Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
April-June 2007

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Saturday to Tuesday, June 30 to July 3, 2007:
"tekneek" for "technique"
"teknollojy" for "technology"
"teknolojjical/ly"for "technological/ly"
"pollyteknic" for "polytechnic"

Continuing with the CH/not-CH issue, let's fix a little family of words in which the traditional spelling CH represents a K-sound, not the CH-sound (as in church). We could just drop the H but leave the C, but CN is almost unknown within English words, acne and picnic being the only common words in which this occurs. -CN- occurs in a few other words in which the suffix -NESS is added to a word that ends in -C, but that is a different circumstance from what we have in -TECH- words.

There are lots of words in which the letter sequence -KN- occurs, and huge numbers of businesses and organizations use the spelling "tek", perhaps because it has a "hi-tek" look. So let's go with that.

"Technique" has the additional problem of an absurd -IQUE ending, which employs an I when there is no I-sound (no long-I, as in the word "I"; no short-I, as in "in") and -QUE merely represents a simple K-sound, not QU(E)'s ordinary sound, KW(E). The vowel before the Q is long-E, which is more simply written EE. So let's use that. The UE in the -QUE are both silent, so let's drop them. And it is un-English to end a word with Q, so let's change the Q to K: "tekneek".

In "teknology" there is the issue of where to place the stress in this four-syllable word. If we double the L, we show the reader that the syllable before is stressed: "teknollogy". That leaves the ambiguous -GY, which could be read with a hard-G or soft-G (gynecology). "Soft-G" is only the simple-J sound. Let's try to reserve the G to G's own distinctive sound ("hard-G"), and let J represent its distinctive sound: "teknollojy".

In the adjective and adverb derived from "teknollojy", the syllabic stress shifts one syllable farther back. We should alert the reader to that, by dropping the second-L from where these forms are not stressed and doubling the consonant after the syllable that is stressed. The fact that that consonant is J should not, logically, make any difference: "teknolojjical/ly".

The last word of this little family has the ambiguous letter sequence POLY- (polymorphous, polygamy, monopoly, roly-poly). We can make clear which sound is meant here by doubling the L: "pollyteknic".

So this family resolves to: "tekneek", "teknollojy", "teknolojjical/ly" and "polyteknic".

In that this discussion spans two months and two quarters, it also appears in the archive of discussions for the third quarter of 2007.

Friday, June 29, 2007: "colene" for "choline"

This Food Friday, let's end the week's efforts to sort out CH-sounds vs. CH-spellings with the name of a nutritional supplement that is spelled with a CH that represents the K-sound. Why? If the sound is K, let's just spell the word with a K.

The other problem with this word is the ambiguous -INE, which could be pronounced with a long-I, short-I, or long-E. In this word, the sound is long-E, and there are better ways to spell that: -EEN or -ENE. "Coleen" will look to some people like the female personal name "Colleen", which is also an ordinary word, for an Irish girl. We are accustomed to -ENE for chemical names, like kerosene and benzene, and the same letters end other words as well (gene, serene, intervene), so that seems the better choice: "colene".

Thursday, June 28, 2007: "shifon" for "chiffon"

Continuing prior days' efforts to sort out CH-sounds vs. CH-spellings, let's deal with a twice-inadvisable spelling for a type of fabric and a frothy texture to food, "chiffon".

The present spelling uses a CH but has no CH-sound (as in church). The sound is the one most commonly, and sensibly, written SH in English. So we should change the C to S.

The FF is both needless and misleading, since the more common pronunciation for this word puts the stress on the second syllable, whereas the doubled-F signals not just that the I in the first syllable is short but also that the first syllable carries the word's stress — which may be how the pronunciation shíf.on came into existence, as a spelling-pronunciation.

Do we need a double-F to cue the reader to a short-I sound before the F? We don't need it in uniform, manifold, or California. We don't need it here either.

In eliminating the second-F, we not only save a letter but also cue some readers that they can put the stress on the second syllable, where most people put it, but do not require people to stop saying the word with stress on the first syllable. People can say the word either way without feeling that they are ignoring a visual cue, which people who use second-syllable stress despite a double consonant after the first syllable might subliminally feel: "shifon".

Wensday, June 27, 2007: "shartruse" for "chartreuse"

In the past two days we have dealt with CH-sounds (as in church) traditionally spelled other than with a CH. Today, we deal with the reverse, a word that is traditionally spelled with a CH but which does not have a CH-sound.

"Chartreuse" is a liqueur and a color, spelled with CH because it comes from French, in which CH represents the SH-sound of English. To show the English CH-sound, French writes TCH. (German writes TSCH!) French feels no obligation to drop the T and see plain-CH as the English CH-sound. English has no obligation to write CH where the sound is actually SH.

The second syllable has two pronunciations, one with a Z-sound (shor.trúez),* the other with an S-sound (shor.trúes). I suspect that the S-sound is more common, but it's not important, because people who see -USE at the end of a word, know they can read it with either an S-sound or Z-sound (just look at the noun and verb forms of the same word, use). So we can leave the S and let people choose whichever pronunciation they prefer.

The last issue is the EU, which in English often signals a Y-glide before a long-U sound (euphemism, euphonious, feud). Here, the EU follows R, and a Y-glide is never intruded between an R and a following long-U, so the E is superfluous, even misleading.

Putting this all together, we get: "shartruse".

* Remember that in the spelling key used for pronunciations on this website, O followed by any vowel, including R, is always short-O as in "on".

Tuesday, June 26, 2007: "habichual" for "habitual"

Today's word, like yesterday's, has a -TU- in the traditional spelling but a CH-sound (as in church). I initially wondered aloud (in the future-words page of this site) if it is pronounced with a T-sound in Britain, but checked the Cambridge Online Dictionary and found it takes a CH-sound in Britain too. So there's no reason not to reform this to show a CH for the CH-sound: "habichual".

My thanks to "Red..." for this suggestion.

Munday, June 25, 2007: "furnicher" for "furniture"

There are at least four ways to spell the ending that sounds like chur- in church or -cher in teacher: -CHER, -TCHER, -TURE, and -TEUR (as in amateur, as many people say it). But sometimes -TURE is pronounced differently, at least by some speakers: couture, mature, entablature. Thus, the -TURE ending is ambiguous and should be replaced.

-TCHER ("furnitcher") would not only be needlessly longer but would also incline some people to stress the second syllable, which would be wrong. So the shorter -CHER is better. In this case, less is more: "furnicher".

My thanks to "Box..." for this suggestion.

Sunday, June 24, 2007: "brazeer" for "brassiere"/ "brassière"

Most references to this item of decorous, feminine clothing nowadays are abbreviated to "bra", perhaps in part because the full word is cumbersomely and absurdly spelled. SS for the Z-sound? -IERE or, even worse, -IÈRE? Preposterous.

Some Britons pronounce this word bráa.zee.ya. If they wish to preserve that pronunciation, they might as well retain the full traditional spelling — with the accent, for all I care. The rest of the world must not be held back in spelling reform by some recalcitrant and dialectal Brits. They won't even drop the U from "hono(u)r", so just cannot be either respected or heeded when it comes to spelling. The spelling reform movement will just have to move on without them, and leave British English in the dust (or, as Brits might put it, in the "dustbin of history" — as tho a garbage heap is "dust"!). Sensible people will move on, to make life simpler thru intelligence. Foolish people will burden themselves and their children with stupid spellings that make their lives harder than they really need to be. "Brassière"? No!: "brazeer".

Saturday, June 23, 2007: "jeneolojy" for "genealogy"

Today's word is spelled badly at the beginning, end, and middle.

GE is an inefficient and ambiguous way to spell the J-sound, inasmuch as there are well-known GE's that have the (hard) G-sound: get, gear, gecko, geezer among them. Let's just use J.

GY with a (hard) G-sound is also to be found: gynecology (note that the first GY in that word has a G-sound but the second, a J-sound!), argyle, baggy. Indeed, the entire sequence L-O-G-Y is a word to itself (meaning "sluggish"), with a G-sound, not J-sound. So let's change the -LOGY ending everywhere to employ an unambiguous J, starting with today's word.

And the A in the middle represents neither a long-A nor short-A, but a "broad-A", which is the same sound as short-O. The listener will think "geneology", by comparison with geology, biology, apology, anthropology and many more. So let's replace the A with O.

The changes proposed thus far produce "jeneolojy" Is that clear? Or do we need EE to show the long-E sound in the first syllable? I don't think so, in that there is an E after the N, which many readers will see as influencing the sound of the E in the first syllable such that, if anything, a short-E in the first syllable would need to be marked by a double-N following ("jenneolojy"). We can thus stop at: "jeneolojy".

Naturally, derivatives will also need to be reformed. The most common derivative, "genealogical", has a short-O before the J-sound, so the J will need to be doubled. That is odd-looking, to be sure, but not confusing: "jeneolojjical".

Friday, June 22, 2007: "peetsa" and "peetsareea" for "pizza" and "pizzeria"

This Food Friday, let's address one of the most popular foods in the United States and Canada, if not also in the other old English-speaking countries, plus the place where it is sold.

"Pizza" is completely unphonetic, and "pizzeria" is even worse. There are two Z's but no Z-sound! The sound is TS, so let's spell it that way.

The I represents neither of I's sounds, long and short, but long-E.

In "pizzeria", the A of "pizza" is unexpectedly and unreasonably changed to E. And the -IA ending bears the word's primary stress, which we would not expect from analogy to words like cafeteria, bacteria, and criteria.

For the base word, we need to change the I to EE and the ZZ to TS. We can leave the P at the beginning and A at the end.

For the longer word, we need to change the E back to A, which one would expect, and change the -IA to something that draws attention to the fact that the I represents not just a long-E sound but also a stressed long-E: EEA. So today's twofer is: "peetsa"and "peetsareea".

My thanks to "Clap..." for "peetsa".

Thursday, June 21, 2007: "sattin" for "satin"

A single-T renders this word ambiguous. Is the A long or short? A very familiar, similar word, the name Satan, has a long-A in the first syllable, as has the present progressive form of the verb sate (sating), so the inclination of the new reader on seeing "satin" would be to pronounce the A long (and thus wrong). Hearing sáa.tin, a new speller would think "sattin". So let's spell it that way: "sattin".

My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion.

Tuesday and Wensday, June 19 and 20, 2007:
"mezher" for "measure
"trezher" for "treasure"

There are only three words (with their various derivatives) in the entire English language in which the sequence -EASURE- occurs. On February 11th I offered "pleasure" as "plezher". In line with that reform, I now offer the other two with parallel spellings.

EA is an ambiguous spelling (plea, rhea, bread, create). Here, it represents only a short-E sound, which is more simply, and unambiguously, shown by a simple-E.

S-U-R-E would be read phonetically as suer but it is presently a word to itself pronounced shuer. In neither case would a reader expect it to be pronounced zher.

So let's drop the A and change the S-U-R-E to Z-H-E-R in both these words: "mezher" and "trezher".

My thanks to "Clap..." for "mezher" and "Dogs..." for "trezher".

Munday, June 18, 2007: "Aipril" for "April"

An initial A- is usually pronounced as a schwa, a neutral sound in an unstressed syllable: about, afar, ahead, ajar, around, and many more. In the name of the fourth month, the A- is not only pronounced long but is also stressed. That is confusing in three ways. First, it is not a schwa; second, it is long; third, it is stressed.

The A- precedes two consonants. That would ordinarily mark it as short, not long (if it's not even a schwa): abbot, appertain, acrobat, atrophy, apropos.

In most words, we would expect an initial A not to be stressed: atrocious, abrade, abridge.

So when an A-sound before two consonants is not a schwa and not short, it should be respelled to show that it is long. Altho a long-A at the end of a word is often spelled -AY, within words a long-A is commonly shown by the spelling AI (aim, claim, raider), so let's use that here: "Aipril".

Sunday, June 17, 2007: "viscus" for "viscous" and "vishus" for "vicious"

New readers are often puzzled when they first encounter the word "viscous" (thick; said of a liquid), because it looks like a misspelling for the familiar word "vicious" (nasty). Neither word is spelled sensibly. Let's reform both, so the contrast between them is so great they will never again be confused.

Both words contain an OU in the spelling, but no OU-sound. Let's drop the O. That's all we need do with "viscous", which now becomes parallel to "discus".

CI is a silly way to spell the SH-sound. It is also ambiguous, given that there are many words in which CI is pronounced S and long-E (enunciate, pronunciation, fallacies, nuncio, calcium) or S and short-I (cinch, accident) or even other ways (ciao, publicize). It is also read differently by different readers (aficionado, braggadocio, glaciation) because of the ambiguity. So let's make plain that this word has an SH-sound by simply writing SH.

Today's twofer thus resolves to strikingly different spellings no one would confuse: "viscus" and "vishus".

Saturday, June 16, 2007: "gavvel" for "gavel"

Today's word contains the familiar word "gave" but is not pronounced like it. The most common way to show a short vowel before a consonant followed by E is to double the medial consonant, which is a quick fix for this misleading spelling: "gavvel" Or we could change the E to something else: "gaval", "gavil", "gavol", "gavul". But readers cannot know for sure when a vowel before a single consonant is long or short just by the spelling, so it is safest simply to double the V: "gavvel".

Friday thru Friday, June 8 to 15, 2007:
"rainj/er" for "range/r"*
"arainj/ment" for "arrange/ment"
"chainj", "exchainj", and "interchainj" for "change", "exchange", and "interchange"
"en/dainjer" for "en/danger"
"derainj/ed" for "derange/d"
"estrainj/ed" for "estrange/d"
"strainj/er" for "strange/r"
"mainj/er" for "mange/r"*

Let's fix a little family of similar words, all of which presently have the letter sequence -ANGE- and a long-A sound. It is unusual, tho certainly not unheard-of in English, to have two letters separating a vowel from the silent-E that marks it as long. Other such clusters exist, such as -THE in "bathe" (as distinct from "bath", which has a short-A) and -STE in "paste" (as distinct from "past", with its short-A). The -NGE- group is particularly troublesome, however, because there are other words with the same letter sequence but pronounced very differently, like "orange", "anger", "hanger", "flange", "mélange", "phalanges", "tangerine", and "tangent/ial" (ór.anj, áang.ger, há, flaanj, mae.lónzh or mae.lónj, fa.láan.jeez, tàan.ja.réen or táan.ja.rèen and táan.jant / taan.jén.shal);

A common way to show a long-A before N is AI: chain, lain, main, pain, rain. So let's use that for the long-A.

