here for today's suggestion.
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Monday thru Friday, June 26 thru 30, 2006:
"siance" for "science"
"resind" for "rescind"
"plebbisite" for "plebiscite"
"resussitate" for "resuscitate"
"proshuto" for "prosciutto"
[and, extending into July 1 and 2]
"probossis" for "proboscis"
"omnishence" for "omniscience"
It's -SCI- Week at SSWD!
Let's get rid of some silent or otherwise misleading C's in unexpected places.
One of the reasons to reform spelling is to make spelling predictable, so you don't have to memorize long lists of rules and exceptions, or have to try to remember every single spelling of every single word you use. Knowing basic principles should be enuf, so you can simply apply those principles across the board.
In the case of this group of words, the patterns we can apply are:
- S at the beginning of a syllable takes its usual sound (S not Z).
- To show a short vowel in a stressed syllable, you double the consonant after it. That doubling at once shows the sound of the vowel and the stress of the word.
- The SH-sound is spelled S-H.
The first principle permits us to eliminate the C from "science" and "rescind". With "rescind" in particular, there is no reason for two consonants after a long vowel. A single-S will do.
In the case of "science", we have to change the first-E to A to show that the I and A form two syllables, with the I given its long pronunciation, as in iambic, dial, and reliance (a rhyme to "science").
The second principle applies to "proboscis" and "resuscitate" as regards the S and "plebiscite" as regards the B.
The C in "proboscis" is particularly misleading, and many new readers sight-read it as "proboskis". I suppose Popeye the Sailor Man might also see a K-sound in "resuscitate", but most other people do not. That is not reason enuf to leave it.
The U in "resuscitate" is short and stressed, so if you simply double the S, you at once show the quality of the vowel and the stress of the word. The rule is not, "add a C to whatever consonant follows the short vowel" but "double the consonant": in "resussitate", two S's, not one S and one C. In "plebbisite", two B's, not one B and one C ("plebcisite").
The I in the syllable immediately following the stressed syllable is also short, but we don't need to double the letter after it ("resussittate" or "plebbissite"), because once we place the syllabic stress on the syllable just ahead of it, we wouldn't think of making the following I long. Indeed, doubling the letter after it would confuse the reader as to where the word's stress falls.
The last two words, "prosciutto" (for Food Friday) and "omniscience", show why there is a C in the traditional spelling of all of this week's words: because the languages they derive from used a C to show a different pronunciation from S.
The C is a historical accident having nothing to do with their sound in English. Six of these words come directly from Latin, and in Latin the -SCI- cluster was probably pronounced SH, as it is in modern Italian. The seventh word, "prosciutto", comes directly from Italian, and in Italian, SCI is definitely pronounced SH. Readers, and especially learners, of English don't care what our words sounded like in their original languages. We care only about what they sound like in English. If it sounds like there's an S, write an S or, in the case of an S-sound after a short, stressed vowel, double-S. Now, isn't that simple? (Not "scimple".) Equally simple, if it sound like SH, write SH. "Omniscience" is not pronounced like "omni science", but looks as tho it does.
So our -SCI- Week reforms are: "siance", "resind", "plebbisite", "resussitate", "probossis", "proshuto" and "omnishent".
Sunday, June 25, 2006: "jalasy" for "jalousie"
It is almost impossible to see "jalousie"* as not having the stress on the second syllable and sounding like the familiar slang term "lousy".
How to revise it, tho? It would be nice if we could at once show that the stress falls on the first syllable and that the A is short. We could ordinarily do that by doubling the following consonant. But not if the vowel is A and the consonant L, because -ALL- is ambiguous. As a word to itself and in words like ball, tall, and calling, it takes the AU-sound. In other words, like allegory, pallet, and mallow, it does indeed take an ordinary short-A. In allow, balloon, and actually, the A takes the schwa sound. So we can't write "jallasy" and expect it to be clear.
-SY is also a tad less than clear, since in some words with that combo, the S is pronounced Z: easy, busy, lousy. If we double the S, a standard way to show an S-sound ("jalassy"), the reader will likely see the double consonant as signaling that syllabic stress falls just before it, on the second syllable, and the sound of the vowel in the second syllable is short-A both wrong. The stress actually falls on the first syllable, and the vowel in the second is schwa. Besides, we do have some words in which even SS takes the Z-sound: Missouri, Missoula, one common pronunciation of hussy. Leaving a single-S seems best, in the expectation that most people will see it as parallel to ecstasy, fantasy, and apostasy.
It is not possible to be absolutely clear about how this word is pronounced using only conventions in traditional spelling (which is why some of us are adamant that English needs a thorogoing, rigidly phonetic spelling reform, such as my Fanetik system). But we can surely do better than "jalousie".
A followed by a single-L is most commonly given its short pronunciation (alimony, Albert, value), or said as schwa. In its position in this word, most readers would not see it as schwa, because that would push the stress to the second syllable, ja.láe.se just wouldn't sound right, and readers wouldn't think ja.láe.ze because the familiar word "lazy" would suggest a Z would be required in such a place.
So, all things considered, probably the best solution is simply to leave the single-L that the word's traditional spelling has always had but change the OU to A and IE to Y, and have done with it: "jalasy".
* A lot more people probably know what the object is than the name for it. A jalousie is a set of venetian-blind-like louvers of wood or glass that you see in shutters, French doors, cafe doors (those swinging double-hinged doors to saloons in Western movies), and patio windows, that can be adjusted to let air in but keep out rain and cut down on lite.
Incidentally, there is a British pronunciation in which the J is given its French quality, ZH. But that need not concern us, because anyone who sees the J in "jalousie" as ZH can as well see the J in "jalasy" as ZH.
Saturday, June 24, 2006: "dunjon" for "dungeon"
This two-syllable word looks as tho it could have three syllables, but the -GE- is merely a spelling convention to show that the G is soft. It's simpler merely to use a J, especially since one of the meanings of "dungeon" is "donjon" (an inner stronghold within a castle): "dunjon".
Friday, June 23, 2006: "prosselyte" for "proselyte"
Let's revise another term for yesterday's word, "neophyte", this one specific to someone who has changed his opinion or religion, not just a newcomer to something.
"Proselyte" appears to contain the smaller, familiar word "prose", but is in no way related to that word. Nor does it sound like it. "Proselyte" also contains the familiar prefix pro-, which is most typically pronounced with a long-O. But here, the O is short.
To make plain that the O is short and that the word has three syllables, we need merely double the following-S: "prosselyte".
The related verb "proselytize" would have to be reformed to get rid of the misleading Y, since it has neither of the typical "Y sounds", long-I or consonantal-Y: "prosselitize", "prosselitization", etc.
Thursday, June 22, 2006: "neofyte" for "neophyte"
Three days ago, our word was "novice". Today's word is a different way of saying the same thing, but also spelled foolishly, as is the traditional form of "novice".
I found this word odd, in that I had thought -phyte and phyto- referred to plants. They do. And it turns out* that a "neophyte" is someone "newly planted" in a religion or occupation! It makes sense after all, and is an appropriate term for the first full day of summer.
The only thing really wrong with this word is the silly PH for the F-sound. Everything else can stay the same: "neofyte".
* Etymology from the Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary.
