here for today's suggestion.
Click here to return to the archive index.
Click here for a list of possible future words.
Click here for the principles that govern the selection of words.
Sunday, September 30, 2007: "mystro" for "maestro"
AE is a very peculiar way to spell the long-I sound. AE has other sounds, so at very best is ambiguous: sundae, maelstrom; aerobic, aerosol; algae, aegis; aesthetic, anaesthetic; paella; etc.
How to spell a long-I sound before a consonant cluster is tricky. "Miestro" might be read right. Then again, it might be read as three syllables, míe.yes.trò/mie.yés.tro or mée.yes.trò/mee.yés.tro. Hybrid, dehydration, and hygrometer show us a workable pattern: "mystro". That should be read right, but the existence of the word "mystery" and many others in which Y represents a short-I sound complicates matters. Can't be helped. There are only a few ways to spell the long-I sound, in any position, and before a consonant cluster, there are even fewer, none completely unambiguous. AE is not one of the common ways to spell long-I, in any position. So the best choice appears to be: "mystro".
Saturday, September 29, 2007: "larrinx" and "larrinjitis" for "larynx" and "laryngitis"
There are two things wrong with the traditional spelling of these related words. First, AR is ambiguous, usually being seen to have a broad-A (the same sound as short-O) but here representing a short-A. The more customary way of representing short-A before R is to double the R (arrogant, marry). So let's do that.
The second problem is Y for short-I. Tho readers seeing -YNX might guess it does not have Y's more typical sound mid-word (as in type and hybrid rather than typical), no new reader on hearing either of these words would visualize a Y in trying to spell it. Spelling should be as predictable as possible.
For that same reason, the second word of today's pair has two additional problems that need fixing: (1) G before I is ambiguous (give, begin; gin, gingivitis). If the sound is J, the letter should be J. And (2) NG usually represents a distinct nasal sound different from N, but here, the N and G do not combine to represent that sound. Rather, the N retains its own sound. How is anyone to know that?
Putting this all together, we get today's twofer: "larrinx" and "larrinjitis".
Friday, September 28, 2007: "nead" for "knead"
For this Food Friday, let's deal with a fairly simple word that means to massage dough firmly but has a superfluous K. Since the K expresses no sound, it doesn't need to be there. To avoid confusion with "need", we need only retain all the other letters of the traditional spelling but the K: "nead".
Thursday, September 27, 2007: "jerzy" for "jersey"
The state I live in is often (disrespectfully) referred to as "Jersey", tho that term is proper only in a very few phrases, such as "North Jersey" and "Jersey Shore"). It would be good to distinguish the State from the garment; -SEY is ambiguous (compare mosey and mousey); -EY is ambiguous (compare whiskey and they); and the spelling "Jerzy" is familiar from the name of the author Jerzy Kosinski: "jerzy".
Wensday, September 26, 2007: "ilitterit" for "illiterate"
This word means someone who can't read. We have a very serious problem with illiteracy in English-speaking countries, despite universal education, because the spelling of English is so crazy that a lot of sensible people cannot cope with it. The fault is not in them but in the spelling "system". Indeed, perhaps it is to their credit that they can't remember stupid spellings. Maybe that's smart.
The spelling of today's word is triply irrational. First, there is a double consonant where we don't need one (ILL-). Second, there is only a single consonant where we should have a double (-IT-), because there is an E in the following syllable, which could be taken to mean that the vowel in the immediately preceding syllable should be pronounced long, which it should not. Let's flip the doubles.
Third, there is a silent-E at the end of the word, which, again, will seem to many readers to signal that the prior vowel should be pronounced long. It should not. Indeed, the vowel sound isn't even an A-sound, not long (as in ate), not short (as in at). No, it's actually a short-I. So let's fix that too: "ilitterit".
Tuesday, September 25, 2007: "haist" and "haissen" for "haste" and "hasten"
Ordinarily, two consonants following a vowel suggest that the vowel is short, but in "haste", the A is long. The E at the end is supposed to serve as the silent-E that marks the prior vowel as long, even tho two consonants intervene. Not good.
As for "hasten", we have an exactly parallel word, "fasten",* in which the A is indeed short. How is anyone to know which pattern applies to which word?
In both "fasten" and "hasten", the T is silent, even tho in the root words from which both derive, "fast" and "haste", the T is pronounced. Why would anyone who knows that the T is pronounced in the base word anticipate that it is silent in the derivative?
For "haste", we have two rhyming words, waste and waist. Altho we can't change waste to waist because that spelling is already in use, we can use that pattern for "haste" because there is no present word "haist".
For "hasten", if we write "haisen", some people will be unclear as to whether the single-S is pronounced S or Z. So instead of simply dropping the T, we can replace it with a second S. Most people will read SS correctly. So today's twofer is "haist" and "haissen".
* "Fasten" was offered here as "fassen" on April 25, 2007.
Munday, September 24, 2007: "zhondarm" for "gendarme"
There is no G-sound in this word, not a hard-G (get), not a soft-G (gesture), so should be no G. The sound that is in the word is customarily spelled, in pronunciation keys and transliterations from nonromanic alphabets, as ZH. So, let's use that.
There is also a silent-E in the traditional spelling that adds nothing but length, so we can dump it: "zhondarm".
Sunday, September 23, 2007: "faulse" for "false"
The A in the combination AL ordinarily represents a short-A, not the AU-sound (alimony, album, algebra). The sound here is short-A, not AU. In conventional spelling, the actual sound here would better be written "fallse" = "fall" with an S-sound represented by SE. But that looks sort of funny. Less odd in appearance is today's suggested reform: "faulse".
* My thanks to "JEA..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, September 22, 2007: "erl" for "earl"
Ear is an apparent part of this word, but its sound, eer, is not. The A is not just superfluous. It is also misleading, so has to go: "erl".
Friday, September 21, 2007: "dispepsia" and "dispeptic" for "dyspepsia" and "dyspeptic"
Apart from French, the one foreign language that causes English spelling the most trouble is Greek. Unlike French, there is absolutely no justification for allowing Greek to confuse English spelling, because Greek uses a different alphabet, so we don't just lift Greek words entire, with their spelling unchanged. Somebody actually rewrites Greek words in the Roman alphabet, but unphonetically!
The Y in today's word is pronounced short-I. There can be no justification for writing it with a Y, especially in that the Greek letter that looks like the Roman Y, upsilon, actually represented a U-sound in classical Greek. If pedants insist that Greek spellings should control the spelling of English words derived from them, then we should write "duspepsia". In modern Greek, the sound of upsilon is like that of I in modern European languages (like EE in English). So why not transliterate it as I?
Some pedants pretend that there is so huge a difference between the meanings of "dis-" and "dys-" that it is illiterate to write the two the same. Drivel. "Dis-" means the negative of something; "dys-" means "ill" or "bad", also negative. Even more negative is the effect of nonphonetic spelling on the ability of people to learn and use English. Besides, almost nobody cares what other word in some foreign language an English word or word element, not even the whole word may have come from. We know the meaning of words from use and dictionaries, not spelling. So let's stop playing silly games with reason to justify the unjustifiable chaos of English spelling. Let's make words spellable on hearing, not just readable on seeing: "dispepsia" and "dispeptic".
