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Munday, December 31, 2007: "abby" for "abbey"
EY is ambiguous, having two major pronunciations, long-E, as here, and long-A, as in the similar word obey and other frequently used words, such as hey, they, and the predominantly British spelling grey. The long-E (or, in British dialects that "clip" away the diphthongized glides at the end of long vowels, short-I) at the end of a word is most commonly spelled simply -Y. We can do that here.
Some people may object, "But 'Abby' is a female personal name." So? Many ordinary words are also personal names, for instance, Bill, Jack, Mike, John; Eve, Faith, May, Sue. What's one more?: "abby".
Sunday, December 30, 2007: "zuketto" for "zucchetto"
This Sunday, let's reform the religious word "zucchetto", the name for a skullcap worn by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, whose different colors signify different levels of the hierarchy. It derives from Italian, where the pronunciation is tsue.két.o. The English pronunciation is zue.két.o tho a person unfamiliar with the spelling conventions of Italian would have a hard time knowing that, nor guessing how it's spelled, on hearing it. That is especially the case in that CH and CCH would be pronounced the same in Italian, the English K-sound. Why guess if there is one C or two? Why should there be any CH if the sound is K? In short, why write this in Italian, if the word is now English?
In English, we could write "zooketto" to make clear that there is no Y-glide before the long-U sound. But "zoo" is so firmly established in people's minds as having to do with animals that that is a bad choice. It is also highly ambiguous, in that in some words ZOO- is pronounced zu but in others, zóe.wa.
"Zuketto" is also a bit ambiguous, in that it would allow of a Y-glide before the U-sound, but would anyone insert it? There are limits, in traditional spelling, to how clear we can be, but the fact that this word ends in a vowel will suggest to many readers, if subliminally, that it is foreign in origin so probably doesn't take the British YU-sound: "zuketto".
Saturday, December 29, 2007: "yetty" for "yeti"
"Yeti", the Sherpa word for what is also called the "abominable snowman", rhymes with jetty, petty, Betty, and Getty but is spelled as tho it is to be pronounced yée.tie, with a long-I at the end, like alibi, alkali, alumni, sci-fi, and wifi. This is another case of a moronic transliteration from another language, except that Sherpa isn't even a written language to whose writing a translator might feel some obligation. No, whoever wrote down y-e-t-i for this word in English, in the 1950s, chose a deliberately non-English way to represent it. It's time to fix that: "yetty".
My thanks to "garden..." for this suggestion.
Friday, December 28, 2007: "zilem" and "floewem" for "xylem" and "phloem"
The next letter in our alphabetical progression is X, but today's X-word is so closely tied to another word of bad spelling that we might better treat the two together than apart. "Xylem" and "phloem" are two types of cells in trees that provide rigidity, and transpórt water and nutrients.* They are both spelled absurdly.
When X merely represents a Z-sound, it should be replaced by Z. The Y in "xylem" could conceivably stay in a reformed spelling, "zylem", but we don't usually expect to see a Y in the middle of such a word. We would expect an I, and since one point of spelling reform is to produce words the spelling of which one can easily guess on hearing the word spoken, let's use an I. Do we need more, like an E after the I? Well, there is an E after the I. It's just separated from the I by the L. We are accustomed to seeing an E after a single consonant as indicating a long vowel before that single consonant, so "zilem" is perfect.
"Phloem" is a little trickier, since, apart from the preposterous PH that we can easily replace with F, the word is two syllables (flóe.wem) that could be seen as one (floem). If we spell it "flowem", some people might see it as parallel to "flower", with an OU-sound: flóu.wem. So we need to add something between the O and W. If we add an A ("floawem"), some readers may see a third syllable: flóe.wa.wèm. Altho that will seem absurd to people who know English well, there are lots of absurd words in English and, in fact, we have all found that if you say almost any word over and over and over, it may start to sound 'funny'. So let's not write "floawem". Nor could we write "floam", because that would be seen as parallel to "foam": one syllable. "Floaem", with no W, would puzzle most readers. So OEW seems best.
Putting this all together, then, today's twofer is: "zilem" and "floewem".
* "Phloem" transports food to the tree's cells, so is in keeping with our regular feature, Food Friday.
Thursday, December 27, 2007: "whorf" (and "whorves") for "wharf" (and "wharves")
AR is ambiguous. It has a broad-A / short-O sound (same sound, different names) in words like bar, far, and marlin, and since that is the sound first associated with that letter combination, many people tend to see it everywhere unless they are taught otherwise. Then they learn words like war, marital, altar, and around, pronounced waur, máa.ri.tal, ául.ter, and a.róund, so accept that it can be pronounced other ways. But how is the reader to know which sound is to be used in any given word? There's no pattern. Compare guard and guaranty; war, warrior, and warranty: gord,* gáar.an.tee; waur, wáur.ee.yer, wór.an.tee.
Few spellings in Traditional Orthography ("T.O.", an abbreviation regular visitors will see here from time to time) are absolutely unambiguous, but there are more-ambiguous and less-ambiguous spellings we can use. When an AR takes the AU-sound, as in or war or wharf, there are two relatively clear spellings we could use. One is AUR (as in aura, brontosaurus, and Taurus). The other is OR, which is a little more compact. Let's use the shorter spelling: "whorf" and the noun's irregular plural, "whorves".
* Remember that in the pronunciation key used for this site, O followed by any consonant, including R, is pronounced short-O as in on, which is the same sound as "broad-A" in father.
My thanks to "Doghouse..." for today's suggestion.
Wensday, December 26, 2007: "vinyet" for "vignette"
Until I looked this word up at both Dictionary.com and Cambridge Dictionaries Online, I thought this French-looking word took the French pronunciation veen.yét so should be spelled "veenyet". But the I is actually given the English short-I sound: vin.yét. Even easier: "vinyet".
Tuesday, December 25, 2007: "euniform" for "uniform"
UN- is a very common start to words, a prefix that negates the sense of what follows. It is pronounced exactly as it looks, un: a short-U sound followed by an N-sound. That is not, however, the sound here, and what people are supposed to see is not the prefix UN- but the prefix UNI-, pronounced yúe.nee or yúe.niq.* Unfortunately, there is another word, very similar in form, "uninformed", in which the UNI- is not the longer prefix but the shorter prefix plus the first letter of the word it negates, "informed". People shouldn't have to do this kind of analysis in order to read. The spelling should be so clear that there is never any doubt about how something is pronounced.
We could simply change the rule for spelling the negative prefix, from UN- everywhere to UN- only before a consonant but UNN- before a vowel, but that would require a worldwide accord, lest people think a spelling like "unninformed" means the opposite of "ninformed". Absent such a universal understanding, we can mark with EU the relatively few words in which UN- is pronounced with a long-U and initial Y-glide.
Fortunately, we do have a spelling convention to show a long-U preceded by a Y-glide. A Y-glide is, after all, only an abbreviated long-E before another vowel sound, so the EU spelling convention is often good enuf to show that sound. YU might be better, but that is not a conventional spelling, and this site is about using current conventions to clarify sounds if that can be done. So, tho "yuniform" might be clearer or might not, since some people could see YUN as containing a short-U sound, even before a single, not double, consonant I think we can render this word clear with the EU convention: "euniform".
* Remember that in the pronunciation key used for this site, Q is silent (the only silent consonant) and is used to show that a vowel sound at the end of a word is short, not long.
My thanks to "Castle..." for this suggestion.
Munday, December 24, 2007: "tazer" for "taser"
This is a peculiar word, said to derive from "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle", a fictitious weapon, tho an alternative explanation, "teleactive shock electronic repulsion" is given by The American Heritage® Abbreviations Dictionary. Whichever explanation one accepts, the S in the resulting acronym is read as a Z, even tho in the first abbreviation it represents an S-sound and in the second, an SH-sound.
Etymologies are for dictionaries. Spellings are for writing what one hears and saying what one sees. So let the dictionaries show an S in the derivation, but let us not have to guess that an S is really supposed to be pronounced Z. If the sound is a Z, let's just write a Z: "tazer".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, December 23, 2007: "siattic/a" for "sciatic/a"
A silent-C adds nothing but length, ambiguity, and unpredictability of spelling, but a second-T would show at once that the A after the I is short and that the word's stress falls on the second syllable: "siattic" and "siattica".
Saturday, December 22, 2007: "raen/deer" for "rein/deer"
There are two unrelated words in the longer of today's words, "reindeer". As explained at the American Heritage Dictionary entry for this word at Dictionary.com,Although Saint Nick uses reins on his reindeer and reindeer are used to pull sleds in Lapland and northern Siberia, the word reindeer has nothing to do with reins. The element -deer is indeed our word deer, but the rein- part is borrowed from .. the Old Icelandic word hreinn, which means "reindeer[.]"
