannot simply be dropped without causing confusion, because there are two much more common words spelled with the same four letters without an accent, "rose". One is a noun for a prized flower (which is also used as a female pesonal name). The other is the past tense of the verb "rise". Both are pronounced roez. "Rose" without an accent will thus be understood to be "rosé" only within  a phrase specific to wine. We need a clearer spelling without an accent that will be understood in any context: "rozay".

* The Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary, 1993.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006: "espadril" for "espadrille"

AOL's "Marketplace" tab on the welcome screen today hilites women's shoes and displays the name "espadrilles". There are two needless and misleading letters in this word. The L and E at the end not only are superfluous but also would lead some people to believe that the last syllable of the word takes the stress. It does not. The first syllable does: "espadril".

Munday, March 6, 2006: "hipnosis" for "hypnosis"

The sound of Y in the traditional spelling of this word (and its derivatives) is short-I, which is not "the Y-sound" for either the vowel or consonant. The vocalic-Y is long-I. So let's just replace the silly Y with a sensible I: "hipnosis", and all derivatives (e.g., "hipnotic", "hipnotism", "posthipnotic").

Sunday, March 5, 2006: "syne" for "sign"

There is no way to justify a silent-G in this word (and its derivatives). The most obvious quick fix would be to respell it "sine", but that's already taken. We might simply put the silent-E immediately after the I: "sien". But that's ambiguous, given words like "quiet" and "lien". However, if we replace the I with a Y, we at once get an instantly comprehensible and clear spelling and a cue from its unusual appearance that the original word had an unusual appearance, for including a silent-G: "syne".

This spelling would also be used for derivatives in which the sound is the same, such as "asyne", "cosyne", "consyne", and "countersyne", but not for derivatives that take a different sound, such as "design" or "ensign".

There is an unusual Scottish word by this reformed spelling, known to outsiders only in the song Auld Lang Syne, where it is ordinarily pronounced zien (zyne). The proper pronunciation of the word, however, appears to be sien (syne), with an S-sound. Since almost no one in the English-speaking world nor in the ESL community knows that Scottish word, however, it is OK to use its spelling here.

Saturday, March 4, 2006: "dert/y" for "dirt/y"

IR is ambiguous, often taking a sound like long-E ("irritate", "Iroquois", "cirrus"). That is not the sound here, which is the sound most commonly written ER ("better", "person", "tern") or UR ("furnace", "purge", "turn") but also less common ways (e.g., dearth and worth). Either ER or UR would be clearer as to sound upon reading, but ER would more likely be guessed by someone who hears the word spoken,* so let's use that: "dert" and "derty".

My thanks to "GreenD..." (an abbreviated form of the email name of the person who offered this suggestion). None of the many spelling reformers who have offered suggestions  for reformed spellings to include on this site has wanted the credit to an actual name/city that I offered, but I have decided that it is unfair not to give credit where credit is due, so hereafter I will show at least an abbreviated form of the email name of everyone who offers a suggestion that I use on this site. Simpler Spelling Word of the Day was intended from the outset to be a cooperative effort of many spelling reformers, but major entities such as the Simplified Spelling Society of Britain rebuffed my offer to make this a cooperative effort. Undeterred, I proceeded on my own. Still, many individual spelling reformers, from the U.S., Britain, Japan, and elsewhere have offered suggestions (assuming that the many different email ID's from which I have received suggestions genuinely represent separate individuals). I'm glad that this group of helpful people has risen above organizational resentments to work together to advance the cause of making this great world language, "English", easier for everyone, on every continent, to use. Thank you, fellow spelling reformers, and please continue to give me your suggestions. If you'd like a credit to your actual name rather than to an abbreviated form of your email ID, please provide me that name and a locality (city, [state/province,] country) to credit on this site. Again, thank you very much. I could do this on my own, but why would I when there are so many other people of good will who feel, as I do, that the spelling of English must change, and we're the ones to change it?

Friday, March 3, 2006: "provolony" for "provolone"

It's Food Friday again. Let's address a commonly mispronounced Italian hard cheese most excellent in sandwiches. The final-E is not silent, but some people assume it must be. They forget that there are lots of words in English in which a single final-E is pronounced long-E (abalone, sesame, finale). Provolone is another such word, but since it is so easily (and frequently) misread, let's change the E to Y: "provolony".

Thursday, March 2, 2006: "acheeve/ment" for "achieve/ment"

IE is ambiguous (quiet, alien, medieval, sieve, defied), so we should write the simple long-E in this word differently. EE before the V is one simple way to do that.

But questions arise, "Do we then need a silent-E after the V, if the EE before the V makes plain that the sound is long?" If not, we'd write "acheev". Tho perfectly rational, that is not a standard pattern in English, which does not currently end any formal word with V. I don't know why.

The alternate question then arises: "If we use an E after the V to show that the vowel before the V is long, do we really need to double the E before the V?" If not, we'd get "acheve". -EVE- is found, in eve, evening, Steve. But it is ambiguous. In bevel, ever, and clever, it represents two syllables separated by V. In every, it represents a short-E in one syllable ending in a V-sound, which is then followed by the R-sound; in evening, it represents a long-E in one syllable ending in a V-sound, which is then followed by the N-sound (the three-syllable pronunciations ev-er-y and e-ven-ing (for nitetime) are illiterate). In breve, most people use a short-E sound, which is appropriate, given that a breve is a mark to show a short syllable. Etc.

So EEVE, tho arguably a letter longer than it needs, rationally, to be, seems the best solution: "acheeve/ment".

Wensday, March 1, 2006: "shatoe/s" for "château/x"

This Wine Wensday, let's address a term for "a winegrower's estate, esp. in the Bordeaux region of France: often used as part of the name of a wine" (e.g., Château Lafite Rothschild).* In French,  the spelling château may make some sense, but it makes no sense in English.

English does not use accents, and the spelling "chateau" without the "hat" over the A is common in English. In French, the "hat" represents an S that has been dropped, in this case, the S in Latin "castellum". French people know that, and it is supposed to help them know where the word comes from. In English, however, we neither know that nor have any reason to care, since "castellum" means nothing to us. So the accent has to go, always.

Adding X, which is the formal way to pluralize château, is un-English, so that has to go.

EAU is not just a silly way to spell the long-O sound. It is also ambiguous, since it has an English pronunciation, YU, as in beauty, beautiful, beautician, and the like.

We could write "shatow" (compare shadow), but that too is ambiguous. It could be seen as having an OU-sound (as in endow), and readers would tend to feel the first syllable takes the word's stress (as it does in shadow).