Thursday, September 20, 2007: "cabbashon" for "cabochon"
Like yesterday's, today's unphonetic word* is from French, where the SH-sound is spelled CH. In English, it's spelled SH, so that's an obvious change. Can we stop there: "caboshon"? I don't think so.
"Cabo" means "cape" (point of land) in Spanish, and we now know that term from, for instance, the Mexican resort Cabo San Lucas. That's not the sound in "cabochon", the A of which has a regular short-A sound. One common way of showing a short vowel in English is by doubling the following consonant. So let's do that: "cabboshon".
The O sticks out, tho, and suggests a long-O sound, which is also not found in "cabochon". The most common way (tho certainly not the only way) to spell a schwa is A, so let's replace the O with another A. Now we have a spelling people will read write, and guess right on hearing the word: "cabbashon".
* A "cabochon", pronounced káab.a.shòn, is a gemstone rounded on its upper face and polished, but not cut into facets.
Wensday, September 19, 2007: "baccarah" for "baccarat"
Here's another* of the many words taken into English from French without respelling. Consequently, it has a silent-T. The French know that a T at the end of a word is generally not sounded tho one must wonder why the French put up with such nonsense. In English, we expect that every letter is to be pronounced, and we have the right to that expectation. When we encounter a silent letter, we should get rid of it.
There is one other issue in this word that, fortunately, does not prevent simplifying it. That is how to pronounce the first-A. The double-C suggests a short-A, but its origin inclines people who recognize it as French to pronounce it broad-A (the same sound as English short-O). Since people who say a broad-A can continue to say that if an A is left in that position, respelling this word to eliminate the silent-T does not force anyone to change his preferred pronunciation of the first-A: "baccarah".
* Baccarat is a high-roller's card game played at casinos.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007: "absissa" for "abscissa"
In the three years and more that this project has been going, we have dealt with most of the egregiously absurd spellings that can be reformed easily, as media mentions brought them to public attention. We can now proceed more methodically letter-by-letter thru the alphabet, one letter a day, except when a word in the news might demand our attention.
Today let's get rid of a silent-C from a word for the x-axis (the horizontal one) in mathematical charting of values in the Cartesian coordinate system. This is the form of charting used in, for instance, tracking price changes in the stock market, or temperatures or rainfall during the month. "Abscissa" is not pronounced aab.skís.a, so there's no reason for there to be a C in it: "absissa".
Munday, September 17, 2007: "euniverse", "euniversal" and "euniversity" for "universe", "universal" and "university"
By far the great preponderance of words starting in UN- have a short-U sound, even before vowels (unidentified, unintended, unintelligble; unaltered, uneventful, unopposed, unusual). It thus makes sense to distinguish words that instead begin with a Y-glide and long-U from those others in the way we show this sound combination elsewhere (euphemism, eucalyptus, Eucharist): "euniverse", "euniversal", "euniversity".
My thanks to "Castle..." for "euniverse" and "Red..." for "euniversity".
Sunday, September 16, 2007: "zink" for "zinc"
You might at first think that "zinc", tho unusual, as makes it hard for new learners to predict the spelling from the sound, but it's actually phonetic, in its way. You'd be right if "zinc" were only a noun. But it is also a verb, meaning to coat with zinc, to galvanize. Thus it has verbal forms that are either unphonetic (zinced, zincing) or altered to make them phonetic (zincked, zincking). Oddly, even "zincs" is spelled by some people with a K: he/she/it zincks. That stinks.
It is essentially impossible for any rational person to object to changing the C to K, especially given that the word comes from German "Zink" no C! So, reason is against the C, efficiency is against the C (because it becomes CK in some verb forms, whereas if we just spelled it with a K to begin with, we wouldn't have to add anything but the verb ending, but could save a letter), and etymology is against it: "zink".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, September 15, 2007: "quinzy" for "quinsy"
"Quinsy" is a medical term for a severe inflammation of the tonsils. It has an S in the spelling but a Z-sound. There is a similar proper noun, "Quincy", for a city in Massachusetts, which also has a Z-sound! I am perpetually astounded that there are actually people who defend such insanity. No, there should not be an S or C for a Z-sound. That's what Z is for.
This project does not in general deal with proper nouns, so we will not insist that the Massachusetts city change its spelling. But we surely can insist that the name of the tonsil inflammation be changed: "quinzy".
Friday, September 14, 2007: "zanthan" for "xanthan"
This Food Friday let's talk about a stabilizer commonly used in salad dressings and sauces, "xanthan gum." "Gum" is perfectly phonetic. "Xanthan" is not. The X is pronounced like Z. Everything else is OK. So let's just change the X to Z: "zanthan".
My thanks to "Unicycle..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, September 13, 2007: "edipal" and "Edipus complex" for "oedipal" and "Oedipus complex"
OE should represent the long-O sound: toe, Joe, foe, doe. Here, it represents an E-sound, either short-E or long-E, depending on the particular speaker's preference. We can drop the O with no loss. People who say short-E have that option; people who say long-E have that option: "edipal" and "Edipus complex".
Sunday thru Wensday, September 9-12, 2007:
"jent" for "gent"
"jentle/man" for "gentle/man"
"jenteel" for "genteel"
"jentile" for "gentile"
We got rid of two J's in reforming "jojoba" to "hohoba" Saturday. Let's compensate by replacing four G's with J's.
"Gent" is the shortened, informal version of gentleman. It is also, etymologically, the base form in the origin of all these related words, which harken back to Latin gens, "family". So this family of words relates to behavior appropriate within a family, or people classed as tho a family. They all employ a G for the J-sound. But G before E sometimes nonetheless takes the (hard) G-sound (get, gear, gecko), so is ambiguous. Let's just use the letter J for the J-sound. Changing the "soft"-G to J in one of these related words necessitates changing it in the others, and in related but uncommon words like gentlewoman* and gentleperson: "jent", "jentle/man", "jenteel", and "jentile".
My thanks to "Clap..." for "jentle" and to "GreenD..." for "jent", "jentleman", and "jentlewoman".
* This form is apparently used in the United States Congress in referring to a female Representative or Senator. Reformed, it becomes "jentlewoman", and the gender-neutral word becomes "jentleperson".
Saturday, September 8, 2007: "hohoba" for "jojoba"
"Jojoba" is a perfect example of why we should not take new words in from foreign languages with what are in English bizarre spellings. In Spanish, from which this word derives, J is pronounced like a harsh, guttural H. Not in English. This word is now well-enuf established in English that it can be respelled in an English fashion: "hohoba".
Friday, September 7, 2007: "rubarb" for "rhubarb"
It's Food Friday again, so let's address the name of a plant whose stems are used as tho a fruit, in pies and preserves. We don't need an H in this word. It adds nothing but length and difficulty in predicting how to spell it on hearing it: "rubarb".