The word "rein", as in "rein in" or "hold the reins" is pronounced the same as the word "rain" (liquid precipitation: raen), but EI does not generally take a long-A sound. Its most common sounds are long-E or long-I (both of which can be heard in the words "either" and "neither" as different people pronounce them). We should avoid creating another homograph, so not respell this "rain". But we could spell it either "rane" or "raen". That would work fine in the standalone word, but "ranedeer" might be seen as having three syllables.
So, do we separate these two unrelated words into different spellings? We could, except that there is a third word pronounced raen, traditionally spelled "reign", and the senses of "rein" and "reign" are similar but not really the same. "Reign" is more frequent than "rein", so should take the simpler spelling, "rane", and I offered that spelling here on December 10, 2004.
Since "rein" is pronounced raen, let's write it that way, as both its own word and in "reindeer": "raen/deer".
* My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Friday,* December 21, 2007: "quosh" for "quash"
The vowel sound in this word is short-O, not short-A, as an A before a consonant cluster would suggest. If the sound is O, we should write O: "quosh".
* There was no word starting in Q for our usual feature, Food Friday.
Thursday, December 20, 2007: "pajjent" for "pageant"
This word contains the shorter, familiar word, learned early, "page" (paej), but is not pronounced like it. Rather, it is pronounced, everywhere, in North America and Britain, páj.ant. The traditional spelling could, however, represent páe.jant, páe.jee.yant, or páa.jee.yant. The ambiguous GE is just supposed to show that the G is "soft", that is, pronounced like J. Why not just use J if the sound is J?
Actually, since the first-A is short, we would do better to have a double consonant after it, so should write a double-J.
In the second syllable, we have two letters for one vowel, and it's the shortest vowel, the unstressed neutral sound schwa. So why would we need two letters to show the shortest of vowels? Let's choose one or the other, E or A. There are many words ending in both -ANT and -ENT.* "Six of one, half a dozen of the other." But I suspect there's a slight edge for -ENT, given that the common ending -MENT also has -ENT, and thus more people, on hearing this word, would think -ENT than -ANT, so let's write that: "pajjent".
* No, that does not mean they end in -ANTENT, but that they could end in either -ANT or -ENT, even tho they have the same sound.
Naturally, derivatives take the same reform, including the main derivative, "pageantry": "pajjentry".
Wensday, December 19, 2007: "owaysis" for "oasis"
OA is ambiguous. How is anyone to know that the OA in "oasis" represents the three-element sequence long-O, then a W-glide, then long-A, when OA is usually just long-O (oats, foam, coal), and in most places where it's not that, it's long-O, then a W-glide, then schwa (boa, Noah, coalesce)? OA can also represent other sounds: boar/d, koala, coagulate (baurd, koe.wól.a, koe.wáag.yoo.làet).
Finding an unambiguous way to spell today's word is complicated by the fact that there is a W-sound between the two vowel sounds. Oeasis wouldn't work, because it could be seen as óe.wa.sìs or even ée.ya.sìs (compare British foetus), í.ya.sis (British oesophagus), or é.ya.sìs (British foetid).
So we can't leave a W out of the spelling. But if we put a W after an O, there is a slight chance that some people will see the OU-sound there: óu.wa.sìs. I think, however, that most people will be inclined to put the syllabic stress on the second syllable, which would disincline them to use an OU-sound in the first. Here, as so often, we find there are no perfect solutions in Traditional Orthography, only better or worse choices. "Oasis" is a worse choice. The better choice is: "owaysis".
Tuesday, December 18, 2007: "nuter" for "neuter"
As most people pronounce this word, there is no need for an EU in it. U alone will do nicely, thank you. Altho the reader might not be misled on seeing the EU, a listener trying to decide how to spell it might. So let's just drop the first-E, since the second-E shows the U to be long, without more: "nuter".
Munday, December 17, 2007: "momba" for "mamba"
I recently heard this name of a poisonous snake mispronounced twice, as máam.ba, on a TV wildlife show. The sole pronunciation recognized by Random House and American Heritage is móm.ba. Cambridge University, however, shows only máam.ba. The people on the wildlife show spoke (North) American English, not British, so should not have used a British pronunciation. Random House Unabridged and Dictionary.com ordinarily show, with a notation, widely accepted British pronunciations, so I'm puzzled by Cambridge University's showing only one pronunciation, not recognized by other dictionaries. I have seen (other) errors at http://dictionary.cambridge.org/, as regards American pronunciations that they have completely misrepresented, so maybe that lexicographical publisher isn't as good as one might think from the "rep" that "Cambridge" has had for centuries.
In any case, if there really is a dialectal British pronunciation máam.ba, then Brits who use it can use the spelling "mamba". The rest of us should have clear guidance that it is not máam.ba: "momba".
Sunday, December 16, 2007: "lept" for "leapt"
"Leap", like "deal", is one of those unusual irregular verbs in which the long-E sound of the present tense shifts to a short-E in the past and the -ED is altered to -T in the past and past participle except that some people prefer not to do that. So "leaped" and "leapt" coexist. That's not the case with "deal", which has no form "dealed", nor with a similar word, "sleep", which has no form "sleeped".
Whereas "slept" does reflect the shift in vowel sound with a shift in spelling, neither "dealt" nor "leapt" reflects in its spelling the alteration in sound. They both should. I offered "delt" here on December 8th, and now offer: "lept".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, December 15, 2007: "kabukee" for "kabuki"
"Kabuki" is a type of Japanese theater, but the spelling is plainly English, since Japanese is written not in an alphabet but in a combination of ideograms and syllabic symbols. "Kabuki" is a perfect example of a moronic rendering of a word originally written in a nonromanic system. Here, where we need not have been bound by a spelling from the original language but could write the sounds so they will be understood most plainly by readers of English, we were instead given a stupid spelling for absolutely no reason.
The -I is ambiguous because many English words that end in -I are pronounced with a long-I sound: alibi, alkali, cacti, fungi, hippopotami. Plainly, -Y or -EE would have been a much better rendering. So why wasn't it chosen? Probably because the professional linguists who offered the transliteration, accepted the "Continental" values of mainland-European languages (in which I takes our long-E sound), in preference to English values, even when creating a transliteration into English! There are a lot of book-smart people who have no common sense.
The -U- is also a bit ambiguous. In North America, most people probably see it as long-U without an initial Y-glide, but in places like Britain where the long-U sound is seen to include an initial Y-sound as of necessity, "kabuki" might be read as ka.byúe.kee, if not ka.byúe.kie or even káab.yue.kìe.
Do we need to replace the U with OO? There's a problem. The OO would fall between a B and a K, and thus form the word "book", which has entirely the wrong sound. To use OO, we'd also have to add a C before the K: "kaboocky". And that still might not be read right. So the simplest thing to do is also probably the best we can do.
As to whether -Y or -EE is better, -Y would be better if the word were an adjective, but this word is a noun, so -EE is better: "kabukee".
Friday, December 14, 2007: "jodper/s" for "jodhpur/s"
No reader of English who is not familiar with this odd word would, on hearing it, spell it with an H. Most would also probably assume an -ER rather than -UR. So let's make those changes to make this word easily readable on sight and guessable as to spelling when heard: "jodper/s".
Thursday, December 13, 2007: "impoze" for "impose"
If the sound is Z, let's spell it Z. -OSE is ambiguous, because it could be pronounced with an S-sound (dose, verbose, bellicose). -OZE is clear: "impoze".
My thanks to "Red..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, December 12, 2007: "hackny" for "hackney"
The E before the Y in this word is not just superfluous. It is also ambiguous, because the reader may see it as parallel in sound to hey, they, and whey, with a long-A rather than its proper long-E sound. If we drop the E, that ambiguity disappears. The word also then takes regular inflections in which the Y changes to IE before adding -S or -D, rather than its current form, which retains the EY: "hackny".
Tuesday, December 11, 2007: "gammut" for "gamut"
"Gamut" is a contraction of "gamma [to] ut", meaning from the lowest to the highest tone in the medieval musical scale. The second-M of "gamma" should have been retained to show that the A is short and the word's stress falls on the first syllable. We can fix that early error in judgment now: "gammut".
Munday, December 10, 2007: "fopah" for "faux pas"
The traditional spelling of this term for a social booboo is preposterous, especially in that the plural is spelled the same ("faux pas") but pronounced differently! Singular: fo.póq;* plural: fo.póz.
"Faux" should rhyme with walks, auks, and gawks. It does not.
AU is an absurd way to spell the long-O sound. Here, we have a space after the first word of this presently two-word expression. An O without more would express that sound nicely before a space. Compare no, go, even ho ho ho!
X already has four pronunciations: KS (fix), GZ (exist), GZH (luxurious), and Z (xylophone). Do we really need to add a fifth, silent?
"Pas" should be pronounced like pass or Pa's (that is, a father's something). It is not, but like bah. So S is to have three pronunciations, its own sound, Z, and silent? Why?
Is it any wonder that it takes a decade to teach a kid to read English? Surely we have better uses for educational time than simply to teach kids how to cope with the insanity of traditional orthography.