We could write "shato", but that too is ambiguous as to sound (compare to) and stress.

If we add a silent-E, however, we at once get an unambiguous sound for the O (compare toe) and suggest that the second syllable takes the stress. So let's do that: "shatoe" (singular) /"shatoes" (plural).

* Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary. In French, château literally means "castle" (which, interestingly, is an earlier English borrowing, thru French, from the same Latin word that château comes from: "castellum").

Tuesday, February 28, 2006: "syte" for "sight"

Let's use for this word the same basic argumentation used February 25th for the parallel word "might":

The silent-GH in the traditional spelling of this frequently used noun and verb is indefensible, but finding a satisfactory new spelling seemed a bit problematic. "Site" is already taken. Avoiding the creation of new homonyms is one of the key principles behind this project.

Replacing the GH with an E ("siet") could work for some people, but others might see it as parallel to quiet, diet, soviet, or Juliet. We can do better.

-YTE is a spelling found in dozens of words, mostly, but not all, scientific: byte, acolyte, proselyte, plus bunches of -cyte words (meaning "cell") and -phyte words (meaning "plant"). -YTE is unambiguous, and everyone who reads English knows to say it as a long-I followed by the T-sound. So let's adopt that pattern for this word: "syte".

Munday, February 27, 2006: "tortis" for "tortoise"

I was puzzled, and irritated, to hear last nite on the British television show Brainiac (shown on American cable channel G4) the astonishing mispronunciation táur.toiz (or was it táur.tois, even worse?) for "tortoise". I have checked my dictionaries (including Britain's Oxford), and, but do not find any warrant for that bizarrely literal pronunciation. It is precisely because of such nonsense that spelling reform is important: to keep people from making such embarrassing misreadings: "tortis".

Sunday, February 26, 2006: "ne/el" for "knee/l"

This being Sunday, a day on which many people in English-speaking countries attend church and kneel to pray, this seems an appropriate pair of words to address.

(I have reconsidered a reform I proposed almost 15 months ago, when I suggested "nee" for "knee" and did not deal with "kneel". I've decided there is no need to risk confusion with "nee/née" (see below), and that "knee" and its descendant "kneel" should be dealt with together. Spelling reform in less than systematic fashion is a catch-as-catch-can proposition, and spelling reformers need to adjust to new considerations as they come to our attention.)

There is no way rationally to justify the silent-K in these paired words. The question is, can we substitute a simpler spelling that is unambiguous? The answer is plainly yes. "Nee" might not do, in that it is the unaccented version of née, a French-origin term for "born", meaning the maiden name of a woman who has since taken her husband's name. But "ne" is free.

We have many very well-known and/or frequently used words of two letters only ending in E: be, he, me, re (ordinarily pronounced rae by people in the know; others say ree), we, ye, plus other terms in which a single-E is understood to take the long-E sound, particularly the enormous number of words formed from pre- and re-. So we can certainly drop one E from "nee" to make "ne" and still retain a long-E sound.

When it comes to "kneel", a derivative of "knee", we simply add a silent-E before the L to show the long-E sound, as we do in so many other words (creel, eel, feel, heel, keel, peel, reel, steel, wheel, genteel, etc.). The past tense and past participle of "kneel", knelt, simply drops the K: "nelt".

So today's twofer (threefer?) is: "ne" and "neel"/"nelt".

Saturday, February 25, 2006: "myte" for "might"

The silent-GH in the traditional spelling of this frequently used auxiliary verb and noun is indefensible, but finding a satisfactory new spelling seemed a bit problematic. "Mite" is already taken, as noun (for a tiny spider-like critter or a small amount) and adverb (meaning, "to a small extent"). We don't want to confuse these words.

Replacing the GH with an E ("miet") could work for some people, but others might see it as parallel to quiet, diet, soviet, or Juliet. We can do better.

-YTE is a spelling found in dozens of words, mostly, but not all, scientific: byte, acolyte, proselyte, plus bunches of -cyte words (meaning "cell") and -phyte words (meaning "plant"). It is unambiguous, and everyone who reads English knows to say it as long-I followed by T. So let's adopt that pattern for this word: "myte".

Friday, February 24, 2006: "nueshatell" for "Neufchâtel" and "Neufchatel"

This Food Friday, let's fix the French-derived term for a soft white cheese. I was in the supermarket last Saturday looking to replace the cream cheese I had used up, when I saw a notation on a cheese in the same refrigerated case that suggested that you can use Neufchâtel the same way as cream cheese, at about the same price, but save on calories. So I tried it, on toasted raisin bread, and it works just fine. Its spelling, however, is not fine at all.

(1) It is capitalized, tho it needn't be. The mere fact that it comes from the name of a town is insufficient reason to capitalize it. After all, "Cheddar" is the name of a town in England, but we don't usually capitalize "cheddar" cheese.

(2) It has an accent, but English doesn't use accents.

(3) It has a silent-F, for no reason.

(4) It has a CH but no CH-sound (as in church). The sound is SH.

(5) It has a simple long-U (long-OO) sound, but EU suggests a Y-glide (YU), which most people do not say. And

(6)  Its primary stress is on the last syllable, but a single-L does not cue the reader to that fact.

We can easily fix all that: (1) lowercase it; (2) drop the accent; (3) drop the silent-F; (4) change the CH to SH; (5) reverse the E and U (people who do say a Y-glide will see UE as permitting that; people who drop the Y-glide will see UE as permitting that); and (6) double the final-L: "nueshatell".

Thursday, February 23, 2006: "strate" for "straight"

In  the traditional spelling of today's word, the GH is silent. Why is it there? That it might once have been pronounced is no reason to retain it centuries after it stopped being pronounced, so it's time to reform the spelling of this common word. We can't just drop the GH and leave "strait", because that's already a word, of very different meaning. We can, however, adopt a different pattern for this sound, that of ate, rate, and mate: "strate".

Wensday, February 22, 2006: "valpolichella" for "valpolicella"

It's Wine Wensday again. This time, let's reform the name of a dry, red table wine from northern Italy. Perhaps surprisingly, in this long word there is only one problem from the point of view of English phonetics, and that is that the Italian CE represents English CHE. So if we simply add one letter, this long name becomes quite clear.