Wensday, June 21, 2006: "imbrolyo" for "imbroglio"
A silent-G in the middle of a word is just plain silly, and the -IO ending will be seen by some readers as two syllables, whereas it is actually only one, with the I serving as a consonant! which I is not. So let's fix both problems, to the extent that's possible. Some readers might still see -YO as two syllables, but unless we put a hyphen before it ("imbrol-yo"), there's not much we can do about that. Most people will probably see it as a single syllable starting with a consonantal-Y. At least that's a little clearer, and dropping the G makes plain, in case there were any doubt, that there is no G-sound in this word: "imbrolyo".
Tuesday, June 20, 2006: "werse" and "werst" for "worse" and "worst"
Today we have a twofer, the irregular comparative and superlative of "bad" or "ill", which are not just completely different from the words they relate to but are also spelled oddly. They do not rhyme with "horse" or "forced", as the present spelling would suggest, but with "verse" and (well-) "versed", so should be spelled with ER: "werse" and "werst".
Munday, June 19, 2006: "novviss for "novice"
The present spelling looks like a phrase, "no vice". Shoving the two elements together in no way alters that perception, since there is only a single V, which would lead a reader to think the O before it is long, and -ICE could of course be pronounced with a long-I, as in "advice".
To show clearly the actual pronunciation, we need to double the consonant after the short-O and replace the -ICE with a spelling that unambiguously shows that the I is short : "novviss".
Saturday and Sunday, June 17 and 18, 2006:
"rithe" for "writhe"
"reath(e)" for "wreath(e)"
There are two oddities about these similar words. First, of course, is the preposterous silent-W. But there's also the dual effect of a silent-E at the end of the word, at once showing that a vowel two consonants back is long and that the TH consonant cluster is given its voiced pronunciation. Note that without the final-E, "wreath" takes the unvoiced-TH.
Do we need to do anything more than drop the silent-W's? I don't think so.
Friday-Friday, June 9-16, 2006:
"acronim" for "acronym"
"antonim" for "antonym"
"epponim" for "eponym"
"hetteronim" for "heteronym"
"hommonim" for "homonym"
"sudonim" for "pseudonym"
"sinnonim" for "synonym"
"backronim" for "backronym"
Let's reform an entire family of words at what we in my own family call "one swell foop".
Tho the main problem with this group is the Y, which has neither of the "Y-sounds", long-I or consonantal-Y, other parts of some of these words also require reform.
"Homonym" contains "homo-", which takes a long-I in some words, like "homosexual" and "homogeneous", so when it takes a short-O, that needs to be distinguished to guide readers.
Altho "hetero-" is consistent from word to word, the new reader can be unclear whether the first E is short or long, given that there is only a single-T followed by E, so "hete-" could be seen as heet. We might as well fix that too, while we're changing the word anyway.*
"Epo-" is as unclear as "homo-", as proved by the two pronunciations of "depot": dée.po and dép.o.
"Syn-" has the same problem as "-nym". The sound is short-I, so should be shown by I, not Y.
And of course "pseudo-" is a preposterous spelling that can be clarified easily.
So this week, let's fix a whole family of words:* "acronim", "antonim", "epponim", "hetteronim", "hommonim", "sudonim", "sinnonim", and "backronim".**
* By the way, a heteronym is "a word spelled the same as another but having a different sound and meaning, as lead (to conduct) and lead (a metal)." Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary And an "eponym" is "A person whose name is or is thought to be the source of the name of something, such as a city, country, or era. For example, Romulus is the eponym of Rome. American Heritage Dictionary
** "Backronym" is an arcane term of the computer-programmer community, related to "acronym" (a group of initials that is said as a word, like "BASIC" for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code in computers or "BASIC [English]" for British American Scientific International Commercial in linguistics). Ordinarily a word this arcane would not qualify for this project, but inasmuch as we're reforming an entire family, and this is a website, not a printed work, we can include an occasional hacker term. There are various other very arcane -nym words one can find in an unabridged dictionary that are not included in this project's list. They should, of course, also be fixed to conform to -nim.
My thanks to the following spelling reformers for their suggestions: "Music..." ("antonym" and "synonym", tho I used a slitely different spelling for "synonym"), "Clap..." ("acronym"), and "Shoe..." ("heteronym", tho, again, I used a slitely different respelling).
Wensday and Thursday, June 7 and 8, 2006:
"dacor" for "décor" / "decor"
"aylan" for "élan"
We have almost no words left for the "Wine Wensday" feature, so I'll leave them in the cellar to age a bit more until others come to mind (or from emails suggestions, anyone?). Instead, let's deal on two adjacent days with two similar words, of the multitude of French words taken into English but not revised to English form. These two both have an accented-E, but English doesn't use accents, so the accent has got to go.
The French E-with-an-acute-accent has the sound of long-A in English, which we show in various conventional ways.
One, clearest, is with a following-Y: day, allay, defray. Tho that spelling is most common at the end of a word, or the end of the first element of a compound word (bayberry, payday), it is sometimes found earlier (bayonet, cayman, claymore).
Another convention is AE (sundae, Mae, reggae, maelstrom), but this is fairly uncommon, and AE has other sounds.
A third way we customarily show a long-A or any long vowel within a word is by not putting two consonants between it and a following vowel (acorn vs. accolade).
Yet another way is AI (staid, aim, abstain). But AI also often represents a flat-A, especially before R and L (air and mail as most people in North America pronounce them, which is to say, not with a long-A).
So there are various English ways we might better write these two now-English words from French. Complicating the matter with these two particular words are the facts (1) that "decor" has one pronunciation in which the E is said as a schwa, not as a full long-A, and (2) an L follows the E in "elan", so some readers would see AI there as flat-A, not long-A.
So, let's use an A with no double-consonant following for "decor" and an AY before the L in "elan". People who say dae.kor will see the absence of a double consonant as justifying that pronunciation; people who say da.kór will see an A without a following-Y as a schwa, thus justifying their pronunciation. And everyone will see AY as long-A, not flat-A, in the reformed spelling of "élan". Thus do I propose this twofer: "dacor" and "aylan".
Some people say broad-A (or short-O, same sound) in the second syllable of "élan". Others say short-A. Leaving an A there, rather than substituting O, will permit each group to see its own pronunciation as correct.
Tuesday, June 6, 2006: "anull" for "annul"
As in the case of yesterday's selection, today's word is stressed on the second syllable, not first, so the double consonant should appear at the end of the second syllable (which happens also to be the end of the word), not at the end of the first syllable. Compare "annals", in which the double-N signals that the first syllable is stressed. "Annals" and "annuls" should be pronounced pretty much the same. They are not. "Annals" is spelled right. "Annul" is spelled wrong. Let's annul the mistaken spelling and replace it with one that indicates the right stress: "anull".
Munday, June 5, 2006: "rapell" for "rappel"
It is the second syllable of this word, not the first, that takes the stress, so if there is to be a double-consonant, it should be at the end of the second syllable, not the first: "rapell".
Sunday, June 4, 2006: "quom" for "qualm"
The present spelling gives rise to spelling pronunciations with a sounded-L, whereas the L is supposed to be silent. Neither of my electronic dictionaries accepts a pronunciation with an L-sound. They both, however, recognize two pronunciations, kwom and kwaum.* Simply removing the L would leave "quam", which might support the kwom pronunciation but not the quaum pronunciation. Instead, readers would seem quaam (with A as in "at"). O, however, can sometimes be pronounced AU (cost, or, dog), so I think this respelling will work for both pronunciations: "quom".
* All phonetic pronunciations shown on this site adhere to the standards set forth in the table at the Fanetik.org website.
Saturday, June 3, 2006: "anzhanue" for "ingénue" / "ingenue"
First off, English does not employ accents, so the accent has got to go.