It takes us eight characters, including a needless space, to express four speech sounds: F, long-O, P, and short-O. No one new to reading, on hearing foe.póq, would ever guess that it is spelled F-A-U-X P-A-S. Let's write this term as a single, compound word, because it is treated as a single word, and get rid of the silent-X and S: "fopah" (plural: "fopahs").
* In the pronunciation key for this site, Q is silent (the only silent character), employed to show a short vowel at the end of a word. In this case, the short vowel is O, as in "on". That is the same sound as broad-A, as in "faux pas" or "ah".
Sunday, December 9, 2007: "electrolisis" and "electrolize" for "electrolysis" and "electrolyze"
"Electrolysis" has two meanings, one to break down (e.g., water) by passing a current thru it (as to liberate hydrogen, for powering cars) and the second to destroy hair follicles or tumors with an electric zap; and "electrolyze" (British: "electrolyse") is the verb for doing so. As should be plain from the fact that Brits use a -YSE where Americans use -YZE, just as Brits use -ISE where Yanks use -IZE, the Y should be interchangeable with I. It doesn't matter that the two suffixes come from different Greek words. English is not Greek, and the subtle distinction between -YZE and -IZE is "Greek to us" (unintelligible). They sound the same and pretty much nobody knows the difference in meaning, so they should be spelled the same.
The Y in "electrolysis" does not take either of Y's most common sounds, long-I (hydration, pyromaniac, dry) or long-E, mainly at the end of a word (biology, cozy, incomprehensibly). The Y in "electrolyze" does take a long-I sound, but stands in for I for no good reason, since we are accustomed to seeing I before -ZE for verbs. I is all we need in both words: "electrolisis" and "electrolize".
Saturday, December 8, 2007: "delt" for "dealt"
English is a pretty regular language as regards the way verbs are conjugated or nouns inflected. The past and past participle of almost all verbs are formed by addition of -ED or, if the verb ends in -E, of -D.* There are less than 200 exceptions to this rule in British English, fewer still in American.** The -(E)D is often pronounced as tho written T, after a voiceless consonant (asked, miffed, promised), but it is seldom written T, much less -ET. Since "deal" does not end with a voiceless consonant, it's a little puzzling why it takes a T, but we are not here to change the words, only misleading spellings.
"Deal" is parallel to "feel" in taking a T and changing a long-E sound to short-E. But where "feel" drops its second-E before adding the T, "deal" retains the full EA spelling for its long-E sound, and "felt" and "dealt" are not parallel in spelling even tho they rhyme. Let's make them a sight rhyme as much as a sound rhyme: "delt".
* In some cases, the final consonant may have to be doubled before the -ED is added, but that is a regular rule.
** At least some Brits say things like "spoilt" that Americans wouldn't dream of saying. In North America, irregulars like "learnt" are used only in a few locutions, such as "a lesson well learnt" if even then.
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Friday, December 7, 2007: "canoly" for "cannoli"
This Food Friday we have another of those words whose traditional spelling has a double consonant for no good reason. It also has a final-I, which is often, tho not here, pronounced long-I (alibi, cacti, hippopotami), so is ambiguous to the reader. Those two features of the spelling should induce the reader, especially the new reader, to pronounce the word káan.a.lìe, whereas it is actually to be pronounced ka.nóe.lee.
In English (today's word is originally Italian), doubling a consonant is ordinarily done to show that the vowel before it takes its short sound, or that the syllable before it takes stress, or both. Here, neither situation applies. The prior vowel, A, is pronounced as a schwa and, thus, not stressed.
If we drop one of the misleading N's and change the final-I to -Y, the usual way of showing a long-E sound* at the end of a word, we get a shorter and better spelling: "canoly".
* In some dialects with "clipped" vowels, the sound at the end of words like "family" is a short-I; but -Y is still the usual way of showing whatever it is they say, in that position.
Thursday, December 6, 2007: "barommeter" for "barometer"
"Bar", a familiar word with various meanings, starts off the traditional spelling of this word for a device that measures atmospheric pressure, not bars. The present spelling invites the reader to say bór.oe.mèe.ter,* whereas the pronunciation is actually ba.róm.a.ter. The most common way of showing both a short vowel and a stressed syllable is to double the consonant after it. If we do that for the O, everything else becomes plain: "barommeter".
* Remember that in the pronunciation key used for this site, O followed by any consonant, including R, is always pronounced short, as in on or, as here, barom(m)eter.
Wensday, December 5, 2007: "acount/ant" for "account/ant"
The double-C here is both needless and misleading doubly. Ordinarily, we double a consonant (a) to show that the prior vowel is short in sound quality and/or (b) to show that the prior syllable is stressed. Neither holds, here. The A represents a schwa and the first syllable is unstressed. If we merely drop one of the C's, the sound becomes clearer. And we save a letter: "acount/ant".
Tuesday, December 4, 2007: "zercon" for "zircon"
IR is ambiguous, often having a long-E or short-I sound (irritable, irridescent, irradiate). The actual sound is usually spelled ER (ergonomic, better), and sometimes UR (urge, fur). ER is far the more common spelling, so let's use that: "zercon".
* "Zirconium" and "[cubic] zirconia" should also take the ER alteration. As to whether the IU and IA should be changed to EU and EA is a separate matter. I would favor the change, but some people think IU and IA in such locations are just fine as they are.
Munday, December 3, 2007: "yooth" for "youth"
OU is ambiguous (south, southern, uncouth) and is best reserved to the OU-sound. We have a common word, learned very early, that rhymes with "youth" but takes the more rational form tooth. Let's make these two words parallel in spelling as well as sound: "yooth".
Sunday, December 2, 2007: "zenon" for "xenon"
X is the only consonant with more than two sounds in words of English origin (that is, not counting words brought in from other languages in recent centuries): KS (fix), GZ (exist), GZH (luxurious), and Z (xylophone). It has so many possible sounds that people cannot always be sure which it takes in some words. Is it ék.sit or ég.zit? Záe.vee.yer, Ek.sáe.vee.yer, or Eg.záe.vee.yer?
Let's take some of the load off X and convert all the X's that represent a simple Z-sound to Z.
The one other issue spelling reformers need to consider with "xenon" is whether to leave the E single or double it to show it is long. Ah, but the problem is that it is pronounced short in England, so the word has two pronunciations, zée.non (standard) and zén.on (dialectal). We don't have to crack the whip over dialectals here. Let Brits see an E before -NO- as short. Since there is only one N, most people will see the E as long (as in Reno), so we can leave every part of this word the same except the X: "zenon".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion. (The answers to the questions posed above are that "exit" can be said with either the KS or GZ pronunciation but the X in "Xavier" is to be pronounced only with a Z-sound.)
Saturday, December 1, 2007: "wot" for "watt"
We have here another of those silly broad-A's that sound like short-O. How are people to know that the A in "watt" is pronounced differently from the A in attic, attitude, and attribute? The sound in "watt" is short-O. Let's just write it with an O.
And we don't need two T's where one will do: "wot".
My thanks to "Dogs..." for this suggestion.
Friday, November 30, 2007: "vishyswoz" for "vichyssoise"
For this Food Friday, let's reform a complicated spelling for a sound sequence that isn't nearly so complicated. In French, the traditional spelling makes perfect sense, with SS representing an S-sound and -SE representing a Z-sound. In English, it makes little to no sense, and people can be forgiven for not being able to remember how many S's appear where. Is there, for instance, an SH for the SH-sound? There is not. It's CH, because that's the way French spells that sound. This is English. We write SH for that sound.
If the sound after the Y is S, a single S will do in this position. If the sound is Z, a single Z will do in its position, at the end of the word. If this soup were a thing rather than stuff, and could take a plural, we might do better to double the Z, because in the plural it would be doubled before adding -ES anyway. But we would not pluralize this word, nor make it into a verb to which we add -ES, -ED or -ING, so a single-Z will suffice.
The OI of French is a W sound followed by short-O, so -WO- before a vowel will do very nicely.
The one remaining issue is if an I in the first syllable will accommodate both common pronunciations in English, short-I (the far more common) and long-E. But we have our answer already, don't we? There's an I in the present spelling, yet some people pronounce it long-E. If they can see the I in the present spelling as long-E, they can see the I in the new spelling as long-E: "vishyswoz".
Thursday, November 29, 2007: "eurin" for "urine"
This formal term for what is often termed simply "pee" is doubly unclear. First, the initial-U could be pronounced short, or long without a Y-glide (úr.in, úe.rin). Second, -INE can be pronounced at least three ways: with a long-I (define, concubine, supine); short-I, as here (medicine, engine, adrenaline); and long-E (machine, chlorine, quarantine).
To make the first sound plain, we need merely place an E- in front, since EU- is a common way of showing that an initial-U has a Y-glide as part of its pronunciation (euphemism, eucalyptus, eulogy).
To make the sound of the second syllable clear as well, we need merely drop the -E. In effect, we are merely moving the E, from the end of the word to the beginning: "eurin".