The single-L after the O suggests that the O is long. The double-L after the E suggests that the E is short. And that's exactly right. Adding an H after the C eliminates the one area of uncertainty, which is the same as in "Monticello". As the name of Jefferson's estate in Virginia, that is pronounced in the Italian fashion, with a CH-sound (Mòn.ti.chél.o). As the name of a borscht-belt town in the Catskills, the same word is pronounced with an S-sound instead (Mòn.ti.sél.o). Adding an H clarifies the one ambiguous part of this entire long word: "valpolichella".

Tuesday, February 21, 2006: "goash" for "gauche"

Tho "gauche" may be perfectly clear in its original language, French, it is nothing like clear in English, especially given that we have a word from Spanish that is very similar but pronounced very differently: gaucho. We also have gaudy, where the AU takes its customary sound; and gauge, in which the AU is pronounced long-A.

Moreover, the CH does not take the CH-sound (as in church), as it does in gaucho. We should work toward using CH unambiguously to represent only the CH-sound.

Moreover, the final-E is unclear. It plainly does not make the AU long, since the AU-sound (haul, taut,  astronaut) doesn't have long and short sounds but only a single, invariable sound. It might be seen as long-E (abalone, epitome), long-A (penne), or schwa (lasagne). It shouldn't be there.

We can't just drop the final-E, however, because "gosh" would not show a long-O, and is in any case a word already, pronounced, as one would expect, with a short-O.

If we change the AU to O and leave the E, we'd get "goshe", which might be read right. Then again, it might not: joshed, sloshed, galoshes. But why put an E after an intervening SH — two letters that would ordinarily be seen as marking a break between syllables, whereas "gauche" has only one syllable — if we can just put an A right after the O? OA is commonly pronounced long-O (toast, approach, coal, groan, goat). That seems to me a better solution: "goash".

Munday, February 20, 2006: "obay" for "obey"

EY is almost always pronounced EE: key, whiskey, jockey, attorney, tourney, trolley, valley, volley, whimsey, and on and on. But in a few words, it takes the pronunciation AE: they, hey, grey (which is more commonly spelled gray in the United States), whey, and very few others. New readers have every reason to see o-b-e-y as parallel to abbey, especially given that bay takes an A, not an E. They are right to see it so. We should make clear that "obey" parallels bay and gay, by spelling it that way: "obay".

Sunday, February 19, 2006: "wod" for "wad"

"Wad" does not rhyme with mad, sad, tad, glad, bad, cad, dad, or lad. It should not be spelled as tho it does.

It actually rhymes with cod, god, clod, nod, pod, rod, etc., so should be spelled that way: "wod" .

Saturday, February 18, 2006: "noe" for "know"

"Know" has two letters that shouldn't be there. The K is silent, and the W might lead people to think it rhymes with now. It does not.

There of course already is a word "no", so we can't just drop both misleading letters. We can, however, drop the K and replace the W with E, which while not really necessary to show that the O is long, since in final position it would be seen as long anyway, both "know" and "no" are extremely frequently used, so retaining a distinction between the two is important. Let's use the pattern of be and bee, we and wee, and ho and hoe to distinguish them: "noe".

Friday, February 17, 2006: "bred" for "bread"

This Food Friday, let's take the bull by the horns as to reforming the name of one of the most important foods on this planet, a food so important that it is used rhetorically to represent food ("bread and circuses") or as shorthand for the wherewithal to put food on the table ("bread" meaning "money"). I ordinarily avoid offering reformed spellings that produce new homographs, and there is a word "bred", past tense and participle of "breed". But these two words are so different that context would rarely or never produce confusion. By contrast, "bread" could be read as "breed", because you can read EA as EE.

EA is highly ambiguous. It is in fact most commonly pronounced long-E (pea, cleave, dream), so new readers would be inclined to see "bread" as "breed". In a number of frequently used words (head, wealth, instead) it is pronounced short-E. It's also sometimes pronounced long-E followed by schwa (apnea, rhea, idealism), YA (azalea), even AU in the popular personal name Sean. So let's drop the A from "bread", which leaves unambiguous "bred", parallel to bed, led, Fred, pled, Ted, etc.).

Would this noun ever be confused with the verb "bred"? Maybe in headlines, but headline writers would be alert to that risk, so would use potential confusion only to grab attention. I can't imagine it being confused in ordinary text. So let's fix this word and save a letter: "bred".

Thursday, February 16, 2006: "gaje" for "gauge"

"Gauge" already has a simpler, accepted variant, "gage", but tho that is plainly more logical, it is not widely used. Perhaps if a more distinctive spelling is offered, we can finally reform the traditional spelling, if not all the way to a form that uses J, then at least to the fallback position, "gage". For my part, I'd prefer a fully rational spelling: "gaje".

Wensday, February 15, 2006: "summalyay" for "sommelier"

Today is Wine Wensday, so let's deal with the fancy-shmancy French-derived word for a wine steward. Mind you, we already had the term "wine steward" in English, but that wasn't shmancy enuf for some people, so they insisted on inflicting this needless foreign word upon us. Since it is indisputably now part of the language, however, we need to be able to write it clearly so that people can know how to say it when they see it and figure out how to write it when they hear it.

"Sommelier" could be pronounced various ways, for instance sòm.a.léer, sa.mél.yer, sa.mé, sòm.a.líe.yer, sa.méel.yer, sa.mée.lee.yèr, etc. Not good enuf.

It is pronounced súày, and that would be written, according to widely understood conventions, the way we should in fact write it: "summalyay".

In all pronunciation keys shown on this site, A represents schwa; short-A is shown by AA; long-A by AE; flat-A by AI. Primary stress is shown by the acute accent (´), secondary by the grave accent (`), tertiary by the circumflex accent (^).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006: "dissiplin" for "discipline"

On Valentine's Day, it's appropriate to reform an INE word that does not contain a long-I sound. "Discipline" is one such word. Its INE has a short-I, but a silent-E that suggests long-I.

There's another problem with "discipline", a silent-C. If we just take it out, we're left with "disiplin". Some reformers might argue that since it starts with "dis", and "dis" takes a short-I in many words, readers would not be inclined to say a long-I even tho there is only a single consonant between it and the next vowel. Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

Some people might think that "disiplin" might be pronounced like a chemical term, di-siplin (die.síp.lin), even tho they have no idea what "di-siplin" might be. People should have clearer guidance than that. Spelling should be more, shall we say, disciplined, and make all sounds clear, to the extent possible, on first sight. So let's double the S (that is, replace the C in the traditional spelling with an S) to show instantly that the I in the first syllable is short.

Putting these two reforms together, we get: "dissiplin".