Second, the vowel sound of the first syllable is A, not I.
Third, the G represents a soft French-G, not either a soft or hard English-G. The sound is standardly shown in English dictionaries by ZH.
There is one other matter some readers might raise, the issue of whether the vowel of the last syllable is simple long-U, without an initial Y-glide (often represented by OO, as in bamboo) or the diphthongized long-U, with an initial Y-glide. My American Heritage dictionary recognizes only the OO-sound, but my Random House recognizes both, so we'll let that be.
Putting this all together, we get: "anzhanue".
Friday, June 2, 2006: "fane" for "feign"
F-e-i-g-n is a preposterous way to spell this word. Not only does that spelling incorporate a silent-G, which cannot be justified by any stretch of the most laissez-faire imagination, but it also uses EI to represent the long-A sound, which is almost unknown. EI is ordinarily perceived to have two sounds, long-I and long-E, as shown most patently in the word "either", which can take either sound, depending on geography (or class affectation). "Feign", however, is never pronounced fien nor feen.
We should simply write this word as it sounds, with no ambiguity: "fane".
Wensday and Thursday, May 30 and June 1, 2006:
"tavvern" for "tavern"
"cavvern" for "cavern"
We're running low on wines and wine-related words for our regular feature "Wine Wensday", but a few words remain. Let's use up two of them this week, one of which doesn't necessarily relate to wine.
A tavern is a place where alcoholic beverages are sold; caves and caverns have traditionally been used to store and age wines. Both have a single-V after a short-A.
New readers will tend to see the absence of a double-V following, as indicating that the vowel in the first syllable is long (waver, caver, engraver) or a schwa (avert, traverse), rather than short (savvy, skivvies). Let's fix that: "tavvern" and "cavvern".
My thanks to "Clap..." for the suggestion cavvern.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006: "cupple" for "couple"
There is no OU-sound in this word, so should be no OU. The sound is a short-U, as in "cup", and the way to show that in this word, using standard conventions, is to write a U followed by a double-P: "cupple".
Munday, May 29, 2006: "boorzhwah/zee" for "bourgeois/ie"
Let's address another bizarrely spelled, French-origin pair of words today. The spellings "bourgeois" and "bourgeoisie" make perfect sense in French but absolutely no sense in English. They are thus hard to remember for people who don't know French, which is the great preponderance of both native speakers of English and people learning English as a Second Language. It should not be necessary to know French spelling conventions to write English.
Tho the ending -AH may look like a pronunciation key rather than a formal spelling, (1) alphabetic writing is supposed to be a pronunciation key, since language is first and foremost speech, and alphabets convey speech; that is their job; and (2) there are lots of English words that end in -AH, from hurrah and huzzah to pariah and shah.
An AH within a word ,before a consonant, is a bit less common but a well-established pattern (Brahmin, dahl, mahjong), and it will be easier for people to accept "boorzhwahzee" than "boorzhwozzee" if the base word is "boorzhwah", so let's do that: "boorzhwah/zee".
Sunday, May 28, 2006: "rondavoo/s" for "rendezvous"
There are problems in reforming today's word. There are two common pronunciations, rón.dae.vùe (where the UE is pure, like long-OO, without a Y-glide, which would be represented by YUE), and rón.da.vùe (where the single-A represents schwa, the short, neutral vowel of A in about, the second-E in telephone, or U in circus).
The plural of the noun form of this word is presently written the same as the singular but pronounced differently, with a final S-sound. We need to show the plural as distinct from the singular. The standard way of showing a plural in English is by addition of an -S. We can do that here.
Moreover, the word is a verb as well as noun, and every English verb takes suffixes, so any reform has to accommodate the addition of grammatical endings. Were we to end this word with -UE, we would have to drop the E to add -ING ("ronda(y)vuing").
If there were a single agreed pronunciation with a long-A in the middle, we could write the middle syllable -DAY- (rondayvu/e or rondayvoo). But some people always, and other people sometimes, pronounce the word with a schwa-sound in the middle, which the spelling -DAY- would not accommodate.
-A-, however, does accommodate either pronunciation if there is only a single-V following. People inclined to use a schwa would see the A-alone as a schwa. People inclined to use a long-A would see the absence of a double-V following as approval for their pronunciation.
The third syllable remains a problem, however, because -VUE in the word "revue" is a well-known spelling of the sound VYUE, so we can't employ that convention in this word, with or without a final-E (rondavu or rondavue). Instead, we need to go to words like bamboo and taboo for an unambiguous spelling. The present-progressive tense would then be "rondavooing".*
Putting this all together, we arrive at this spelling for the base word: "rondavoo" for the singular, "rondavoos" for the plural.
* It would take an act of will to see "rondavooing" as having two syllables at the end, the latter of which is pronounced parallel to the imitative word "boing", so this proposed spelling is not really ambiguous.
By the way, I would actually prefer to spell this word "rondayvoo", and thereby visually disapprove the pronunciation rón.da.vù, but that pronunciation is not so out-of-the-question as to demand active disapproval.
Saturday, May 27, 2006: "storaj" for "storage"
I'm reorganizing my household, so storage containers are much on my mind, and I realized that "storage" is spelled irrationally.
No traditional English word ends in J. There's no reason it can't. It just doesn't. That has not stopped us from admitting new words from other languages that do not have that peculiarity, like "raj" from Hindi. We even allow a borrowing with two J's at the end: "hajj" from Arabic. So why can't we just end other words with a J? We can. We control English; it does not control us.
Tho some people might be uncomfortable with a reform that would require doubling a final-J before you add suffixes, "storage" is invariable. It doesn't take suffixes, so is an excellent candidate for change.
"Storage" also can be misread in its current form, since it contains the smaller word "age" but that syllable is not pronounced like the word it looks like. So let's remove the misleading silent-E, which implies a long-A (as in "age"), and replace the G with J: "storaj".
Thursday and Friday, May 25 and 26, 2006:
"riskay" for "risqué" / "risque"
"bisk" for "bisque"
Let's distinguish the similar spellings but dissimilar pronunciations of two common words.
For Thursday, let's take the French-form word "risqué", which is generally written without the accent, because English does not use accents and most people don't know how to put an accent over typewritten text. On standard English-language typewriters, there is no "dead key" and no accent characters with which to type accents. Even on computers, most typed occurrences of this word, and other words that dictionaries show only with an accent, do not in fact carry an accent because few people know how to get an accent within an email program or simple word processor, altho all the most sophisticated word processing programs do have ways to insert an accented character. There is also ambiguity over when to use the accent: always? or only on lowercase letters?
Does the accent make a difference as to pronunciation? You might think so, but in the name of the actress Raven-Symoné, the accented-E is silent!
We don't generally bother with such questions about accents in English, but simply do without them. So the accent has got to go from the formal spelling.
"Risque" without an accent is ambiguous as to whether it is one syllable or two that is, whether the -QUE constitutes a separate syllable (think clique or antique vs. the variant spelling barbeque) especially when it is compared to its exactly parallel word "bisque", which is definitely one syllable.
"Bisque" has a couple of meanings, one of which is a type of pureed soup, so it is this week's Food Friday word. In the food sense, "bisque" has an accepted variant spelling, "bisk". In its other senses, however (in croquet and ceramics), only "bisque" will do. That's arbitrary, don't you think? And who is going to remember that?