GE for the J-sound is not just inefficient but also ambiguous (as made plain by the words anger, hanger, and mélange above). So let's just use J.

This little family,** then, resolves to: "rainj/er", "arainj/ment", "chainj", "exchainj", "interchainj", "en/dainjer", "derainj/ed", "estrainj/ed", "strainj/er", and "mainj/er".

* We happen to have two food-related words for the two Food Fridays covered in this span: "range", a name for a stove on which food is prepared, and "manger", a trough for animals to eat grain from. Only in checking the dictionary for "range" in connection with this entry did I find out why it's called that: "A stove with spaces for cooking a number of things [that is, a range of places for a range of dishes] at the same time." (American Heritage Dictionary)

** There are a few other words with the same pattern pronounced the same way (like "grange/r" and "disarrange") which should also be changed in the same way, but the group shown here covers all of the most common such words. The word "hydrangea" has two pronunciations, one with a long-A (as would qualify it for this group) and one with a short-A (which would disqualify it). Since we're not taking sides in that difference of pronunciation, we will leave "hydrangea" out of this group. Besides, some people pronounce the -GEA in two syllables!

Thursday, June 7, 2007: "dicottomy" for "dichotomy"

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in this word, so should be no CH. If we simply drop the H, the C immediately precedes an O, so naturally takes its "hard" sound, like K, which is what the word actually contains.

We could leave that: "dicotomy", but that will look to some readers, especially those who come across the word in print before they have heard it spoken, like dìe.koe.tóe.mee, when it is actually pronounced die.kót.a.mee. If we double the T, we at once clarify that the first-O is short and that the second syllable bears the word's stress: "dicottomy".

Munday thru Wensday, June 4 thru 6, 2007:
"cronic/le/r" for "chronic/le/r"

"cronolojy" for "chronology"
"cronolojical" for "chronological"

The H in these related words is unphonetic and thus misleading. Since there is no CH-sound (as in church) in any of these words, there should be no H.

In "chronology" and "chronological" there is the further ambiguity of GY and GI, which could be pronounced with a hard-G (gynecologist, argyle, leggy; give, gilt, begin). We might as well fix that too, by simply writing J for the J-sound.

Moreover, in "chronology", there is the question of how to write unambiguously the short-O in the second syllable. Ordinarily, we can show a short vowel by doubling the consonant after it, here, L. But that does not produce an unambiguous short-O, given words like "boll" and "roll". Still, it is clearer, thanks to words like "follow" and "holly". So let's double the L.

Today's proposed respellings of these related words are thus: "cronic", "cronicle", "cronicler", "cronollojy", and "cronolojical".

I was surprised to find, when I checked before adding these words, that altho this site has a "Chronological" list of words already used, the word "chronological" was not itself among them!

Sunday, June 3, 2007: "tair" for "tear"

Let's get rid of a homograph today. T-E-A-R is the same spelling for two very different words. Pronounced teer, it means a drop of water that falls from the eye. Pronounced tair, it means rip. Since the latter word is pronounced tair, let's just spell it that way, and reduce by one the number of words spelled the same but pronounced differently that kids have to learn: "tair".

My thanks to Clap... for this suggestion. Tho it was suggested by another reformer that we could also change "tore" to "tor", (a) the present spelling does not cause problems and (b) there is an arcane word "tor" with which it could be confused.

Saturday, June 2, 2007: "applikay" for "appliqué"

French has caused English a lot of grief. Here is another example of a traditional spelling that makes perfect sense in French but is completely absurd for English.

English doesn't use accents, and the foreign language now most common in the heart of the English-speaking world, Spanish, uses the acute accent in an entirely different way, to show syllabic stress when it falls somewhere unexpected.* In French, the accent shows a different pronunciation for the vowel. (In "appliqué", the accent happens to fall on a stressed syllable, but it doesn't have to.) Respelling this word with common English conventions produces: "applikay".

* Spanish actually has rules about what syllable is to be stressed. When a word does not conform to those rules, Spanish writing marks the errant stressed vowel with an accent. The syllabic stress in English is highly variable, and we don't use an accent. There actually are patterns of stress in English. For instance, the stress tends to fall toward the beginning of the word in the case of nouns and pronouns, and toward the end of the word with verbs, adverbs, and interjections. This is apparent in word pairs like pé (noun) and per.mít (verb). However, there are many exceptions. Where nouns and adjectives differ in stress, the noun tends to take the stress toward the front of the word (kón.tent), the adjective toward the end (kan.tént).

Saturday, May 26 thru Friday, June 1, 2007:
"spunj" for "sponge"

"expunj" for "expunge"
"lunj" for "lunge"
"plunj/er" for "plunge/r"
"grunj/y" for "grunge" and "grungy"
"funjible" for "fungible"
"muskelunj" for "muskel(l)unge" (Food Friday)

Let's deal with an entire little family of words of similar sound. All have GE for the J-sound. That's unreasonable and inefficient. If it sounds like J, let's just spell it with a J.

One of the 'rules' of English spelling that I found on the Internet in a webpage for students of English as a Second Language (in Russia, as I recall) is that no English word ends in J. Tho it is true that no word from Old English or borrowed from a European language ends in J, there are a few words borrowed from non-Western languages that do end in J: baba ghanouj, hajj, kilij, raj, swaraj, and taj. There is also "dj", said as its constituent letters are said, for "disk jockey".

But even if there weren't any words ending in J already in the language, it would not be "un-English" to end a word with a J if the word ends in a J-sound, because J is the way that sound is often spelled, so no reader of English seeing such a spelling would be confused. Reducing confusion is the main purpose of this project.

"Sponge" has the additional little problem of having an O where one should expect to see a U. We can fix that simply by plugging in U where one would put it if one merely heard the word pronounced and wanted to spell it.

"Muskellunge" has a superfluous second-L that we can drop. Indeed, "muskelunge" is an accepted variant. This word also has some odd variants: maskalonge, maskinonge, and muskallonge, but those are pronounced differently. Tho the -GE part is pronounced J, we don't need to deal with those now. "Muskellunge" and "muskelunge" are the most common versions.

So, this little family resolves to: "spunj", "expunj", "lunj", "plunj/er", "grunj/y", "funjible", and "muskelunj".

My thanks to "Fieyer..." for "spunj".

* Baba ghanouj (also spelled "baba ganouj", "baba ganoush") = a salad with cooked eggplant; origin unknown. Hajj (also spelled "hadj") = pilgrimage to Mecca; from Arabic. Kilij = type of sword; Turkish. Raj = British rule in India; Hindi. Samaj = Hindu religious society; Hindi. Swaraj = self-government in India, historical movement; from Hindi. Taj = conical cap; Arabic from Persian.

Friday, May 25, 2007: "delishus" for "delicious"

This Food Friday, let's revise the spelling of a word for how something might taste.

-CIOUS is a cumbersome and unphonetic way to spell this ending. We could simplify it a tad, by changing it to -TIOUS, which more closely accords with the familiar ending -TION, and which is the way this same sound is spelled in various other words (ambitious, rambunctious, pretentious). But "delicious" does not relate to the -TION ending, since there is no word "delition". Thus there is no reason to accommodate the -TION pattern. No, the sound is -SHUS (where the U represents a schwa), so let's just spell it that way.

We might also change the E to I ("dilishus"), but that would be prescriptivist, telling people who now say dee.lí that they are saying it wrong and need to say di.lí instead. Let them say what they want. People who now see DEL- and pronounce it dil- will continue to do so with the new spelling: "delishus".

My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.

Thursday, May 24, 2007: "emfasis" and "emfattic" for "emphasis" and "emphatic"

PH for F is just dumb, so let's get rid of that nonsensical formulation and replace it with F for the F-sound!

While we're changing this twofer, let's double the T in the adjectival form, to show at once that the A represents its full short sound, not schwa, and that the word's stress falls on the second syllable: "emfasis" and "emfattic".

Wensday, May 23, 2007: "conveenyent" and "conveenyence" for "convenient" and "convenience"

IE is ambiguous. Sometimes it represents long-I (pies); sometimes long-E (hippies); sometimes a combination of long-I and schwa (quiet); sometimes long-E and short-E (acquiesce); sometimes consonantal-Y and schwa (lenient and today's words, convenient / convenience). It's not possible, using traditional spelling conventions, to make this absolutely clear, but YE is clearer. It also allows people who pronounce these words in four syllables (kan.vée.nee.yans) to use their pronunciation without seeing the new spelling as forbidding it.

The E after the V is also unclear. Is it long or short? If the vowel that follows the N were an E, we would tend to see the earlier-E as long. But the vowel following the N is I, so we can't be clear (penitence, schizophrenia, schizophrenic). Let's double the E, which will make absolutely plain that the sound is long-E.

Putting these two changes together, we get: "conveenyent" and "conveenyence".

Tuesday, May 22, 2007: "malaze" for "malaise"

There's no reason to use an S to represent the Z-sound. We have a letter Z. Let's use it.

Nor do we need AI_E (where the underscore character represents a consonant) to show a long-A. A_E does the job handily. So, let's save ourselves a letter and drop the I.

With these two little changes, then, we get: "malaze".

Munday, May 21, 2007: "peerce" for "pierce"

On an episode of the (dreadful) CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men that aired tonite,* Charlie Sheen's character tells his 'brother' (played by Jon Cryer) not to worry about his young son finding anything on the Internet about pierced ears because 'he can't spell "pierce"'. Thus today's word.

I just did an experiment, searching for "peerced ear", "peersed ear" and "peerssed ear" in Google. "Peerced ear" produced 74 webpages. "Peersed ear" produced 19. "Peerssed ear" produced no finds; but "peerss" by itself produced 13, some of them plain misspellings not of pierce but of peers. For "peerced ear", Google asked if I meant "pierced ear", so the boy would have found it if he guessed "peerced". For "peersed ear", Google asked if I meant "pearsoned ear",* then produced 19 results in which "peersed" was intended to mean pierced. For "peerssed ear", Google produced no pages but did again ask if I meant "pierced ear". For "pearsed ear", Google correctly asked if I meant "pierced ear", then nonetheless produced several dozen webpages with "pearsed" for pierced.

The same experiment on produced similar results, but fewer pages. With "peerced", "peersed", and "peerssed", suggested "pierced". "Pearsed ear", however, stumped, which suggested "passed ear", but it did nonetheless find a couple of dozen pages with "pearsed" where the writer plainly meant pierced.

Both Google and found well over 1,000 pages in which "pearced" was the spelling but "pierce" intended.

The moral of this story is twofold: first, parents shouldn't think that kids will not be able to find info on the Internet if they can't spell, because search engines will guess at the right spelling for them; and second, there are people who will put misspelled text onto the Internet, either deliberately as personal choice, or just because they don't know how to spell — or don't care.

The 'correct' spelling, pierce, starts off with the little word pie, but is not pronounced like it. Small wonder that some people guessed that "pea" should start off "pierce". However, EA is ambiguous, and can be pronounced in two syllables, so EE is the better choice.

C or S (peerce / peerse)? Or even SS (peerss / peersse)? All things considered, I think C is best, so offer it here: "peerce".

Sunday, May 20, 2007: "crissen" for "christen"

Altho today's word derives from Christian and thus ultimately from Christ, these three words treat the T differently. In Christ, it is a plain T-sound. In Christian, it combines with the following-I to form a CH-sound (as in, appropriately, church).* In christen (which, you will note, is not capitalized, in part because it has nonreligious as well as religious meanings), the T is silent. Since Christ and Christian are proper nouns, we'll leave them alone. But christen is fair game, and its silent-T has no place in a rational spelling system.

Nor does a CH that represents a K-sound, not the CH-sound, make any sense. If we drop the H, the C falls before an R, so the fact that it takes its "hard" sound is plain. We don't need to change it to K.

The two little changes we do need to make will save us a letter, and make the word more readily pronounced when seen and spelled when heard: "crissen".

My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.

* In the U.S. sphere of pronunciation. Even in the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary from England, krís.chan is shown as the first pronunciation for "Christian", and krí only second.

Saturday, May 19, 2007:
"suppoze" for "suppose"

"suppozition" for "supposition"
"suppozid" for "supposed" (in special use)

"suppozidly" for "supposedly"

There are far too many S's in English. Not only are there a lot of words that start with S and have S-sounds in their root, but S is also used in grammatical endings for the plural of nouns (bees), possessive in nouns and pronouns (word's, its, his, hers, theirs), and third-person singular of verbs (s/he talks).

It's one thing when the S actually represents an S-sound. That makes sense. But when it represents a Z-sound, I balk. We have a letter Z to represent the Z-sound. Why not use it?

Today we have three forms of a word that traditionally employs an S to represent a Z-sound. Let's replace that S with Z.

The third of today's group is a special use of the past tense to indicate doubt, or condition contrary to fact, "supposed", pronounced in three syllables, as against the regular use, in two syllables.

The fourth of this group is the regular form of the adverb, which has four syllables even when what is 'supposed' is not contrary to fact.

So today's little family resolves to: "suppoze", "suppozition", "suppozid", and "suppozidly".

Friday, May 18, 2007: "cezer" (salad) for "caesar"

It's Food Friday again. Let's reform the name of a popular green salad with egg and anchovies. The "caesar" of this salad is not Julius Caesar but the namesake of a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico in the late 1940's, so we don't have to worry about being disrespectful to the great Roman in phoneticizing the salad's name.

In Spanish, "Caesar" is spelled "César" and pronounced sáe.sor.* Spanish would pronounce "Caesar"ór, because Spanish is phonetic and makes no allowance for a C before A ever being pronounced like S. In English, looking at "caesar", we are to ignore the fact that C before A is supposed to be "hard", the K-sound. That is unreasonable.

The traditional spelling also has an S for what is plainly a Z-sound.

Toward the end of the word, there is another A, before the final-R. Before R, however, A often takes a broad-A sound (which is also the short-O sound), as in afar.

In short, the traditional spelling of this salad's name is almost completely wrong.

We can, however, save three letters, the C, E, and R. If we drop the A, then E follows the C, which correctly cues the reader to use the "soft-C", or S-sound: "cesar". If the S in the middle of the word is pronounced Z, why not just write Z? "Cezar". If we change the misleading A before the R to E, that E will be seen as suggesting that the E before the Z will be given the long-E sound, which is correct.

Put this all together, and we get this shorter and clearer spelling: "cezer".

* In the Fanetik spelling scheme used in pronunciation keys on this site, a single-O before any consonant, even R, is short-O (as in "on"), not ever the AU-sound.

Thursday, May 17, 2007: "nickateen" for "nicotine"

-INE is ambiguous. It is commonly pronounced by different dialects and different individuals within dialects as -ien (iodine), -in (adrenaline), and -een (chlorine). Altho one of seven pronouncing entries at allows of an alternative pronunciation ník.a.tin, the other six all agree that this word has only the sounds nik.a.teen (syllabic stress on either the first syllable (most commonly) or third). The way one would expect to spell that on hearing it is the way it should be spelled: "nickateen".

Wensday, May 16, 2007: "glissen" for "glisten"

This is simple. There is a silent-T in the traditional spelling. That makes no sense. So let's just replace it with a second-S. A second-S is necessary to show that the I is short. A T is neither necessary nor desirable, because someone who sees the word cannot know just from sight that the T is not to be pronounced, and someone who hears the word cannot know to put a T in to spell it: "glissen".

My thanks to "[fishstick...]" for this suggestion.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007:
"evanjelist" for "evangelist"

"evanjelizm" for "evangelism"
evanjellical" for "evangelical"

NG usually combines to form a distinctive sound, the third nasal sound in standard English. When it does not, but a hard-G sound follows a simple N-sound, there is no easy way to show the actual pronunciation. But when the NG actually represents a simple N-sound followed by a J-sound, we do have an easy fix, to write -NJ-, as here: "evanjelist", "evanjelizm", "evanjellical".

Saturday thru Munday, May 12 thru 14, 2007:
"rinosserus" for "rhinoceros"

"hippopottamus" for "hippopotamus"
"packiderm" for "pachyderm"

"Rhinoceros" has three problems: (1) a silent-H, (2) an ambiguous middle vowel, and (3) an -OS where people might expect -US or even -OUS. Simple fixes are available for problems 1 and 3, but the middle-O is trickier.

(1) Drop the H. (2) As regards the O before the -CE-, the present spelling could be read rìe.noe.sée.roes, whereas it is supposed to be pronounced rie.nó We can't retain C there, because the way we usually show a short vowel is by doubling the consonant beyond, but doubling the C would produce "rhinocceros", which would be read rie.nók.ser.oes. So we need to replace the C with -SS-. (3) For the -OS, we need merely write -US.

"Hippopotamus" has the -US right, but a double-P to show a short-I is not matched by a double-T to show a short-O. Doubling the T will also show more clearly where the primary stress of this long word falls.

"Pachyderm" is a generic name for the thick-skinned animals that include the two above.* It has an H where is should have a K, since the word has a K-sound, not the CH-sound (as in church). And Y mid-word is a silly way to spell the short-I sound. Were we just to change the H to K but leave the Y, the word would look as tho it is pronounced páèrm, whereas it is actually to be pronounced páak.i.dèrm.

So this trio resolves to: "rinosserus", "hippopottamus", and "packiderm".

My thanks to "Firewall..." and "fishstick...", respectively, for getting me thinking about "rhinoceros" and "hippopotamus".

* We have already offered (August 28, 2006) "elefant" for the last of the major pachyderms, the "elephant".

Thursday and Friday, May 10 and 11, 2007:
"herbivor" for "herbivore"

"carnivor" for "carnivore"

This week we have a pair of food-related terms, sort of a Food Thursday as well as our ordinary Food Friday. On Tuesday we dealt with "omnivore" (to "omnivor").* That leaves "herbivore" and "carnivore" among the classifications of animals according to what they eat. The main thing to change in both words is to drop the needless final-E.

A question arises as to the H in "herbivore". Many people do not pronounce the H in "herb", so assume that it should be silent in "herbivore" as well. Not so.

The American Heritage Dictionary shows two pronunciations, with and without an H-sound. The pronunciation with the H is shown first. The Random House Unabridged, however, shows only one pronunciation, with the H-sound. This is a useful distinction, which allows people who might not hear every part of a word to know that what is being talked about is not an herb but a herbivore. So let's leave the H.

There is no comparable problem in reforming "carnivore".

Thus these two words can be shortened simply to: "herbivor" and "carnivor".

My thanks to "Dogs..." for both of these suggestions.

* The adjective of both these additional words takes the same form as the earlier-proposed omnivor/omnivvorus: herbivor/herbivvorus and carnivor/carnivvorus.

Wensday, May 9, 2007: "anialate" for "annihilate"

Not only is there a silent-H in this word, but there is also no need of a second-N. The I following the H does not have an I-sound, neither long (as in nine, nice, or nigh) nor short (nibble, ninny, or nitwit). The sound after the H, as of the A that starts the word, is schwa. The spelling of the first part of the word is misleading. It is the same as the female given name, "Ann", which has a fully pronounced short-A. But "annihilate" does not. So why is "ann" the leadoff for this word?

We have many, many words that start with an A pronounced schwa, and they don't need a doubled consonant after them (about, ajar, afar, anew, abate, around, atone, and on and on).

We can thus shorten this word by two letters, a saving of 20%: "anialate".

Sunday thru Tuesday, May 6-8, 2007:
"omnippotent" for "omnipotent"

"omnivvorus" for "omnivorous"
"omnivor" for "omnivore"

OMNI- is a prefix that often takes stress on the first syllable (omnipresent, omnibus, omnidirectional). So when instead the second syllable takes stress, that should, ideally, be indicated. That is especially the case with "omnipotent", because "potent" is a familiar word, but within this word it is pronounced differently. The present spelling leads the reader to think òm.nee.póe.tant. If we double the P, we at once indicate that the I is short and that the word's stress falls on it, which automatically cues the reader not to pronounce "potent" with a long-O but with a schwa.

In the same fashion, doubling the V in "omnivorous" shifts the stress off the first syllable, where one might expect it to be with the uncommon prefix "omni-". Since we're revising this word in the middle, we might as well revise it toward the end as well, and get rid of the superfluous O, in that there is no OU-sound in this word.

"Omnivore", the noun related to the adjective "omnivorous", takes the regular first-syllable stress pattern, so we don't need to revise that part of the word. But there is a needless E on the end that we can drop.

And so we arrive at: "omnippotent", "omnivvorus", and "omnivor".

There are other "omni-" words stressed on the second syllable, but they are too uncommon for this project. I have already offered "omnishence" for "omniscience" (July 2, 2006). With the three dealt with now, all the common "omni-"s with stress on the second syllable have now been reformed. Naturally, all derivatives (e.g., "omnipotence") are also to be revised appropriately ("omnippotence").

My thanks to "Dogs..." for "omnivor".

Saturday, May 5, 2007: "quortet" for "quartet"

AR is ambiguous. It is usually pronounced with a broad-A, as in bar, star, far. A second common pronunciation employs a short-A, but more often with a double-R than single (arrow, carry, Karen, vary as some people say it). It can also be pronounced with an AI-sound (gregarious, adversarial, beware). In some unstressed syllables, it is pronounced like ER  or schwa-R (altar, revolutionary, backward). Only rarely does it contain an AU-sound (war, reward, quarter).

In today's word, the spoken vowel before the R is the AU-sound, as in aura, baccalaureate, and tyrannosaurus. Before R, that sound is most commonly written with an O: or, chore, reorientation. So let's do that here: "quortet".

My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.

Friday, May 4, 2007: "peecant" and "peecancy" for "piquant" and "piquancy"

This Food Friday, let's get rid of the very misleading QU in these paired words for spicy or tart. Some people think, offhand, as they have every reason to think, that QU always represents a KW sound, or there'd be no reason not to use a simple K (especially before E or I) or C (before A, O, and U). In the case of these words, which look as tho they are pronounced pée.kwant and pée.kwan.see, changing nothing else but replacing the QU would produce "pikant" / "pikancy" or "picant" / "picancy". If they are not spelled any such way but with a QU, surely it's because they are supposed to be pronounced with a KW-sound, right? Wrong. There is not even an acceptable alternative pronunciation with a KW sound. The only accepted pronunciations have a simple K-sound.

There are, alas, a lot of words in which QU presently represents only a simple K-sound (for instance, liquor; quoin and quoit, as some people pronounce them; daiquiri, mesquite; appliqué, coquette, conquer, etiquette; antique, grotesque, and pique, to which "piquant" is related).

Over time, we should replace all needless QU's, with either K or C. Let's do this pair now. Since C is more common in English, and because "peek" is an altogether different word, let's use C here.

There is one other problem with both these words, an I for a long-E sound. Let's fix that too: "peecant" and "peecancy".

Thursday, May 3, 2007: "wunder" and "wundrus" for "wonder" and "wondrous"

"Wonder", "yonder", and "fonder" should all rhyme. They do not. "Wonder" is the odd man out. What it should represent is taken by wander. We can't change "wander" to "wonder", because that's already taken.* We can, however, change "wonder" to "wunder". Perhaps eventually we could then change wander to "wonder", but not now. For now, we can only change "wonder" and its derivatives (e.g., wonderful, wonderland).

The derivative "wondrous" is a special case, since it does not incorporate the entire original word but drops the E. Since we're changing the root, we might as well change the suffix as well, to drop the needless and misleading O. The -OUS ending does not have an OU-sound, and all such endings should drop the O. -US endings are in use already, in words from abacus and cactus to bonus and hiatus. Everyone who sees them knows how to pronounce the -US ending, so we don't need an O. In this project, we will drop the O as we come to such words by other routes: "wunder", "wundrus".

My thanks to "Clap..." for "wunder/ful" and to "Fireman..." for "wunderland".

* Altho the new spelling "wondur" for "wander" has been suggested, I suspect that the present word "wonder" dooms any respelling with an O, since readers are likely to see "wondur" as a simple mistake in spelling "wonder". We could, I suppose, change "wander" to "wahnder", but I suspect that would be resisted by people who think AH within a word looks "funny" or unsophisticated, like a pronunciation key rather than an actual, formal spelling. Mind you, we do have some words with AH in them: Allah, autobahn, bar mitzvah, Brahma bull, Brahmin, (c)hutzpah, hallelujah, hurrah, huzzah, mahjongg, messiah, pariah, savannah, shah, verandah, and others.

Wensday, May 2, 2007: "baroke" for "baroque"

QUE is a silly way to spell a K-sound: "baroke".

Sunday, April 29 to Tuesday, May 1, 2007:
"glayzher" for "glazier"

"grayzher" for "grazier"
"croezher" for "crozier" / "crosier"

Let's close out this entire little family of -ZIER words pronounced -ZHER. "Glazier" (one who installs glass) and "grazier" (one who grazes cattle) being parallel to "brazier", yesterday's word, they can take the same form. "Crozier" or "crosier" (a bishop's crook) requires a slightly different form.

"Crozher" would be seen by many readers to have a short-O. There are only a few ways to show a long-O. One is to leave it to itself, especially at the end of a word (go, no, so), but that doesn't work mid-word if followed by more than one consonant. Something has to follow the O immediately, before the multiple consonants, to show it is long. OW works in some places (crowbar, rowboat, towpath), but that is ambiguous (plowshare, acknowledge, cowhand). OA might work ("croazher"), but it too might be seen as ambiguous (coal but coalesce, coat but coati, boat but board).  OE is less ambiguous than the other two but has some unusual pronunciations as well (amoeba, canoeing, coed).  There is, in short, no completely unambiguous traditional spelling for long-O midword when followed by two or more consonants, but OE seems to me least likely to be misread.

So the last three words of the -ZIER family pronounced like -ZHER are: "glayzher", "grayzher", and "croezher".

Saturday, April 28, 2007: "brayzher" for "brazier"

Following up yesterday's word, "hibochy" for "hibachi", a type of brazier, let's reform the word "brazier" itself today.

Some Britons may object to this as using American pronunciation as the standard, but I'm unclear how widely a British alternative pronunciation, bráe.zee.ya(r), is employed, be it throughout the British Isles or in only some dialects. In any case, neither my Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary nor accepts an alternative pronunciation, labeled "esp. Brit." or some such, so I don't either.*

There's only so much accommodation spelling reformers can make to the various dialects of the British Isles. At end, we can't let dialectals hold back the entire English language, which is presently being used by a billion people and studied by another billion. So whereas I won't insist on "ishu" for "issue", since I know that the pronunciation ís.yu is widely employed in England, I don't see that new readers of English in China, Brazil, or any other country should think that "brazier" is to be pronounced like lazier or crazier: "brayzher".

* If Britons want their pronunciation to spread, British dictionary publishers should endeavor to be included in

Friday, April 27, 2007: "hibochy" for "hibachi"

This Food Friday, let's reform the Japanese-style spelling of a small barbecue grill. The A does not represent either long-A or short-A, but broad-A, which is the same sound as short-O. Since no one seeing "hibachi" could know that the A does not have either of its most common sounds, long or short, it makes better sense to replace the A with O, in that O before CH will be seen as having its short sound, which is the sound in the second syllable of "hibachi".

The I at the end is ambiguous, since many English words ending in I have a long-I sound there: alkali, rabbi, octopi. A -Y would be clearer.

That leaves only the question of whether CH is sufficient to represent the CH-sound or we need a TCH. Why use three letters when two will do?: "hibochy".

Thursday, April 26, 2007: "fujitiv" for "fugitive"

There are two things wrong with the traditional spelling of today's word.

First, there is a G for a J sound, which is ambiguous, because the G could perfectly well be pronounced with G's regular ("hard") sound, as in girl, give, and gingko. Indeed, there is, within "fugitive", the little word git , which is slang on two continents. In Britain, it means "a foolish or contemptible person". In the United States, it is an informal variant of get, as in standup comic Larry the Cable Guy's signature line, "Git-R-Done!", or the refrain "Git along little dogey" from the cowboy song "Last Roundup".

Second, -IVE is ambiguous. It could be pronounced with a long-I, as in revive, alive, and all that jive. But if we drop the final-E, the reader will know to pronounce this word with a short-I.

Put these two commonsense changes together, and you get: "fujitiv".

Wensday, April 25, 2007: "fassen/er" for "fasten/er"

"Fasten" and "fastener" may be related to "fast" (as in "held fast", meaning securely attached), but that is no reason for there to be a T in these words. The relationship between "fast" and "fastener" is not as close as you might think. For one thing, "fasten" came first!

The T in "fast" is pronounced, so belongs there. The T in these words, however, is silent, so does not belong there: "fassen", "fassener".

Tuesday, April 24, 2007: "troff" for "trough"

OUGH is very ambiguous (enough, though, through, thought, bough, cough, hiccough), so the pronunciation of today's word is not knowable by new readers who first encounter it. It is also very inefficient and cumbersome for people who do know it. The sound is parallel to "off", so the spelling should also be parallel: "off".

My thanks to "yaora..." for this suggestion.

Munday, April 23, 2007: "sindicat", "sindicate", "sindication" for "syndicate" and "syndication"

There are two problems with the base word today, a Y for a short-I sound, which no one could guess on hearing the word spoken, and the fact that there are actually two words in one, pronounced slitely differently. The noun has a schwa before the T; the verb, a long-A.

The short-I problem is easily solved. Just replace the Y with I.

The distinction between noun and verb is also easily drawn, by dropping or leaving the final-E. The noun can do without the E (carat, lariat, nougat); the verb needs it (indicate, berate, gyrate). So today's threefer is: "sindicat", "sindicate", and "sindication".

Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22, 2007:
"ajuj" for "adjudge"

"ajudicate" for "adjudicate"

These two related words have the same problem. "Adjudge" has it twice: a needless D. "Adjudge" also has the same sound, the J-sound, spelled two different ways, DJ and DGE. J by itself suffices to convey the J-sound in both these words: "ajuj" and "ajudicate".

Friday, April 20, 2007: "suevlocky" for "souvlaki"

This Food Friday, let's deal with a Greek dish that has become popular in many countries. The term actually refers to two different types of food, one like shish kebab (on skewers) and one that is also called a "gyro" sandwich. In any case, "souvlaki" has an OU but no OU-sound; an A that has neither of A's common sounds (long or short); and a final-I that is pronounced like long-E (contrast alkali, alibi, cacti). The A represents the "broad-A" sound, which is the same as short-O. Short-O is best represented by an O followed by more than one consonant.

In today's word, one can hear two shorter English words, sue and lock. So let's write them that way. The only missing sounds, then, are the V-sound, which can be represented in English basically only by V, and a final long-E (which in some British dialects is clipped to short-I). The typical way to represent that sound is -Y. So now that we have all the elements, we simply assemble them in their proper sequence, et voila!: "suevlocky".

Thursday, April 19, 2007: "extravvagant" for "extravagant"

The present spelling of this common word looks as tho it should be pronounced as a phrase, "extra-vagant" (ék.stra-váe.gant). No one knows what "vagant" might mean, however, because it's not a word, so you can't know what is "extra-vagant" and what is just "vagant" enuf.

If we double the V, we at once make plain that this is a single word, that the A in the second syllable has its full short value, and that this four-syllable word's stress falls on the second syllable, not on any other. That's good value for one extra letter: "extravvagant".

Wensday, April 18, 2007: "kash" for "cache"

On TV today I heard a military officer in Iraq speak of the Army's having found a kaa.sháe of weapons and explosives. No, what was found is a kaash. "Cache" is just a French spelling for a combination of sounds we spell "cash". But since that spelling is already taken, and used a lot, we need something different.

The CH for an SH-sound has got to go, and there's only one clear spelling of that sound: SH. "Cashe" would not, however, be clear. Some readers would wonder why there's an E on the end, and think it must be pronounced, so think that's just the way "cachet" is spelled.* That would thus not help distinguish the two words.

We can, however, break the mental connection between "cachet" and "cache" by simply junking the French C in the shorter word and plugging in an English K: "kash".

My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion.

* I have already offered reform of that word as "cashay", July 16, 2005.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007: "savont" for "savant"

Altho the proposed respelling is most likely to be read as having a stressed, full short-O in the second syllable (sa.vónt), it does allow of the uncommon pronunciation sáa.vant, since any letter in an unstressed syllable can be read as a schwa. What the spelling "savont" does not allow, however, is a misreading like sa.váant, which the present spelling does permit. Two sounds for an A are quite enuf, long (as in say) and short (as in rap). People should not have to guess at a third, broad-A (as in father) — which is the same sound as short-O!: "savont".

Munday, April 16, 2007: "intalyo" for "intaglio"

I'm not usually surprised by anything in English, but I was surprised today, when I checked this word in my two electronic dictionaries and at, and found that there is no fully-anglicized pronunciation, in.táag.lee.yòe. Rather, the two recognized pronunciations in English are in.táal.yoe and in.tól.yo. No G-sound; no EE sound. This is all the more startling in that the word has been used in English since before 1650, some 360 years!

Perhaps the fact that it is a fairly specialized word restricted to use by people in, for instance, the art world and jewelry industry, explains its failure to become fully 'naturalized' into English and thus given an English reading. With the popularity of television programs like Antiques Roadshow, we might expect more people to become familiar with the term, but no ordinary user of English, on merely hearing it, would be able to look it up to find out what it means,* because its spelling does not accord with any English convention.** Let's fix that.

The two pronunciations, one with a short-A and one with a broad-A in the second syllable, do not present a problem, since A arguably covers both. Simply replacing the -GLIO with -YO makes the word readable and guessable, so people hearing it will be able to look it up: "intalyo".

* That is, "a gem, seal, piece of jewelry, or the like, cut with an incised or sunken design", as against a raised design produced by cutting away the background. Intaglio is also the process of engraving a design below the surface of the surrounding material.

** There are only 3 words in the entire, enormous English language in which -GLIO is pronounced -YO: imbroglio (and its alternate, embroglio), intaglio, and seraglio.

Sunday, April 15, 2007: "balareena" for "ballerina"

The present spelling has a couple of problems. First, it contains the shorter word, learned early, ball; but here it is not pronounced like ball. Second, it contains the ending -INA, which is ambiguous. In many places it is pronounced in the "Continental" way, -é (pastina, semolina); in others, in English fashion, -í or -in.a (china, mina; alumina, stamina).

Tho it is not possible to spell a short-A before L entirely unambiguously, it is more customary to show that sound by using a single-L rather than double (balance, salamander). So let's drop one of the L's, and save a letter. But we then need to change the E to A, because "balerina" would be ambiguous (é báil.rin.a?), and even "balereena" would be unclear as to both the sound of the first A and as to whether the word is four syllables or three.

Clarifying the sound of the -INA suffix is, fortunately, easy. We need merely write -EENA.

Putting this all together, we get: "balareena".

Saturday, April 14, 2007: "absess" for "abscess"

SC is plainly redundant here. The question is, which to get rid of, the S or the C? C is a little more common, as in access, process, and recess, tho S also appears, as in assess, possess (where, however, the double-S(!) represents a Z-sound) and, most instructively, obsess, which is only one letter different from a respelling with S. In that obsess is so close and read correctly, let's go with that model: "absess".

Friday, April 13, 2007: "escargoe" for "escargot"

Altho many people find the idea of eating a snail unappetizing — indeed, more than a bit bizarre and disgusting — "escargot" is a common French appetizer (initial small dish in a multi-course meal). It has a silent-T in both English and French. In French, the plural, "escargots", has a silent-S as well, but in English we pronounce the S. The T is always silent, however, so shouldn't be there.

If we simply drop the T, we get "escargo", which looks as tho the stress should go on the second syllable, as it does in the familiar word "cargo" that is within the longer word. Altho English does not usually indicate syllabic stress, when a spelling might mislead a reader as to stress, we should consider whether a slightly different spelling would be better. Adding a silent-E might accomplish that.

Is a silent-E any better than a silent-T? Yes, oddly, it is. Because English employs silent-E all over the place to clarify pronunciations, so readers know how to treat it when they see it and might well guess at it when they hear a word that employs it, whereas no one who sees a T would have reason to think it silent, and no one who hears something that sounds like "escargo" would have any reason to think it has a T in it!: "escargoe".

Thursday, April 12, 2007: "rezzonate" for "resonate"

Following up the past two days' discussions of similar misleading spellings, the last word of this type I will deal with this week is "resonate". Like the others, it has a single consonant between the first and second syllables but needs a double, to show that the vowel in the first syllable is short. This is especially important in that the word starts with RE, and RE- is a common prefix that is usually pronounced with a long-E. The second problem is that the S is misleading because the sound is Z. As with "resin" and "rosin", the simple fixes are the same: change the S to a Z and double it: "rezzonate".

Wensday, April 11, 2007: "rozzin" for "rosin"

Yesterday we dealt with the irrational spelling "resin". Today, let's reform a similar word, for a particular type of resin that most of us know only as something applied to the bow of, say, a violin, to increase friction against the strings. The same major problems exist relative to "rosin" as to "resin", namely that the absence of a double-consonant after the first vowel inclines the reader to see that vowel as long (compare the nickname Rosie) and the sound of the medial consonant is Z, not S. Thus the same fixes also apply here, to change the medial consonant to Z, and double it to cue the reader that the first vowel is short: "rozzin".

Tuesday, April 10, 2007: "rezzin" for "resin"

The present spelling of today's word looks like "re-sin", for "sin again". The E is short, but has no double-consonant following, which will induce many new readers to see it as long. The S represents a Z-sound, so should be Z. Since the place where the S now stands needs a double-consonant to show the E to be short, the consonant that takes the place of the S needs to be doubled. This produces the clear spelling: "rezzin".

Munday, April 9, 2007: "carizma" for "charisma"

There are two things wrong with the traditional spelling of today's word. First, there is a CH but no CH-sound (as in church). Second, there is an S where the sound is Z.

Fortunately, these little problems have simple fixes. We can drop the H and change the S to Z: "carizma".

There is an unusual variant of this term, without the final-A: "charism". Since the proposed changes to the longer word involve the same areas of the shorter word, the reformed spelling would seem plain: "carizm". But the pronunciation of the shorter word is different, with stress on the first syllable and a short-A sound there. "Carizm" might be seen to have a broad-A, as in "car". So a better solution for the shorter word would be "carrizm", double-R being a more conventional spelling for a short-A followed by an R-sound, as in arrow, barren, garret, and tarry. The same spelling would then apply to the adjective "charismatic": "carrizmatic".

Sunday, April 8, 2007: "omz" for "alms"

There is no L-sound in "alms", so should be no L.

The A is not said as a short-A. Not as a long-A. It is a broad-A, the same sound as short-O. So let's use O.

And "alms" looks plural but is not. It can take either a singular or a plural verb form. In derivation, the S does not come from a plural form, but a singular. So let's replace it with a Z to show the sound but not confuse the verb.

There's a lot wrong with this traditionally four-letter word, isn't there? Let's fix them all and make it a three-letter word: "omz".

Saturday, April 7, 2007: "luker" for "lucre"

"Lucre" is a peculiar and ambiguous spelling. Given the model of words like macabre, cacciatore, and curare, it could be pronounced lúk.ra, lúk.ree, lú; lúek.ra, lúek.ree, lú; even lúk or lúek (compare the pronunciation of macabre as only two syllables, the -RE being silent). "Lucre" is actually pronounced as the common English and Biblical name Luke would be if you added an R to the end. So let's spell it that way: "luker".

Tuesday-Friday, April 3-6, 2007:
"harbinjer" for "harbinger"

"derrinjer" for "derringer"
"porrinjer" for "porringer"*
"jinjer" for "ginger"

The NG in the traditional spelling of these words is very misleading, since in most places NG represents a single, nasal sound, one of the standard three nasal sounds of English, N, M, and NG. In these words, however, the N and G do not combine to form that distinctive sound. Rather, the N stands alone, to represent its usual sound, and the G combines instead with the following-E, to be read as a J-sound. How is a reader to know that?

"Harbinger" and the others (pronounced with the sound -in.jer) are parallel in spelling to ringer, singer, and zinger (all with the sound -í, but also to finger, linger, and malinger (all with the sound -íng.ger). This insane variation in pronunciations assigned to the same spelling is why English is so hard to learn. The words aren't hard. The sound scheme isn't hard. The grammar is easy, as languages go. But the spelling! ¡Ay, caramba!

Fortunately, there is a quick fix for the -ín.jer words, to replace the G with J.

"Ginger" (for Food Friday) has one additional problem. The initial-G is also ambiguous. Compare gingham and gingko, both of which are pronounced with a hard-G. So let's replace that G with J as well.

So the reforms I suggest for these four words are: "harbinjer", "derrinjer", "porrinjer", and "jinjer".

* A porringer is "a low dish or cup, often with a handle, from which soup, porridge, or the like is eaten" (Random House Unabridged Electronic Dictionary). I have some porringers from my mother that are glass and can be put into the oven.

My thanks to "Music..." for "jinjer".

Munday, April 2, 2007: "stacotto" for "staccato"

Altho "staccato" may be proper Italian, it is highly improper English. The double-C tells the reader both that the A is short, as in stack, and that the word's stress falls on the syllable before the doubled consonant. Both are wrong.

The A represents schwa, which is never stressed. The word's stress actually falls on the second syllable. If we drop one C and double the T, the word will read right in English. It will also be parallel to a word of similar type, stiletto: "stacotto".

Sunday, April 1, 2007: "receet" for "receipt"

There are two things wrong with the traditional spelling of today's word. In order of seriousness, they are (1) a silent-P, which cannot be justified, and (2) the ambiguous spelling EI.

(1) Not only is the P silent, but it also finds no warrant in the verb that "receipt" is associated with, receive. Indeed, the Middle English form of the word, receite, had no P. A needless, silent P was deliberately put into the word later by pretentious scholars who wanted to show the Latin origin of the word, recepta. Why? Who cares what it comes from? We just want to know what it means and how to spell it.

(2) EI is ambiguous. It can be pronounced a number of different ways: long-E, as here and in weird and seize; long-I, as in height and feisty; long-A, as in weigh and reindeer; flat-A, as in heir and their; short-I, as in counterfeit and sovereign; even two syllables, as in deify and spontaneity. The obvious alternative, EE, is clear. Few people would see EE here as anything but the long-E sound.

Only one question remains: do we leave the C that the word now has, or change it to S? C before E is almost always pronounced S, and that is a common spelling. We could change the C to S, and in a radical respelling regime, we would. But this project proposes little changes that are least likely to arouse the ire of spelling conservatives, so let's just leave the C, here and in "receev":* "receet".

* "Receev" was offered here October 25, 2006.

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

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