Munday, February 13, 2006: "shuvvel" for "shovel"

Tens of millions of people in my area have had occasion to use snow shovels of late, to dig out from a record-breaking "thundersnow" (storm), so let's address "shovel" now.

There is only one pronunciation for "shovel", and it does not have an O-sound. Not long-O (hove, rove); not short-O (on, operate). The sound is short-U, so let's replace the O with U.

That would produce "shuvel", which is likely to be read as having a long-U (Shubert Alley, Nevil Shute). To mark it plainly as short, we have to double the following consonant (shudder, shutter). That would yield "shuvvel".

There's a little problem there as to what to do about endings. Would it be "shuvveled" and "shuvveling"? or "shuvvelled" and "shuvvelling"? We could eliminate that uncertainty by flipping the E and L: "shuvvle", so people would know with certitude to write "shuvvled" and "shuvvling". That, however, is unclear in a different way. Is "shuvvling" two syllables or three? One could argue either way from the spelling, so let's not leave that ambiguity.

If we're going to have anything unclear, let it be whether the L is to be doubled before an ending. Americans generally do not double in similar situations (funneled, traveled, tunneled); Brits generally do (funnelled, travelled, tunnelled). I'd rather people be a tad unclear as to spelling than unclear as to sound: "shuvvel".

Sunday, February 12, 2006: "cushon" for "cushion"

The I in this word adds nothing but potential confusion as to whether the word has two syllables or three, since in some words, -ION- represents two syllables (criterion, amnionic, ionic). Dropping it saves a letter and leaves the sound clear: "cushon".

Saturday, February 11, 2006: "sithe" for "scythe"

We don't need a C in this word, nor a Y. There are words that rhyme with this term for an agricultural implement (and the Grim Reaper's walking stick) that take a different, and completely adequate, pattern: lithe, tithe, and writhe. Let's use that pattern for this word too: "sithe".

Friday, February 10, 2006: "caffay" for "café" or "cafe"

It's Food Friday again. This time, let's talk about a word that means both a place where food and beverages (especially coffee) are served and a term used for fancy types of coffee.

"Café" is perfect in French, but this is English, and English doesn't use written accents, so the É has got to go. "Cafe" looks as tho it should rhyme with safe. It does not, but is two syllables, the second of which is not pronounced long-E, as it is in over a hundred familiar words ending in E (for instance, abalone, hyperbole, sesame). Rather, the vowel of the second syllable is long-A, which is most simply shown in English by AY.

The A in the first syllable is short, and the way a short vowel is commonly indicated is by doubling the following consonant.

So if we double the F and replace the É with AY, we get "caffay"."Café au lait" becomes "caffay olay". Given the prominence of Spanish nowadays, one is tempted to think of it as "café olé"! But it's from French, not Spanish.

So our twofer today is "caffay (olay)".

Thursday, February 9, 2006: "swet" for "sweat"

In looking for a different sweater than I'd been seen in recently, I discovered that moths had somehow gotten into my bureau, and their grubs had eaten great holes in my wool sweaters. Fortunately, my family years ago switched mainly to cotton and synthetics for their washability, so I still have sweaters enuf for the remaining cold weather. In any case, that little shock prompted me to offer sweat (and its derivatives, such as sweater, sweatshirt, sweatpants, sweatshop) today.

EA is ambiguous. It is most commonly pronounced long-E (pea, cleave, dream), but in a number of frequently used words it is pronounced short-E (bread, head, health). It's also sometimes pronounced long-E followed by schwa (apnea, rhea, idealism), YA (azalea), even AU in the popular personal name Sean.

Let's clarify the sound of today's word and save ourselves a letter too, in both the base word and most of its derivatives: "swet", "swetter", "swetshert", "swetpants", "swetshop".

Wensday, February 8, 2006: "conyac" for "cognac"

For this Wine Wensday, let's address an expensive type of brandy distilled from white wine. Brandy is wine taken further along the fermentation process that produces alcohol.

Cognac is a city in southwestern France where the particular type of brandy that bears its name was first developed, and in French, you can pronounce -GN- like -NY- in English "canyon". We don't pronounce GN like that in English, however, so that formulation has to go.

Any reform, however, must accommodate three different common pronunciations that have arisen because the spelling has been unclear: kóen.yaak, kón.yaak, and káun.yaak.

Because Y can be seen as both vowel and consonant, it is not possible to make this word completely unambiguous, because some people will be tempted to say the Y as a syllable to itself, sounding like long-E, no matter how you spell it: coanyac, coneyac, conyac. OA might also be seen as two syllables, as in boa. And both -OAN- and -ONE- would be specific to a long-O in the first syllable.

"Conyac", however, permits readers to see the O as long, because there's only a single-N (bony, pony, phony); or short (conical, conifer, conurbation). And there are many words in which O is said like AU by many speakers (aerosol, office, coffee, and what makes wine wine rather than fruit juice, alcohol). So we can get rid of the crazy -GN- but still leave some wiggle room for different pronunciations for this quality brandy: "conyac".

Tuesday, February 7, 2006: "pamflet" for "pamphlet"

Let's fix another of the over 2,400 words in English in which PH represents the F-sound. "Pamflet" is actually the spelling this word had in Middle English, but pretentious scholars decided that F wasn't classical enuf, so they changed it to PH to show how smart they were. Alas, they weren't smart but dumb, in making English harder to use for the sake of Greek, a language pretty much nobody in England spoke. Or was it their intent to make reading harder so that most people couldn't master it, and they could reserve literacy to the 'better sorts of people' alone? I suspect that some of the hostility to spelling reform we see today comes from that kind of meanspiritedness. Some people want to make it hard for other people to learn to read, so they can feel better about themselves and keep the keys to the kingdom of knowledge to themselves. That is impermissible behavior in our democratic age.

OK, so we change the silly PH to the sensible F. Is that it? Or should we also change the E to I because the pronunciation is often heard as more like a short-I than a short-E. But the sound is actually a schwa, the neutral vowel sound of short duration we hear in a great many unstressed syllables in English, and any letter can be schwaed. -LET has the advantage of suggesting "small", as in leaflet, piglet, ringlet. If we change the E to I, some readers will see -FLIT and think the word has something to do with rapid movement. So let's leave the E and change only the PH: "pamflet".