"Bisk" is plainly the better spelling for all senses of that word. To show that "risque" is not just a fancy spelling to distinguish from "risk", we need to show its actual two-syllable pronunciation, which we can do very easily, simply by changing the -QUE to -KAY. Thus do we arrive at this end-of-the-week twofer: "riskay" and "bisk".
Wensday, May 24, 2006: "veelozh" for "villages"
It's Wine Wensday again. Let's address a word that looks English but is pronounced in the French fashion. It follows some wine names, like Beaujolais Villages, Côtes du Rhone Villages, and Côtes du Rousillon Villages, and means that the wine was made in a select group of villages specially authorized to put that designation on the label. But the word is not to be pronounced víl.a.jaz. No, no, no! (Or perhaps I should say "Non!"). It is to be pronounced as the French say it, with the accent on the second syllable. Tho we can't show syllabic stress in English spelling (Spanish does it with a written accent if the stress falls in an unexpected place), we can at least show the sounds: "veelozh".
Tuesday, May 23, 2006: "survale/nce" for "surveil/lance"
Given public-policy concerns about security and privacy, this seems an apt pair of words for this age. "Surveil" is a back-formation from the earlier word "surveillance", which has a French form even tho it has been in the English language for over 200 years. It's time to anglicize it, and, by back-formation, its verb within: "survale/nce".
Munday, May 22, 2006: "dalya" for "dahlia"
This name of a showy flower has an H in it that suggests the A before it should be pronounced "broad", like a short-O, but most people do not pronounce it that way. In the United States, a short-A (as in at) is most commonly heard; in Britain, a long-A is common. So let's drop the misleading H.
That might do, but "dalia" would leave the reader wondering if the word is two syllables or three, that is, whether the I takes a vowel sound or a consonantal-Y sound. Generally, it takes a consonantal-Y sound, so let's put a Y there. People who prefer three syllables can still see that as permitted, since Y can be pronounced as a vowel too, but most readers will understand that the sound is simply two syllables, dal- and -ya: "dalya".
Sunday, May 21, 2006: "bie" and "baut" for "buy" and "bought"
I was going to put up only "bought" today, but when I looked up the word to make sure I was spelling it right it looked so ridiculous that I had to make sure I hadn't gone too far to make it look absurd the dictionary naturally enuf showed "buy" as well. So let's address both forms of this verb.
There is no U-sound in "buy", so should be no U. There are various ways we could spell a long-I in final position, but "by" and "bye" are already taken. "Bie", parallel to pie, tie, and lie, is, however, available.
There is no OU-sound in "bought". The vowel sound that is in this word is ordinarily written either AW, especially at the end of a word (shawl, sprawl, paw, raw), or AU within a word (pause, haul, taut/ology).
The G and H are silent, so shouldn't be there.
Put this all together, and we get "bie" and "baut".
The present progressive would follow the pattern of tie or lie: tying, lying, bying. My thanks to "Clap..." for suggesting "bie".
Saturday, May 20, 2006: "financeer" for "financier"
Why should there be an -IER at the end of this word? It's not pronounced with a long-I (tie, untie). It's pronounced parallel to volunteer, so should be written parallel to volunteer: "financeer".
Friday, May 19, 2006: "moca" for "mocha"
It's Food Friday again. Let's address the name of a type of coffee or coffee-flavored chocolate (or chocolate-flavored coffee). I don't know how this word came to have a CH in it, since it doesn't have a CH-sound (as in church) and the English transliteration of the Arabic port from whose name it derives is Mukha. I thought perhaps it came in via Italian, because Italian sometimes spells the K-sound with a CH, but only before E or I. Here, the K-sound precedes an A, so Italian wouldn't spell it with CH, only C as should we: "moca".
Thursday, May 18, 2006: "braud/cast" for "broad/cast"
OA is ordinarily pronounced long-O as, indeed, in the word "road", which is found within "broad". The sound in "broad/cast" is actually AU, as in haul, astronaut, and pause. So let's spell it that way: "braud/cast".
Wensday, May 17, 2006: "feeno" / "feena" for "fino" / "fina"
This Wine Wensday, let's reform an adjective within names of wines and grape stocks, which suggests "fine" or "superior quality". Altho many people have been trained by the proliferation of foreign words that keep entering English to use two sets of standards (intra-English and "Continental" sound values) to read by, we shouldn't have to do that. English should be written in English, not with French, Italian, or Spanish conventions.
This can be very confusing when we encounter terms like "spina bifida", a birth defect. It is not pronounced in the Latin fashion (spée.na bée.fee.da), nor like Spanish (spée.na bee.fée.da), but has been angiclized (spíe.na bíf.i.da). Let's anglicize "fino" / "fina" too: "feeno" / "feena".
Tuesday, May 16, 2006: "irrassible" for "irascible"
This word means "very irritable", and "irritable" has a double-R, so it will be easier for people to remember a double-R here than to try to remember that the word is related to "ire", which has only one R.
The SC is needlessly different from other words that contain a short vowel followed by an S-sound but in which the vowel's short quality is shown by the typical convention of doubling the following consonant, in this case, S (harass, depressant, irrepressible): "irrassible".
Munday, May 15, 2006: "popparotsy" for "paparazzi"
The Italian spelling of this word for the people who take candid fotos of celebrities is very hard to remember because it is so very un-English. Double-P, R, and Z? Single? Some double, some single? We can fix that by employing standard conventions to turn this into a spelling we can easily remember (and which has the added mnemonic value of including the word "rot" in it): "popparotsy".
The singular, "paparazzo", is rarely used, but would be "popparotso". Easy.
Sunday, May 14, 2006: "eshelon" for "echelon"
As with yesterday's word, there is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word for a military formation like a staircase. Rather, the sound is that standardly written SH. So let's write it that way: "eshelon".
Saturday, May 13, 2006: "mok" for "mach"
This should be quick, tho not, perhaps, the speed of sound. There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word, and the vowel is not an A-sound not long-A (as in ate), not short-A (as in at). Rather, the vowel is short-O. This same sound is also called broad-A, but for purposes of deciding what vowel to write in order to simplify spelling, we should stick to the concept of each vowel having only two sounds, long and short. No other vowel has a "broad" sound there's no broad-E, broad-I, broad-O, or broad-U so we should not retain an A for the "broad-A" sound but substitute O for what is better regarded as a short-O. Put those two principles together and you get "mok".
Because "mach" is invariable it is not pluralized and cannot be used as a verb it is an ideal candidate for this kind of change, since you don't have to wonder whether to double the K before adding suffixes. It doesn't take suffixes, unlike its homofone "mock", which can be used as a verb so can take endings (self-mocking, mockery). "Mach", however, can be written, always and ever, simply: "mok".
Friday, May 12, 2006: "riggatony" for "rigatoni"
It's Food Friday! Let us celebrate Italian cuisine by making it fully American and spelling this ribbed, tubular form of pasta with English conventions so people know it is fully 'naturalized'.
There are two I's in the traditional spelling, pronounced the same (EE) in Italian but differently in English. The first is short, the second, long-E.* English often shows a short vowel by doubling the consonant after it, in this case G. This first fix takes us to "riggatoni". Not good enuf, since a final-I can be pronounced long (alkali, alibi, stratocumuli). The usual English way to show a long-E at the end of a word is -Y. Adding that fix in, makes for a spelling that readers of English can readily guess at when they hear the word spoken (the hear-spell test of spelling adequacy): "riggatony".
* Speakers of "clipped" vowels, as in some British dialects, do say a short-I at the end of a word, but that sounds truly bizarre not to say "pretentious" to the bulk of native speakers of English.
My thanks to "Music..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, May 11, 2006: "scrach" for "scratch"
We don't need a T to form the CH-sound. That is a French spelling, which represents a T-SH sound sequence that is their way of indicating the CH-sound, not really a T-SH sequence. German does the same thing, except its way of showing T-SH (for CH) is the even more cumbersome TSCH. English spells it simply CH, as in bachelor, Bechuanaland, rich, Koch, duchess, couch, etc. So let's just drop it, okay?: "scrach".
Wensday, May 10, 2006: "veensonto" for "vin santo"
This Wine Wensday, let's reform the name of a specialty white wine that some regard as a dessert wine, which readers of English would tend to give English sound values, with a short-I in the first word and short-A in the second, whereas the vowels are, respectively, long-E and broad-A/short-O (same sound). To show the proper vowel sounds, we need to change the letters. While we're at it, we might as well get rid of the needless space, since the two elements would not be used separately. Only the whole phrase makes sense, so let's just put the two elements together into a compound word and show the sounds plainly: "veensonto".
Tuesday, May 9, 2006: "quortz" for "quartz"
AR usually represents broad-A (or short-O; same sound) followed by the R-sound, especially (but not solely) in words of one syllable (bar, far, jar, star, tar, warrant, anarchy). Here, the vowel is the AU-sound (haul, pause, astronaut), and that sound before R is usually represented by O (or, for, north, ports). So let's just change the A to O: "quortz".
Munday, May 8, 2006: "zhonra" for "genre"
"Genre" looks as tho it should be pronounced jén.er, gén.er, jén.ree, or gén.ree. It's not pronounced any of those ways or in any other remotely English way, but as tho it were still French, even tho it came into English by 1760! It's time to write it so new readers who do not speak French can know how to say it, using the ZH that many dictionaries and educators employ to show the voiced form of the SH-sound: "zhonra".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, May 7, 2006: "rennasonse" for "renaissance"
I was reminded of this word by a New York Times article today about a young artist who is part of a cultural revival in my city, Newark USA.
There are at least three things wrong with the traditional spelling. First, RE- is usually pronounced with a long-E, but not here, where it takes a short-E. Second, AI is usually pronounced long-A, but is here pronounced as a schwa by most people, tho some Britons do say ra.náe.sons. And third, -ANCE could be seen as having a full short-A (advance, askance, circumstance), or schwa (distance, elegance, relevance), whereas here it is pronounced with a short-O.
We could leave the -CE, but why use a C for an S-sound? Why not just use an S? And we don't need two S's to show an S-sound if we throw the stress to the first syllable by doubling the N. Moreover, there are some people who, despite the presence in the traditional spelling of two S's, pronounce a Z-sound instead! A single-S will be more permissive of that pronunciation (even tho most of us disapprove of it).
So, let's write "renn-", to show the E to be short; "-a-" to show that the sound is/could be a schwa; -S- rather than -SS-, to show that the A could be long, for those who prefer the British pronunciation; -O- to show the proper vowel sound of the last syllable; and -SE as in "response". Putting these all together, then, we get: "rennasonse".
Saturday, May 6, 2006: "svelt" for "svelte"
Yesterday we got rid of a silent-E that was misleading. Today, let's get rid of one that's just superfluous, adding nothing but length and the need to memorize a silly spelling that has one letter more than it needs. This word could stand to lose a little weight and become thereby: "svelt".
Friday, May 5, 2006: "oliv" for "olive"
This Food Friday, let's get rid of the excess and misleading final-E on this word, since the I is short, whereas the silent-E would lead readers to think it long: "oliv".
Thursday, May 4, 2006: "flor" for "floor"
OO has two usual sounds, short-OO as in good or took, and long-OO as in food or boot. (Long-OO is just a pure long-U, without an initial Y-glide, as in rural or rude.) In today's word, however, the OO stands in for the AU-sound (as in haul or dinosaur). Before R, that sound is often shown by a single-O, as in or. We already have an O in "floor", two of them, in fact. If we simply drop one of them, we save ourselves a letter and clarify the sound.
Some people might feel that "flor" suggests "flower", but that is from the influence of Spanish, Italian, or Latin. "Flor" is not the English word for "flower" "flower" is! and we mustn't let the mere similarity of other words in foreign languages interfere with spelling English words more sensibly: "flor".
Wensday, May 3, 2006: "towrozzy" for "taurasi"
It's Wine Wensday again. Let's address a red wine from southern Italy that I heard promoted at the end of the PBS television cooking show Lidia's Family Table when channel-surfing over the weekend.
Phoneticizing this is not as easy as one might think, because both ways of showing an OU-sound that English standardly employs are ambiguous in this situation: "tow-" and "tour-" are both unclear, since tow is a word, pronounced toe, and tour is also a word, pronounced tuer. Neither has the OU-sound. But "towr-" is surely clearer, because (a) it's close to tower, which has the OU-sound, and (b) there would be no reason to write a W if the sound were long-O or AU, since "torozzy" would show that plainly without an extra letter. "Tourozzy" would almost certainly be read by most people as tue.roz.e. So let's go with the W: "towrozzy".
Tuesday, May 2, 2006: "repreeve" for "reprieve"
The second syllable of this word contains no I-sound: no long-I as in drive, no short-I as in rivet or divot. The vowel is long-E, which, with a following-V, is most clearly shown by the conventional spelling -EEVE, as in sleeve: "repreeve".
Munday, May 1, 2006: "hord" for "horde"
The E at the end of this word adds nothing but length, and could make new readers wonder if it's pronounced (as is the final-E in sesame and psyche), so let's just drop it, okay?: "hord".
Sunday, April 30, 2006: "bargan" for "bargain"
Today is a major shopping day in much of the country (tho not in at least one county here in New Jersey (Bergen), which still has "blue laws" in place barring the malls from being open on Sunday). Let's make "bargain" a spelling bargain, 14% off in length.
The I adds nothing but length and confusion, because AI is most commonly pronounced as in either air (flat-A) or rain (long-A). Here, the sound is just a schwa, and A by itself is one of the most common ways of representing that sound (America, about, idea, catapult, toboggan). So let's write that: "bargan".
Thanks to "JohnS..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, April 29, 2006: "silf/like" for "sylph/like"
I heard today's word on an episode of the classic TV sitcom All in the Family on cable channel TV Land last nite, when 'Louise Jefferson' said a piece of Archie's 50th-birthday cake won't hurt her 'sylphlike figure'. This is an expression we hear but may not completely understand. Random House explains: sylphs were one of several groups of "imaginary beings inhabiting the four elements once believed to make up the physical world. ... SYLPHS dwelt in the air and were light, dainty, and airy beings." Oh-h-h.
The word was apparently coined by 16th Century "Swiss physician and alchemist" Paracelsus from "sylva", a variant of Latin "silva" (forest), and Greek "nýmphe" (nymph). That's no reason for English to retain such silly formulations. If it sounds parallel to "silk", it should be spelled parallel to "silk", with an I for the short-I sound (which we can justify, as tho we need to, on the basis that the standard Latin spelling was "silva", with an I), and a plain-old F for the F-sound: "silf/like".
Friday, April 28, 2006: "abalony" for "abalone"
This Food Friday, let's reform "abalone", one of a small group of common words (less than 200, I imagine) in which what appears to be a silent-E at the end of a word isn't silent at all, but is pronounced as long-E. (Others include sesame, fac/simile, adobe, catastrophe, and finale.) "Abalone" was taken from California Spanish as a back-formation from the plural "abulones", on the assumption that "abulone" was the singular, whereas it is actually abulón.
Rather than have new readers guess if words like this have an unexpected syllable at the end, let's just change the E to a Y, which will make the sound plain.
One question remains: do we need to double the B to show that the first A is short? I don't think so. Moreover, to do that might lead people to think the word's stress falls on the first syllable. Tho some people do say that, others place the primary stress on the third syllable, so it's better not to signal one or the other stress but just leave the B single as in the original: "abalony".
Wensday and Thursday, April 26 and 27, 2006:
"tite" and "frite" for "tight" and "fright"
Skipping Wine Wensday for a change ("moderation in all things"), let's address two more of the many words with a preposterous silent-GH, both of which can be rendered simple and phonetic in the same way, with -ITE.
Both of these words has, of course, derivatives, so we will also write airtite, watertite, titen, titefisted, titelipped, titerope, titewad, uptite, afrite, friteful/ly, and friten/ing, all derived from: "tite" and "frite".
Thanks to "Music..." for the suggestion "tite".
Tuesday, April 25, 2006: "dred/ful" for "dread/ful"
EA is usually pronounced as tho EE (long-E). Here, however, it stands in for a short-E, adding an A when E-alone would do very nicely and unambiguously. Let's not do that, but drop the extraneous and misleading A: "dred/ful".
Munday, April 24, 2006: "intreeg" for "intrigue"
The traditional spelling of this word could be seen by new readers as having three syllables, like the common misspelling barbeque. (So common is this misspelling, indeed, that some dictionaries show it as a mere variant for barbecue, without criticism.) In reality, "intrigue" has only two syllables, ending in a hard-G sound. Let's spell it that way.
This one word has two pronunciations, one with stress on the first syllable (the noun), the other with stress on the second syllable (the verb). We need not even try to distinguish them, especially since the current spelling does not distinguish them: "intreeg".
Sunday, April 23, 2006: "septer" for "scepter" / "sceptre"
"Scepter" is one of three words whose British spellings are all associated in my head, and maybe in many other people's heads as well: "sceptre", "spectre", and "sceptic". "Sceptic" is the most ridiculous, but they're all ridiculous. In the U.S., we have already revised two of them to be reasonable, "skeptic" and "specter". But our form "scepter" is still absurd. It's time to get rid of the useless silent-C: "septer".
Saturday, April 22, 2006: "hauty" for "haughty"
Let's get rid of another of those many silent-GH's that litter English for no good reason by reforming a word that applies very well to some of the Establishment types who oppose spelling reform: "hauty".
My thanks to "tvp..." for this suggestion.
Friday, April 21, 2006: "vinnagrette" for "vinaigrette" / "vinegarette"
It's Food Friday again. Let's address an odd French spelling you have to think about because it makes no sense in English. AI is ambiguous, but is generally seen to represent a flat-A (air, mail) or long-A (paid, raise). That is not the vowel sound in the second syllable of "vinaigrette", which is a simple schwa.
"Vinegarette" is little better, and we have already revised "vinegar" (to "vinnegur") because the AR is ambiguous (bar, war, wares). To the extent that "vinegarette" is a clumsier version of "vinaigrette", it should be captured by this reform and changed at the same time.
If we simply drop the I, we would get "vinagrette", which some readers will see as having a long-I or even long-E, if they see the word as French in the first syllable. So we should double the N to cue the reader that the I is short: "vinnagrette".
Should we drop the final-E, since a silent-E would ordinarily signal a long vowel in the prior syllable, even, sometimes, after two consonants (change, lambaste)? That would leave "vinnagrett". There are other words that end in TT (kilowatt, boycott), but the double-T in them does not signal that the word's stress falls on that syllable. Do we need to show that? We don't with words like regret and forget. Should we, then, even try to show syllabic stress, or simply write "vinnagret"?
If we were today to invent such a word, we would want to show the unusual syllabic stress by using the established suffix -ette. The traditional spelling already has that suffix in place. So let's not change it. The problem with the traditional spelling lies not at the end, but in the middle: "vinnagrette".
Thursday, April 20, 2006: "pasteesh" for "pastiche" and "pasteecho" for "pasticcio"
This pair of words for a literary, artistic, or musical work that combines elements from other works needs reform. Neither is phonetic, but both are easily fixed. The endings of both are easy enuf, but there remains a slight problem, that some people use a short-A in the first syllable, while others use a broad-A (which is also a short-O). It doesn't matter, tho, since both sounds can be represented by A: "pasteesh", "pasteecho".
Wensday, April 19, 2006: "dohlchetto" for "dolcetto"
This Wine Wensday let's address a red wine that has been called "the lunchtime or everyday wine of Northern Italy".
Not just the CH but also the OL is ambiguous, so we can't just insert an H after the C in the traditional spelling and trust that the sound of the O in the first syllable will be plain. Often, OL is said with a long-O, but there are many words such as doll, moll, and pollywog where it is said short.
Besides, if we left "dolchetto", some people would see it as Italian and pronounce the CH in the Italian fashion, as a K! The attempt to show that the CE is said like CH would be thwarted and produce a different misreading.
How best to show a long-O before the L? "Doalchetto"? "Doelchetto"? Both of those risk being seen as having two syllables before the L, and still risk being seen as Italian, with a K-sound for the CH. Let us instead borrow the pattern of kohl and kohlrabi, which at once shows a long-O, and no other vowel sound, before the L and looks so plainly un-Italian that readers will see the CH as having the standard English CH-sound (as in church): "dohlchetto".
Tuesday, April 18, 2006: "likker" for "liquor"
I'm instituting today an occasional feature, "Booze Tuesday" for badly spelled names of alcoholic beverages that do not fit under the category of wine so don't belong on Wine Wensday. Let's start with a generic name for alcohol, "liquor", which looks to new readers as tho it should be pronounced lik.waur.*
There is an even more bizarre spelling for a class of sweet, strong liquors, "liqueur", but we can't revise that because it has two pronunciations that cannot be covered by one phonetic spelling.
We can, however, revise "liquor". Today's proposed spelling is in fact recognized by Random House as "Eye Dialect" for "liquor". Let's just make it the correct formal spelling: "likker".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
* Indeed, my Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary recognizes that pronunciation for a pharmacological use of "liquor", meaning "solution". I do not find that pronunciation in other dictionaries, however, even my Oxford unabridged, so we need not hold off revising this word on that account.
Munday, April 17, 2006: "diz/eez" and "eezy" for "dis/ease" and "easy"
"Disease" contains the smaller word "ease", to which it is related. But the larger word is not pronounced dis.éez, with an S-sound in the first part. That S is pronounced with a Z-sound. The S toward the end is also pronounced Z. So, let's replace both S's with Z's. Once we do that, we get the unusual form, "dizeaze". A more common way to spell that would entail -EEZE (freeze, sneeze). But if we write -EE-, which unambiguously indicates a long-E, we surely don't need yet another E at the end. Let's write "diz/eez".
We then need to revise "easy", to "eezy". Fine: "diz/eez" and "eezy".
Sunday, April 16, 2006: "cript/ic" for "crypt/ic"
Why is there a Y in this word? I saw the word "cryptic" in a news story, and decided to use it, when I realized it is an inflected form of the base word "crypt". But I actually felt I had to look that up because I had trouble believing that it too has a Y. I wanted to know the etymology to find out why this little family of words has a Y.
It turns out that a crypt is a hidden place, derived from Greek krytpós, "hidden". When this word was taken into Latin, the Romans changed the K to C but left the Y as-is. Middle English fixed that, and wrote cripte. So why do we have a Y again? Because, you see, pretentious scholars early in the Modern English period went back to original languages and deliberately created unphonetic spellings to bring English closer to the languages from which it derived. Mind you, they didn't change the C to K, but did change the I to Y.
And why, you may ask, did they do this? Because they wanted to show how smart they were. They may even have wanted, in that class-ridden age, to make reading harder so that not 'just anyone' could master it. So, many words were spelled better in Middle English than they are in Modern English.
It is up to us, in this democratic age, to undo the pretentious misspellings that snobbish scholars inflicted upon English several hundred years ago. The task of learning to read English would be much easier if those fools hadn't messed around with hundreds of perfectly good spellings. (The most famous/notorious such meddling is the silent-B in "debt". The word had been borrowed from French as "dette" no B.)
There is no Y-sound in "crypt", no long-I nor consonantal-Y. The sound is actually just a short-I, so let's write that in all these related words: "cript", "criptic/al", "criptografy", "criptograffic", "criptanalisis" (employing Thursday's proposed revision of "analysis"), and so on thru all derivatives.
Saturday, April 15, 2006: "ouwer" for "hour"
There are only a few words in English that start with a silent-H. There should be none.
If we simply drop the H from "hour", we get a spelling already in use for a very common word, our. If we replace the U with a W, we would get "owr", which is un-English. If we add an E, we'd get "ower", which is an agent-noun for the verb "owe". If we add a U before the W, however, we get "ouwer", which is unusual in appearance but not so unusual as to be un-English (compare louver). Whereas the pronunciation of the OU in "louver" is unclear, the pronunciation of "ouwer" would be self-evident to the ordinary reader due to the influence of the W.
The W in "ouwer" is not itself silent that is, we would not be replacing one silent letter, in one position, with another, in another position but shows the W-glide sound that is present but not shown in the traditional spelling of the two common words our and hour. Compare out, bound, joust. There is no W-glide sound in any OU-word that does not have a following-R but is in words that contain an OU-sound followed by R.
H/our is actually a two-syllable word that the present spelling suggests is one. You cannot, however, really say OU and R in the same syllable and have it sound anything like our or hour. "Ouwer" shows plainly that the word does have two syllables, so is better in that regard too.
In this particular case, simplifying for sound actually produces a longer spelling, by one letter. But it's a letter that carries a sound, shows a presently-hidden syllable, and distinguishes homonyms, so is well worth adding: "ouwer".
Thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Friday, April 14, 2006: "parfay" for "parfait"
This Food Friday, let's get rid of a silent-T in the name of a fancy, layered dessert: "parfay".
Thanks to "Music..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, April 13, 2006: "analisis" and "annalize" for "analysis" and "analyze" / "analyse"
These two words are related in what may seem an unusual way, tho it is actually quite common that a noun gives rise to a verb. "Analysis" came first, and "analyze" was created afterward. The spelling "analysis" is foolish, for using a Y where there is no Y-sound, that is, no long-I vowel and no Y-consonant. If we change the Y to I in "analysis", we need to change it in "analyze" too.
Altho there is, phonetically, nothing very wrong with "analyze", in that there is a vocalic Y-sound (long-I) in it, -YZE (or, in Britain, -YSE) is not the way we create a verb from a noun. We do that with -IZE, so should make "analyze" conform to that standard. (Use of -ISE in such words has been criticized even in Britain by one of the most important rulemakers of the English language, H.W. Fowler, so we won't for an instant even think of permitting an -ISE alternative spelling here.)
Moreover, while a single-N makes sense in "analisis", because the syllabic stress does not fall on the syllable in front of it, we need a double-N in "analize" because without it, the reader will tend to see the word as a derivative of "anal", having a long-A sound instead of short and an incomprehensible meaning, since the word neither has nor could have anything to do with the anus.
If we simply double the N, we show at once that the A of the first syllable is short, thus breaking the phonetic link to "anal", and indicate, helpfully, that the word's stress falls on the first syllable.
Once we double the N, few people will think this word has something to do with "annals", but will read it to themselves as áa.na.liez and understand it as the word now written "analyze".
We do not have to double the L in "analisis" since people don't have a problem with the short-A in the present spelling, "analysis". Indeed, doubling the L would confuse the issue, in introducing the possibility that the second A is pronounced AU as in "all".
So today's twofer is: "analisis" and "annalize".
Wensday, April 12, 2006: "sharbono" for "charbono"
It's Wine Wensday again. This week, let's revise the name of a "bold, powerful red" wine originally from the Savoy region of France that has been made in California since the 1880s. The name looks Italian but the CH does not take the K-sound it would have in Italian but the SH-sound of French. Since it is not the CH-sound (as in church) of English, it should not have a CH on English-language labels: "sharbono".
Tuesday, April 11, 2006: "uv" for "of"
Some readers will have seen the following Internet test of visual/mental acuity. An email asks the reader to count the F's in the following text:Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.
After presenting the subject text, the email goes on:HOW MANY?
THERE ARE 6!
READ IT AGAIN!
Really, go back and try to find the 6 F's before you scroll down.
The reasoning behind is further down.
The brain cannot process "OF".
Incredible or what? Go back and look again!!
Anyone who counts all 6 "F's" on the first go is a GENIUS.
Three is normal, four is quite rare.
Send this to your friends. It will drive them crazy! And keep them occupied for several minutes!
I have avoided this obvious reform ever since I started this project on June 1st, 2004. But it's time to grab the bull by the horns and have done with the inane absurdity of writing O-F for something that plainly sounds like "uv". "Uv" is, as a matter of fact, one reason I am a spelling reformer today. When I was in eighth grade, I saw that one of my classmates, who was not a stupid boy, wrote "uv" instead of "of", not as an act of defiance but just because he thought that was the way it was spelled. I thought, "Why not?"
Before then, I had been too busy learning how English is spelled to bother with the question of how it should be spelled. From then on, however, I thought more critically about why it takes us so many years to learn to spell, and how many better uses there are for educational time than merely mastering an insane orthography that is practically contrived to keep most people from being able to read, or at least read easily.
Oddly, some opponents of spelling reform use "uv" as an example of an unnecessary reform (presumably because of the phenomenon noted in the email above, that people get so accustomed to O-F as sounding like "uv" that making the spelling and sound conform seems almost infantile "too easy"), and a spelling that makes English look childish rather than, somehow, sophisticated, as its present nonphonetic spelling seems to them to be.
Bizarrely, some people think that formal writing actually should not be as clear as a pronunciation key. But that's precisely what alphabetic writing is supposed to be: a pronunciation key with which one can unlock the meaning of scribbles.
We have overloaded spelling with burdens it was never intended to carry, such as showing a word's origin in some language other than English, and the way it used to be pronounced (but no longer is pronounced as tho people want to know that).
The very least that alphabetic writing is supposed to show is how a word is to be pronounced. If it can also do other things, such as distinguish between similar-sounding words without losing phoneticity, so much the better. But showing the sound, clearly, is the very most important thing. Spelling must convey sound: "uv".
Munday, April 10, 2006: "duv" for "dove"
Yesterday I acknowledged that there are very few words in English that end in V. But there are some: shiv/chiv (slang for knife), Slav, Yugoslav. What matters in spelling is not so much whether a pattern is common as whether it is comprehensible. That is, will a reader, on seeing it, know how to say it? Here, they surely will. "Duv" has three letters and three phonemes, in one-to-one conformance. It is perfectly comprehensible by even the youngest child who has mastered the basic sounds of the alphabet.
D-o-v-e represents two different words, said differently. One is a noun, pronounced duv, that is the name of a bird of the same family as the pigeon but associated with the concepts of peace and wedded bliss. The other, pronounced doev, is an irregular past form of the verb "dive". The verb form is spelled sensibly enuf. The noun needs to be fixed: "duv".
Sunday, April 9, 2006: "retreeve" for "retrieve"
Today's word has the same problem as yesterday's. There is no reason for there to be an I in it. There's no I-sound, no long-I as in tie, no short-I as in it. The sound is long-E, which is most simply shown within a word by EE, as in feed, seem, and beep. So let's just swap an E for the I. Do we then need a final-E? Not to convey the sound, we don't, since the double-E before the V shows plainly that the vowel of the second syllable is long-E. But there are very few formal words in English that end in V. Only two common words (peeve, sleeve) and some not-so-common words (reeve, steeve) end in EEVE, but a lot more end in EVE (eve, believe, Steve, etc.), so people are accustomed to seeing a silent-E at the end of words of this sort.
Should we then drop an E from within the word and let the final-E show that the vowel is long? Would "retreve" be clear? Not necessarily. Compare breve, sieve, which have, respectively, a short-E (as many people say it) and short-I.
Should we just militantly insist that three E's are excessive, so one of them must go? Or should spelling reform focus on the truly objectionable things, such as misleading or ambiguous vowel combinations, rather than mere extra letters that do no harm? I opt for making spelling reform as easy to accept as possible, so offer a more conventional-appearing form for today's word: "retreeve".
Saturday, April 8, 2006: "yeeld" for "yield"
Why is there an I in this word? There's no I-sound, no long-I as in tie, no short-I as in it. The sound is long-E, which is most simply shown within a word by EE, as in feed, seem, and beep. So let's just swap an E for the I: "yeeld".
Friday, April 7, 2006: "rattatooey" for "ratatouille"
Today is Food Friday, so let's address the name of a vegetable stew of Provence that bears a name that the French may know how to say, and spell, but readers of English have no reason to write in that fashion.
-OUILLE is clear as mud to readers of English. We have no reason to be patient with such outrageous nonsense. There is no OU-sound in this word, and no L-sound either, even tho there are two L's!
We have a well-understood way of writing the sound now shown by -OUILLE: -ooey, as in gooey, hooey, and fooey. Let's use that.
One issue remains. Do we need to double the first-T to keep the first-A from being pronounced long, as some people pronounce pro rata? Maybe not, but I'd rather play safe by doubling the first-T to show that, tho you can pronounce the A before it short (as in bat) or broad (as in father), you can't pronounce it long: "rattatooey".
Thursday, April 6, 2006: "origommy" and "kirigommy" for "origami" and "kirigami"
Kelly Ripa on this morning's Live with Regis and Kelly television show mentioned that she and her sons were doing origami yesterday, so let's address that term for a Japanese-origin art of creating decorative objects by folding paper. While we're at it, let's make a parallel reform to a related Japanese-origin art, kirigami, which both folds and cuts paper to create decorative objects.
In both these words, the sounds of the A and I are ambiguous. The ending -AMI is found in a small number of English words and placenames, with varying pronunciations: a.mìe (the plurals hippopotami and thalami), áam.ee (Miami), áe.mie (rami, plural of the scientific word for "branch"), as well as the pronunciation here, óm.ee (salami, tsunami).
If we disregard the AM, and indeed all the letters before the last, a final-I is generally ambiguous, being pronounced long-I in a number of common words (alibi, alkali, alumni as most people say it, cacti, octopi, sci-fi, stimuli, etc.).
-OMMY, however, is clearly óm.ee, so let's apply that spelling to this twofer: "origommy" and "kirigommy".
Wensday, April 5, 2006: "momzy" for "malmsey"
On this Wine Wensday, let's address "A sweet fortified wine originally made in Greece and now produced mainly in Madeira. Also called malvasia, malvoisie."
ALM is ambiguous. Altho in this and various other words (alms, balm, embalm) it 'properly' has no L-sound, many people see an L and pronounce it. We can fix that simply enuf by not letting them see an L. There can be no justification for a silent-L, so let's just drop it.
The S is pronounced Z, so let's change it to Z.
The EY is ambiguous, and could be pronounced parallel to whey, they, or hey. If we drop the E, the sound becomes much clearer.
So we can save ourselves two letters and gain substantially in clarity. Less is more: "momzy" .
Tuesday, April 4, 2006: "sifon" for "siphon" or "syphon"
The alternative spelling of this word, with a Y, suggests an earlier attempt to clarify sounds, in this case to make plain that the I takes its long sound even tho it is followed by two consonants. But the main problem with this word is the absurd PH sequence for F.
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, so that spelling is irrational. PH is not just inefficient (F is shorter); it is also ambiguous. It is not always pronounced F, so is not just a harmless alternative spelling. In some words PH is indeed pronounced just as it looks, 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 just substitute a simple-F.
Once we get rid of the PH, the problem of the sound of the I being unclear vanishes, since if it were short, the reader would expect to see a double-F. The absence of a second-F cues the reader to pronounce the I long: "sifon".
Munday, April 3, 2006: "flite" for "flight"
As we approach the summer vacation season, many ads and articles are appearing about bargain airline flights, so this seems an appropriate time to address the word "flight".
We have the model, in familiar informal terms like "lite" and "nite", for how to revise this word to get rid of the preposterous silent-GH. My Random House unabridged dictionary shows a dialectal word in Scotland and northern England of that spelling which means "dispute; wrangle; scold; jeer". But my American Heritage dictionary shows no such word, and I do not recall ever having encountered it in reading and listening to international media, so we can ignore it. Besides, that word has the alternative spelling "flyte". If people who use it wish to preserve its distinctiveness in writing, they can just move to the alternative spelling.
In general, the reform of frequently used words should not be held back by the existence of rare or dialectal words spelled the same as a proposed reform. It makes no sense to consign the great majority who employ standard English to continue to suffer an insane spelling in order to keep a dialectal minority from having to deal with a new homonym.
Let us, then, use the -ITE convention to simplify the very common word "flight": "flite".
Saturday and Sunday, April 1 and 2, 2006:
"con/fuze" for "con/fuse" and
"cruze" for "cruise"
This weekend, let's deal with two different ambiguous spellings of the sequence long-U followed by the Z-sound.
"Fuse" is sometimes spelled "fuze", but only for some senses, even tho it is always pronounced with a Z-sound, never an S, unlike parallel words like "use" (yuez or yues) and ruse (rues or ruez). Few people could tell you which senses of "fuse" can at present properly be spelled with a Z and which not. It's very confusing. Let's just replace the S with Z everywhere, and not just in the word "fuse" in isolation but also in "confuse".
"Cruise" has an added element of ambiguity. Not only can the reader not know whether to give the S a Z-sound or S-sound, but s/he also cannot know whether the UI represents one sound or two. Intuition is no help. You just have to know to ignore the I when you see it written, and write a silent-I when you hear it. Why?
Let's just simplify these words by using -UZE in both: "con/fuze" and "cruze".
My thanks to "Firewall..." for "confuze" and "Clap..." for "cruze".
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