My thanks to, appropriately, "Garden..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, September 6, 2007: "injur" for "injure"
The E at the end of this word is not just superfluous; it is actually misleading, because it suggests that the U is long, as in sure or endure. But the U is not long. Rather, it is the same U as in absurd, which is the same sound as in the ER spelling that is the most common way this sound is written. However, -ER has grammatical functions (comparative form of adjectives and adverbs: faster; agent noun: reformer) not found in this word. So, merely dropping the -E and leaving the UR seems best: "injur".
Wensday, September 5, 2007: "silleum" for "psyllium"
"Psyllium" is a 'psylly' way to spell this ingredient in some laxatives. The silent-P has got to go. The Y for a short-I is both unexpected and misleading. On hearing síl.ee.am, who would think "psyllium"?
The LL and UM are fine. Once we drop the P and change the Y to I we are left with "sillium". The I, however, does not represent either of I's own sounds, long or short, but an abbreviated long-E. Since the sound is E, let's just spell it with an E: "silleum".
Tuesday, September 4, 2007: "dumbell" for "dumbbell"
We don't need two B's in this word. Only one is sounded, so only one need be written. This is a compound word, formed from "dumb" and "bell". But the B in "dumb" is silent.* So it shouldn't have been there to adjoin the B in "bell" to begin with.
We don't need a double-B to show that the U is short, because there are three consonants in a row after it, and two would do to show it short. So let's just drop the extra B.
Can we as well drop the second-L? No. "Dumbel" would look to rhyme with tumble. So we should drop one B but keep both L's: "dumbell".
* Dropping that M was proposed here nearly three years ago, on September 17, 2004.
Munday, September 3, 2007: "gouj" for "gouge"
There are two G's in this word, but only one G-sound (for the first G). New readers, especially people who live in non-English-speaking countries, should not have to know rules about when a G is given a G-sound and when a J-sound. If it sounds like J, it should be written J: "gouj".
My thanks to "rhod..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, September 2, 2007: "tawt" for "taught"
A silent-GH is indefensible, so must go. If we simply drop it, we are left with "taut", which is already a word, meaning stretched tight. There is another way we spell the AU-sound, AW (law, awful, pawn). Let's use that: "tawt".
My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, September 1, 2007: "nazal" for "nasal"
Commercials for the allergy spray Nasonex employ the Spaniard Antonio Banderas as the voice of a bee that consequently says an S-sound rather than Z. But it's not just Latinos who might pronounce "nasal" with an S-sound. The sound should actually be a Z. In the parallel word "basal" (as in "basal metabolism"), it is an S. Since the sound is Z and the spelling with S is ambiguous, we should simply change the S to Z: "nazal".
My thanks to "Fireworks..." for this suggestion.
Munday thru Friday, August 27-31, 2007:
"latreen" for "latrine"
"mareen" for "marine"
"raveen" for "ravine"
"aquamareen" for "aquamarine"
"submareen" for "submarine"
-INE is ambiguous, being pronounced -een, -ien, and -in perhaps equally frequently, and even, in at least one word, -in.ee (aborigine). -EEN is the unambiguous spelling for the sound here, which would make this word both instantly readable on sight and readily spellable on hearing. So let's reform all these words in the same way: "latreen", "mareen", "raveen", "aquamareen", and (for Food Friday) "submarine".
My thanks to "Clap..." for "mareen" and "Bookk..." for "submareen".
Sunday, August 26, 2007: "menny" for "many"
"Many" should rhyme with zany or miscellany. Instead, it rhymes with penny, jenny, Denny, and Kenny. So that's the way it should be spelled: "menny".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, August 25, 2007: "seel/ing" for "ceil/ing"
EI is ambiguous. It can be pronounced in at least the following ways: long-E (weird), long-I (height), long-A (weight), long-E and then short-I (albeit), long-E and then long-I (ileitis), short-E (heifer), flat-A (heir), even short-I (forfeit). The words either and neither are said with a long-E by most people but long-I by others. We should replace EI with something else, pretty much everywhere.
In today's word, which has a long-E sound, EE is the obvious substitute.
That leaves only one issue, to retain the C or replace it with S. People who see a C will know to pronounce it S. But if it is to be pronounced S, why not write S? That seems especially advisable in that people who hear the word will hear an S, so new readers in English-speaking countries and around the world, will be surprised to find it's "supposed" to be spelled with a C. S is the better choice.
The word most of us know, "ceiling", has a lesser-known relative, a verb that means to provide with a ceiling: "ceil". Plainly that would also need to be changed, in the same way. So today's twofer is: "seeling" and "seel".
There is an arcane (and grotesque) word "seel" in falconry, which means to sew the eyes of a falcon shut during training, but almost no one knows that word, so there is no reason to avoid that spelling out of fear of confusion.
Friday, August 24, 2007:"albacor" for "albacore"
Dropping a needless silent-E that adds nothing but length and possible confusion may not seem much of a change, but it's worth doing anyway. This being Food Friday, let's put this food word on a diet, and make its spelling more readily predictable by making it parallel to other words, of very frequent occurrence, that end in the same sound, such as or, nor, and for. Every needless letter in every word of the vocabulary wastes time in writing or typing it, and ink and paper in printing it. Why bother? Let's cut as many needless letters as we can, especially on words that have misleading parallels (as or, nor, and for are here) which may cause people to waste as well, mental time and energy in trying to remember which words take a needless silent-E and which don't: "albacor".
Thursday, August 23, 2007:
"granjur" for "grandeur"
"grainjer" for "granger"
The -DEUR in "grandeur" is unclear and misleading, as induces some people to pronounce it with a long-U sound. Most people treat it as the voiced equivalent of the unvoiced -TURE in future. As future is pronounced fyúe.cher, "grandeur" is pronounced gráan.jer, since CH and J are, respectively, the voiceless and voiced versions of the same sound, as are T (unvoiced, as in "tub" (and "future")) and D (voiced, as in "dub" (and "grandeur")).
But nobody says fyúe.chuer, whereas some people are misled into saying gráan.juer. That is almost certainly because people first learn the word future from speech, but the word grandeur from reading.
A respelling to "granjer" would tell people who say gráan.juer that they are saying it wrong, which we need not do. We can instead write UR rather than ER at the end of the word, which will accommodate both pronunciations: "granjur".*
"Granjer" would also tend to be confused with "granger" (a farmer or gentleman-farmer), which, in any case, should be respelled to show that the A is long. The simplest way to do that in traditional spelling is to put an I immediately after the A: "grainger".
However, a G before E is ambiguous, since it could be given G's ordinary sound, "hard"-G, as in get and gear. In "grainger", we have an -NGER letter sequence , which affords a new reader two other possibilities, an NG-sound followed by ER (compare hanger), and an NG-sound followed first by a hard-G sound, and then by ER (compare anger). Altho most native speakers would probably guess that neither of those pronounciations would apply to "grainger", they would only be guessing, and not everyone guesses right. Spelling should be clear, so people don't have to guess.
So let's reform these two similar words to unambiguous, and plainly contrasting, spellings: "granjur" and "grainjer".
* Other words of the pattern -ANGER pronounced with a long-A and soft-G were dealt with June 8-15, 2007.