Munday, February 6, 2006: "flert/atious" for "flirt/atious"

America Online's welcome screen today hilites a story about office romance titled "Flirting With Fire", so let's address "flirt". IR is ambiguous, and perhaps most often represents a medium-long-E sound (mirror, miracle, irritating). That's not the sound in "flirt". "Flirt" rhymes with hurt, pert, and revert. That sound is sometimes expressed with UR but is most commonly written ER. So to make remembering how to spell it easy for new learners, let's use the most common spelling, ER: "flert" (and all derivatives).

Sunday, February 5, 2006: "farmasutical" for "pharmaceutical"

I saw a commercial today for the pharmaceutical industry that hilited the URL, and was struck by the use of a capital-P with a lowercase-h in the abbreviation chosen by the organization Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. PRMA would not suggest "pharmaceutical", would it, because one doesn't think F-sound when encountering a P. But English contains over 2,400 words in which we are expected to see PH as F. They should all be reformed.

I have already offered "farmacy", so it's pharmaceutical's turn. If we change only the initial PH to F, we get "farmaceutical". But that retains the peculiar three-letter sequence CEU, which people shouldn't have to remember. We can't just drop the E, because CU would be seen as KU, since C before A, O, and U takes its "hard" sound (better expressed by K). We can, however, simply change the odd three-letter sequence CEU to the sensible two-letter sequence SU, and save ourselves a second letter in this long word (and all derivatives): "farmasutical".

Saturday, February 4, 2006: "aprentiss/hip" for "apprentice/ship"

Donald Trump has made the old-fashioned term "apprentice" popular again, so it seems appropriate to give it a new, clear spelling. The traditional spelling has two problems.

First, the double-P suggests that the A is short, whereas it is actually a schwa, and even that the first syllable is stressed, parallel to "appetite" (áap.a.tìet). New readers could thus be led to see áìes.

Second, -ICE is ambiguous. It can be read as representing a long-I (ice, entice, advice) or even long-E (caprice, police). Dropping one P and changing the CE to SS should suffice to fix both problems.

One new problem might then seem to appear. "Apprenticeship" becomes "apprentisship", and some people might think there should be two sounds in sequence, S and SH, clearly delineated, and think that SSH doesn't make that delineation. But the two sounds are actually assimilated into a single SH-sound even in the traditional spelling, so what seems at first to be a new problem is no problem at all. The offering today, then, is: "apprentiss" (and, thus, "apprentisship").

Friday, February 3, 2006: "cachatory" for "cacciatore"

This Food Friday, let's fully anglicize a term from Italian cookery that in English is very unclear. CCI is often said as tho written KSI (coccix, accident, vaccine). A final-E in a foreign-looking word might be seen as long-A, whereas in this word it is actually pronounced long-E: "cachatory".

Thursday, February 2, 2006: "tamboreen" for "tambourine"

Let's jazz up one of the drabbest days of the week with a little percussion. There are two things wrong with the traditional spelling. First, there is an OU but no OU-sound. Second, -INE is ambiguous. It could be pronounced with a long-I (recline, valentine); with a long-E (magazine, gasoline); short-I (adrenaline, medicine); even with a short-I and long-E, in two syllables (aborigine) or two long-E's, in two syllables (linguine).

Fortunately, there are quick fixes to both problems: "tamboreen".

Wensday, February 1, 2006: "maydoc" for "médoc" / "medoc"

This Wine Wensday, let's address the name of a red bordeaux or claret. English does not use diacritics, so the accent has to go, and the spelling with no accent is indeed an accepted variant. So far, so good.

The vowel in the first syllable is not an E — not long-E, not short-E. It is an English long-A. The simplest way to show that is AY, as in mayflower and payday. That takes care of the first syllable.

The second syllable is trickier. In thinking about how to reform it, I wanted to indicate, if possible, that the word's stress falls on that syllable. I thought that perhaps adding a silent-E at the end would draw attention to the second syllable. But to retain the K-sound, we'd have to add a K also, since "maydoce" would be read wrong: "maydocke". But -CKE is not a familiar spelling to show stress, the way -ETTE is in words like brunette and kitchenette. Some people might wonder if the E is supposed to represent a sound, as it does in one pronunciation of the geological term graywacke (gráe.wak.a).

If we write "maydock", without a final-E, the stress will almost certainly be assumed to fall on the first syllable, as with "drydock", and people not familiar with the wine might also assume that a "maydock" was some kind of pier for ships. We don't have to add a K, however, since "doc" is a long-established spelling for that syllable's sound in the familiar nickname for a doctor. It is the first syllable that is ambiguous.

In English, spelling is not generally expected to indicate syllabic stress. Spanish uses a written accent to show when stress falls on an unexpected syllable (sábado, México). English does not. Nor does it ordinarily show syllabic stress by any kind of spelling convention. A reader just has to know from the word and context where stress falls: rebel, content, contract, combat, recess, and many other words can be stressed on either syllable, depending upon whether you intend a noun, adjective, or verb. So let's not take special pains to try to indicate syllabic stress thru spelling. If in the process of correcting a spelling that misleads as to speech sounds we also clarify syllabic stress, that's a bonus. But we shouldn't impose upon spelling the burden of showing syllabic stress. To convey basic sounds is enuf: "maydoc".

Tuesday, January 31, 2006: "shagrin" for "chagrin"

Yesterday I offered reform of one word with a CH that did not express the CH-sound (as in church). Today, I offer another. Yesterday's word, "orchid", has a CH pronounced K. Today's has a CH pronounced SH. Let's reserve CH to the CH-sound, and use SH to show the SH-sound. That makes better sense, doesn't it?: "shagrin".

Munday, January 30, 2006: "orkid" for "orchid"

I can remember being puzzled, as a child, why "orchard" has a CH in it that sounds like CH, but "orchid" has a CH that sounds like K. There is no reason to do this to kids or other new learners of English. If the sound is K, write K: "orkid".

Sunday, January 29, 2006: "nole" for "knoll"

The traditional spelling of today's word (for a rounded little hill) is doubly irrational. First, it starts with a written K but not a K-sound. There is no way to justify a silent-K here. Second, doubling a consonant usually signals that the vowel before is short, but the O in "knoll" is long. Contrast doll, moll, and collar, which do have a short-O.

I have often wondered if a short-O is an accepted alternative pronunciation, and tho I've looked it up more than once, I have been unable to remember the answer, given the standard spelling. But if we respell it phonetically, I will be able to remember from its unambiguous new spelling that the O is always long: "nole".

Saturday, January 28, 2006: "glich" for "glitch"

We don't write ritch, whitch, ostritch, or sandwitch, so shouldn't write glitch.