Naturally, all derivatives conform to this reform: eurinal, eurinary, eurinate, eurogenital, etc.
My thanks to "FireW..." for today's base word and "GreenD..." for the derivative eurinate.
Wensday, November 28, 2007: "tykwondo" for "tae kwon do"
Why should this transliterated Korean term for a Korean martial art, which is never referred to by its separate parts but only as the whole, be a phrase rather than a word? And why are two parts of it phonetic in English but the third absurd?
AE for long-I is foolish. If we were to leave the term as a phrase of three words, we would still need to change the AE to Y (compare by, my, and, yes, the nickname Ty).
DO is phonetic, except that we already have a word spelled D-O. Alas, it is pronounced du. So the third part of this phrase, tho sensible, doesn't work in English because English is not sensible. To make the third element in this phrase clear, we would have to add an E, to make it "doe". But we already have a word doe ("a deer, a female deer"). This also argues for merging the phrase into a single word.
Only the middle portion of the phrase, or, preferably, compound word, is perfectly and unarguably phonetic: "kwon".
If we push the three elements together, we don't need to add an E to the final-O. "Ty kwon doe" could become simply: "tykwondo".
Tuesday, November 27, 2007: "sav" for "salve" (ointment)
There are three words with six different pronunciations, spelled this same way. Let's reduce the confusion.
"Salve" meaning ointment or something soothing has three pronunciations. In Britain, the L is pronounced and the A takes its short pronunciation: saalv. The L is not pronounced in the United States (and probably not in Canada, either, tho I don't know of any online Canadian dictionary to check), and the A is given its short pronunciation by most people but its broad pronunciation (same sound as short-O) by others: saav, sov.
The second word "salve" means to salvage, and the L is pronounced everywhere.
The third word "salve" is a Latin greeting meaning "hail", and is pronounced in two syllables in either an English or Latin manner: sáal.vee, or sól.vae, sól.wae.*
We are concerned today with only the first "salve", something that soothes.
Standard English must not permit dialects to impede the progress of this greatest of international languages. If Brits want to pronounce an L that the great majority of native speakers do not say, that's their choice. They can retain the L in the spelling, and the final-E if they like, tho even they should consider dropping the E. After all, we write "calf" and "half", not "calfe" and "halfe".
For the great majority to have to suffer a silent-L for the sake of dialectals is preposterous. We should just drop the silent-L and -E, and that will join the list of other distinctions (-OUR instead of -OR, -ISE instead of -IZE, -RE instead of -ER, etc.) between British dialect and standard English.
The one remaining question is whether we can reform this word at all, given that some people say saav but others sov. Since those who say sov do so even tho the letter is an A, not O, and since there are many broad-A's in English (as in father, palm, and quality), we can indeed leave the A. If some people can see "salve" as sov, they can perfectly well see "sav" as sov: "sav".
* How anyone could get a W-sound from Latin V is beyond my comprehension, but that is indeed what we were taught in the Sixties when I took high school Latin. The theory was that there was no U in monumental Latin engravings, so the letter-form V was used for both the V and U characters. Some genius decided that that meant they were pronounced the same, and chose a U-glide, or W, sound as what both were pronounced like. Idiocy. If you look at the descendants of Latin still in existence, the major Romance languages, you find none in which V is pronounced W.
Munday, November 26, 2007: "ravvish/ing" for "ravish/ing"
A single consonant between vowels is ambiguous. Compare prudish and radish, or slavish and today's word, "ravish". The mere fact that the consonant at issue is V means nothing.
One explanation I have seen for why certain consonant combinations were avoided in 'the olden days' is that in handwriting, and remember that for centuries even books were handwritten, too many similar shapes in a row was visually confusing. VV/vv, the scribes of old thought, might be seen as W/w. Yes, they might, but lowercase rn is hard to distinguish, even in some typewritten fonts, from m. My surname has an n followed by m, and that is a lot of loops. I myself have been known to mix them up in signing my own name! And put a combination like ummu, umnu, or unmu into a handwritten passage and you have to both write and read carefully. That is an insufficient reason to spell foolishly. I don't, for instance, see anybody demanding we change "hummus" to "humus", in part because there already is a word humus, pronounced very differently. If anything, confusable combinations argue for better fonts, not for worse spelling: "ravvish/ing".
Sunday, November 25, 2007: "quondary" for "quandary"
The typical vowel in English has two full sounds,* long and short. A, alas, is also sometimes given a "broad" pronunciation, which is the same sound as short-O. There are a number of words with -QUA- in which the A represents a short-O sound, which confuses people when they encounter a word in which the A is actually supposed to have its own sound, like aquatic (preferred pronunciation has a short-A, a.kwáa.tik; but so many people are accustomed to seeing -QUA- as taking a broad-A sound that they say a.kwót.ik). Let's gradually replace all the broad-A's with O, as here: "quondary".
* In an unstressed syllable, any vowel can be reduced to schwa, the neutral sound of short duration that is the most common vowel sound in English (A in about, E in open, I in multifarious, O in opinion, U in circus), but each vowel has its own sounds when stressed: fat/fate, bet/be, chit/chide, odd/ode, glut/glue.
Saturday, November 24, 2007: "parralel" for "parallel"
We have here another of those words, like satellite, in which the wrong consonant is doubled. AR is usually seen as being pronounced with a broad-A (or short-O, same sound): par, bar, star. To show a short-A sound before R, we consequently tend to double the R: arrow, barren, garret. A double consonant also often signals that the syllable before takes stress, which is not the case with "parallel". If we merely reverse the double and single consonants, we get a clearer spelling: "parralel".
My thanks to "Dogs..." for suggesting reform of this word, tho I chose a different solution.
Friday, November 23, 2007: "offiss" for "office"
-ICE is ambiguous. In itself, "ice" is a word, pronounced with a long-I. That same sound applies to words like device and suffice. But -ICE can also have a short-I, which it should not, given the presence of a silent-E after the C, which the reader should be able to rely upon as signaling a long-I: justice, avarice. There are even words that are pronounced both ways, by different people: cockatrice. And there are oddballs pronounced neither way: caprice (ka.prées), cantratrice (four pronounciations: kàan.ta.trée.chae, kàan.ta.trées, kòn.ta.trée.chae, kòn.ta.trées). -ISS, however, is clear.
The OFF- part of "office" is also ambiguous. The rule that a double consonant cues a short vowel would yield the pronunciation of (short-O followed by an F-sound, not the preposterous spelling "of", which is a word actually pronounced uv). Unfortunately, the chaos we call the English spelling 'system' includes the spelling "off" for what most people say as auf (an AU-sound as in haul followed by an F-sound) but which some people do indeed say as of, with a short-O (or broad-A, same sound), probably as a spelling-pronunciation. Since both pronunciations are common, we both need not and dare not revise the spelling to "aufiss" but must leave the OFF-: "offiss".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, November 22, 2007: "nienth" for "ninth"
This is one of those common words we stop seeing as odd after a while but have trouble learning, because they make no sense. The consonant cluster -NTH should signal a short vowel before it, if only a single vowel appears, and it does so in words like plinth, labyrinth, hyacinth, and absinth(e). Indeed, even in the more common spelling absinthe, the silent-E at the end does not change the pronunciation of the I to long. Only "ninth" is pronounced with a long-I, and the fact that it is different needs to be shown in the spelling: "nienth".
Wensday, November 21, 2007: "macramay" for "macramé" or "macrame"
English does not use accents, typewriters in English-speaking countries do not have accents nor "dead keys" by which to place them over vowels, and most people in English-speaking countries do not know how to put accents on vowels with a computer except in the most sophisticated word processors, so the accent has to go.
Once the accent is stripped away, we are left with a word, "macrame" that looks like it should rhyme with game or frame. It does not. It actually rhymes with may, delay, and dismay. So let's spell it that way: "macramay".
Tuesday, November 20, 2007: "laff" for "laugh"
On July 7, 2004, I offered "lafter" for "laughter" and said that the issue of whether to revise the base word "laugh" to either "laf" (simpler) or "laff" (more conventional) could be left until later. It's later.
The current spelling is, of course, indefensibly absurd, so we need waste no time saying what's wrong with it.
Altho there is no logical reason to put two F's at the end of this word, "laff" does look more like what we expect to see for a word ending in a short vowel and F-sound (stuff, tiff, riffraff). We could write just one F (if, clef, deaf), but since "laugh" is a verb, we'd just have to double the F before adding -ED or -ING anyway, since "lafed" and "lafing" would be read as having a long-A. So what's the point of trying to insist on a single-F on the root word? Let's just write two F's to begin with: "laff".
Munday, November 19, 2007: "kech" for "ketch"
Yesterday we dealt with a phrase that some dictionaries had not yet accepted as English, even tho it has been in very common use among speakers of English for decades. Today, let's revise a word, also from French, that has been in the English language for over 500 years but is still spelled foolishly.
We don't need a T to show that a CH takes the CH-sound (as in church). Quite the contrary, we should reserve the letter combo CH to the CH-sound alone and respell all other uses. If we can recognize "lecher/ous" as having a CH-sound without having to see a T, we can recognize today's word as having a CH-sound without seeing a T: "kech".
My thanks to "Music..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, November 18, 2007: "zhwoddaveevra" for "joie de vivre"
Let's change an originally-French phrase that is never separated into its parts into a compound word, and spell it in an English fashion.
In French, J is pronounced in a manner not native to English but which we have incorporated into English because that sound occurs in many words that are now considered English, be it in the form of French-J or other spellings (garage, collage, genre, muzhik). Since the sound was not originally found in English, there is no traditional way to spell it, but the convention has been to spell it ZH, since it is the voiced pair to the unvoiced English sound SH, and is used in pronunciation keys in dictionaries. Everyone now knows what that spelling represents, and it's not really a foreign spelling, since no other major language spells that sound that way.
The -OIE is pronounced not like English OI (join, adroit, celluloid) but like WO in wobble, pollywog and wok. So let's write -WO- before the -D-, which we can double to show that the O is short.
The rest is simple use of A and EE to show schwa and long-E, respectively, clear and predictable ways to spell these sounds: "zhwoddaveevra".
Saturday, November 17, 2007: "imbecil" for "imbecile"
Today's word is a synonym for "person who opposes spelling reform".
Altho it ends in -ILE, which is often pronounced with a long-I, the I is actually pronounced short or, in Britain, long-E! Imbecilic.
In no case, however, is the -ILE pronounced with a long-I. Dropping the -E will leave plain what most people say. As for Brits who say ím.ba.sèel, if they can see -ILE as -EEL, they can see -IL as -EEL: "imbecil".
Friday, November 16, 2007: "harth" for "hearth"
This Food Friday, let's revise the spelling of what was for centuries where food was cooked, the fireplace.
EA is a misleading spelling here. EA is usually pronounced long-E, as tho written EE: hear, teach, read (present tense). In a relative few words it is pronounced short-E, as tho the A weren't there: instead, Earth, read (past tense). In "hearth" (parallel in part to hear; parallel in whole to Earth), it has neither of those sounds, but represents broad-A, or short-O (same sound). Before R, that sound is most commonly shown by an A, and we already have an A in "hearth". If we simply drop the E, the pronunciation becomes crystal clear: "harth".
Thursday, November 15, 2007: "jender" for "gender"
G before E is ambiguous. It might be pronounced like a J (generic, gesture). Then again, it might take G's own sound, "hard" (gear, gecko). The reader cannot know from the spelling (gee, geezer), so it's a good idea to respell all "soft" G's, J instead: "jender".
Wensday, November 14, 2007: "fedderal" (family) for "federal"
A single consonant before an E is ambiguous, given the fact that English often employs a "silent-E" after a consonant to show the vowel of the prior syllable to be long. Does the E that follows the one consonant have only its own sound, or does it influence the pronunciation of the vowel before the consonant too? The reader encountering an unfamiliar word cannot know. This reveals the main problem with traditional spelling: you have to know the word to know how to read it. You can't rely on seeing from the spelling how to say the word, but have to know the word on your own to know how to read the particular spelling. That is not the way writing is supposed to work. The writing itself should show how the word is pronounced.
The -EDE- in today's word could well be read as indicating a long-E before the D: antecedent, bedeck, credence. So what could be regarded as a perfectly phonetic spelling if English did not use the "silent-E" convention to show some vowels long, is actually ambiguous because English does in fact, unpredictably, sometimes use an E in a following syllable to mark a prior vowel long.
In today's family of words, we have a quick fix: simply double the intervening-D and the pronunciation of this entire family of related words becomes clear: "fedderal", "fedderate", "fedderation", "confedderation", "confedderacy", "confedderal", etc.
My thanks to "space ..." for "federal".
Tuesday, November 13, 2007: "ej" for "edge"
There are only 2 phonemes here, but it takes 4 letters to show them? That's absurd. This is the kind of change that will really appeal to most people, because it takes a ridiculous spelling and substitutes an elegantly simple and very short spelling. The only problem most people might have with it is the need to double the J before some suffixes (for the plural of the noun and the third-person singular of the verb, "ejjes"; past and past participle of the verb, "ejjed"). But such doubling of the final consonant before adding the plural or past suffix follows standard rules, so should actually be entirely unobjectionable. If we can double a B (dubbed) or G (dragged) or T (fitted), why not a J?: "ej".
Munday, November 12, 2007: "dazy" for "daisy"
Today's word contains a smaller word, dais, which has three pronunciations (dáe.yis, díe.yis, daes), none of them the same as the sound here, dáe.z(ee). "Daisy" rhymes with the sensibly spelled words lazy, hazy, and crazy, so should be spelled like them: "dazy".
Sunday, November 11, 2007: "cemmeterry" for "cemetery"
This is Veterans Day, which was originally Armistice Day, a somber commemoration of the end of formal hostilities* in World War I at the eleventh hour (11am) of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Today's word is, thus, sadly apt.
-EME- and -ERY are ambiguous, and the initial-E in both could easily be seen as long, whereas both are short. The simple doubling of the following consonant in both places makes both E's clear: "cemmeterry".
* Alas, the British continued a blockade of German ports long after the cessation of active warfare, which killed unknown numbers of Germans thru starvation and disease, a crime against humanity that we in the United States, a member of the same alliance with the British, have been loath to mention in the history books used by American schoolchildren.
My thanks to "yaora ..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, November 10, 2007: "basicly" for "basically"
There is no word "basical", so why should there be a "basically"? We don't write "publically", but publicly. And in point of fact, no natural speaker says "basically" as four syllables but only as three, as tho the -AL- weren't there. That is perfectly reasonable. It shouldn't be there: "basicly".
My thanks to "space ..." for this suggestion.
Friday, November 9, 2007: "olloronzh" for "à l'orange"
It's Food Friday again. Let's take a French phrase that contains the English word orange but is pronounced very differently, and make it easily readable and spellable by people who do not know French.
One of the problems with French spellings in English, aside from the fact that they just don't belong, is that French uses accents and apostrophes in ways that people who don't know French would not be able to remember. In "à l'orange", there is an accent (grave) over the A and an apostrophe between the L and O. English doesn't use accents, and readers of English cannot be expected to remember which letter takes which of French's four diacritics (á, à, â, ä), so the accent has to go.
The apostrophe in this phrase is used as English sometimes uses apostrophe, to show elision of one or more letters in a contraction (-O- in doesn't; -NO- in can't). Here, the French word for the, "la", loses its A, which is replaced by an apostrophe. But you have to know French to know that there would ordinarily be an A there that is replaced by apostrophe. People should not have to know French to write English.
We can't just leave this French phrase as an English phrase, without the accent and apostrophe: "a l orange" or "a lorange" because "a" is an ordinary English word, L is not, "lorange" is not, and "orange" would be pronounced like the ordinary English word. Since the food phrase is never separated into its separate parts, we can just make these three words into a single compound word (compare nonetheless, hereinafter, and notwithstanding). But the initial-A doesn't have either of the sounds, long or short, of the ordinary English vowel A. Rather, it takes the "broad-A", which is the same sound as short-O. So let's use O.
"Olorange" would be ambiguous as to the sound of the initial-O (is it long? is it short?) and misleading as to the GE. The O is short, and we ordinarily show a short vowel by doubling the consonant that follows. With O-L, there is no entirely unambiguous way to show a short-O, because we have words like poll and gold in which the O is pronounced long even tho it is followed by two L's or a consonant cluster including L, and other words like politics and oligarchy in which a single-L follows a short-O. But we have enuf models like hollow, holly, folly, and follow that our best chance of making the vowel sound clear is OLL.
The G has to go because it does not take either of G's usual sounds in English, "hard" (G's own sound) or "soft" (J's sound). Rather, the GE is pronounced in the French fashion, ZH, which we are accustomed to seeing in dictionary pronunciation keys.
That leaves two vowels, the O and A in "orange". The O is alrite. It can be pronounced as either a schwa or an AU before the R without harm. But the A is wrong, not long, not short, not a schwa. Again, it is a broad-A, the short-O sound. So again we should change it to O, since it is followed by a consonant cluster that will mark it as short.
Putting this all together, and pushing all three words of the French phrase together, we get: "olloronzh".
Thursday, November 8, 2007: "zoaplankton" for "zooplankton"
The present spelling suggests the common word "zoo", but the pronunciation is zóe.wa.plàangk.tan, not zúe.plaangk.tan. Is ZOA- clear? Will people see it as two syllables, parallel to boa (constrictor)? or one syllable, parallel to boat? If a T followed the ZOA-, there might be reason to be concerned. But the consonant to follow the ZOA- is a P, so I think most readers will see it as rhyming with boa: "zoaplankton".
My thanks to "space ..." for suggesting reform of this word, even tho I chose a different solution.
