here for today's suggestion.
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Saturday, March 31, 2007: "keelate" and "keelation" for "chelate" and "chelation"
I was discussing with friends a news report that the Canadian government finds many types of fish dangerous to health because of high levels of mercury and wondered aloud if and how we can eliminate mercury and lead, common environmental hazards, from human tissues once they get in, and my friend Gaetano said "chelation therapy". When I looked up "chelation", I found as I suspected but could not really know, absent a check in the dictionary that the CH takes not the CH-sound (as in church) but a simple K-sound. If it's pronounced K, it should be written K, since the vowel following is E, so we can't simply drop the H ("celation") because C before E would be pronounced S! If it sounds like a K, let's just write a K.
But "kelate" would be ambiguous as to the first-E. Is it long or short? Why leave the issue ambiguous? Just double the E and everthing is clear: "keelate", "keelation".
Friday, March 30, 2007: "aicorn" for "acorn"
This Food Friday, let's reform the name of a nut that is not one of the usual foods of industrialized nations but that served as a staple for American Indians, especially in California, and as a famine food in Europe, mainly as flour.
It has a long-A in the first syllable that is not self-apparent, inasmuch as (a) the mere absence of a double-consonant following does not require the reader to pronounce the A as long and (b) there are a great many words in which an initial-A is pronounced as schwa: about, among, afield, afar, ajar, amour, and on and on, including a number of words that start as "acorn" does, with an AC-: acacia, academy, acanthus, acerbic, acetic, acidic, acoustic, acquire, acuity, and others.
Plainly it would be good to indicate that this word starts with a long-A sound, in some fashion other than just showing a single, initial A. We have a simple way of doing that, AI, as in aid, aigret, ailanthus, and the common, if nonstandard, ain't: "aicorn".
My thanks to "yaora..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, March 29, 2007: "histerea", "histerics" and "histerical" for "hysteria", "hysterics" and "hysterical"
I saw the word "heist" in print today and thought that, just as with IE (addressed yesterday), EI is ambiguous, as can be seen plainly in words like weird, seize, and the two common pronunciations of either and neither. But the obvious fix, replacing EI with Y, will not work as long as words like "hysteria" employ Y to represent the short-I sound.
I have already offered a number of reformed spellings* in the direction of making Y mid-word available to represent the long-I sound where no other formulation works. That is, how else do we show the long-I sound in "heist"? "Histe" doesn't work. Neither does "hiest". "Hyst" would also be ambiguous if we leave unchanged all the Y's that represent short-I's. But if we systematically replace all such Y's with I, then Y becomes available for unambiguous long-I mid-word. So let's work on that: "histeria", "histerics", "histerical".
* E.g., "mistery", "triptick", "abiss", "crisanthemum", "crisalis", and "sinnonim" for mystery, triptych, abyss, chrysanthemum, chrysalis, and synonym.
Wensday, March 28, 2007: "sheeld" and "windsheeld" for "shield" and "windshield"
IE is an ambiguous spelling (allied, alien, salient, science, shriek, sieve, sine die, kerchief). A new reader hearing "shield" or "windshield" would not likely guess that it is written with an IE. EE or EA would be more reasonable a guess, and EE the most reasonable of all. So let's write that: "sheeld" and "windsheeld".
My thanks to "Fisherman..." for "windsheeld".
Tuesday, March 27, 2007: "villin" for "villain"
AI is an ambiguous spelling that is usually pronounced with a long-A (plain, remain) but sometimes takes a short-A (plaid, again) or other sounds. Here, it represents a schwa. I don't know why you'd need two vowels to represent schwa.
If we drop one of the two vowels, which should it be? "Villan" looks like it has something to do with a "villa", and "villain" does in fact derive, ultimately, from "villa". But who sees a villain as having any connection with villas?
So let's drop the A and leave the I: "villin".
Munday, March 26, 2007: "exize" for "excise"
Altho some dictionaries show an alternative pronunciation with an S-sound rather than Z-sound, as would mean we can't reform this word except to remove the superfluous C, I have never, in six decades of careful listening to media from all parts of the English-speaking world, heard the pronunciation with an S-sound, so think we can safely replace the S with Z. Today's "descriptivist" dictionaries include ridiculously infrequent pronunciations just to play safe and not irritate vocal, but tiny, minorities.
In any case, no one says a C in the middle of this word. Not a hard-C (K-sound), not a soft-C (S-sound, which is already, intrinsically, part of the X-sound here). So we can certainly drop the superfluous C.
As to the Z-sound or S-sound at the end of this word, the entire English-speaking world, including hundreds of millions of non-native speakers who want to learn English for its usefulness, cannot be held back by tiny dialects. In all likelihood, the pronunciation with an S-sound is a result of the ambiguity of the -ISE ending. Once that ambiguity is ended, everyone will know how to pronounce this word: "exize".
Sunday, March 25, 2007: "jeoggrafy" and "jeograffic/al" for "geography" and "geographic/al"
I was thinking yesterday how wasteful of letters traditional spelling often is, in connection with the personal name "George", which we hear quite a lot, given that it is the given name of the present President of the United States. In that name, there are two G-E letter pairs that do nothing but stand in for the sound of J. What looks like it could be a three-syllable word, gee.áur.gee, is actually only one, jaurj. Don't think that a new reader's seeing three syllables in "George" is silly, since the German equivalent, Georg, is two syllables, and the Bulgarian equivalent, Georgi, is indeed three.
As a child, I couldn't understand why something that sounded like "jaurj" was spelled "george". I learned later that the two GE's were merely stand-ins for J. What I did not know until today, however, is that the GEO in "George" is the same "geo" as in "geography", meaning "earth". The original Greek name, which means "farmer" or "earth worker", is "georgos" (as transliterated into the Roman alphabet) , composed of two elements, the first of which, "ge(o)" does indeed mean "earth".
In today's selected words, the meaningful elements are "geo", earth, and "graph", write. Essentially no speaker of English conceives as "geography" as "earth writing", however.
Nor do we write Greek-derived terms in the Greek alphabet. So much for 'purists' who think we need to retain old-fashioned spelling to preserve links to original languages. Oh? Then why don't we write Greek letters for Greek elements in English words? Because nobody could read them. We'd have to teach two alphabets, and all our typewriters and computer keyboards would have to be able to type two alphabets, uppercase and lower, for everything written.
In all-too-similar fashion, we actually do have to teach two alphabets, or more, to read English: (1) "Traditional Orthography" (T.O.), which is what appears in regular text, and (2) a pronunciation-key set of characters in the dictionary, so we can know how to pronounce words that are not clear from their T.O. rendering. In that there is no universally agreed, single way to show sounds in a dictionary pronunciation key, we have to cope with many different schemes, some with marks like a horizontal line over a vowel to show its long sound; a flattened-U over a short vowel; and an upside-down little-e to show the schwa sound.
Some dictionaries use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), a specialized set of bizarre characters intended to describe every conceivable language on the planet, and which thus do not relate clearly to English in particular. Speakers of English who simply want to know how a word is pronounced but who make the mistake of looking in a dictionary that uses IPA, have to make sense of an extremely peculiar alphabet in which vowels take their "Continental" values, as tho the way English uses vowels is wrong! What an insane and absurd waste of our time and educational resources all of that is.
If we make spelling phonetic, either wholly or largely, we don't have to make much recourse to pronunciation keys, because the way something is written would tell us how to pronounce it. Toward that end, this project seeks to replace nonphonetic spellings with regularized, phonetic versions that make the task of reading and writing much simpler.
In today's words, "geography" and "geographic", we can clarify two ambiguous spellings: (1) we can replace a G that could represent a G-sound (the so-called "hard-G" that no letter but G represents) or a J-sound, with a simple-J, so we know exactly how it is to be pronounced; and (2) we can replace PH, which could be pronounced P, then H, as in uphill, with F, single or double.
In "jeoggrafy", we need only one F. A double-F would suggest at once that the A takes its short sound and that the syllable with the A takes the word's stress. In "jeoggrafy", neither of those is true. Rather, the syllable with the O takes the word's stress, and that O is short. So doubling the G, which leads the reader to see the O as short and to think the word's stress falls on the syllable containing the O, is the rightest thing we could do. In "jeograffic/al", however, both are true: A takes its short pronunciation, and the vowel that contains it is stressed), so we need a double-F there.
Since this pattern of differentiation between sounds follows well-understood rules, the reader or listener will not be confused, either as to how to spell them nor as to whether they are related. People really are not so stupid that they will be incapable of understanding that these words are related if the spellings are changed to "jeoggrafy" and "jeograffic/al". We instantly understand that they are related even tho they are said somewhat differently. If we can recognize the relationship in speech, we can recognize the relationship in writing, even tho the words as newly written are as different as the words are as spoken. If the spelling simply duplicates the speech, and we are able to understand the relationships in speech, we will be able to understand the relationships in writing.
People in general really are not, tho rigid opponents of spelling reform may well be, abysmally stupid.
Be it "jeo" for "geo", "cron" for "chron", or "graf(f)" for "graph", Greek-origin word elements will be fully as comprehensible in phonetic versions as in their current adamantly, even militantly antiphonetic versions.
Spanish, spoken as first language by at least as many people as English, phoneticizes everything. The Spanish equivalents for today's words are "geografía" and "geográfica". Spanish has the good sense to change the PH to F. Why shouldn't English?
Spanish does not change the G to J only because the two, J (anywhere) and G before E (or, incidentally, I), are pronounced the same. If Spanish pronounced these words with a hard-G, it would write GU ("gueografía" and "gueográfica"), and not be the slightest embarrassed at being thought by pedants to be 'ignorant' or 'uncouth' for intruding a U just so readers of Spanish would know how to say it! The very idea! Accommodating spelling to the people who have to read it! What a grotesque notion!
No, it is the idea of requiring people to adjust around original languages they neither know nor care to know, that is grotesque. English words should be spelled in unambiguous English fashion. In the case of today's words, that means: "jeoggrafy" and "jeograffic/al".
Saturday, March 24, 2007: "pressipiss" for "precipice"
The traditional spelling of this word is very misleading. It contains PRE- at the beginning (compare precipitant, precise) and -ICE at the end (advice, sacrifice) but neither of the long vowel sounds we should expect to find in those elements. Rather, the E and I are both short.
Ordinarily, to show a short vowel, we double the following consonant, but we can't do that here, because -CC- before a following-E or -I would sound like KS (accent, accident). So we can't write "preccipicce". And CC does not occur at the end of a word, so we can't just drop the final-E, and even if it did occur at the end of a word ("preccipicc"), it would have a K-sound, not an S-sound.
To show the S-sound and short vowel preceding the S-sound in both places, then, we have to replace the C's with double-S's: "pressipiss".
Friday, March 23, 2007: "caffeen" for "caffein(e)"
This Food Friday, let's address a common element in popular beverages and some foods. In some, like coffee, tea, hot chocolate, chocolate candies, and colas, the caffeine occurs naturally. In others, like artificially flavored diet beverages and 'energy drinks', it is added.
The word itself has two spellings, with and without a final-E. The spelling with a final-E is more common. It also has two common and one rare pronunciation. The two common pronunciations are the same, two syllables, kaa and feen, but the syllabic stress differs. In noun use, most people stress the second syllable; some, the first. In adjectival use, the stress tends to reverse, to draw the distinction between noun and adjective. British use tends to stress the first syllable in the noun; American, the second.
A third pronunciation, in three syllables, kaa.fee.in, is shown in some dictionaries, but not all. Since I have never heard it in decades of careful listening, and some dictionaries do not include it, I must assume it is used only in some small dialect or vocational or scientific specialty, like medicine or chemistry. We can't hold the whole world hostage to the curious pronunciations of small dialects or scientific specialties. Besides, if such speakers can see "caffeine" or "caffein" and read it as three syllables, they can perfectly well see "caffeen" and read it as three syllables: caf.fe.en. For the rest of the world, the two syllables they hear and say are the ones that matter, and listeners should be able to spell as caffeen something that sounds like kaa.feen: "caffeen".
Thursday, March 22, 2007: "leejon/air" for "legion/naire"
There are a number of things wrong with the traditional spelling of this pair of words. (1) E before GI is ambiguous (legislative, illegible, regimentation; allegiance, strategic, collegial). (2) IO is an ambiguous spelling, which often is pronounced with a long-I (ion, iodine, Iowa, anionic); sometimes with a long-E (accordion, period, radio). And sometimes it has no sound of its own but is merely part of a suffix (invention, facetious) or is present only to show that a G is soft, as here. (3) G before I is ambiguous. It can be "hard" (girl, gift, give) or soft (gist, gin, region). How is the reader to know? (4) The double-N is misleading, in suggesting that the word's stress falls on the second syllable, whereas in "legionnaire" the second syllable is the only syllable that bears no stress, not primary, not secondary. And (5) the final-E is silent, absolutely unnecessary to show the sound of the prior vowel, since AI before R is pretty much always said as flat-A. Adding an E after the R changes nothing. Solutions?
(1) To show that the E-sound is long, let's just double the E.
(2) Since in "legion", the I has no sound of its own, we can drop it, but only if (3) we change the G to J.
(4) We can drop the second-N in the longer word, because few readers will be tempted to see the O as long, given that it is not an E but an A that follows the N. And
(5) We can simply drop the superfluous final-E and save ourselves one letter we don't have to write or type, or waste ink or toner for.
Putting this all together, then, we get: "leejon" and "leejonair".
Wednesday, March 21, 2007: "auspiss/es" for "auspice/s"
The present spelling of this word (which is ordinarily used in the plural) incorporates the shorter, misleading word "spice", which in turn includes the shorter word "ice". Those two shorter words both have a long-I sound, but the complete word "auspice" has no such sound. Its I is short. One common way we show a short-I is by doubling the consonant that follows. Let's do that here: "auspiss/es".
Munday and Tuesday, March 19 and 20, 2007:
"porpus" for "porpoise"
"dolfin" for "dolphin"
Let's dispose of two irrational spellings, for related ocean-dwelling mammals.
"Porpoise" is the more-stupidly spelled word, because it includes the familiar word "poise" but doesn't pronounce it anything like "poise" (poiz). There are only four common words with "poise" in them, poise itself, counterpoise, equipoise, and porpoise. Let's make it three.
"Dolphin" employs the bizarre and indefensible spelling PH for what is simply an F-sound.
Fortunately, there are quick fixes for both words: "porpus" and "dolfin".
My thanks to "Clap..." for "dolfin".
Sunday, March 18, 2007: "avverdapoiz" for "avoirdupois"
The very French-looking traditional spelling for this name of the system of measures for weight (pounds, ounces) in the United States, which is still understood in Britain and former British settlement colonies, is pronounced in a drastically non-French way, like this: "avverdapoiz".
Saturday, March 17, 2007: "shilaily" for "shillelagh" / "shillelah" / "shillala(h)"
It's St. Patrick's Day, so let's reform the spelling of a traditional Irish cudgel (club). It now has four spellings recognized in my two electronic dictionaries and Dictionary.com, and supposedly two pronunciations, the one we hear everywhere (shi.lái.lee) and another that is the same except that it has a schwa at the end rather than the long-E (or, in clipped, British-style accents, short-I) commonly represented at the end of a word by -Y. In my 62 years of listening to people in a great many places in person and via television and film, I have never heard the second pronunciation in English so must assume it is dialectal (Ireland only?) rather than standard. Phonetic spelling that people can use easily cannot accommodate all possible dialects in all words, but (1) if people who say shi.lái.la are not confused when they hear shi.lái.lee, they won't be confused if they see a clear spelling of that sound, and (2) if people can see -LAGH and say -LA, they can perfectly well see -LY and say -LA, if it suits them. It works the other way around too, of course. People who say shi.lái.la can write "shilaila", which is closer to the actual sound than any of the four current accepted spellings, and the rest of us will have to adjust. Since there is no other word remotely similar, I don't see a problem in knowing what is meant. There is in any case no reason to retain the present, bizarre, most common spelling, which has a silent-GH and an E pronounced like AI and a double-L that suggests that the word's stress falls on the first syllable when it actually falls on the second. Nor should we have to remember all that just to use the word in writing. So let the great preponderance of us, who say shi.lái.lee, write that sound simply: "shilaily".
Friday, March 16, 2007: "zookeeny" for "zucchini"
This Food Friday, let's skip to the very last word* in the possible-future-words list that I compiled from my own observations and suggestions from readers.
When I went to spell this word in second position (the traditional way), above, I mistakenly typed "zuchinni". And why not? That's as good a spelling, or bad a spelling, as the actual, traditional rendition.
We need to remember that at least half of spelling is writing what you hear or think, not just reading what you see. We should strive for spellings you can create from your own mind when you hear or think something. You cannot presently do that with a very large portion of all words in English (and still be right).
Taking that as a key principle, how would most readers of English visualize "zucchini" if they heard it for the first time?
Well, the first syllable sounds like the familiar word "zoo". So let's spell it that way. The second syllable sounds like the familiar word "keen". So let's spell that syllable that way. The third syllable sounds like what is usually written with a -Y. So let's spell it that way. Taking the most common way of writing all these sounds, then, we end up with: "zookeeny".
* That was the last word, until today. Once used, a word from that list is deleted, and moved to the archive files, Chronological and Alphabetical.
Munday-Thursday, March 12-15, 2007:
"jaggid" for "jagged"
"raggid" for "ragged"
"ruggid" for "rugged"
"doggid" for "dogged"
Let's reform a little family of words ending in -GED that look like the simple past of a one-syllable verb but are really adjectives and have two syllables, the second pronounced gid (as in giddy). There are about 13 common and 4 uncommon words of this general sort, where an -ED ending is pronounced as a separate syllable. We've already dealt with one, belovèd,* and will deal with others in time. This week, let's just fix those that end in the sound -GID, by respelling their present -ED ending -ID instead: "jaggid", "raggid", "ruggid", and "doggid".
* March 13, 2005.
My thanks to "Fisher..." for "doggid" and "jaggid".
Sunday, March 11, 2007: "arc/ainjel" for "arch/angel"
There is no CH-sound (as in church) in the longer of today's two related words, so should be no H. The present spelling is especially absurd in that it includes the shorter word "change" but is not pronounced like it.
The current spelling is also odd in the "angel" part, having an A followed by two consonants but pronounced long, whereas the reader is entitled to expect it to be short. Further, we have a G for the J-sound.
The two words angel and angle cause problems for many new readers, because they are very similar in spelling but very different in pronunciation. Angle follows the rules: two consonants, short-A; fine. G for the unique sound that only G conveys; fine. Angel breaks the rules.
As I pointed out on Friday, AI is a common way of showing a long-A within a word (rather than at the end) when no other cue suffices, so we can readily use that to convey the long-A before two consonants here. In that the sequence in the longer word here, "arcainjel", becomes C-A-I-N, a name from the Bible, it is especially fitting. Since we are accustomed to seeing AI start off a word (aid, aide, aim, ail, ain't*), that initial sequence should not puzzle the reader in "ainjel" either.
Putting this all together, then, we get: "arc/ainjel".
* Whether ain't is good English is irrelevant for this purpose. We are accustomed to seeing it in informal writing, and it starts off the same as the proposed spelling for angel ("ainjel"), so people should know on sight how to pronounce the AIN in "ainjel".
Saturday, March 10, 2007: "dracena" for "dracaena"
"Dracaena" is the name of two related groups of decorative (house)plants, including the Lucky Bamboo that is planted among stones in water and the dracaena marginata, that has narrow pointed leaves with red or purple margins.
Latin students will want to pronounce it dra.kíe.na, but in English it is pronounced dra.sée.na.* Since it is pronounced dra.sée.na, and since "dracena" is an alternative spelling, let's just banish "dracaena" to the antique-spellings pile where aesthetic, haemorrhage, and mediaeval** reside: "dracena".
* This is one reason I suggested yesterday that AI would be better in "hollapainyo" than AE ("hollapaenyo"), because AE is often pronounced EE (algae, aegis, larvae, Caesar salad).
** That some people in Britain and other places retain antique spellings long past the time when modern people discarded them does not argue against regarding such spellings as out-of-date. Modern people are entitled to look down their nose at people who continue to use stupid, affected, unphonetic, and antique spellings. And make no mistake: you will be judged by how you spell, which is one reason spelling reform has been held back. But it's time to reverse the "snob appeal" of spelling "correctly" in irrational fashion, and make spelling intelligently a source of pride and, yes, even snobbism.
Friday, March 9, 2007: "hollapainyo" for "jalapeño"
It's Food Friday again, so let's deal with the preposterous present spelling of a flavoring that has recently become popular, a very hot pepper used especially in Mexican cuisine. Food flavored with these peppers is now commonplace, so it's time to "naturalize" the spelling.
The present spelling is not just contrary to English use but also ambiguous, and it has led to mispronunciations. The most common mispronunciation is hòl.a.péen.yo, which is not recognized by dictionaries yet. There is thus still time to head it off by phoneticizing the spelling.
The Spanish spelling employs a tilde (~) over the N, but English does not use diacritics, so the tilde has to go. Without it, "jalapeno" is likely to give rise to other mispronunciations, such as hòl.a.pée.no, even jàal.a.pée.no.
The J is entirely wrong for English. It represents an H-sound, so should be replaced by H.
The first-A is wrong, since it is a short-O sound. Altho that sound is also called "broad-A", there's no way for people to know that an A does not take either of A's expected sounds, short (as in at) or long (as in ate). Thus, O would be much better. To show that the O is short, we can double the following-L, so what the reader sees at the beginning of this long word is the start of the familiar shorter word hollow.
The second-A, in the second syllable (jalapeño), is fine. It will be read as a schwa, which is OK. The final-O is also fine as-is.
The sound expressed by Ñ in Spanish is expressed by NY or NI in English (canyon, opinion). NY is much clearer, so let's use that.
The E in the third syllable is pronounced long-A. There are several reasonably clear ways to spell long-A: AE (sundae), AY (Sunday), A_E (ate), AI (raid). Indeed, any single vowel before a single consonant can often be read as long, tho that is not reliable. Indeed, that is presumably the way the pronunciation hòl.a.péen.yo came into being. People saw an E before a single consonant and read it as long.
Given that the long-A sound in "jalapeño" falls within a word, AY (as would produce "hollapaynyo" or "hollapaynio") is not ideal. "Hollapaynyo" looks especially odd. We can't use A-alone, because (1) "hollapanyo" would be seen to have two consonants after the A, so the A would be read as short by many people (compare banyon, canyon); and (2) even if the spelling were "hollapanio", many people would see the A as short (compare manioc, companion). AE might work: "hollapaenyo", but that is an unusual use of AE. A_E wouldn't work ("hollapaneyo"), because some people would see the NE as a separate syllable, and not necessarily pronounced like knee. They might see it as parallel to "they", and end up pronouncing "hollapaneyo" hòl.la.pa.náe.yo!
Given that a P precedes and an N follows the long-A sound in this word, AI seems the best choice, because the familiar short word pain would be seen as part of the longer word, and pronounced as we already pronounce P-A-I-N.
Put this all together and we get: "hollapainyo".
Thursday, March 8, 2007: "ukalaily" for "ukulele" / "ukelele"
Altho most people outside Hawaii may not encounter this word often, it is a word we all know, that is part of a group of words that end in what looks like a silent-E but is not. Rather, the single-E at the end is pronounced long-E. There are over 100 such familiar words (acne, catastrophe, apostrophe, facsimile, etc.), but most words that end in a long-E sound employ a -Y or -EY to express it (any, every; attorney, blarney). A few words employ both, in alternate spellings: whimsy/whimsey, whisky/whiskey. Some employ -EE (employee, chickadee, pedigree). Of the three patterns, -Y is by far the most common, so let's conform ukulele/ukelele to that pattern.
A second spelling problem involves the third syllable, which presently contains an -E-. But the sound is not long-E, not short-E. Rather, it is long-A or flat-A, as in airmail. Let's spell it that way, -AI-.
There is yet another spelling problem with this word, the second syllable. Is it spelled with a U or an E, both of which spellings appear in the dictionary? Neither of those spellings shows the sound plainly, since the sound is schwa, that unstressed, neutral vowel that is the most common vowel sound in English and is most often shown by A but can be written E (telephone, elephant), O (anatomy, position), or U (upon, museum). Since A is the most common way schwa is written (about, American, alabaster, anatomical), let's conform today's word to that pattern.
There is one remaining oddity in this word (for a four-stringed guitar used especially in Hawaiian music): some people say the first syllable as YU-; others, especially in Hawaii,* say OO-, without a Y-glide. In reforming the spelling, we don't have to choose a pronunciation. If we just leave the U-, people can say whichever they want, because the U accommodates both pronunciations.
Put this all together, then, and you get: "ukalaily".
* Hawaiians inclined to a fully-Hawaiian pronunciation, ùe.ka.láe.lae, are of course entitled to say that, but in doing so they are speaking Hawaiian, not English.
Wensday, March 7, 2007: "impune" for "impugn"
There is no G-sound in this word, not a hard-G (go, get), not a soft-G (gesture, gentle); so there should be no written-G. If we simply drop it, the result ("impun") would be seen as having a short-U, which of course is wrong. The quick fix is simply to add an E at the end: "impune".
Tuesday, March 6, 2007: "onnomatopeeya" for "onomatopoeia"
This very long word is also a tad odd in not sounding anything like what it means, given that it means* "the formation of a word, as cuckoo or boom, by imitation of a sound made by or associated with" the thing it refers to. It is also extremely unusual in having four vowels in a row, OEIA! Remembering which vowel goes where in that long sequence is very hard to do. And why should we have to do it, since the vowels do not form any familiar pattern?
The fact that there are no double consonants also leads the reader to wonder whether the vowels are long or short. And with very long words (6 syllables, in this case), where the stresses fall is also unclear.
If we replace the indecipherable and unpronounceable -OEIA with -EEYA, we at once show the pronunciation and suggest that there is a stress in the EE part of the word, probably primary. Where is or are the other stress(es)? If we double the N, we at once show that the initial-O is short and that there is a stress on that syllable. The stresses of the other syllables then fall into place by reasonable guesswork. So let's do that: "onnomatopeeya".
The derivative "onomatopoetic" would probably fade away, to be replaced by the more conventional derivation (as reformed) "onnomatopeeyic". If it were retained, however, its spelling would be "onnomatopoetic" or "onnomatopo(e)wetic", depending upon whether "poetic" and "poem" are reformed (in such fashion).
* Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary.
Munday, March 5, 2007: "globbule" / "globbular" for "globule" / "globular"
The spelling "globule", is misleading, first, because it plainly relates to globe, which has a long-O, and second, because it has only a single-B, which would lead many readers to see the O as long even if they did not already know the word globe (which by far most will). Happily, this twofer has a quick fix, simply doubling the B: "globbule", "globbular".
Sunday, March 4, 2007: "soal" for "soul"
Sunday seems an appropriate time to offer this word. Its traditional spelling has an OU but no OU-sound. The sound is long-O. In this word, that could be spelled various ways, some clearer/less clear than others: "soal" (like coal, goal, foal, shoal), "soll" (like poll, roll, toll), "soel" (like the male name Noel, as some people say it). "Sole" is already taken. "Soll" could be seen as parallel to doll, loll, or moll rather than boll, troll, or stroll). So this seems best: "soal".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, March 3, 2007: "exume" for "exhume"
AOL's welcome screen today hilites a story about a ship that might have belonged to the famous pirate Blackbeard, with this headline: "Experts Exhume Mysterious Ship". So let's reform "exhume"* today. The H adds absolutely nothing but length. It in no way affects the way the word is to be pronounced, and its presence cannot be guessed by someone who merely hears the word. Let's just drop it, okay?: "exume".
Friday, March 2, 2007: "ravvenus" for "ravenous"
This Food Friday, let's deal with a word for extreme hunger. The present spelling has two trouble spots. First, it contains the smaller word raven, which has a long-A, but the longer word is pronounced with a short-A. Second, it contains an OU that does not take the OU-sound.
(1) The most common way to show a vowel is short is to double the following consonant. There are a few consonants, however, which are rarely or never doubled in traditional spelling. V is one; J, another. There are some double-V's (savvy, divvy, skivvies, revving), but no double-J's in ordinary English words. There's no reason there can't be. "It just isn't done!"
Today's word does not involve J's, so we don't have to deal with that today. Since we do occasionally double a V after a short vowel, we can certainly do that here.
(2) In general, we should change all -OUS endings to -US, a spelling that is employed in some words (plus, abacus, bonus), so is easily read. In that -OUS words is a huge category, let's just deal with each word we should change as we come to it.
Putting these two changes together, we get: "ravvenus".
Munday-Thursday, February 26-March 1, 2007:
"commet" for "comet"
"commity" for "comity"
"camitt/y" for "commit/tee"
"camingle" for "commingle"
Let's deal with four (and a half) words with similar features, all of which are now spelled badly.
(1) "Comet" is very ambiguous. It contains what looks to be the familiar prefix CO-, which is pronounced with a long-O. It also contains the little word, learned early, "come", but it isn't pronounced that way either. It is actually pronounced kóm.at or even kóm.it. The way to write kóm.it with standard conventions would be "commit". The double-M would show at once that the O is short and that the word takes stress on its first syllable. Alas, that spelling is already taken for a word pronounced very differently.
Even if we revise the present word "commit", as below, we dare not reuse its spelling for another word, because that would confuse readers.
Given that CO- will be read as having a long-O unless the following-M is doubled, we have all positions filled but one: comm_t. We can't put an I there. An O or U would be wrong. An A might be seen as a schwa, but some people might see MAT and pronounce it that way. We are pretty much left with the E the word starts with, so let's just leave E before the T: "commet".
(2) "Comity" (peace and harmony, especially among nations) is pronounced kóm.i.tee, but looks as tho it might be pronounced kóe.mi.tee, since there is only a single-M after the O and CO- is a common prefix that ordinarily takes a long-O. If we simply double the M, however, the O plainly becomes short: "commity".
(3) As discussed above, the present word "commit" (ka.mít) looks as tho it should be pronounced as the current word "comet" is in fact pronounced (kóm.it), that is, as tho the word's stress falls on the first syllable, and that that syllable contains a short-O. In actuality, the stress falls on the second syllable and the vowel in the first syllable is schwa, not short-O. The derivative "committee" that is, a group to which a question is committed for investigation or action looks as tho it should bear stress on the last syllable, like guarantee, addressee, escapee, returnee. The -EE gives too much prominence to that syllable.
To show the proper stress in the base word, we need merely drop one of the M's and add a second T, to form the familiar word "mitt" there. But we cannot very well write "comitt", because CO- looks as tho it should have a long-O, and the word would appear to mean something like a shared mitt, which makes no sense. The vowel most commonly used to show a schwa is A (America, approach, about, paragraph, Anna, Patricia, Keesha, Busta Rhymes). So let's use that: "camitt".
(3½) Once we have done that, we need merely add Y to form the derivative now spelled "committee". A -Y does not demand stress the way -EE does: "camitty".
(4) "Commingle" is frequently mispronounced with a long-O. That makes a certain amount of sense, in that COM- and CO- are different forms of a prefix that means "with". But the double-M was supposed to show that the O is not long. It's not short either, however, as in common, but a schwa. As stated above, the letter most commonly used for schwa is A, and it is likely to be seen here as a schwa, by, for instance, comparison to among and, especially, atingle and flamingo. So let's use A: "camingle".
So this little group resolves to: "commet", "commity", "camitt/y", and "camingle".
My thanks to "Clap..." for "commet".
Sunday, February 25, 2007: "cifer" for "cipher" / "cypher"
This little word, which in its simplest interpretation means "zero" and most complicated means "code", is written in code, where PH, incomprehensibly, stands for F. There is no natural bond between P and H as makes the pronunciation of first the one and then the other merge to create an F-sound, any more than BV said together would form an S-sound or QZ would form a D-sound. Why do we put up with PH as F in some words, but not others: chophouse, flophouse, haphazard, shepherd, sheepherder, uphill, upholstery, and the like?
If you hear an F-sound, you should be able to guess that the word has an F in it, and be right. If you hear a word that is parallel to "fifer" or "lifer", you should be able to guess that it is spelled parallel to those words. Such a guess would be wrong, now. Let's fix that.
Do we need a Y to show a long-I sound here? We don't need a Y in wife, knife, rife, or life. If the I were short, we would expect the F to be doubled (iffy, jiffy, spiffy, diffident, different). So an I before a single-F is plain enuf, despite words like aquifer and conifer. If anything, it is those words that are spelled ambiguously. This, however, should not be regarded as ambiguous: "cifer".
Saturday-Saturday, February 17-24, 2007:
"cach" for "catch"
"hach/et" for "hatch/et"
"lach" for "latch"
"nach" for "natch"
"dis/pach" / "despach" for "dis/patch" / "des/patch"
"rachet" for "ratchet"
"snach" for "snatch"
"thach" for "thatch"
Let's dispatch an entire little family of words with a superfluous-T. As can be seen from attach, detach, bachelor, and spinach, we don't need a TCH to show a CH-sound (as in church) after an A.* New readers should not have to memorize which words take what is effectively a silent-T and which don't. Let's just cleanse the language of silent-T's in this entire family (and derivatives, like nutha(t)ch) and good riddance to them.
There are, alas, a couple of words where a T might have to remain, specifically "batch" (because of the well-known composer's name, Bach) and "match" (because of the aeronautical term "Mach" for the speed of sound). I have also already offered "scrach", on May 11, 2006, where I point out that TCH is a French spelling we don't need in English.
These other words, however, are all available to be reformed now: "cach", "hatch/et", "lach", "nach" (slang for naturally), "dis/pach" (or "des/pach"), "rachet", "snach", and "thach".**
My thanks to "Cargo..." for "cach".
* A plain CH also follows an A in the combinations EA (reach, impeach) and OA (roach, poach).
** Compare surname "Thacher", as in the name of a major law firm, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, LLP.
Friday, February 16: "semmoleena" for "semolina"
For this Food Friday, let's reform the word for "The gritty, coarse particles of wheat left after the finer flour has passed through a bolting machine, used for pasta." "Semolina" is parallel in spelling to "Carolina" (kàar.a.líe.na), but pronounced very differently (sèm.a.lée.na). If the sound in the third syllable is that of EE, let's just write EE. Further, the single-M leaves unclear the sound of the preceding-E. Is it long, as it could be, or short? It's short. To show that, we should double the M: "semmoleena".
* American Heritage Dictionary.
Thursday, February 15: "rapore" for "rapport"
There are two things wrong with today's word: (1) It has a silent-T, which is preposterous. If the T is silent, why is it there? And how is someone who only hears the word to know there's a T at the end? (2) The double-P suggests that the stress falls on the first syllable, when it actually falls on the second.
We could write this "rapor", but that is parallel in spelling to the familiar word vapor, which is pronounced very differently: váe.per. As most people say "rapport", it rhymes with "adore", even taking stress on the second syllable. So let's spell it that way: "rapore".
People who say a full short-A in the first syllable will see the presence of an A there, in the respelling "rapore", as warrant to say short-A. They won't feel 'corrected' by a spelling that most people will instead read as they say "rapport", with the A schwaed. Rather, they can see it as similar to words like abhor and abjure, which have a full short-A, not a schwa, in similar position. So this respelling eliminates an irrational silent-T (and saves a letter), accommodates both common pronunciations, avoids false comparison to vapor, and cues stress on the second syllable: "rapore".
Wensday, February 14: "langger" / "langgwish" for "languor" / "languish"
On Valentine's Day, let's reform a linguistic couple that are vaguely similar in (ambiguous) spelling but pronounced differently.
"Languor" looks as tho it should have the same W-sound as "languish", but it doesn't. And both words are unclear as to whether there is a hard-G sound following the NG-sound. We can fix both problems easily, first by dropping the UO from "languor" and replacing it with GE, second by replacing the GU in "languish" with GW. After all, GU is sometimes used merely to show a hard-G before E or I (guess, guide). GW makes clear that there is a W-sound in the word, not just a hard-G. So today's newly happy couple is: "langger" and "langgwish".
Tuesday, February 13: "acommadate" for "accommodate"
"Accommodate" is one of the favorite trick words of spelling snobs, with its unexpected double-C and double-M. There's a good reason for there to be a double-M, to show that the O-preceding is short. There is no reason for a double-C. Quite the contrary, there is good reason not to double the C, because that implies that the sound of the A-preceding is short, whereas it is actually a schwa. Without the double-C, readers would see it as a schwa, by comparison to a great many words that start with A in a syllable to itself, from about and America to ajar and around.
The long word "accommodate" contains what sounds like the short, familiar word "comma" within it, but doesn't spell it that way. Why not? If it sounds like "comma", let's spell it "comma". This makes especially good sense in that the words starts off with a schwa sound that is spelled A, so when we come to another schwa in the same word, we are well advised to spell that one with an A as well: "acommadate" (and its frequently used derivative, "acommadation/s").
My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion.
Munday, February 12: "duwet" for "duet"
UE is ordinarily pronounced in one syllable, as in sue, blue, and true. If a word does not have that sound, it should not be spelled with UE.
Moreover, "duet" is parallel in form but not sound to cruet and suet (pronounced krúe.wit and súe.wit).
To show that this word has two syllables, we need merely put a consonant between its vowels. The pronunciation contains a W-sound, so let's just write a W. To show that the second syllable contains an E-sound, not the short-I sound in cruet and suet, we need merely leave the E as-is.
Only one issue remains: will the reader understand that the word's stress falls on the second syllable? English does not have any reliable way of showing syllabic stress, and people have to guess as to stress all the time. In this case, they have an easier time than they often do, since "wet" is a very common word learned very early. People seeing it will be inclined to give it its full vocalic value, a short-E, not schwa. Once they do that, they will recognize the familiar word "duet" and give it its proper stress: "duwet".
Saturday and Sunday, February 10 and 11:
"plezzant" for "pleasant"
"plezher" for "pleasure"
Please, from which both these words derive, is spelled unphonetically, so we shouldn't be surprised that its derivatives are also unphonetic. On November 3rd and 4th of last year, I offered reform of "please" and "displease" (to "pleeze" and "displeeze"), so we can now move on to derivatives of different sound.
"Pleasant" is spelled nothing like the sound of the word. Rather, the S represents a Z-sound and the EA represents a short-E sound, which no new reader could be expected to expect from the single-S following, especially in lite of the ready comparison to please.
In like fashion, "pleasure" is spelled nothing like the sound of the word it is supposed to convey. It comprises two subwords, plea and sure, but those two words are said differently (plee and shuer, respectively).
There can be no defense to the absurd spellings of these two words.
Fortunately, we have alternative spelling conventions that empower us to write these words clearly so any new reader will be able to pronounce them right on first viewing, and anyone who hears them said will be able to guess correctly how they are to be spelled: "plezzant" and "plezher".
My thanks to "Clap..." for the suggestion "plezher". Naturally, all derivatives of these words will also be affected (e.g., plezzantly, plezzantry, and plezherable).
Wensday-Friday, February 7-9:
"thare" for "there"
"thair" for "their"
"whair" for "where"
Let's clarify the sounds of three common words that are misleadingly parallel in spelling or sound, but in any case are all nonphonetic.
Two parallel the spelling of here, mere, and sincere, so should be pronounced with a long-E. But they actually have the AI(R) sound of hair, fair, and pair. That sound is also spelled -ARE, as in the homonyms hare, fare, and pare. Both patterns are phonetic, and having two patterns allows us to distinguish among these and other homonyms (flare/flair, stare/stair). Thus we can use those two patterns to phoneticize yet distinguish "there" and "their".
EI is ambiguous. It can be pronounced long-I (height, scheist, sleight of hand), long-E (conceit, receive, weir), even long-A (eight, freight, weigh, inveigh). Either and neither are pronounced with a long-I by many people, but long-E by most. "Their" is an oddball, in having a flat-A. Let's rid the language of that oddity.
Since "their" has an I in it, the AI spelling would seem a good choice for that word. Since "there" and "where" both have the pattern vowel-R-E, it would seem to sense to assign the -ARE spelling to them. However, "where" is used in some compound words, such as "wherever" and "whereabouts", so it would be better if the sounds of the main word were all shown before the R. That means that "whair" is a better spelling.
We can thus resolve this little group of unphonetic words to new spellings that are phonetic while retaining the useful spelling distinction now found in "there" and "their": "thare", "thair", and "whair".
My thanks to "Clap..." for "thare" and "whare". Naturally, all derivatives will also be affected (e.g., somewhare, nowhare, anywhare, whareas, tharefor(e), thareunder, and thairs).
Sunday-Tuesday, February 4-6, 2007:
"crome" for "chrome"
"cromeum" for "chromium"
"cromosome" for "chromosome"
The H in these words adds nothing but length and confusion. It is un-English to say the CH-sound (as in "church") before R, and in fact the CH represents a K- or hard-C sound. We could change all these CH's to K, but a lot of people accustomed to the current appearance of English might find that "funny-looking". We can instead simply drop the H, save ourselves a letter in each word (and any derivatives), and not violate the current look and feel of the language.
In the word "chromium", we have another oddity, -IUM when there is no I-sound, not long-I (as in I, fly, high), not short-I (as in it, in, dictionary). Instead, the sound is long-E (as in museum or petroleum), so let's write an E.
Put these two changes together and we get: "crome", "cromeum", and "cromosome".
Saturday, February 3, 2007: "mizer" / "mizzerable" for "miser" / "miserable"
S for a Z-sound is hard to justify, and a single consonant and following-E after the I in "miserable" is misleading. The reader should be able to see that as signalling that the I takes its long sound. So let's change the S to Z in both words and double the Z in the second (compare mizzenmast, dizzy, blizzard) to clarify the sounds in this twofer: "mizer" and "mizzerable".
Friday, February 2, 2007: "balony" for "baloney" / "boloney" / "bologna"
There are three spellings and three pronunciations for this common cold cut. The spellings "baloney" and "boloney" have only one pronunciation; "bologna" has three (ba.lóe.nee, ba.lóe.na, ba.lóe.nya), but almost nobody uses any but the same pronunciation that applies to the other spellings (ba.lóe.nee). Those spellings have an E that at best serves no purpose and at worst confuses the issue: is the -EY pronounced as in they and whey? No, it is not.
People who insist on saying ba.lóe.na or ba.lóe.nya can retain the spelling "bologna". The great preponderance of us, who say ba.lóe.nee, can both save ourselves a letter and clarify the sound: "balony".
My thanks to "yao..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, February 1, 2007: "muzic" for "music"
"Music" means "(the art of) the Muse",* and Muse is pronounced with a Z-sound, so "music" is pronounced with a Z-sound. Fine. But why write a Z-sound with an S? If it sounds like a Z, let's just write Z: "muzic".
My thanks to "Cargo..." for this suggestion. By the way, "muze" for "muse" was offered here August 15, 2006.
* The Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary.
Wensday, January 31, 2007: "forfit" for "forfeit"
FEIT is a preposterous and unpronounceable spelling. Is it like feet? fight? fate? Is it one syllable, or two, fee-it? There is absolutely no way to justify so absurd a spelling. It's supposed to be pronounced like "fit", so let's just spell it that way: "forfit".
Tuesday, January 30, 2007: "evvanesse/nce" / "evvanesse/nt" for "evanesce/nce" / "evanesce/nt"
The musical group "Evanescence" was on a rerun of Letterman last nite, so this seems an apt time to address this word and its relatives.
"Evanesce", the verb from which the others derive, is troubling for two reasons. First, it starts with "eva", which (with a capital-E) is a common female name, in which the E is pronounced long-E or long-A. If we double the V, the sound of the E becomes clear.
Second, there is a silent-CE at the end of "evanesce" that sounds no different than would -SS or, to indicate stress on the last syllable, -SSE. Since it's hard for a listener to know there's an SC in a word where one hears only an S-sound, let's get rid of the C in all forms.
We could simply replace the CE with S: "evvaness", but -NESS is a common ending that does not usually take the word's stress. -ESSE would show the stress, as it does in finesse, largesse, and politesse. So let's use that: "evvanesse", "evvanessence", "evvanessent".
Munday, January 29, 2007: "hiku" for "haiku"
Spelling's brave new day
Sight and sound in unison
O happy reader: "hiku".
Sunday, January 28, 2007: "tabbernackle" for "tabernacle"
Sunday's a good day to address this religious word, which is spelled completely misleadingly. There are two E's, each of which could be seen by the reader as cuing a long pronunciation of the preceding vowel. But both those vowels are short!
The way we typically indicate a short vowel mid-word is by doubling the following consonant, which we would need to do in two places: "tabbernaccle". But -ACCLE is not found in any present English word. Is that reason enuf to avoid it? Perhaps not, but some people might find -ACKLE, which is found in other words (crackle, tackle, ramshackle), more congenial and predictable. That is, when they hear the word, they will more likely picture -ACKLE at the end than -ACCLE. Reformed spelling should aspire to predictability. So let's use a K: "tabbernackle".
Saturday, January 27, 2007: "kaypok" for "kapok"
This is a word one does not hear much nowadays, in that this fluffy, silky fiber from the seeds of a tropical tree has been largely, tho not wholly, replaced as stuffing for pillows and such by artificial materials like polyester. But it's still around.
The traditional spelling would more likely be read ka.pók, where A represents schwa and the accent shows syllabic stress on the O, than as it is intended to be read, with a long-A that also bears the word's stress. The mere absence of a double-P is not cue enuf as to how the word should be pronounced. So, let's respell it to make the pronunciation plain: "kaypok".
Friday, January 26, 2007: "hungger" / "hunggry" for "hunger" / "hungry"
This Food Friday, let's deal with what makes us eat, hunger.
NG is a very ambiguous spelling that has at least four common pronunciations: (1) its own nasal sound, without more (sing, hang, swung); (2) that NG-sound plus a hard-G (finger, anguish, anger); (3) (with a following-E) a regular N-sound plus a soft-G or J-sound (flange, lunge, ingest); and (4) a regular N-sound plus a hard-G (engrave, ingress, ungrateful). In the last two cases, the two letters N and G merely adjoin, in sequence; they do not merge to form a different sound than either would have alone. There is, however, no way to show that clearly in standard spelling. How is a new reader to know that anger, hanger, and ranger are pronounced very differently? This is why we need drastic spelling reform.
NGG is a new spelling, since it does not occur for this sound in any standard English word. NGG does occur in one spelling of "mahjongg", but it doesn't have that sound! Tho this project generally avoids new spellings, I suspect that this particular spelling will be welcomed more readily than most new spellings, since English* plainly needs to distinguish between NG without a hard-G sound and NG with a hard-G sound. There is really no sound basis for objecting to a double-G here: "hungger", "hunggry".
* The very word "English" has an ambiguous NG. Tho most people say it with a hard-G, some don't!
Tuesday-Thursday, January 23-25, 2007:
"swollo" for "swallow"
"wollo" for "wallow"
"wollet" for "wallet"
AOL on Tuesday hilited an AP report that an Australian diver survived a shark attack by poking it in the eye even after it had "swallowed his head", so let's address the word "swallow". Plainly, the shark had not really swallowed the diver's head, because the head would be in the shark's stomach had that happened. The shark actually briefly engulfed or surrounded the diver's head with its mouth, but "swallow" is used figuratively as the witness used it. Our concern is not what a word means ("swallow", for instance, is also the name of a bird famed for returning each year to a mission in California), but how it's spelled as against how it's pronounced.
ALL is a word learned very early, and is pronounced aul. The same letter sequence occurs in a number of other words learned early, such as ball, call, fall, hall and tall, all of which rhyme. The ALL-sequence in "swallow", "wallow", and "wallet" does not rhyme with those common words, which readers have the right to expect to be the model for the pronunciation of ALL everywhere.
Let's swap the A here for O, as in follow, college, volleyball, and the surname Follet.
With the words that end in W, we have another problem, the ambiguity of OW, which is pronounced in some places as the OU-sound ("now", "vow", "plow") but in other places as a plain long-O sound ("know", "glow", and "tow"). If the sound is just long-O, it should not have a W after it: "swollo", "wollo", and "wollet".
My thanks to "Clap..." for "wollet"; "yaora..." suggested reform of "swollow", but I chose a slitely different reform.
Munday, January 22, 2007: "nuthing" for "nothing"
Let's reform nothing today. No, that does not mean we take the day off from spelling reform. It means we address the irrationally spelled or pronounced word "nothing".
Altho this compound word may derive from no and thing, the "no" part itself derives from none, which may be where its short-U sound comes from. No matter. What does matter is that this is not a simple shoving together of the words no and thing, to be pronounced like the two words in rapid sequence as we do with other compounds (payday, hotshot, schoolteacher). New readers used to treating compound words that way will be puzzled as to why "nothing" is treated differently. We can explain that it is actually an alteration of the compound "nonething", from which the N-sound has been dropped, and keep a misleading spelling. Or we can simply replace the O with a U and show how the word is actually to be pronounced: "nuthing".
Sunday, January 21, 2007: "marter" for "martyr"
Sunday is an appropriate time to offer reform of this word, which has a Y where a listener would visualize an E. Since ER is the way this sound is generally spelled, and since part of good spelling is predictability (when you hear a word, you should have a pretty good idea of how to spell it), let's just replace the Y with an E: "marter".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion, as for yesterday's.
Saturday, January 20, 2007: "skee" for "ski"
We have finally had a little snow in my area,* so this is an apt time to reform a snow-related term.
-I is ambiguous, having two common pronunciations, long-I (hi, alibi, alkali, cacti, hi-fi, sci-fi) and long-E (broccoli, chili, khaki). The long-I pronunciation is far more common in words long established in English, tho the long-E pronunciation is more common in recent borrowings from languages written in the "Continental" fashion.
There are very few English verbs that end in I, which is why "skiing" looks so very odd to us. That is an oddity 'up with which we need not put' (use that reordering of "we need not put up with" on anybody who tells you it's wrong to end a sentence with a preposition).
There are three alternative spellings for "ski" that come readily to mind: "sky", "ske" and "skee". "Sky" is already taken, and wouldn't work anyway, because altho a final Y can, in many words, be pronounced long-E, one-syllable words ending in Y are generally pronounced with a long-I, not the long-E required for "ski" (e.g., by, dry, fly, my, spry, try, why).
"Ske" is clear in itself, by comparison with he, she, we, be; but it presents the question of how to spell the progressive tense of the verb. Do you simply add -ING, to form "skeing" (on the model of being), or does that look strange and present the reader with a problem of how to pronounce it?
In that "skiing" as both noun and verb form is the most common use of this word, "skee" and thus "skeeing", seems best: "skee".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
* I live in western Newark, New Jersey, only about 2 miles from the start of the Watchung Mountains. We have had a gloriously mild winter so far, with only a few bitter cold days and less than an inch of snow, cumulative, to this point.
Friday, January 19, 2007: "kameleon" for "chameleon"
Why a CH when there's no CH-sound (as in church)? If the sound is K, just write a K!: "kameleon".
Thursday, January 18, 2007: "barett" for "barrette"
I grew up with sisters, so heard this word (for a clasp to hold hair in place) a lot. I had no idea how it was spelled, and had trouble finding it in the dictionary because its spelling is so unlike its sound. BARR- puts too much emphasis on the A, and is unclear. ARR is the way English tries to show a short-A sound before R, when the reader might expect A before R to be pronounced as in bar, a broad-A or short-O (same sound). Contrast barren, arrow. But in this word, the A is neither broad nor short. It's a schwa.
Let's drop two letters to make the word clearer. Less is more.
Since the second-R does nothing to clarify the sound but indeed complicates and misleads the reader, let's get rid of it.
The silent-E at the end of the word does nothing, but also complicates the issue and might mislead some readers to wonder if the E before the double-T is long. It is not. The double-T without more is enuf to suggest at once that the E before it is short and that the word's stress falls on the second syllable.
So let's save ourselves two letters and make the sound clearer: "barett".
Tuesday and Wensday, January 16 and 17, 2007:
"toopay" for "toupee"
"toocan" for "toucan"
I was very surprised, when I checked the spelling of "toupee", to see that it has two E's and no accent. I had always assumed it was "toupé" . You can just never can tell with English.
In any case, these two words have an OU but no OU-sound. Instead, the OU stands in for the long-OO sound, which makes no sense. In the United States we could drop the O and leave just-U ("tupay", "tucan"), but people in some other countries might insert a Y-glide on reading such spellings (tyue.páe, tyúe.kaan), which would be wrong. If, however, we do not drop the U but replace it with a second-O, the sound will be plain in every country.
The only issue is where to put the syllabic stress, but indicating stress is not something that English spelling does. In Spanish, if the word's stress differs from what one could expect from the rules, you mark the stressed syllable with an acute accent. We don't use accents in English. In the case of "toupee", many people would be inclined, from comparison to words like guarantee and marquee, to put the stress on the end syllable, altho pronouncing it long-E!
What usually happens when you read in English is you sound out the word and supply the appropriate stress once the word is understood. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work, especially when you have two words identical in spelling, one of which (say, the noun) has stress on the first syllable (pérmit, tránsfer) and the other (say, the verb) takes stress on the second (permít, transfér). Tho a practice like that of Spanish, to mark unexpected or unclear stress with a diacritic, might be a good thing to have, most writers of English wouldn't use it because English just doesn't do that. So, let the stress fall where it may: "toopay", "toocan".
My thanks to "Shoe..." for "toopay".
Munday, January 15, 2007: "plajerizm" for "plagiarism"
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday is an apt time to offer this word for 'borrowing' texts from other people without acknowledgment.*
GI is a silly and cumbersome way to spell the J-sound. Why not just write a J? If we retain the second-A, we have a problem clarifying the first-A. "Plajarism" would be seen by some to have a short-A. Some people might also see it as foreign, pronounced plíe.ya.rìz.am. If, however, we change the second-A to E, the A before the J will be seen as long, and the sound of the second syllable will also be clear.
-ISM is a foolish way to write this common ending, which has a Z-sound, not S-sound. So let's write a Z.
Put this all together and you get: "plajerizm".
Naturally, all derivatives of "plagiarism" should also reformed: e.g., "plajery", "plajerist", "plajerize".
* MLK is perhaps the most famous lifter of other people's words in U.S. history. But as history's regard for George Washington was not diminished by the debunking of myths like the cherry-tree tale and JFK's reputation has not been destroyed by revelations of his womanizing, we will in time come to a measured acceptance of MLK as he really was, not as a saint but as an imperfect human being who played a valuable role in history despite his imperfections.
Sunday, January 14, 2007: "wunce" for "once"
"Once" is parallel in spelling but not sound to sconce, concept, concentrate, etc. The sound is parallel to dunce and uncertainty. We could spell it that way, with a -CE. Or we could spell it "wunse" with -SE, as in Bunsen burner, gunsel, or unselfish. Since the only common one-syllable word in English that rhymes with "once" is spelled dunce, let's write it that way: "wunce".
Saturday, January 13, 2007: "valyant" for "valiant"
"Valiant" is parallel in spelling but not sound to giant, reliant and defiant. I for the consonantal sound of Y is very hard to justify. If the sound is consonantal-Y, let's just write a Y: "valyant".
Friday, January 12, 2007: "potozh" for "potage"
For this Food Friday, let's anglicize the French borrowing for soup, especially a thick soup made with cream. This word is from the same sources as the fully-anglicized word pottage (vegetable soup, with or without meat), with which it could too easily be confused. But it retains its French spelling and pronunciation. Up to now.
-AGE is a common English ending, and is pronounced -ij or -aj, where A represents schwa. That is not what is said in "potage", so that is not how "potage" should be spelled.
What is said is poe.tózh. We could spell it that way, "poetozh", which would be clear, but do we really need the E? I don't think so, since the absence of a double-T suggests powerfully that the first-O is pronounced long. Why write an extra letter we don't need?: "potozh".
Thursday, January 11, 2007: "rackontur" for "raconteur"
Last nite, David Letterman stumbled over and mispronounced this word in speaking with, and of, Peter O'Toole. O'Toole, who hopefully* does know how to pronounce it, graciously overlooked that goof. Letterman, after some fumbling, ended up saying something like ràak.an.túer. Altho I do not find that pronunciation in my own electronic dictionaries nor at Dictionary.com, I suspect there are a lot of people who use it, given the misleading -EUR ending. So let's keep that in mind in selecting a clearer respelling.
A single-C is ambiguous. Is the vowel before it (the A) long (acorn, bacon), short (racoon (variant spelling of "raccoon", two C's being preferred), acolyte), or a schwa (acoustic, draconian)?
The commonly expected way a short-A before a K-sound is to be written is -ACK (back, lack, attack), and part of the purpose of spelling reform is to make spelling predictable, so people on hearing a word can guess at its spelling with a fair chance of being right. So, let's use -ACK- here.
For the -EUR ending, we could drop either the U, to leave -ER, or the E, to leave -UR. -ER would not permit of the long-U pronunciation David Letterman and many other people use. -UR would incline readers to say the right sound, the ER-sound, but permit people who use a long-U to continue to do so if that be their choice.
Moreover, -UR draws attention to the last syllable, as cues the reader to put the word's stress there, whereas -ER is such a common ending and so rarely takes the word's stress, that the reader would not be cued to stress the last syllable.
Putting this all together, then, we get: "rackontur".
* Please do not pick at this use of "hopefully". The Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary (1983) says plainly:Usage. Although some strongly object to its use as a sentence modifier, HOPEFULLY meaning "it is hoped (that)" has been in use since the 1930s and is fully standard in all varieties of speech and writing: Hopefully, tensions between the two nations will ease. This use of HOPEFULLY is parallel to that of certainly, curiously, frankly, regrettably, and other sentence modifiers.
The 1930s are 70 years ago. It's long past time for purists to accept that "hopefully" means what people intend it to mean, not what prigs wish it would be confined to mean. This project is about making English easier to use for purposes of communication. It is not about English as a god or an idol on a pedestral that must be worshipped for its purity.
Wensday, January 10, 2007: "shefflera" for "schefflera"
This popular houseplant, which can grow to 8 feet tall* indoors, has an ambiguous spelling that has given rise to at least five pronunciations: shéf.ler.a, shef.lír.a, shef.léer.a, shef.lér.a, and shef.láir.a. We can't do much about the variation in the pronunciation of the -ERA part, but we can certainly eliminate the C, which could give rise to even more pronunciations, if people saw it as taking a K-sound, as in scheme. So tho we can't completely phoneticize this word because of multiple pronunciations, we can at least simplify it, which is all this website attempts to do: "shefflera".
Tuesday, January 9, 2007: "jerbil" for "gerbil", "jeerd" for "jird"
There are three related words for cute little burrowing rodents with long hind legs for jumping, "gerbil", "jerboa", and "jird". Two of the three have a J for the J-sound. One does not. Let's fix that.
The word "jird", which is not nearly so well known as "gerbil", looks as tho it should be pronounced parallel to "bird": berd. It is not, but exactly like "jeered": jeerd. Let's spell it as it sounds.
So today's twofer is: "jerbil" and "jeerd".
Munday, January 8, 2007: "muzeum" for "museum"
In that the biggest box-office draw for three weekends in a row has been Ben Stiller's comedy Night at the Museum, this seems an apt time to reform the word "museum".
There's only one problem with this word, the S for a Z-sound. So we need only replace the S with a Z. Simple: "muzeum".
Sunday, January 7, 2007: "daibue" for "debut" / "début"
There are three problems with the present spellings of this word. First, in the older and more formal spelling, there is an accent. English does not use accents, so the accent has got to go.
Second, there is a silent-T. If it's not said, why is it there? Let's just replace it with an E, so readers are clear that there is a Y-glide before the long-U sound, as in argue, barbecue, and continue, rather than a long-OO sound, as in kudzu, snafu, or kung fu.
Third, the E does not, for most people, represent either a long-E (be, see) or a short-E (deck, dent) but a long-A (dainty, daisy). Certainly that is the sound of the French accented-E. How best to show that?
If we write simply "dabue", most readers will probably see it as having a schwa sound in the first syllable, even tho some will understand that the absence of a second-B suggests that the A is long. If we write "daybue", the sound will be clear but new readers might think the word has something to do with "day", as in combining forms like daybreak and daytime. AE ("daebue") is ambiguous, and could be seen as long-A, as intended, or long-I or long-E! AI is a common way of showing the long-A sound before a vowel (claim, abstain). So let's use that: "daibue".
Saturday, January 6, 2007: "cristal/ine" for "crystal/line"
Yesterday's word was amphetamine (to "amfetamine"), which leads naturally to today's, because one derivative of the word amphetamine is methamphetamine, which in its crystalline form ("crystal meth") is used as a street drug of devastating nature that is much discussed in the media. So let's deal with "crystal" today.
The Y in this word is never given either of its most common sounds, long-I (by, hyperactive, cry the last of which appears within the word "crystal") or long-E (worry, appendectomy, geology). Instead, it is always pronounced short-I. So why not just write an I?
The adjectival form "crystalline" presents two problems. First, there are two L's for no apparent reason, and their presence miscues readers to stress the second syllable, when it is the first syllable that takes the word's stress.
Second, -INE is pronounced three different ways, with a long-I (mainly British), long-E, and, most commonly, short-I. So we can't change that part. We can, however, drop the needless second-L: "cristal" and "cristaline".
Wensday-Friday, January 3-5, 2007:
"amfera" for "amfora"
"camfer" for "camphor"
"amfetamine" for "amphetamine"
Let's get rid of more PH's. The spelling PH for the simple F-sound is no more sensible than XW for the D-sound or PQ for the K-sound. PH is also ambiguous, in that sometimes it really does represent the P- and H-sounds in sequence: uphill, uphold.
So let's replace the PH in these words with a simple F.
We have some misleading O's here too. "Amphora" is seen by many readers (probably most) as taking stress on the second syllable, when it actually belongs on the first. Thus ,"amfora" will probably also be seen that way. If we replace the O with E, however, a misreading of syllabic stress is far less likely, due to the ready comparison of words like camera, opera, etcetera.
Some people would also be inclined to pronounce the OR in "camphor" (or "camfor") as tho it were not parallel to camper, which it is. If we just make the spelling parallel to camper, that temptation will not exist.
"Amphetamine" and its various derivatives (methamphetamine prominently among them) has a second problem, the -INE. Many people use each of the two pronunciations, -EEN and -IN. To choose either of those respellings would take sides in that little controversy. We don't need to take sides. We can just leave the -INE as-is and let people pronounce it as they like.
So this little group is: "amfera", "camfer", and "amfetamine".
Tuesday, January 2, 2007: "arouz" / "arouzal" for "arouse" / "arousal"
Yesterday we dealt with "carouse" and "carousal", to "carouz" and "carouzal". Those two words contain the smaller words "arouse" and "arousal", and the same logic holds. I won't repeat here the argumentation from yesterday, which is available just below this entry. In any case, today's twofer is: "arouz" and "arouzal".
Munday, January 1, 2007: "carouz" / "carouzal" for "carouse" / "carousal"
Yesterday we dealt with "car(r)ousel". Today, let's clarify a word that might be confused with that one, "carousal", and its verb, "carouse". New Year's Day seems an especially appropriate time to discuss this pair, which refer to "Boisterous, drunken merrymaking",* something many of us saw going on in Times Square last nite tho of course few or none of us (or our parents, in the case of students) engaged in such behavior.
In "carouse" (unlike in "car(r)ousel") the OU does represent an OU-sound. But the S represents a Z-sound. There is no secondary pronunciation in which the S represents the S-sound.
-SE is ambiguous, being pronounced Z in some words (rouse, rise, cruise, the verbs abuse and house) but S in others (concise, verbose, the nouns abuse and house, etc.).
-SAL is likewise ambiguous, sometimes representing a Z-sound (disposal, arousal, refusal) but other times an S-sound (dorsal, basal(t), sisal), and yet other times being given both pronunciations, some speakers preferring a Z-sound, others an S (spousal, paradisal). In "carousal", there is only the one pronunciation, with a Z-sound. So the S has got to go.
The one remaining issue is whether to write "carouze" or "carouz". The E adds nothing but length. Who needs that? This "silent-E" does not show the vowel before the preceding consonant to be long, because the OU-sound is invariable. There is no long version or short version. So there's no reason for the E to be there, especially since we have to drop it before making the noun! Why write it if it's silent and needs to be dropped?
So, we start the New Year with a twofer: "carouz" and"carouzal".
* American Heritage Dictionary.
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