This word apparently derives from "Yiddish glitsh slippery area; cf. glitshn, G glitschen to slip, slide.* So Yiddish dropped a letter from the German "glitsch[en]. English can drop a letter from the Yiddish: "glich".

* Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary.

Friday, January 27, 2006: "bree" for "brie"

For this Food Friday, let's fix the misleading spelling of a soft French cheese. It is traditionally spelled in an unambiguous fashion — for French. However, in English, it is parallel in form but not sound to die, lie, pie. Its sound is parallel to be, he, and me, as well as to fee, see, and tree. IE is sometimes pronounced EE, but only in words of more than one syllable: cookie, preppie, goalie. So we need to choose between EE and just one E.

Would "bre" be seen as bree? or brae? Let's not replace one ambiguous spelling with another: "bree".

Thursday, January 26, 2006: "squonder" for "squander"

The vowel in the first syllable of the traditional spelling of this word is wrong. It is a short-O (compare ponder, transponder, yonder), not a short-A, as the present spelling suggests (pander, dander, gander): "squonder".

Wensday, January 25, 2006: "shirozz" or "seerah" for "shiraz" or "syrah" / "sirah"

This Wine Wensday we confront a grape, and a red wine made from it, that has two names but three spellings: "shiraz" and "syrah" / "sirah". Forcing people to choose between one of two different versions of a word falls outside the scope of this project, so I will not even try to suggest that one or the other of these alternative terms be discontinued. Instead, I merely suggest that the A in "shiraz" be replaced by O, to show that it is not pronounced like the A in "bat", and that the Y or I in "syrah" or "sirah" be replaced by EE to show that the intended vowel is long-E. I also suggest that the Z at the end of "shiraz" be replaced by a double-Z, first, because that is more customary in English and second, because that suggests that the second syllable bears the stress, which in fact it does: "shirozz" and "seerah".

Tuesday, January 24, 2006: "rebble" for "rebel" (noun)

There are two related words spelled "r-e-b-e-l". One is a noun, which rhymes with "pebble" so should be spelled that way. The other is a verb, which rhymes with "repel", so the spelling "rebel" works fine for the verb. Respelling the noun makes plain not just its pronunciation but also its grammatical function, in line with the common pattern that the noun takes stress on the first syllable and the verb on the last: "rebble".

Munday, January 23, 2006: "noch" for "notch"

CH is a perfectly adequate spelling in English for the "CH-sound" (as in church). It does not need a T in a host of words (impeach, leech, rich, former New York City Mayor Koch, such). It doesn't need it here: "noch".

Sunday, January 22, 2006: "surj" (family) for "surge" (and derivatives)"

In looking for a word for today, I realized while reading about economic development projects in my city that the name of my Newark website, "Resurgence City: Newark USA", contains a word that should be reformed: "resurgence", as should, tracing back to its base, the entire "surge" family. That includes words much heard nowadays, "insurgents" and "insurgency".

Let's admit that the -GE- in all these words is irrational. New readers, and especially people from countries where English is not the first language, cannot know when G-before-E is said "hard" (the G-sound) or "soft" (the J-sound): get, gesture, burger, burgeoning, lager, wager. To make using English easier for everyone, G should be reserved to its "hard" sound, the one that bears its name. Its "soft" sound should be shown by J, always.

In the case of the "surge" family, there are two subfamilies, one from Latin (surgere, "to spring up, arise, stand up") and one from Greek (cheirourgós, "hand-worker, surgeon"). Since in English the "surge" part sounds and is written the same, there is no reason to treat them differently for purposes of spelling reform.

So today's little family is: "surj", "surjon", "surjery", "surjical", "insurjent", "insurjency", "counterinsurjency", "resurj", "resurjent", "resurjence", "upsurj", and all derivatives.

Saturday, January 21, 2006: "sharlatan" for "charlatan"

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word, so should be no CH. Instead, there's an SH-sound, which is, plainly, most simply and best expressed by SH: "sharlatan".

Friday, January 20, 2006: "sueshy" for "sushi"

In the episode of the old Harry Anderson sitcom Night Court shown on TV Land last nite, a former nun encounters sushi for the first time and pronounces it as it looks: sú (like "hush eye": with a short-U rather than long, and long-I rather than long-E). So let's fix that on this Food Friday.

Since SH is two letters, the U in "sushi" should be read as short. And the final-I is ambiguous, so could perfectly reasonably be pronounced on the pattern of alkali and alibi.

Addressing the second problem first, substituting Y for I would be clearer, if not 100% unambiguous, since there is a word "shy" pronounced with a long-I. But -SHY in words of more than one syllable is pronounced with a long-E. "Sushy", however, would be read as parallel to either "brushy" (short-U) or "pushy" (short-OO). If we put OO in place of the U, "sooshy", it too will be seen by some people as rhyming with "pushy". If, however, we put a silent-E after the U, as in the verb to sue, everyone will say long-U. Some Britons might be inclined to insert a Y-glide (syúe.she), but they should recognize that there is no such word, and thus drop the Y-glide. Spelling can do only so much. At some point, a little common sense has to kick in: "sueshy".

Thursday, January 19, 2006: "mannekin" for "mannequin"

QU ordinarily indicates a K-W sound sequence, which is not present in today's word. New readers could be misled into inserting a W-sound. Since, in English, Q is always followed by U, we can't simply eliminate the U but must also replace the Q: "mannekin".

Wensday, January 18, 2006: "clarret" for "claret"

This Wine Wensday, let's reform the name of a dry red wine. AR is an ambiguous spelling that is most often pronounced as in are, that is, with broad-A (or short-O: same sound). There is also an unusual pronunciation that takes the AU-sound: war, award. To mark words that take short-A, the convention is to double the R: arrow, narrative, barrel. But not all ARR's take a short-A: arrange, warranty, quarrel. Still, ARR is more likely to be read right, as taking a short-A (as in bat): "clarret".

Munday and Tuesday, January 16 and 17, 2006:
"collum/nar" for "column/ar" and "condemm" / "condemnation" for "condemn/ation"

I fell behind a day (busy, busy!), so wanted to offer two words with the same kind of change to catch up. When I chanced, Monday nite, to see a misspelling of "column", I decided on these two words with a silent-N.

You see, someone wrote "columb". Hey! Why not? If a letter is silent, it could be any letter. There's a silent-B in "dumb", so why not a silent-B in "column"? Well, it's just not done, that's why. That's a pretty dumb reason.