Wensday, August 22, 2007: "endevver" for "endeavo(u)r"
The U.S. space shuttle whose name was, insultingly to the Americans who paid for it, given a British spelling, Endeavour, returned safely from the International Space Station yesterday despite a gouge in the heat shield that had worried engineers. So this seems an appropriate time to address the unphonetic spellings "endeavor" and "endeavour".
EA is ambiguous, and is usually pronouced long-E. Here, it takes short-E. Not good. Let's drop the A. "Endevor" would be ambiguous as to the sound of the E. Is it long or short? Syllabic stress might also be guessed wrong, as falling on the first syllable.
The most common way of clarifying that a vowel is short is to double the following consonant. Let's do that, which would leave us with "endevvor" or "endevvour". Doubling the V would also cue the reader to putting the word's stress on the second syllable.
Clearly -DEVOUR is phonetically wrong, as demonstrated by the fact that devour is a word to itself, pronounced di.vóu.wer, as you might expect from the spelling. There is no justification for ever writing "endeavour" or any other word with an -OUR ending. Should we just, then, write "endevvor"?
No. Many readers see -OR endings as requiring an -AUR pronunciation, most conspicuously in the word mentor, which is often mispronounced mén.taur, when it actually rhymes with "renter". The sound in the last syllable of "endeavor" is most commonly spelled ER (tho it is also spelled OR (actor), UR (urge), IR (bird), AR (beggar), and perhaps other ways. When native speakers hear that sound in a word ending, their first thought is that it should be spelled -ER. Since spelling should be predictable, let's spell it that way here: "endevver".
Munday and Tuesday, August 20 and 21, 2007:
"feeld" for "field"
"weeld" for "wield"
Let's dispose of the last two members of a family of four similar oddly spelled words. We have already dealt with "shield" and "yield" (to "sheeld" and "yeeld"),* so need only make the same change here.
IE is at best ambiguous (pie, cookie, alien) and at worst irrational when used for long-E. The general rule is that a silent-E following a vowel signals that that vowel is to be pronounced long. That vowel, no another. So if you add a silent-E to a single-E, you get EE, which is pronounced long-E; add silent-E to O, long-O; etc. Why should we get a long-E when we add a silent-E to I? We shouldn't.
EE is unambiguous for the long-E sound that occurs in both these words, so let's use that: "feeld" and "weeld".
Naturally, all derivatives, of which there are many, would also change (e.g., "minefeeld", "oilfeeld", "backfeeld", "outfeeld", "infeeld", "chesterfeeld", "battlefeeld", "airfeeld", etc.).
* On March 28, 2007 and April 8, 2006, respectively.
Sunday, August 19, 2007: "sammeri" for "samurai"*
There is no completely unambiguous spelling for a long-I in final position, but AI is a decidedly un-English way to try to represent that sound, so almost any common English way of writing long-I at the end of a word would be better. The present spelling of the word overall is, indeed, ambiguous both as to all the vowel sounds, and as to which syllable is stressed.
-Y (as in qualify, multiply (the verb), or prophesy), wouldn't work, because "samury" would be seen by most people as rhyming with "jury". That is, the U would be seen as long and the -Y as long-E, both of which would be wrong. "Samurie" would be seen the same way (compare "curie" and the surname "Lurie"). "Samurye" would be puzzling to most readers. Is it sa.múe.ree, sa.myúe.ree, sa.múr.yae, sa.múr.yee, sa.múr.ie? What??
Of the various ways we spell a long-I in final position, perhaps the least ambiguous, tho still a bit ambiguous, is -I as in alibi, alkali, cacti, hippopotami, etc.
OK. Let's move now to the other vowels. We can clarify the first-A by doubling the following-M, which will show at once that the preceding-A is short and that the word's stress falls on the first syllable. "Sammuri" would, however, leave the U ambiguous.
Some readers will insert a Y-glide before the U, tho there should not be a Y-glide in this word. Some people will pronounce the U long, whereas it is actually either a short-OO or a schwa. "Sammoori" would probably not work either, since most people see OO in an unfamiliar word as long, that is, as a long-U without an initial Y-glide ("ooh" as against "you"). And most readers would probably put the stress on the second syllable, paying no attention to the MM as indicator of stress but only as affecting the preceding-A in some way. Since most unstressed vowels in the middle of a three-syllable word will be seen by native speakers of English as schwa, let's just accommodate the schwa now.
We could write "sammari", but some readers would see AR and pronounce it parallel to bar or car, which would also tend to shift the syllabic stress to the second syllable, since a broad-A is felt to require a longer period of articulation and more volume. "Sammiri" would be wrong, as would "sammori". Only one vowel works, an E: "sammeri".
* "Samurai" has historical and metaphorical uses, but is also the name taken by some computer hackers who use their skills to protect people from malicious hackers.
Saturday, August 18, 2007: "batalyon" for "battalion"
The present spelling of this military term suggests at once that the stress falls on the first syllable, because there is a double-T after it, and that the last part of the word is pronounced like the name of the animal it is identical to: "lion". The overall spelling looks as tho it should be pronounced as a phrase, "bat a lion". That is not even nearly how it is actually pronounced.
We can, for a start, drop the second-T: "batalion". Since the second syllable is the one actually pronounced, we could double the L instead: "batallion", which would make this word parallel to "stallion", with which it rhymes. But both those words would be unclear as to the sound of the A, since "all" and "stall" contain the AU-sound. A short-A before L is usually shown by a single-L: Al, pal (as against pall), alabaster. So we're back to one L: "batalion", which looks exactly like the phrase "bat a lion", but closed up, no spaces. -YON is clearer for the sound of the -ION, as in canyon and Runyon. So let's use that: "batalyon".
Friday, August 17, 2007: "gingko" for "ginkgo" and "gingko"
Some readers will be astonished, as was I, to discover that the familiar ornamental tree of city streets, the "gingko", and the mental-alertness dietary supplement "gingko biloba" derived from it, are "properly" spelled not with a GK letter sequence but with a KG sequence! The "correct" spelling is "ginkgo", which derives from Japanese ginkyM, a compound of gin (for "silver") and kyM ("apricot"), both derived from Chinese words, which is appropriate in that the gingko / ginkgo biloba tree, long thought extinct, was found in two provinces of China and then propagated widely across the world, in part due to its ability to withstand highly polluted urban air. The 'misspelling' "gingko", which has become an acceptable alternate spelling, presumably arose because there is not a single common word in English in which -INK- is pronounced without the NG-sound,* so when people saw a word with that sound and a G in it, they naturally remembered the G as preceding the K, not following it. That is a sensible thought process, and spelling should be subject to reason and good sense. So the "proper" spelling "ginkgo" should be abolished in favor of the far more reasonable spelling: "gingko".
* The one word with the letter sequence -INK- that does not take an NG sound does not have the sound of "ink". "Painkiller" is not an INK sequence, as such, but an AINK sequence. Why not, then, simply eliminate the G altogether: "ginko"? I feel that that is more likely to be misread as having a "soft-G", as in "gin", and even as lacking an NG sound, as tho it were an abbreviation for "Gin Company". We are accustomed to a G in this word, so let's just make the common 'misspelling' into the new correct spelling.
Thursday, August 16, 2007: "veenus" for "venous"
Today's word relates to "vein" but has a long-E rather than long-A sound. People who know it relates to "vein" are tempted to pronounce it in the same way, with a long-A, even tho there is no I in "venous". Were we to add an I, the resulting spelling, "veinous", would definitely be pronounced with a long-A. That would be, then, not a spelling reform but a linguistic reform, replacing a distinct adjective with a suffix on an existing noun. Society could do that, but this website deals not with changing words but with spelling existing words so their sounds are clear.
The adjective "venous" is pronounced like the planet "Venus", but adopting the same spelling is out, because it would confuse the reader. We can, however, make the long-E sound plain by simply doubling the E.
In the second syllable, the spelling OU is misleading, because there is no OU-sound. Let's just drop the O. That would restore the word to six letters, making up for the added-E in the first syllable. The resulting reformed spelling would be no longer but would be much clearer: "veenus".
* Reform of unphonetic "vein" to phonetic "vaen" ("vane" and "vain" already being taken) was suggested here on June 18, 2005.
Wensday, August 15, 2007:
"homojeneous",* "homojeneity", and "homojjenize" for "homogeneous", "homogeneity", and "homogenize"
"hetterojeneous"* and "hetterojeneity" for "heterogeneous" and "heterogeneity"
The main spelling to be changed today is the "soft-G" in several related words. G before E can still be "hard", that is, take its own, G-sound (get, gear, gecko, geisha, etc.), and a listener cannot know except by memorizing, not reasoning, that a syllable that sounds like "jeans" has a G rather than a J. Let's reserve the G to its own sound, and let J represent its own sound everywhere. In this group of similar words, that sensible change produces: "homojeneous", "homojeneity", "homojjenize" (short-O before the J requires the J be doubled for clarity), and, with one additional change, doubling the T to show a short-E beforehand, "hetterojeneous", and "hetterojeneity".
* The -OUS ending is unreasonable in general, for containing an OU but no OU-sound. Dropping the O from an -EOUS ending, however, produces an ambiguous -EUS, which could be read as -yues or -yus. Many people might accept "homojeneous" and "heterojeneous" but balk at "homojeneus" and "heterojeneus", especially if they see them as ending in what sounds like the word now spelled "genius". So let's leave the O here. Converting all -OUS endings, including -EOUS endings, may have to wait until people are well accustomed to the phonetic habit.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007: "degouss" for "degauss"
AU ordinarily represents the sound of A in all, O in or, or AU in haul. In "degauss", the vowel represented by AU is actually the OU-sound. So let's just write it OU: "degouss".
Munday, August 13, 2007: "survay" for "survey"
Yesterday we replaced one irregular spelling of a long-A at the end of a word (-É or -E) with the regular form -AY. Today, let's replace another, -EY, with -AY.
-EY is ambiguous, and is usually pronounced long-E: hockey, gurney, journey, monkey, attorney and, parallel to today's word, surrey. In a relative few words, however, it is pronounced long-A (they, convey, disobey). Since which pronunciation any given -EY word takes cannot be predicted by people who first see it, we should replace the -EY in words in which the sound is long-A, as here: "survay".
Sunday, August 12, 2007: "passay" for "passé" or "passe"
One doesn't hear this word often nowadays. In a sense, it's sort of passé itself. But I did see it in a news story today, without the accent that shows people how to say it. Without that accent, and the extra syllable that the accent cues one to say, the term is actually a different word (pronounced pos), French for the numbers 19 thru 36 in roulette. English doesn't use accents, typewriters in English-speaking countries don't have "dead keys" for accents, and most native speakers of English don't know how to type an accent on a computer, so the accent has got to go.
Once it's gone, however, the word becomes unclear. We can fix that easily, simply by replacing the -E with -AY, which is what the present -É represents: "passay".
Friday-Saturday, August 3-11, 2007:
"shantoose" for "chanteuse"
"shantilly" for "chantilly" (lace)
"shofer" for "chauffeur"
"shovinism" for "chauvinism"
"shevron" for "chevron"
"sheek" for "chic"
"sheeshee" for "chichi"
"shivalry" for "chivalry"
"shattoebreonn" for "châteaubriand"
Let's deal all at once with a bunch of words that have the same problem, a n initial-CH for the English SH-sound. Once we put SH where it belongs, a few other problems come into view that have equally easy solutions.
"Shanteuse" would have an ambiguous -EUSE, which looks as tho it should have a Y-glide before the long-U, whereas it should not. So we can simply substitute -OOSE, as in moose.
"Shauffeur" would be very misleading, since it looks as tho it should be pronounced shauf.yuer. So we need to recast the word entirely into a simple phonetic form. "Shofer" is short, sweet, and unambiguous.
A similar problem arises with "shauvinism", compounded by the odd English words "shove" and "shovel" (pronounced shuv and shúv.al). No matter how you spell the O-sound ("shovinizm", "shoevinizm" confusable with the word "shoe", which is pronounced shu "shoavinizm"), there will be some uncertainty in some readers as to how to pronounce the first vowel. The simplest spelling thus seems best: "shovinizm".
"Shic" would be read like the razor, Schick. If we change the I to EE but leave the final-C, it might be clear ("sheec") but it is needlessly odd and "un-English" in appearance. -EEK is standard and simple (week, seek, peek, creek).
"Chichi" is a tad trickier. For one thing, a now-defunct Mexican restaurant chain and ongoing grocery brand, Chi-Chi's, has a similar spelling but its CH's are pronounced in the Spanish (and English) fashion. The word from French, "chichi", is pronounced like the English word "she" said twice, but writing that, "sheshe", would not be clear. We could insert a hyphen, "she-she", but hyphens don't last long in English, especially in the United States, so we would soon find "sheshe", closed up and confusing. Let's accept that at least the first long-E sound needs to be written with EE. Would "sheeshy" do? No, because "shy" is a well-known word, with a long-I at the end, not long-E, so "sheeshy" would be ambiguous. "Sheeshee", however, works fine.
Changing only the CH wouldn't work in "châteaubriand" either, because the remainder of the word's spelling is absurd, in English. Fine in French, idiotic in English. We don't use accents, so the "hat" on the A must go. The EAU represents a long-O sound. "Shatobriand" is ambiguous as to whether the A is short or long, and the O is long or short; "brian" is a common male given name pronounced very differently; and the D is silent. If we double the T, we make plain that the A is short: shatt-. OE would show the O to be long: shattoe-. EO in place of IA shows the right sound: shattoebreond. Drop the D: shattoebreon. Long word. Where's the stress? The double-T suggests that the stress falls before that, on the first syllable. It actually falls on the last. Double the final-N to show that. The vowel of the last syllable is actually also nasalized rather than said as a regular vowel followed by N, but there is no conventional way to show that in English, because nasalizing vowels is un-English. The French dish of this name has been around since 1875, but is still given a Frenchified pronunciation. If English were to adopt a convention to show nasalization, NN would probably be it. So let's go with that. If people don't nasalize the O toward the end but just pronounce the NN as tho a single-N, that's fine too.
So this extended week of words with an initial-CH that sounds like SH resolves to: "shantoose", "shantilly", shofer", "shovinizm", "shevron", "sheek", "sheeshee", "shivalry", and "shattoebreonn".
Thursday, August 2, 2007: "lanyap" for "lagniappe"
Altho today's word, for a little something extra that a storeowner gives to a customer upon a purchase, or for a tip (gratuity), is not well known outside Louisiana, its horrendous spelling nonetheless warrants reform.
The word was originally "yapay", in Quechua, the language of the Incas. The Spaniards who conquered the Incas changed it to, and spelled it as, "la ñapa". The French of Louisiana changed it to "lagniappe", which is syllabified la.gniappe. "Lagniappe" may make perfect sense in French, but it makes no sense whatsoever in English. Americans who moved into Louisiana took the word into their own vocabulary, and did absolutely nothing with its form, but left it with an absurd French spelling, which leads one to apply a French pronunciation: lon.yóp. That would be a mistake, because the actual pronunciation in English is laan.yaap (both syllables containing a short-A, either of which can be stressed). The French spelling is thus not only bizarre but also misleading as to pronunciation. Let's spell the word as it is pronounced. In English, short-A is most commonly, and simply, spelled with a single-A followed by a consonant. So let's spell both those short-A's that way: "lanyap".
Wensday, August 1, 2007: "tooshay" for "touché"
A TV commercial for the upcoming special-effects movie, Underdog, has the dog character saying "Touché", a term from fencing that is used colloquially to mean, "Point taken" or "Nicely played". The word came into English around 80 years ago from French, but is still pronounced in the French fashion, tue.sháe, more than just spelled in the French fashion, with an accented-E. English, however, does not employ accents and most people in English-speaking countries do not know how to type an accent* so the accent has to go. Once the accent is eliminated, however, the French form takes a different pronunciation, tuesh. And the pronunciation in English is unclear.
The CH represents not the English CH-sound (as in church) but the English SH-sound. So let's substitute SH. "Toushe", however, is still unclear.
AY is the simplest way of representing a long-A at the end of a word in English. So let's write that, which would give us "toushay". That is still misleading, since it contains a written OU but no OU-sound. The sound is long-U, which here, before a consonant cluster, could be spelled only a few ways, e.g., "tueshay" (compare Tuesday), "tooshay" (compare toothy), "tuishay" (on the model of cruise). "Tushay" wouldn't do it.
"Tueshay" would likely be read by Britons as comparable to their pronunciation of Tuesday, which incorporates a Y-glide (tyue.shae). "Tuishay" would more likely be read as twee.shae or túe.wish.ae than tue.shae. That leaves only "tooshay". Altho it would be nice if we could reserve OO for the short-OO sound as in good, the fact is that OO in unfamiliar locations is almost always seen as a long-U sound without a Y-glide. So let's write that: "tooshay".
* Most computers, even in English-speaking countries, can produce accents over vowels, but most people in English-speaking countries don't know how to do that. Almost no typewriters in English-speaking countries, however, have the "dead keys" necessary to create accents easily.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007: "fizzeognomy" for "physiognomy"
A friend sent me an email today about someone who studies faces for cues to truthfulness, which refers to "the 5,000-year-old art of physiognomy". (The word "physiognomy" also refers simply to the human face or outward appearance of things.)
The spelling of this word is objectionable in at least five regards. First, PH is a ridiculous way to write the F-sound. Just write F.
Second, Y is ambiguous, and can be pronounced at least three ways: long-I, long-E, and short-I. Replace it with I.
Third, the sound of the I remains ambiguous, however, if it is followed by only a single consonant, because it could be read long or short. So we need to double the following consonant. But what consonant should that be?
Fourth, the present S in this word is wrong. The sound is Z. So replace it with Z. And then double the Z to show the preceding I is short.
Fifth, in the following syllable, IO is ambiguous. Sometimes it is pronounced with a long-I and something else (iodine, diode), sometimes a long-E and something else (audio, accordion). Change the IO to EO and the sound is clearer.
Put this all together and we get: "fizzeognomy".
Munday, July 30, 2007: "kich" for "kitsch"
TSCH is a preposterous way to spell the CH-sound (as in church). That's the way German spells it because in German, CH represents different sounds; SCH represents the SH-sound of English; and a T-sound followed by an SH-sound is the way Germans are thus forced to represent the CH-sound. French follows the same principle, except that in French, CH represents the English SH-sound, so the French write the English CH-sound TCH (Tchad for the name of the country Chad, for instance). Even English sometimes uses the TCH formulation, but, oddly, usually not for words derived from French. English doesn't have to write anything more than CH for the CH-sound, however, after any vowel (spinach, lecher, rich, pooch, turbocharger, such), so why would we? Let's save ourselves two needless letters: "kich".
Sunday, July 29, 2007: "zambony" for "Zamboni"
A final-I is ambiguous, there being many words in which it is pronounced long-I (alkali, alibi, cacti, hippopotami, etc.). We also don't need a capital-Z for this word for a machine that smooths ice in skating rinks. There are many words in English that derive from personal names but which do not retain a capital letter simply on that account (e.g., voltaic, watt, diesel): "zambony".
Saturday, July 28, 2007: "hilite" for "highlight"
Today's word is already in common informal use because of its eminent good sense. Let's make formal the simpler form. "Highlight" has two silent-GH's! One would be bad enuf. Two is intolerable: "hilite".
Friday, July 27, 2007: "wosh" for "wash"
This Food Friday, let's address one of the key issues in food safety, washing. You need to wash your hands, wash the cutting board between cutting chicken and dicing vegetables, etc.
"Wash" is parallel in spelling to sash and mash, but does not sound like those words. Rather, "wash" rhymes with slosh, josh, and gosh, so should be spelled like them: "wosh".
My thanks to "Clap..." for "wosh". Naturally, all derivatives would also change, as was pointed out to me by "Fisher..." and "Univer...", e.g., woshbasin, woshbowl, woshcloth, woshroom, woshstand, woshtub, dishwosher, etc.
Sunday thru Thursday, July 22 thru 26, 2007:
"proffit" for "profit"
"proffet" for "prophet"
"proffecy" for "prophecy"
"proffesye" for "prophesy"
"profettic" for "prophetic"
"Pro" is a common prefix that has differing pronunciations but is often seen as being pronounced with a long-O. "Profit", therefore, could be read as "pro-fit", like the name of a gymnasium or manufacturer of exercise equipment. There's a maker of equipment with which to mount various audio devices, called Pro.Fit, where "pro" presumably derives from "professional", another common use of "pro": "He's a real pro". That short form is pronounced proe, but in the longer word, the O is pronounced schwa (pra.fésh.a.nal). In "profit", the O is short (próf.it). Plainly, a single consonant following the O renders the O's pronunciation unclear, given that the P-R-O prefix is often pronounced with a long-O (profound, proceeds, proclivity and note that in proclivity there are two consonants following the O, but they differ; if the spelling had a doubled consonant, the pronunciation would be seen to be different: "procclivity" = prók.li.vì.tee).