Wensday, November 7, 2007: "yoeman" for "yeoman"
This is the kind of word one has to check the dictionary for, to make sure the present spelling really is as silly as it seems. Why on Earth would there be an E before the O in this word? Y incorporates a very brief E-sound in its nature, and the word isn't pronounced yee.óe.man, in three syllables. There is absolutely no reason for an E to precede the O.
We might simply drop the superfluous-E, but that would produce "yoman", parallel to the oddly pronounced but early-learned woman, with which it does not rhyme.
If, however, we flip the E and O, we get a spelling that is both clear and sensible: "yoeman".
My thanks to "yaora ..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007: "zerox" and "zeroggrafy" for "xerox" and "xerography"
X for a Z-sound is an absurd and unpredictable spelling. No one hearing zéer.oks or zeer.óg.ra.fè is going to think "X, e, ...".
"Xerox", which began as a trademark in 1952 but has been used as a generic (like "kleenex", another trademark) since 1965, doesn't need a capital letter unless one is referring to equipment from that particular company, the Xerox Corporation (or if grammar would require a capital letter, whatever letter it might be, of course).
These words come from the obscure Greek word "xeros" for "dry", and refers to a type of copying equipment that does not use liquid (ink). But no new reader cares what it comes from. We care what it means and want to know how to spell it when we hear it and know how to say it when we see it. The spelling "xerox" passes neither test, especially given that there are two X's, pronounced differently! Spelling really doesn't have to be that stupid.
The name of the process used by a xerox machine is "xerography", which has three problems. First, the X for Z is absurd. Second, the PH for an F-sound is absurd. Third, if we change both of those things, we get "zerografy", which is unclear as to the sound of the O and where the word's stress falls. We can solve both those problems by doubling the G, which at once makes plain that the O is short and the word's stress falls on the second syllable, that is, on that short-O.
Altho it is possible to see a problem with the sound of the E (long or short), since an O, not E, follows the R, that is reaching. We have the well-understood and early-learned word "zero" as model. The E is long. If it were short, we'd expect the R to be doubled, which we're not going to do: "zerox" and "zeroggrafy".
Munday, November 5, 2007: "wond" for "wand"
"Wand" is misleadingly parallel in spelling to sand and bland, whereas the word is actually parallel in sound to fond and blond. Changing the A to O will conform the spelling to the sound: "wond".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, November 4, 2007: "vijjil/ant/y" for "vigil/ant/e"
Yesterday we skirted the opposition of some people to doubling a J. Today, let's get in their face about it. The rule in English is that to show a short vowel, we double the consonant after it. There is absolutely no reason to make an exception to this simple, predictable rule for J. If people hear a short vowel sound followed by a J-sound, they have the right to guess that there are two J's not, of all things, one G! to show the short vowel. So let's do that with this cluster of related words.
The word "vigilante" has a foreign look about it as might incline some people to pronounce it in an Italian or Spanish fashion, vee.jee.lón.tae or even vee.hee.lón.tae, in full Spanish mode, just as some people insist on saying hóon.ta for junta, even tho junta came into English almost 300 years ago, with an English J-sound and short-U (jún.ta). "Vigilante" came into English around 1830, a long time ago, so there is no reason to retain a Spanish spelling that can mislead readers as to pronunciation.
The simplest and most predictable way to show a long-E sound at the end of an English word is with -Y, so let's do that here: "vijjil", "vijjilant", "vijjilanty".
Naturally, all derivatives (e.g., "vijjilantly", "vijjilantizm") also change.
Saturday, November 3, 2007: "umbrij" for "umbrage"
Opponents of changing all -GE endings to J (E) sometimes argue that altho one J isn't offensive, two, as would be needed to show a plural or inflected verb form of a word with a short vowel before the J-sound would "look funny" and be "un-English". That is, "brij" might not be so bad, but "brijjes" or "brijjing" is intolerably absurd! Yeah, right. We can double every other consonant, even V (savvy, skivvy), but to double a J is a crime against humanity!
There is no reason for spelling reformers to give in to such irration. If the rule in English is to double a consonant before adding an ending if the preceding vowel is short, then you cannot say it is "un-English" to do that with J. We even double the L in control before adding -ED, even tho the O is long, so "controled" would be perfectly reasonable. But "controled" isn't even an acceptable variant spelling! That kind of nonsense has got to stop.
Fortunately, with "umbrage" we have a word that doesn't take any endings. It isn't pluralizable and isn't a verb, but is absolutely invariable. So how can anyone object to a final-J?
That leaves one issue, the vowel before the J. We could leave the A, because any vowel can be pronounced schwa. But raj is a word, with a broad-A. The current spelling, "umbrage", contains the smaller word "rage", but is not pronounced the same, with a long-A. That's another reason to get rid of the -GE ending. We could not, however, simply drop the -E, because that would leave "umbrag", which would be entirely wrong. Plainly we'd have to change the G to J, which brings us back to where we were. As it happens, some people say the schwa in this word so close to short-I that we might as well no, better just change the A to I: "umbrij".
Friday, November 2, 2007: "toffy" for "toffee"
This Food Friday, let's regularize this peculiar word, an alteration of "taffy", which has a simple -Y at the end. There is a variant "toffy", but, as so often happens, bad spelling tends to drive out good, and the preferred version most of us see is "toffee". -EE suggests more prominence for the ending than is appropriate here, even that the word's stress falls on that syllable (guarantee, addressee). In this word, the stress falls on the first syllable. So let's just change the -EE to -Y and avoid any possible confusion: "toffy".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, November 1, 2007: "sherrif" for "sheriff"
The wrong consonants are single and double in this word, the present spelling of which should be read shee.ríf: "sherrif".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, October 31, 2007: "repparation/s" for "reparation/s"
RE- is ambiguous, usually being pronounced with a long-E (repair, repatriation), sometimes a short-I (repast), and sometimes, as here, short-E. Where the traditional spelling has a single consonant following the RE- but the word is supposed to have a short-E sound, we can simply double the consonant to make plain that the E is short: "repparation/s".
Tuesday, October 30, 2007: "quontum" for "quantum"
The A in the traditional spelling of this word is pronounced "broad", the same sound as short-O. But there's no way to know that from the spelling. Compare quack, quagmire. Three pronunciations for A (long, short, and broad) is one too many, so we should replace broad-A with O where possible, as here: "quontum".
Munday, October 29, 2007: "parabbola" for "parabola"
Most familiar words that start with PARA- bear stress (primary or secondary) on the first part of the prefix: parallel, paranormal, paragon. A reader applying the common pattern here would be inclined to pronounce this word páa.ra.bòe.la, but would be wrong. Here, the second syllable is stressed: pa.ráab.a.la. If we simply double the B, we at once indicate that the second syllable is the one that bears the stress and that the O is thus reduced to a schwa: "parabbola".
My thanks to "Fisher..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, October 28, 2007: "oebleek" for "oblique"
On Friday we got rid of one needless -UE, after a G. Let's get rid of another today, after a Q. The combination QU- is ordinarily pronounced as tho KW, which would require a third syllable for "oblique", as would produce a pronunciation something like obloquy: ób.li.kwèe or perhaps ób.li.kwà. In actuality, there are only two syllables to this word, the O is long, and the I has no I sound (not long-I as in ivory, not short as in it), and the QU takes no W sound, only a K-sound. There is almost nothing right with the spelling "oblique".
Starting at the end of the word and working backward, let's drop the UE completely and replace the Q with a K. The vowel of the second syllable is long-E, which is most simply shown by EE. And to mark the O long before the consonant cluster BL, we need to add something, either an E (as in roebuck: "oebleek") or an A (as in oak or toast: "oableek"). A W wouldn't do, because "owbleek" would be seen by most people as having the OU-sound (as in "ow!" or now).
OA is ambiguous (boa, doable, coalesce, broad). OE is not completely clear (poet, amoeba), but is less likely to be misread than OA or OW. Could we just leave "obleek" and hope that the presence of E's after the BL consonant cluster will cue the reader that the O is long? I see a problem. So let's use OE: "oebleek".
Saturday, October 27, 2007: "narcottic" for "narcotic"
There are words, like narcolepsy, that might incline some new readers to place the stress in "narcotic" on the first syllable and pronounce the O long, both of which would be wrong. If we double the T, we at once show that the O is short and that the word's stress falls on the second syllable: "narcottic".
Friday, October 26, 2007: "marang" for "meringue"
For this Food Friday, let's reform the odd spelling for a froth that covers some pies. Like so many other bizarre spellings in English, this one comes from French. In French, the spelling makes perfect sense. Not in English. The pronunciation is ma.ráang. The UE at the end adds nothing but length, and the I is wrong, since the vowel sound is actually short-A. We might leave the first-E ("merang"), except that some people might read that as me-rang rather than mer-ang. An A would more likely be read right, as a schwa: "marang".
Thursday, October 25, 2007: "layed" for "laid"
If the root word is "lay", why would we write "laid" for the past and past participle? That makes no sense. Let's just follow the usual rule and add -ED: "layed".
My thanks to "Clap..." for today's spelling and "space..." for urging its use today.
Wensday, October 24, 2007: "nurl" for "knurl"
Today's word is not well known, but the thing it stands for, "One of a series of small ridges or grooves on the surface or edge of a metal object, such as a thumbscrew, to aid in gripping",* is. So let's get rid of the unnecessary K, which a person hearing this word would not think to write.
We could also change the U to E, since ER is the way the sound at issue is most commonly spelled. But some people find U clearer, since they pronounce ER in some words (merry, ferry) differently. So let's leave the U as in the traditional spelling: "nurl".
* American Heritage Dictionary.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007: "jaundiss" for "jaundice"
-ICE is ambiguous (advice, justice, caprice); -ISS is not: "jaundiss".
Note: There are two pronunciations of the vowel in the first syllable, /au/ (as is written) and broad-A (short-O). Since those who say a broad-A do so despite the AU clearly written, we need not address that, since the AU will remain as it was, and people who say broad-A can continue to do so.
Munday, October 22, 2007: "indijent" for "indigent"
G for the J-sound is ambiguous, and thus a poor choice. That's what J is for: "indijent".
Sunday, October 21, 2007: "halaluya" and "alaluya" for "hallelujah", "halleluiah", and "alleluia"
It's Sunday, and time for an H-word. We just happen to have a perfect fit. Hallelujah!
There are a number of things wrong with the traditional spelling of these three versions of the same Hebrew word.
First, "hall" and "all", which start off these words, are both familar words learned early, and they have an AU-sound, whereas the sound in the longer words is short-A. The clearer way to show a short-A before an L-sound is with a single-L, not double (calendar, alimony, balustrade).
If we drop one of the doubled L's but leave an E after it, the words start off with "hale" and "ale", which would also be misleading. If we change the E to A, however, we get a clearer spelling. Alas, there is no way to be absolutely clear about A before L. "hala" and "ala" are parallel to "gala", and there are four ways to pronounce that (gáe.la, gáil.a, gáa.la and gól.a). Still "hal-" and "al-" (as in the nicknames "Hal" and "Al") clue the reader to short-A. And if some people see a comparison to gól.a, that's OK too, because some people do in fact say a broad-A/short-O in the first syllable.
The second problem with these words is the J or I for a Y-sound. J is completely wrong, in English. I is a clumsy way to write the Y-sound. We have a letter Y. Let's use it.
The third problem is the inconsistency in the ending, -AH as against -A. The spelling "ah" generally represents a broad-A (the same sound as short-O: stick out your tongue and say "ah"). That is not the sound here, which is a simple schwa. So -A is plainly the superior spelling.
Putting this all together, today's twofer resolves to: "halaluya" and "alaluya".
Saturday, October 20, 2007: "gool" for "ghoul"
In keeping with the Halloween season, the G-word for today is "ghoul", which has two problems. First, there is no need for an H here. Sometimes H is placed after a G but before an E or I to show the reader that the G takes its own sound (the "hard" G-sound; the "soft"-G is actually the J-sound): ghetto, gherkin. But since what would follow the G without an H in today's word is an O, and G before O is always "hard", the H adds nothing so we can safely drop it.
The second problem here is an OU spelling but no OU-sound. The sound is long-U without a Y-glide, which is often shown by OO (bamboo, noodles). So let's change the U to a second O. Now we have a shorter, clearer, but still ghoulish, word: "gool" (and "goolish").
My thanks to "Clap..." for today's spelling and "space..." for urging its use today.
Friday, October 19, 2007: "fammin" and "fammish/ed" for "famine" and "famish/ed"
It's Food Friday again, but this time let's talk about words that relate to the absence of food. We all know that "famine" refers to severe and widespread lack of food, as can produce mass death. Fewer may know that "famish", which we are accustomed to in the trivial expression "I'm famished", meaning very hungry, can mean starve to death.
Altho it is not always necessary to double a following consonant to indicate a short vowel, it is often advisable when the vowel of the next syllable is an E, or when a familiar word that does contain a long vowel might mislead the reader. The second is the case here.
The vowel of the second syllable of both these words is I, not E, but "fam-" will suggest to some readers the word, learned early, "fame". So doubling the M to show the A short seems a good thing to do.
"Famine" has the additional problem of a final-E that sure looks as tho it marks the previous I long, as in the familiar word, early learned, "mine". In fixing "famine", we gain a letter in doubling the M but save a letter by dropping the E, so end up with a new spelling that is clearer but not longer.
Today's twofer thus resolves to: "fammin" and "fammish/ed".
My thanks to "Caste..." for "fammin".
Sunday-Thursday, October 14-18, 2007:
"amfibean" for "amphibian"
"basenjee" for "basenji"
"cammel" for "camel"
"donkee" for "donkey"
"ermin" for "ermine"
Let's fix the names of some animals.
"Amphibian" is easy. PH is a preposterous way to spell the F-sound. F alone will do quite nicely. -IAN is less than ideal, since the I represents a long-E sound, not either I-sound, long as in "(wood)bine" or short as in "bin" . If we change the ending to -EAN, we will also need to double the B, as in "Caribbean". Let's do that: "amfibbean".
"Basenji" (a breed of African dog that cannot bark) ends with -I, which is ambiguous and is often pronounced long-I (alibi, cacti), but the sound here is long-E. In final position, the most common way of showing that sound is -Y, but that is more suitable for an adjective. This is a noun, so we should use -EE: "basenjee".
"Camel" contains the familiar word "came", which has a long-A, and it is foolish to expect new readers to see a silent-E in "camel" as not signaling that the preceding A is long. The customary way of showing a short vowel before an E in the next syllable is to double the intervening consonant: "cammel".
In "donkey" we have an E that is at once needless and ambiguous, since -EY sometimes takes a long-A sound (they, hey). We could just drop it, but -Y is more appropriate to an adjective, so, as with "basenjee", -EE is the better choice: "donkee".
"Ermine" should have a long-I, since it contains the familiar possessive pronoun "mine", which is also a noun for a hole in the ground from which minerals are extracted, also with a long-I. But "ermine" has a short-I. So the E has got to go: "ermin".
This group of animal names thus resolves to: "amfibian", "basenjy", "cammel", "donky", and "ermin".
My thanks to "yaora ..." for "cammel" and to "Box ..." for "donky".
Saturday, October 13, 2007: "zomby" for "zombie" or "zombi"
The 13th day of October seems a good time to deal with this word, on the last of the 26 days of words run A-Z in this project in its 2 1/2 years. Flip the 13 of superstition and you get 31, the day of this month on which falls Halloween, a time when some people dress up as ghosts and zombies. A cable channel is even soon to start running a "13 days of Halloween" series of horror movies.
"Zombie" also has an Internet meaning: a computer taken over by a virus to send spam, unbeknownst to the owner, so is again appropriate to this Internet project.
Both of the present spellings, "zombie" and"zombi", are ambiguous. -IE at the end of a word is usually pronounced with a long-I in words of one syllable (pie, die, lie), but long-E in words of more than one syllable, but even in words of more than one syllable can take a long-I sound (belie, hogtie, magpie).
-I at the end of a word is often pronounced long-I (alumni, fungi, octopi).
-Y at the end of a word is also a tad ambiguous, and can be pronounced long-I in a few words of more than one syllable (nearby, quantify) but -Y is the most common spelling for a long-E sound at the end of a word, so let's go with that: "zomby".
My thanks to "Cargo..." for this suggestion.
Friday, October 12, 2007: "Yorruba" for "Yoruba"
This is a proper noun,* and this project generally avoids proper nouns, but this one is commonly mispronounced with stress on the second syllable, and a long-U sound there, both of which are mistakes that could be corrected simply by doubling the R, so that seems a good thing to do: "Yorruba".
* "Yoruba" refers to a large tribe in southwestern Nigeria and their language, a member of the Kwa group.
Thursday, October 11, 2007: "zenafobe", "zenafobea" and "zenafobic" for "xenophobe", "xenophobia", and "xenophobic"
X is a very pecular letter in English. It has no one sound of its own but represents at least five distinct other letters or letter combinations: KS (extra), GZ (exist), KZH (luxury), GZH (luxurious), and Z (xylophone and today's peculiar words). The use of X for the Z-sound is least defensible, so let's replace all such occurrences with Z. Today's words are a good place to start.
There are two major pronounciations for these words, one with a long-E before the N, the other with short-E (mainly British). Altho British spelling reformers might like to double the N to show their preferred pronunciation, North Americans would not accept that. Since a single-N does not necessarily indicate a long vowel before it, leaving a single-N permits those who say either zèe.na.fóe.bee.ya or zèn.a.fóe.bee.ya to say whichever they wish without being told by the spelling that they are wrong.
PH is a preposterous way to spell the simple F-sound, so let's get rid of that too, and use F.
The first-O (xeno-) might remain, since any letter, including O, can be pronounced schwa. But O tempts some people to articulate a sound that is a long-O in quality but short in duration. That's not the sound here, so replacing that O with A, which is far more likely to be seen as schwa in this position, seems a wise thing to do.
The last issue is whether the -IA in "xenophobia" is OK. In final position, IA is usually pronounced as here, EE-schwa, even if in other positions it should take a different sound (dial, initiation). Even at the end of a word, IA doesn't always represent a long-E followed by schwa, but only a schwa: acacia (because the I combines with the C to form an SH-sound). In "xenophobia", replacing the -IA with -EA would produce -BEA, which is ambiguous due to the familiar nickname "Bea" (for "Beatrice"), which is pronounced without a schwa, as tho written "BEE". So let's leave the -IA.
Putting this all together, we get: "zenafobe", "zenafobia", and "zenafobic".
Wensday, October 10, 2007: "waulrus" for "walrus"
-AL- is ambiguous (albert, cavalry, wallet, altar). But if we add a U, the sound is clear: "waulrus".
My thanks to "Moon..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007: "vacceen" for "vaccine"
-INE is a highly variable sequence as regards pronunciation. You can never know whether it will be pronounced with a long-I (supine, alpine, porcine), short-I (determine, engine, porcine), or long-E (machine, pristine, morphine). Either -ENE or -EEN would be clear, at least in the singular. -EEN is clearer, since it does not allow pronunciation of another syllable after the N, which -ENE might, especially in the plural, "vaccenes" (compare aborigines, bases (plural of basis).
-CC- is an odd but predictable spelling before E or I, having the value of -KS-, so we can leave that.
Today's word, then, resolves to "vacceen".
Munday, October 8, 2007: "eunicorn" for "unicorn"
UN- is an extremely common prefix, pronounced with a short-U. It can precede any vowel, and the first thing a new reader thinks on seeing UN- at the beginning of a word is that it signals the negative of whatever follows. That is not the case here, and one is supposed to see not UN- but UNI-. But how is a reader to know that, when we have words like uninhibited, unintelligible, and, like the spelling above, unintelligent?
One way we show a long-U with an initial Y-glide, which is what people are supposed to say here, is to write EU- (eucalyptus, eugenics, euphemism). That is clear, so let's use it here: "eunicorn".
Sunday, October 7, 2007: "taxy" for "taxi"
An I at the end of a word is ambiguous. Sometimes, as here, it is pronounced long-E; other times, long-I (alibi, alkali, cacti, hippopotami). Altho a Y at the end of a word can also be pronounced long-I (qualify, identify), such words are relatively rare. The great preponderance of words of more than one syllable that end in -Y take the long-E sound, whereas the split in sound between long-E and long-I in words that end in -I is much less predictable. -Y thus does better on the see-say test than does -I. As regards predictability of spelling, a new reader hearing a word that ends in a long-E is far more likely to guess that it is spelled with -Y than -I, so -Y is in that regard too (the hear-spell test), far the better spelling: "taxy".
Saturday, October 6, 2007: "sabattical" for "sabbatical"
In this word, the wrong letters are double or single. The present spelling, which harkens back to "sabbath" but does not include the H so there is very little reason to pay any attention to "sabbath" in determining how to spell "sabbatical"; the word is not, after all "sabbathical" suggests that the word is stressed on the first syllable. It is not. It is stressed on the second syllable. So the B should be single and the T double: "sabattical".
Friday, October 5, 2007: "radeekeo" and "roddiketta" for "radicchio" or "radichio" and "radichetta"
It's Food Friday again, so let's deal with a type of Italian chicory used mainly in salads. It has two names and three spellings, none of them phonetic.
CCH is a fairly unusual letter sequence in English, and is never pronounced as a new reader should be able to expect, a sequence of a "hard"-C (K-sound) followed by a CH-sound (as in church) but only as a K. If it is pronounced like K, let's just write K, 'kay?
A variant spelling with just CH is equally irrational, since the CH is still not pronounced as in church. It's still a K-sound, so should still be written K.
The other name for this plant is also Italian, "radichetta". It also has a CH spelling but K-sound, so that CH should also be replaced with K.
In "radic(c)hio", the two I's have no I-sound, not long (as in pie), not short (as in it), but a long-E. A long-E sound before a consonant is clearest as EE; before a vowel, a single-E often suffices, and does so here: "radeekeo".
"Radichetta" as it is pronounced in English does not have a long-E sound for the I, tho its Italian-form spelling might incline the reader to give it that sound. Once we reform the Italianness out of the spelling, the I will be pronounced in the English fashion, so can stay.
The A, however, is wrong, representing neither long-A (fake) nor short-A (at). It is instead a "broad"-A, the same sound as short-O. So let's use an O. A single following consonant is generally unclear as to the preceding vowel's quality, long or short, so let's double the D to show the O short. We have already replaced the CH with K. Everything else can stay the same: "roddiketta".
So this Food Friday's twofer is: "radeekeo" and "roddiketta".
Tuesday-Thursday, October 2-4, 2007: "obblakwee", "parkay", and "ketsahl" for "obloquy", "parquet" and "quetzal"
Let's deal with a few Q-words that are oddly and misleadingly spelled.
"Obloquy" is puzzling in appearance and unpredictable as to spelling on hearing. -QUY is a very unusual letter sequence, and not consistent as to pronunciation. In one word, "cliquy" (from "clique"; variant of "cliquey", which is also unclear; compare "they"), the QU is pronounced without a W-sound: kléek.ee or klík.ee). A reader cannot know if the final-Y is pronounced long-E or long-I. Since it is impossible to make that absolutely plain using a -Y, another spelling is needed here. -KWEE is clear.
Three other issues in "obloquy" are the pronunciation of the O's and the word's syllabic stress. Regarding the first-O, -BL- is a consonant cluster that might not signal that the preceding vowel is short, so some readers will see óe.bla.kwèe or oe.blóe.kwee; or óe.bla.kee or oe.blóe.kee; or even any of those patterns with a long-I sound at the end! If we double the B, the correct , short value for the initial-O becomes clear: "obblokwee". That also suggests that the first syllable, not the second, takes the word's stress, as would solve two problems with one letter. A bargain.
But "blok" in the middle of a respelling "obblokwee" too powerfully suggests "block" or "bloc", as might lead many readers to try to pronounce a full short-O in the middle syllable, which is wrong. An A there would be less likely to be given a full short vowel sound, since A is the most common way of spelling the schwa sound (America, apparition).
We end up with an odd-looking spelling, but the traditional spelling is odd-looking too. The new spelling, however, makes the sounds clear, which the traditional spelling does not.
"Parquet" has three problems. First, the QU, which usually represents a KW-sound (quiet, banquet), has only a K-sound. Second, the E is pronounced long-A. Third, the final-T is silent, so shouldn't be there.
"Quetzal" has four problems. First, as in "parquet", the QU represents only a K-sound (tho the T is not silent in "quetzal"). Second, the Z is not voiced, but is said like the other member of the Z/S pair: S. Third, the sound of the A is ambiguous, and depends on the word's syllabic stress. Most people will see it as a schwa because they will also read the word as taking the stress on the first syllable, as do most nouns in English. But fourth, the word's stress actually falls on the second (last) syllable, and the A takes the broad-A sound. Altho that sound is the same as short-O, O before L is ambiguous, so the pronunciation of "ketsol" or "ketsoll" would be unclear. AH would be clearer as to sound and would also incline most readers to see the word as taking stress on the second syllable, which it does. So that is the best choice.
This trio of ''qurious" words resolves to: "obblakwee", "parkay", and "ketsahl".
"Parkay" is the name of a margarine but is a proper noun and trademark, so using the same spelling for an ordinary noun should not be a problem, nor produce confusion in readers. One would not, after all, have a "Parkay floor" in the sense of "margarine floor".
Munday, October 1, 2007: "naiker"* and "naikreus" for "nacre" and "nacreous"
-RE is an irrational and ambiguous way to spell what is more sensibly spelled -ER. Compare cause célèbre, hombre, and macabre. We cannot just transpose the R and E, however, after a C, because C before E will be seen as "soft", having an S-sound.
We could replace the C with K in the base word, "naker", but the derivative would be unclear: "nakreous". Is the A long or short? Broad? To show the long sound of the A in the derivative, we can add I: "naikreous". If we were to spell the base word "naker" but the derivative "naikreous", many people would object, quite reasonably. So we would need to put an otherwise-superfluous I into the base word: "naiker".
Now, -OUS is a foolish and misleading way to spell that ending, since there is no OU-sound in it. So let's drop the O.
Thus do we arrive at today's twofer: "naiker" and "naikreus".
* "Nacre" is a shorter and more formal word for what most of us know as "mother-of-pearl", the "hard, iridescent substance that forms the inner layer of certain mollusk shells, used for making buttons, beads, etc." (Random House Unabridged),
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