Rather than require people to remember which silent letter to plug into a given word, we should just get rid of all silent letters. If we were simply to drop the N from "column", we'd get "colum", which might be read kóe.lum. So let's double the L to show that the O is short: "collum". The adjectival form of "column" is "columnar", and in that word, the N is sounded, not silent, so we can write it. But the L should still be double to show a short-O. We could make it easier to know how to write this word if we changed the A to E, but that's not necessary, and might lead some people to think "collumner" is a comparative (more column-like) or an agent noun (one who columns). So let's leave the A as-is: "collumnar".

"Condemn" also has a silent-N we don't need. There are no words that end in EMB, so people might be less likely to think the silent letter in this word is a B, but there's no reason to leave an N that isn't said. "Condem" might be seen as a misspelling or alternate spelling for "condom", and the first syllable might be assumed to bear the stress in "condem". So let's double the M, at once to distinguish the word from "condom" and suggest that the second syllable bears the stress: "condemm".

As with "column", an N-sound is resurrected in "condemnation", and we are concerned here only with spelling reform, not speech reform. So "condemnation", the current rendering of this longer form, is a perfectly good spelling that could be understood as simply dropping the second-M (of "condemm") before adding -nation because not only is it no longer needed to show syllabic stress but it would actually suggest the wrong syllabic stress, since -na- now bears the word's stress.

Thus the words for Monday and Tuesday are: "collum", "collumnar", and "condemm" but (the unchanged traditional spelling) "condemnation".

Sunday, January 15, 2006: "hich" for "hitch"

We write "rich" and "which". Why do we need a T in "hitch"? We don't: "hich".

Saturday, January 14, 2006: "zeffer" for "zephyr"

There are two things very wrong with the traditional spelling of this word. First is the ridiculous letter sequence PH for the F-sound. If you say a P-sound and then an H-sound, you do not end up with an F-sound, so there is no way to justify that silly spelling.

By contrast, if you say a T-sound followed by an SH-sound (as in kitsch or the uncommon agricultural term tshernosern), you can sort of replicate the CH-sound; S plus the YU sound combination in words like "tissue" as some Brits say it approaches the SH-sound, etc., so it is possible to defend some such ponderous letter combos as alternative spellings for standard ways of writing — if just barely. What is harder to justify is spelling the same sound in different ways, as makes it hard for people to guess how to write something they hear.

In any case, the PH in "zephyr" has got to go. Since the E before the F-sound is short, the convention is to double the F to show that. That takes us to "zeffyr", which takes us as well to the second thing wrong with this word, YR for what is a simple ER-sound. Why ("Y"?) do it? If people hear an ER-sound, they should be able to write an ER and be right. Right?

Putting these two changes together, we get: "zeffer".

Friday, January 13, 2006: "crum" for "crumb"

The question for this Food Friday is, Why is there a B in the traditional spelling "crumb"? The word's etymology is given by Random House as:
[bef. 1000; ME crome, crume, OE cruma; akin to D kruim, G Krume crumb, L grumus heap of earth]

There's not a B anywhere among its ancestors, yet the Modern English word has a B — that is silent. That is both weird and unjustifiable: "crum".

Thursday, January 12, 2006: "nonshalont" and "nonshalonce" for "nonchalant" and "nonchalance"

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word. Rather, the sound is that of SH, so let's write that.

Nor is the vowel sound of the last syllable short-A, as in bat. By far most people say short-O, as in font. The rest use a schwa there. O would work for both pronunciations. A does not: "nonshalont" and "nonshalonce".

Wensday, January 11, 2006: "enofile" / "enology" (and derivatives) for "oenophile" / "oenology"

It's Wine Wensday again. This time, let's consider the little family of words that discuss wine. Oeno- is a pseudo-Greek prefix meaning "wine" (OINO- might be a more accurate English rendering of the Greek), and -phile is a pseudo-Greek suffix meaning "love" or "fondness". Oeno- is, everywhere, pronounced éeno-, not, as it might appear, "Oh no!"

The oeno- prefix occurs in a number of words like oenophile, oenophilia , oenophilic, oenophilist, oenology, oenologist, and oenological. Such terms are used in preference to terms like "wine lover" because the latter might suggest "alcoholic" rather than "enthusiast" or "connoisseur" of wine.

Since the OE is, in all those words, pronounced simply long-E, a simpler form has arisen without the O: enophile, enophilia , enophilic, enophilist, enology, enologist, and enological.

English is not regimented and hierarchical. There is no "English Academy" comparable to the "Academie Française" that polices the French language, as actively to forbid from on-high deviations from a uniform norm. So there is often more than one way of spelling a given word.

Oh, we all know that there is one major split in spelling. The United States (70% of all native speakers of what we charitably still call "English") spells several hundred common words differently, and more rationally, than do Britain and the various minor countries under its sway. But even within the American center of the "English"-speaking world, there are minor variations.

Oeno- vs. eno- comprises one such group of minor differences within the U.S. If "oeno-" were British and "eno-" American, I would have no hesitation in insisting that "oeno-" be banned and "eno-" employed everywhere. Spelling reformers have been much too indulgent of immovable British stupidity.

British spelling reformers haven't even dared to raise a ruckus — and thereby get huge media coverage in the British-influenced world ("Britannia"? — pair to "Romania" for the Roman world outside Rome) by simply announcing that American spellings are better than British and it's time for Britain to grow up and accept that leadership of the English-speaking world has passed from Europe to America.

So, the hell with them. They are marginal to the spelling-reform movement, tho, because of British self-centeredness and arrogance, they continue, always, to think themselves central to it. They are not. Britain is peripheral to the English-speaking mainstream. British spelling reformers cannot and will not lead us to a briter future of rationally spelled "English". They are instead holding the entire spelling-reform movement back. And, frankly, I'm tired of it.

In the case of the words to be considered today, old-fashioned, tradition-bound people in both Europe and America use the OE-forms; modernists, the simple-E-forms. Since even some Americans currently write "oeno-", we need to address that silly, pretentious, and unjustifiably irrational spelling in a way designed to appeal to reason and good sense.

OE is very ambiguous. It can represent long-O (toe); long-E (amoeba); two syllables, long-O followed by short-E (coed); short-E by itself (British foetid); even long-U (shoe).

It is not possible rationally to justify using the OE-variant in the wine words above, so they should be banished in favor of the far more sensible forms: "enofile", "enofilia", "enoffilic", "enoffilist", "enology", "enologist", and "enological".