The way we most commonly show a short vowel is to double the consonant beyond. Let's do that here: "proffit".
In the remaining words of this group, the absurd P-H cluster needs to go. It merely stands in for an F-sound. But if we replace it with a single-F, we produce the same ambiguity in pronunciation we have with "profit". So let's replace the PH with double-F in "prophet", "prophecy", and "prophesy".
The next issue with this group is the ambiguous -Y in "prophesy". In the parallel word "prophecy", the -Y is pronounced long-E (in Britain, a clipped long-E/short-I). In "prophesy", it is pronounced long-I (everywhere in the world). How do we show that? We can use the pattern of rye, lye, wye, and goodbye: "proffesye".
The one word of this group that should not contain a double-F is "prophetic", because the stress of the word falls on the second syllable and the O is pronounced as a schwa, not short-O. To put a double-F into it after the O would doubly mislead the reader, suggesting at once that the O is pronounced short and that the word's stress falls on the first syllable. Instead, we should double the T, which will plainly indicate that the word's stress falls on the second syllable and that the E is short.
So this group resolves to: "proffit", "proffet", "proffecy", "proffesye", and "profettic".
My thanks to "yaora..." for "proffet" and "profettic".
Saturday, July 21, 2007: "jist" for "gist"
G before E and I is ambiguous. Sometimes it is pronounced with the regular G-sound (get, gear; give, girl). Other times it is pronounced as tho a J (gesture, gentleman; gibe, giant). And there really is no way for the reader to know which sound to supply. The "soft-G" is nothing but a J-sound, so should always be written with a J. G should be reserved for words that have the sound represented only by G. So let us simply replace the G in this word with J: "jist".
My thanks to "FireW..." for this suggestion.
Friday, July 20, 2007: "doh" for "dough"
This Food Friday, let's simplify the bizarre spelling of the starting mix of ingredients in bread, pasta, cookies, etc. As with yesterday's word, there is no OU-sound in this word, so should be no OU. Today's word also has a silent-G and a silent-H, or, as some people may see things, a silent-GH. GH is not always silent, but is sometimes pronounced as tho written simply F, tho in hiccough it is pronounced P! Here, it is silent.
If we drop the misleading U and silent-GH, we get "do", which is already a word (actually, "do" is the spelling of two words, one of which (pronounced du) is the verb for "perform" an act, the other (pronounced doe) the first tone in the do-re-mi musical scale). The fallback position to achieve a phonetic spelling would be to add a silent-E to mark the O as long, but "doe" is also a word. Fortunately, the next fallback position, to add a silent-H to mark the O as long, is available. So we can drop two letters and gain in clarity, the "Less is more" ideal: "doh".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
The Simpsons Movie premieres tomorrow, and there is apparently a catchword in that cartoon world, "D'oh!", from which today's word is distinct for having no apostrophe.
Thursday, July 19, 2007: "faur" for "four"
There is no OU-sound in this word, so should be no OU. We can't just drop the U, which would indeed yield a plain, phonetic spelling, because that is already taken for the extremely commonplace word for. Nor can we add a silent-E to "for", because that too is taken, by the common word fore. There is, however, an unused phonetic spelling for the vowel sound here: AU, as in aura, brontosaurus, and dinosaur. Let's use that, for the base word and all derivatives, such as: "faur", "faurteen", and "faurty".*
My thanks to "Clap..." for this trio.
* Defenders of the chaos of standard spelling (traditional orthography, "T.O.") commonly object that spelling that always follows sound would break apart related words. But as you can see with "four"and "forty", traditional spelling sometimes does that too, so the assertion that we must retain T.O. to make plain the relationships among words is a very weak argument against spelling reform. No one is confused as to whether "forty" is related to "four" just because the U in "four" and "fourteen" is missing from "forty". Today's proposed reform does make clear the relationship between all these related words, because it employs AU in all.
Tuesday and Wensday, July 17 and 18, 2007:
"vaig" for "vague"
"plaig" for "plague"
The final-UE in these words is silent, so should be dropped. That would, however, leave "vag" and "plag", which would be decidedly wrong. The A is long. In the middle of a word in which one cannot use the silent-E convention,* long-A is usually spelled -AI-: claim, straight, complain. So let's use that: "vaig" and "plaig".
* The traditional spellings "vague" and "plague" are clumsy attempts to use the silent-E convention, but because "vage" and "plage" would be read with a soft-G, a U was added to make the G hard. That, however, put the silent-E that is supposed to show the A to be long, separated from the A by two letters, which renders the sound ambiguous. Compare prologue vs. rogue.
Munday, July 16, 2007: "ro/mbus" (and derivatives) for "rho/mbus"
There is absolutely no reason for these words, "rho" and "rhombus", to contain a silent-H. ("Rho" is the name of a letter in the Greek alphabet; a "rhombus" is an equilateral parallelogram, meaning either a square or a diamond shape.) The H adds nothing but length and difficulty in remembering which words have a silent-H and which don't. The mere fact that these words derive from Greek means nothing. Greek doesn't use two characters to express the R-sound, but just one, rho, which looks like our letter P. To write words with an R-sound, Greeks wrote their letter rho, either alone or doubled in some words, which gave a somewhat different pronunciation. They never wrote the equivalent of our RH to show the R-sound, so we shouldn't either.
English does not have a different pronunciation for R as against RH, so should not waste people's time writing or remembering a silent-H after R, anywhere. Today's words have several derivatives, all of which should drop the H: "ro", "rotic", "rombus", "rombic", "romboid", etc.
"Rhotic" (from "rho") is the word for the standard-English practice of pronouncing R everywhere, as distinguished from R-dropping dialects.
Sunday, July 15, 2007: "nie" for "nigh"
Why should something that sounds like nie be spelled with a silent-G and a silent-H? Should we spell why "whigh"? Pie, tie, and lie, "pigh", "tigh", and "ligh"? Rye and goodbye, "righ" and "goodbigh"? If someone were to create a new word of one syllable ending in a long-I, would s/he choose to spell it with -IGH? Not bloody likely. (Or perhaps I should say "lighkly".) If we wouldn't coin a word with that spelling, why should we tolerate it in old words? Let's get rid of it.
"Nigh" sounds like nie. We could write it that way, or drop the final-E to shorten it to "ni". Many people might think that funny-looking, and "nie" more like other words that rhyme with it, such that saving one letter at the cost of making the new spelling look odd is not worth doing. Let's just write it parallel to words such as "die", "fie", "hie", "lie", "pie", "tie", "vie", etc: "nie".
Saturday, July 14, 2007: "euforea" and "euforic" for "euphoria" and "euphoric"
PH is a preposterous, and inefficient, way to spell the F-sound. F or FF after a short vowel handles that sound sensibly and efficiently.
IA is ambiguous. In many places it stands for the sequence long-I followed by schwa, or by short-A, or by long-A: dial (díe.yal), stria (stríe.ya), diaphanous (die.yáa.fa.nas), striated (stríe.yaet.ad). Sometimes IA represents a YA-sound: camellia (ka.méel.ya), petunia (pi.túen.ya), regalia (ri.gáil.ya). Yet other times IA represents something a little different: pizzeria (pèet.sa.rée.ya), sangria (saan.grée.ya), poinsettia as some people say it (poin.sét.a).
The sound here is a long-E, so should be spelled with an E. In the adjective, "euphoric", the sound in the last syllable is a short-I, so it is absolutely proper to spell it with an I. But not the noun: "euforea" and "euforic".
Friday, July 13, 2007: "onyalotty" for "agnolotti"
It's Food Friday again. It is also the week that new words admitted to the Merriam-Webster dictionary were announced, and today's word is among them. Since it is a word newly brought into the language, there's time to nip its bad spelling in the bud. I had never heard of agnolotti, but find from m-w.com that it means "pasta in the form of semicircular cases containing a filling (as of meat, cheese, or vegetables")".* The spelling is atrocious, perfectly plain in Italian, but utterly wrong in English.
The GN is said in the Italian, not English, fashion. English would spell the same sound sequence with -NY- (canyon) or -NI- (onion). Since -NY- is clearer, let's use that.
The initial-A is broad, that is, neither long-A nor short-A but the equal of short-O. Let's just use O.
The first-O of the traditional spelling (in the second syllable), is pronounced schwa. Any vowel can be schwaed, but retaining the O here would tempt some readers to pronounce an abbreviated long-O, so let's change it to A, which will be seen plainly to be a schwa.
The final-I is supposed to be pronounced as an abbreviated long-E, which is typically spelled, in final position in English, as -Y. An I in final position could be read as long-I (alkali, hippopotami), so the sound in today's word needs to be clarified.
Putting this all together, we get the unambiguous: "onyalotty".
* That sounded a lot like tortellini to me, so I looked for images and found these two. First, tortellini, which I have had, cold (oddly enuf), in a trattoria in Rome. Now, agnolotti, which I have not yet had. The Hormel website on which I found the foto of agnolotti says it is very similar to the familiar ravioli, and "Cappelletti, ravioli, and tortellini can be substituted if agnolotti is not available."
Thursday, July 12, 2007: "be/cauz" for "because"
The S in these words is wrong. The sound is Z. An -SE ending is ambiguous. In some words (please, disease) it represents a Z-sound. In others (cease, sublease), it represents an S-sound. If there were no E following the S, the sound would be plain: Z. That's irrational, but predictable, even if a spelling does not represent a present word: pleas, ceas, be/caus. But a final-S that sounds like Z suggests a plural, which is not the case here. Since the sound is Z but the word is not plural, let's just use a Z.
We could change the S in such words to Z and leave the E (be/cauze, pleaze), but why would we? The E would add nothing but length. So let's just drop it: "cauz" and "becauz".
Naturally, derivatives are also to be respelled, e.g., cauzway, cauzation, cauzal.
My thanks to "Dogs..." for "becauz".
Wensday, July 11, 2007: "shattelain/e" for "chatelain/e"
There are two different words of this same sound. "Chatelain", without a final-E, is a synonym for "castellan", a governor of a castle. "Chatelaine", with a final-E, is the mistress of a castle or elegant household, or a chain at least formerly used by women in holding keys, a watch, etc., at the waist or lapel. The E/no-E distinction is useful, so we can retain it. But the CH for an SH-sound has got to go. And -ATE- is ambiguous. Is the A long? short? Why wonder? Let's just double the T to show the A short: "shattelain/e".
Tuesday, July 10, 2007: "dijit/al" for "digit/al"
Today's twofer contains another of those noxious and unnecessary soft-G's that do nothing but express the J-sound, which is more sensibly, and unambiguously, to be represented simply by a J: "dijit/al".
My thanks to "Table..." for "dijit" and "Mario..." for "dijital".
Sunday and Monday, July 8 and 9, 2007:
"ideolog" for "ideologue"
"pedagog" for "pedagogue"
Some -GUE endings have become endangered in general use, their more sensible short forms having become much more common, at least in the United States (which accounts for 70% of the world's total population of native speakers of English): analog, dialog, catalog, epilog, monolog, prolog, synagog, travelog. But a few -GUE's persist. Let's get rid of them, at least in words that have a short vowel before the -GUE which exempts words like rogue and vogue, which could not simply drop the -UE without altering the sound. We'd have to revise them differently.*
That bar does not apply to these two words, from which we can simply drop the -UE without misleading the reader in any way: "ideolog" and "pedagog".
* I suggested "voeg" February 11, 2005.
Saturday, July 7, 2007: "orifiss" for "orifice"
-ICE is sometimes pronounced like the ordinary word "ice", with a long-I (suffice, device), but other times with a short-I (office, justice), and at least in one well-known word, with a long-E (caprice and the common female name Bernice).* So let's clarify which sound applies in this word: "orifiss".
* We'll pass over Eurydice (yue.ríd.i.sè), cantatrice (kàan.ta.trée.chae or kon.ta.trées), and other unusual words or names not part of the general English vocabulary.
Friday, July 6, 2007: "jiblit/s" for "giblet/s"
This Food Friday, let's clarify a word (ordinarily used in the plural) that could easily be misread, given that (1) G before I is not always given its "soft" sound, (2) the familiar animal name gibbon, pronounced with a hard-G, makes the GIB- start to this word especially unclear, and (3) another word of similar form, gimlet (which has a variant spelling gimblet), but which is pronounced with a hard-G, especially confuses the issue. In "giblet/s", the G takes its "soft" sound, which is only a J-sound. Since it is just a J-sound, let's just write a J.
One other issue remains, whether to retain the E in the second syllable even tho the sound is short-I. In form, "giblet" suggests a "little gible", but it means no such thing. To begin with, there is no such word in English as "gible". And even the French word from which our word derives ("gibelet", a stew of game) is not a diminutive. So there's no good reason to retain an E for a short-I sound: "jiblit/s".
Wensday and Thursday, July 4 and 5, 2007:
"advertize" for "advertise"
"advize/r" for "advise/r" and "advisor"
Many words that end with the sound -iez end with the spelling -IZE. There are some exceptions, and a listener cannot know which they are, nor can a reader be sure how they are to be pronounced, because some words that end with -ISE are pronounced -ies, with an S-sound (precise, concise, paradise). We should gradually replace all the -ISE's that contain a Z-sound with -IZE's.
"Advisor" has the additional problem of an -OR ending where most words of similar sound have -ER. "Adviser" is an accepted variant spelling, but despite being more sensible, is less common. Let's replace the O with E.
So these words resolve to: "advertize", "advize", and "advizer".
Saturday to Tuesday, June 30 to July 3, 2007:
"tekneek" for "technique"
"teknollojy" for "technology"
"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 second quarter of 2007.
here for today's suggestion.
Click here to return to the archive index.
Click here for a list of possible future words.
Click here for the principles that govern the selection of words.
Comments? Suggestions? Please contact our webmaster: Fanetiks@aol.com.