Tuesday, January 10, 2006: "abuze" for "abuse" (verb form)

There are two related words that take the traditional spelling a-b-u-s-e. One is the noun form, pronounced a.byúes, and the other the verb form, pronounced a.byúez. They are pronounced differently for a reason, to make plain to listeners what grammatical function is intended. That distinction vanishes in the spelling form, but should not. Writing should be at least as clear as speech, so we should distinguish the verb from the noun: "abuze".

Munday, January 9, 2006: "nuckle" for "knuckle"

The only K-sound in this word is in the middle. The first K in the traditional spelling is silent and serves no purpose whatsoever. It does not distinguish this word from another that sounds the same, because there is no other word that sounds the same. We don't write kbuckle, kchuckle, or honeyksuckle, so should't write "knuckle": "nuckle".

Sunday, January 8, 2006: "cupon" for "coupon"

There is no OU-sound in this word, so let's drop the O. Altho some readers may see "cup" and pronounce a short-U, the absence of a double-P will cue most readers to a long-U (compare cupro-, cupola). This change will also accommodate the spelling-pronunciation kyúe.pon, which is addressed in a usage note by the Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary:
["Coupon"] has developed an American pronunciation variant (kyu¯pon) with an unhistorical y-sound not justified by the spelling. This pronunciation is used by educated speakers and is well-established as perfectly standard, although it is sometimes criticized.

Altho I personally dislike this 'unjustified' pronunciation, I am resisting the impulse to reform "coupon" to "coopon", for not wanting to give offense to people who say kyúe.pon. Spelling reform must accommodate all standard pronunciations used by educated speakers: "cupon".

Saturday, January 7, 2006: "vangard" for "vanguard"

There's no need for a U in this word, and its presence makes the sound unclear: is the U pronounced, as in guava, bilingual, and language? Or silent, as in guaranty, blackguard, and guardian? It's ambiguous, so let's just clarify the issue and save ourselves a letter to boot: "vangard".

Friday, January 6, 2006: "leechee" for "litchi", "lichee", and "lychee"

This Food Friday, let's choose just one of the four spellings you can find in dictionaries, for the name of a Chinese nut. My American Heritage Dictionary shows "litchi", "lichee", and "lychee", but not "leechee". My Random House Unabridged shows "litchi", "leechee", and "lichee", but not "lychee". Ridiculous, no? (Or perhaps I should say "That's nuts!")

Of the four spellings above, only one is phonetic, and that's the one we should use, to the total exclusion of all others:  "leechee".

Thursday, January 5, 2006: "oker" for "ochre" or "ocher"

Today, let's address the irrational use of CH for the simple K-sound in the spelling of a word most of us know only from the color of crayons in our childhood. Ochre/ocher is "Any of several earthy mineral oxides of iron occurring in yellow, brown, or red and used as pigments. 2. Color. A moderate orange yellow, from moderate or deep orange to moderate or strong yellow."*

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word so should be no CH.

There are two common spellings, one ending in ER (now more common in the U.S.) and one ending in RE (presumably more common in Britain). The RE spelling is absurd, in that there is no vowel sound after the R but before it. Compare "okra".

Substituting the sensible K and ER for the absurd CH and RE, we get: "oker".

* From the American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition (electronic version).

Wensday, January 4, 2006: "sonjoveez" for "sangiovese"

This Wine Wensday, let's address the name of a grape and a wine made from it. Sangiovese is the main ingredient in chianti and is also used to make a wine by its own name, and serves as an ingredient in other blended wines.

The pronunciation is very unclear from the spelling. First, a new reader has to guess whether it is said in the Italian fashion, or has been naturalized. If naturalized, has it been fully naturalized, or only partly? How many syllables is it? (5)? (4)? San.gio.vese (3)?

The answers are that sophisticated speakers of English pronounce it in an only partly-naturalized fashion, retaining the Italian sound system but dropping the last syllable: sòn.joe.véez (3 syllables).

GIO is seen by most readers of English as two syllables, not the one it is in Italian, so we have to change that to JO.

Sonjoveze would clarify that the second-S of the original spelling is said as Z, but would leave unclear whether the E that follows the Z is sounded or silent.

So let's lift the pattern of "jeez" to show the sound and make plain that there is no fourth syllable: "sonjoveez".

Tuesday, January 3, 2006: "creshendo" for "crescendo"

Today's word is one of only a few in English in which SC is pronounced like SH, but there's no way to know that, since most S-C combinations before E are pronounced as tho just-S. Indeed, there is a spelling pronunciation of "crescendo" in which (the uninformed) say S rather than SH. We don't need to accommodate ignorant spelling pronunciations in spelling reform.

Tho we could replace the first-E with an I to indicate more closely how some people say this word, it's not necessary and does not reflect the way other people pronounce it, as a schwa. Any unstressed vowel can be a schwa, so we can leave the first-E as it is. To make this word clear, then, we need merely change one letter, to substitute H for C: "creshendo".

Munday, January 2, 2006: "venjance", "avenj", "revenj", and "venjful/ness" for "vengeance", "avenge", "revenge" and "vengeful/ness"

Let's fix an entire little family of related words today.

GE is an ambiguous spelling. In most words, the E is intended to render the G "soft", pronounced like J (allege, gesture, pigeon). That is a clumsy way of showing J. Why not just use J?

Moreover, there are a bunch of words that have the GE sequence in which the G nonetheless takes its "hard" sound (get, together, gewgaw, headgear).

Why put up with such unpredictable ambiguity? Let's just move away from GE for the J-sound, and over time replace all soft-G's with J, leaving for later, rather than sooner, those in which the vowel immediately preceding is short, because doubling a J will "look funny" to many people: alejjing, pajjent, pijjon for "alleging", "pageant", "pigeon".

Today's words do not require doubling the J when endings are added by regular rules (avenjing, revenjed), so we can change these four related words: "venjance", "avenj", "revenj", and "venjful/ness".

Sunday, January 1, 2006: "nue/s" for "new/s"

New Year's Day seems an appropriate time to address "new" and "news".

EW is a strange way to spell the long-U sound, since if you pronounce either a short-E followed by a W-sound or a long-E plus a W-sound, what results is nothing like long-U.

Moreover, EW usually represents the Y-glide and long-U combination (few, hew, pew), whereas most people nowadays pronounce "new" without a Y-glide.

If we substitute UE, which is sometimes pronounced with a Y-glide (revue, argue, barbecue) but sometimes without (accrue, blue, ensue), we get a sensible spelling that permits both pronunciations: "nue/s".

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

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

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

Comments? Suggestions? Please contact our webmaster: