Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
January-March 2008

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Munday, March 31, 2008: "nurosis" and "nurottic" for "neurosis" and "neurotic"
EU may once have been an appropriate spelling in these words, tho hardly necessary, but most people today do not pronounce the U-sound with an initial Y-glide. Those who do would not need an E before the U to tell them to do that. EU pretty much mandates a Y-glide (feud, aneurysm, therapeutic), when it's not just ambiguous (coleus, colosseum, voyageur). Let's just drop the E and reduce the possibilities for confusion.

As for the T in "neurotic", it's less than ideal to show a short-O preceding, since some O's in such a position are pronounced long (rhotic, otic, photic), so let's double the T to eliminate any possibility of confusion.

Putting these things together, we get: "nurosis" and "nurottic".

Sunday, March 30, 2008: "meeracle" for "miracle"

Altho even American dictionaries insist on spelling this word with an I in pronunciation keys, the I is actually pronounced long-E in North America. If Brits actually do say a short-I here, they can continue to spell this word with an I, and it will just join the list of words spelled differently in the United States and Britain (along with programme, labour, centre, phoneticise, etc.). Sometimes dictionaries just don't make sense,* which does not mean we shouldn't: "meeracle".

* I heard the word "sequoia" pronounced sa.kói.ya in a Toyota commercial and checked, which shows no such pronunciation, but only one pronunciation for that word, which has a W-sound after the Q's K-sound. So I put a question on Yahoo Answers and was told that indeed the pronunciation without a W-sound is standard in California, where the tree is found and where there is a national park established to preserve sequoias for posterity. Our supposedly "descriptivist" dictionaries fail to describe that common pronunciation, as they fail to include wú and káur.ter for "water" and "quarter".

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

Saturday, March 29, 2008: "lernid" for "learned"

"Learned" has two meanings. It is the past and past participle of the verb "learn",* and in that use is pronounced as one syllable; but it is also an adjective, in two syllables, meaning "someone who has studied for a long time and has a lot of knowledge".** It is that adjectival use we address today: "lernid".

* Offered here August 27, 2004 as "lern".

** Cambridge Dictionaries.

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

Friday, March 28, 2008: "keewee" for "kiwi"

It's Food Friday again. This week, let's fix a word borrowed from the Maori language of New Zealand for, oddly, the Chinese gooseberry, which first gained note outside China as a commercial crop in New Zealand. It is now grown in California as well.

In any case, "kiwi" rhymes exactly with peewee and weewee, but is spelled as tho it rhymes with hifi (hi-fi) or scifi (sci-fi). It might even be taken as the spelling for the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Let's fix that: "keewee".

Thursday, March 27, 2008: "junggle" for "jungle"

NG is ambiguous. It usually represents a distinctive sound that neither of its letters separately has by itself, the nasal sound that is not M or N, as in sing and thing. Sometimes, however, it does not take that sound. The two letters retain their own sounds, in separate syllables: ingredient, engorge, ungrateful. Sometimes NG represents not only the NG nasal sound but also a hard-G after that: finger, linger. Yet other times, it represents an N-sound followed by a J-sound: ranger, angel.

The reader should not have to guess which sound applies in any given word. Rather, to the extent possible, the spelling should show the sound. It may be hard (or impossible) in traditional spelling to show things like the separate sounds in engage (tho angelic could be respelled with a J, which would be clear: anjellic), but it is easy to show when there is a hard-G sound in addition to the NG nasal sound. Just add a second G: "junggle".

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

Wensday, March 26, 2008: "incize/d" and "incizer" for "incise/d" and "incisor"

There are only a few words that end in -ISE, and they are split between those that are pronounced with an S-sound and those that are pronounced with a Z-sound. In that those pronounced with an S-sound are sensibly spelled but those with a Z-sound are foolishly spelled, let's leave the S in the ones with the S-sound (such as concise, precise, and imprecise) but change the S to Z in those that have a Z-sound, as here.

Further, why should people have to guess when an ending that sounds like ER is instead spelled OR? OR, as in the word "or", has its own sound, aur. If that is not the pronunciation of an -OR ending, it should be spelled -ER. So today's words are: "incize", "incized", and "incizer".

Tuesday, March 25, 2008: "hemmisfere" for "hemisphere"

A single following consonant leaves unclear whether a vowel is long or short. The way we usually indicate unambiguously that a vowel takes its short sound is by doubling the following consonant. So let's do that here: "hemmi-".

PH is a ridiculous way to spell the F-sound, so let's just plug in an F.

Putting these two things together, we get: "hemmisfere" (and, thus, "sfere").

My thanks to "Clap..." for "sfere".

Munday, March 24, 2008: "jeeny" for "genie"

Both syllables of today's word present problems. The G in GE is not always "soft": get, gear, gecko. Moreover, E before a single consonant is not necessarily long: every, edible, education. And IE can be pronounced long-I, even at the end of a word of more than one syllable: magpie, bowtie, underlie.

The initial sound is J, so let's spell it J.

The first-E is long, so let's show that unambiguously, with EE.

There is only one completely unambiguous way to show a long-E at the end of a word, -EE. But that is often perceived to take the word's stress: guarantee, degree, addressee. The most common way to show a long-E (or, in "clipped" dialects, short-I) sound at the end of a word is -Y. Yes, -Y can occasionally be pronounced long-I, even in words of more than one syllable: apply, qualify, nearby. But -Y is much more likely to be seen as long-E. So let's use that.

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

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

Sunday, March 23, 2008: "fer" for "fir"

IR is ambiguous, sometimes having a long-E sound (irritable, emir, souvenir). The sound here is more customarily spelled ER and UR. "Fur" is already taken. That leaves: "fer".

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

Saturday, March 22, 2008: "ellegant" for "elegant"

In today's word, the sound of the initial-E is unclear. Does the second-E indicate that the first is long? Is the word two syllables (éel.gant) or three (éel.a.gant or él.a.gant)? These are the kinds of things a new reader has to wonder about when they see an ambiguous spelling like "elegant". Let's save them some energy and give them a clear spelling, one that shows at once that the initial-E is short, the word has three syllables, and the stress falls on the first syllable, which thus forces the vowels of the last two syllables into schwa mode — an altogether elegant solution: "ellegant".

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

Friday, March 21, 2008: "delly" for "deli"

This Food Friday, let's clarify the short form of "delicatessen". -I is ambiguous, often being pronounced long-I (alkali, cacti, stimuli) but also often being pronounced long-E (broccoli, chili, lapis lazuli). Because of this ambiguity, some words have both pronunciations, some people using one, others the other: gladioli, vox populi.

"Deli" is informal and can sensibly be compared to the British term "telly" for "television". But -ELLY is unambiguous, given well-known words like belly, jelly, and smelly: "delly".

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

Thursday, March 20, 2008: "cameelya" for "camellia"

Sometimes a traditional spelling is just so absurd you have to wonder, "What were they thinking?" In today's word, there is a double-L after a single-E, which plainly suggests that the E is short. But the E is actually long! Why on Earth would there be a double-L after a long-E? It makes no sense.

Dropping the second-L would not suffice, because "camelia" will be seen, and said, by some people as the word "camel" with an -IA after it, which would be very wrong.

The -IA is a tad ambiguous, and tho most people pronounce it -ya, some people pronounce it in two syllables. -YA is clearer for those who pronounce the end of this word in one syllable, but -YA can be read as two syllables. So it is a clearer spelling that does not completely bar the alternative pronunciation: "cameelya".

Wensday, March 19, 2008: "barj" for "barge"

-GE is ambiguous and inefficient. New learners should not have to memorize a rule as to position (for instance, "GE can be pronounced 'hard' or 'soft', except at the end of a word, where it is almost always 'soft'."), especially since no such rule is 100% reliable. -GE may not be pronounced with a "hard"-G at the end of a word (tho I wouldn't be surprised if there is some obscure word in which it is), but it does sometimes take the ZH sound: beige, garage, collage, montage.

The sound in "barge" is J, which is not only unambiguous but efficient, one character as against two for -GE. So let's use that: "barj".

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2008: "acettilene"for "acetylene"

A reader might expect that a Y in the middle of a word like this signals a long-I sound. It does not. The sound is short-I.

The first three letters of this word are ACE, which is a word in itself that we are all familiar with. But in this word, those three letters do not form the sound aes, but two separate syllables.

Neither the number of syllables nor the syllable to be stressed is clear from the present spelling. The word could have three syllables, stressed in the middle: aes.tíe.leen. It actually has four syllables, with primary stress on the second syllable and secondary stress on the last: a.sét.i.lèen.

Single consonants are unclear as to whether the preceding vowel is long or short. This long word contains the shorter word "acetyl", which has three pronunciations for six letters:  a.sée.tal, a.sé, and áas.a.til! This is the madness that the spelling Establishment defends.

A doubled consonant traditionally serves two purposes, to show that the preceding vowel is short in quality and to show that the syllable before the doubled consonant is stressed. Sometimes a doubled consonant shows both things; sometimes only one, which of course can be confusing. Here, if we double the T, we unite the two functions and show at once (a) that the ACE- is pronounced not as one syllable but two, the E going with the T's; (b) the first-E is short; and (c) the word's stress falls on the second syllable. That's quite a bargain: "acettilene".

We need not deal with the last syllable, -ENE, which has, bizarrely, two pronunciations. The first is what one should expect, -een. The other makes no sense: -in. The odd ducks who see -ENE and pronounce it -in need to account for that, but we don't need to address it here. We'll just leave the -ENE as-is and let people pronounce it as they see it.

Munday, March 17, 2008: "zillyon/air"for "zillion/aire"

-ION- is ambiguous, being a word in itself pronounced íe.yan or íe.yon, which is not the sound in today's words. Rather, the I is used to represent Y's consonantal value, which is an ambiguous and foolish use, in that we do have a Y to represent that sound, and we have words like banyon and canyon where Y serves precisely that purpose. So we should use -YON-.

-AIR expresses the sound of the end of "zillionaire" perfectly well. We don't need a final-E, which adds nothing but length. So let's just drop the E.

The one remaining question is whether to retain the double-L or drop one of the L's. If we drop one, "zilyon" will be seen by most readers as representing the right sound, but some readers might see the Y as representing a long-I sound that shifts the word's stress to the second syllable. If we retain the double-L, however, that temptation vanishes, and the reader will see the first syllable as clearly taking stress — primary stress in the base word and either primary or secondary stress in the derivative: "zillyon/air".

My thanks to "rhod..." for suggesting  we drop the E from "zillionaire", tho I also suggest reform of the root word.

Sunday, March 16, 2008: "itterbium", "itterbia", "itterbic" and "itterbus" for "ytterbium", "ytterbia", "ytterbic" and "ytterbous"

Some scientific 'genius' decided to write this name for a rare-earth element and its derivatives in the manner of the Swedish town where it was first found, Ytterby. So if it had been found in the Welsh town of Llwybr, it would be called llwybrium? Let's bring some order from the chaos that scientists have brought to English and, by extension, the entire International Scientific Vocabulary, by abolishing absurd spellings and replacing them with sensible ones. This is as good a place to start as any: "itterbium", "itterbia", "itterbic" and "itterbus".

Saturday, March 15, 2008: "zeric" for "xeric"

We have exhausted all the well-known words starting with X, but some uncommon ones remain. Today's word* means "Of, characterized by, or adapted to an extremely dry habitat" (American Heritage Dictionary) and, as with most words that start with X, this word starts with a Z-sound, not an X-sound. So let's just spell it with a Z: "zeric".

* There are two pronunciations, zér.ik and zée.rik. "Zeric" accommodates both.

Friday, March 14, 2008: "woffle" for "waffle"

A is the wrong vowel in this Food Friday's word. Compare raffle and baffle, which have a short-A. The sound here is "broad"-A, which is the same as short-O. Let's use O instead. It's clearer: "woffle".

There is a non-food meaning for this word, to evade a direct answer or waver as to a commitment. It is, however, pronounced the same, so should be spelled the same.

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

Thursday, March 13, 2008: "vally" for "valley"

-EY is ambiguous. Sometimes it represents a long-E (key, attorney, pulley); other times, long-A (hey, they, prey). Altho -Y is not completely unambiguous (hilly vs. imply), -Y is most commonly pronounced long-E, especially in words of more than one syllable. At best, the E adds nothing but length, so let's just drop it, alrite?: "vally".

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

Wensday, March 12, 2008: "eubiquitus" and "eubiquity" for "ubiquitous" and "ubiquity"

U-, here, is ambiguous, and -OUS is inefficient and misleading. The U could be short, long but without an initial Y-glide, or long with a Y-glide. There is no OU-sound in the -OUS ending.

The unambiguous way to show an initial Y-glide before a long-U is to put an E in front of it (euphony, euphemism, eugenics). So let's use that.

For the -OUS ending, everywhere, we should simply drop the O and save ourselves a letter.

Putting this together, we get: "eubiquitus" and "eubiquity".

Tuesday, March 11, 2008: "teleppathy" and "tellepath/ic/ally" for "telepathy" and "telepath/ic/ally"

TELE- ordinarily takes stress on its first syllable, and indeed the stress of the entire word may fall on that syllable (television, telephone), tho in some words the primary stress may come later (telecommunications). When instead the stress falls on the second syllable of TELE-, we need to show that, especially since the second-E changes in quality from schwa to a full short-E.

The most common way to show a short vowel clearly is by doubling the consonant following it. A doubled consonant also often cues the reader to stress the syllable before it. So a double-P in "teleppathy" would achieve both of these goals efficiently.

When the first syllable is stressed, in derivative words, we should mark that too, esp. since the vowel changes from a schwa to a full short-E. The way to show that is by doubling the L.

The adverbial ending -ALLY should actually be pronounced like "all", with an AU-sound, plus -Y (pronounced as a long-E or, in "clipped" British accents, short-I) or like the word "ally", with a short-A. But the A in the suffix is pronounced as a schwa. There is, alas, no clear way to show that, since AL appears to contain a short-A, as in the nickname "Al" for someone named "Alfred" or "Albert", so we cannot simply drop one of the L's and expect what remains to be read correctly. Besides, there are multitudinous words ending in -ALLY that we would have to change, a change could not be clear. So let's leave that part of today's group of words: : "teleppathy", "tellepath", and "tellepathic/ally".

Munday, March 10, 2008: "sachurate" for "saturate"

TU is not the way English ordinarily spells the CH-sound (as in church), nor should that formulation be used. In the word mature, for instance, many of us say a CH-sound, but many other people don't see the TU as forming any such sound, but say ma.túer (in folk phonetics, ma-TOOR). How is the reader to know when TU should have a CH-sound and when not? Let's just write CH now, before the people inclined to pronounce words the way they look, change the pronunciation to eliminate the CH-sound, leaving the issue completely confused: "sachurate".

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

Sunday, March 9, 2008: "reckoncile" for "reconcile"

RE at the beginning of a word is commonly pronounced with a long-E, as in various synonyms for today's word, like resigned, restore, reconsecrate, and resolve. That is not the sound here, which is short-E, so the spelling needs to be changed to show the actual sound: "reckoncile".  

Saturday, March 8, 2008: "quoddrant" for "quadrant"

The spelling of today's word starts the same way as does quack, but the A is pronounced differently. How is a reader to know that? The sound is not short-A, not long-A, but "broad"-A, the same sound as short-O. So let's use an O, and double the D to show the O short: "quoddrant".

Friday, March 7, 2008: "pom" for "palm"

This Food Friday, let's reform an oft-mispronounced word for a type of mainly tropical evergreen tree that has given us various foods, from dates and coconuts to cooking oils. Altho dictionaries do not recognize it, a spelling pronunciation that intrudes an L-sound is becoming all too common. To end its incursions and show new learners plainly that there is no L-sound in "palm", we should drop the L.

That would leave "pam", which would be pronounced with a short-A, as in the short form of the female given name "Pamela". The actual sound in "palm" is broad-A, which is the same sound as short-O. So we should replace the A with O: "pom".

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

Thursday, March 6, 2008: "opalessent" for "opalescent"*

No new learner of English/spelling would guess, on hearing it said aloud, that there is a C in this word. The sound is S, after a short vowel. The general rule would lead us to assume a double-S in such a situation, not an SC. So let's write what people would expect: "opalessent".

There is a verb, "opalesce", derived by back-formation from this adjective. "Opaless" would not be clear, so we would need to include the second-E of the adjective for this rare verb: "opalesse".

* WordNet: "having a play of lustrous rainbow colors".

Wensday, March 5, 2008: "neglijent" for "negligent"

There are two G's in today's word, which are pronounced differently from one another. This is why English is so hard to learn. If there were two B's, "neblibent", we wouldn't expect them to be pronounced differently, nor two F's ("neflifent"), P's ("neplipent"), or Z's ("nezlizent"). But somehow we are supposed to accept as perfectly reasonable having two sounds for G, when one of them, the "soft" sound, is perfectly expressed not by G but by J. We have a J. Why would we expect G to do J's job?: "neglijent".

Tuesday, March 4, 2008: "marraboo" for "marabou"/ "marabout"

A "marabou/t" is a large, Old World stork, feathers from which are used as trim on some women's hats and clothing. The word has two spellings, neither of them clear.

AR is ordinarily seen as being pronounced as in are, bar and car: "broad-A" (the same sound as short-O, as in on). The A here is short, as in at, bat, and cat. One way we try to show that before an R-sound is by doubling the R: arrow, arrant, barren. So let's use that here.

The OU does not represent the OU-sound of English, but that of French, from which we got the word. If we're writing in English, we should spell in the English fashion. The French OU-sound is the English long-U without an initial Y-glide, as in flu, gnu and haiku. Another such word, tabu, is more customarily written the way we often write this sound, taboo. OO is clearer, and would not mislead people into using a Y-glide (máa.ra.byù).

The alternate spelling "marabout" not only has a silent-T but is also a homograph for a word meaning "Islamic hermit", so we have two reasons to dump the T.

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

Munday, March 3, 2008: "lavvish" for "lavish"

There are four common words of the form *AVISH: knavish, lavish, ravish, and slavish. Two have a long-A, two a short-A. This is preposterous. How is the reader to know which has which? The customary way to show a short vowel in English is by doubling the following consonant. Let's do that here: "lavvish".

Sunday, March 2, 2008: "kinkaju" for "kinkajou"

A "kinkajou", also called "honey bear", is a cat-sized nocturnal animal of tropical America with a very long prehensile tail. The OU at the end of its name does not take the OU-sound, but the long-U sound. So let's just spell it U. We need not concern ourselves with whether there is a Y-glide in that sound or it should be spelled OO to show the absence of a Y-glide, because a Y-glide is implicit in the J-sound before a long-U. Indeed, it would be impossible to say a J with a following long-U without an implied Y-sound. You'd have to hesitate between the J and U: J-U or J'U. Nor do we need an E at the end ("kinkajue"). That wouldn't change how it is read, so would add nothing but length. A U will do: "kinkaju".

Saturday, March 1, 2008: "jin/rickshaw" for "jinrikisha", "jin/riksha", "jin/ricksha", and "jin/rickshaw"

Today, let's pare down the four variant spellings to one, for the word for the little carriage pulled by a man that has also been pared down to "riksha" and "richshaw". The original word, "jinrikisha", comes from three Japanese words: "jin person + -riki power + -sha vehicle". The I between the K and S is never pronounced in English. The vehicle has also evolved, into pedicabs or trishaws, three-wheeled human-powered taxis in places like New York and London, so the word is not obsolete as requires no modification. Besides, old movies and historical fotos show the original vehicle, so we need a name for it that is easy to spell and clear as to pronunciation when read.

Fortunately, one of the accepted alternate spellings is clear, so we need merely banish the others. There is an uncommon spelling-pronunciation in which the last syllable has a broad-A / short-O, as in father or on, but people who prefer that pronunciation can perfectly well ignore the W. Besides, there are some dialects in which the AU sound does not exist, and all AU's are pronounced broad-A / short-O, so it won't make any difference to those speakers whether there's a W on the end or not. For those who do make a distinction between AU (hauler) and short-O (holler), the W is crucial to tell them which sound to say: "jin/rickshaw".

Friday, February 29, 2008: "injest" for "ingest"

This Food Friday, let's deal with a fancy word for "eat" or "drink". GE is ambiguous, and new readers should not have to guess whether the G is "hard" or "soft". The G here is "soft", the J-sound. So let's just use J: "injest".

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

Thursday, February 28, 2008: "hoterr" for "hauteur"

Altho a puristic semi-French pronunciation of today's word would drop the initial H-sound, the term is now so well 'naturalized' into English that retaining the H seems wise. Changing the rest to show the English sounds will warn people away from affecting a French pronunciation. Tho showing syllabic stress is not something English spelling often does (compare hotel), "hoter" would be likely be read by most people as bearing stress on the first syllable and thus being incomprehensible as "hauteur". A double-R at the end of a word is unusual but hardly un-English (err, purr, burr), and inasmuch as doubling the R cues unexpected stress on the second syllable, it seems a reasonable thing to do: "hoterr".

Wensday, February 27, 2008: "jeenyus" for "genius"

There are two things wrong with the present spelling of today's word. First, G for the J-sound is ambiguous and thus inadvisable. Some G's before E and I nonetheless do take G's own, "hard", sound: get, gecko, girl, gird. Second, the -IUS can be seen as two syllables, and indeed the Cambridge Dictionaries suggest that Brits are supposed to say "genius" as three syllables. But, then, since the Cambridge website does not show a two-syllable pronunciation for American English, the Cambridge Dictionaries may just be plain wrong (again).

-YUS would permit a two-syllable pronunciation (after all, English pronounces Japan's two-syllable name for its capital city as three syllables, because "Tokyo" is ambiguous). But -YUS would help more people understand that "genius" is two syllables: "jeenyus".

Tuesday, February 26, 2008: "faynt" for "feint"

EI is ambiguous, and is most commonly pronounced either long-E or long-I, as in the two common pronunciations of either. Here, however, the sound is long-A, so we need to show that. The more customary way of showing a long-A within a word is AI, but "faint" is already taken. The clearest way to show a long-A is AY, so let's use that, even tho it is inside a word rather than at the end. AY does indeed occur inside words, as in payday, wayfarer, cayman, and crayfish, so there's no reason not to use it here: "faynt".

Munday, February 25, 2008: "elipse" (family) for "ellipse"

A doubled consonant ordinarily shows the preceding vowel to be short, whereas here the E before the double-L is long. Quick fix: drop the second-L: "elipse", "elipsis", "eliptic/al", "elipsoid/al". 

Sunday, February 24, 2008: "deth" for "death"

EA is most commonly pronounced long-E, whereas the short-E sound (as here) is most commonly shown by a single-E before a consonant or consonant cluster. We have a consonant cluster here, TH. A single-E before it (as in "meth") will show the actual sound of this word unambiguously: "deth".

Saturday, February 23, 2008: "commaroddery" for "camaraderie"

Altho some Brits pronounce the first-A in this word as a short-A (as in at) rather than broad (as in father, the same sound as short-O in comma), they still pronounce the third-A broad. That is a bizarre half-spelling-pronunciation, half-not, that we need not respect. If some people want to say so odd a thing, let them spell it in the ambiguous French way, which allows of other pronunciations too. The great preponderance of us should be glad to have a spelling that is clear as to the correct sounds in English: "commaroddery".

Friday, February 22, 2008: "broosketta" for "bruschetta"

It's Food Friday again. Let's clarify a food word that has not yet made it into many dictionaries, so can be simplified without fiting dictionary publishers. "Bruschetta" is originally Italian, and in Italian, CH conveys the K-sound before E and I. (C by itself suffices before A, O, and U.) But because SCH is completely ambiguous in English, Italian SCH is often misread as tho SH. Altho in English SCH is more commonly pronounced as tho SK (scheme, school, scholar), there are enuf words where it takes the SH-sound to confuse the issue (schuss, borscht, schwa). Interestingly, the Italian-derived word scherzo is never misread to have an SH-sound.

SCH even takes the separate sounds S and CH (as in church) in words like discharge, eschew, and mischief. In a few words, some people say SK but others SH: maraschino, schedule.

The U in Italian is not like the English short-U (brush, rush, up), and in English we would expect a U before a consonant cluster like SCH to be short. But because some people see the SCH as tho SH, they might instead assign the short-OO sound of push, bush, and tushie. That's not exactly right either, but closer. The sound is actually long-U, but in English, OO can be pronounced either long or short, so let's use OO, which will accommodate both inclinations.

Putting this together, we get: "broosketta".

Thursday, February 21, 2008: "acustom" for "accustom"

A doubled consonant ordinarily indicates (a) that the preceding vowel takes its short sound, (b) that the prior syllable takes stress, or (c) both. Here, the CC indicates none of those things. The second-C adds nothing but length and confusion, so let's drop it: "acustom".

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2008: "zeen" and "e-zeen" for "zine" and "e-zine"

Today's twofer derive from the unwise spelling "magazine", reform of which we have offered here as "magazeen" on August 8, 2005. We need to conform these abbreviated derivatives to a phonetic form. "Zine" plainly should rhyme with fine, line, pine, vine, and woodbine. It does not. It actually rhymes with green, teen, screen, queen, and between. So let's spell today's words that way: "zeen" and "e-zeen".

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2008: "yogy" for "yogi"

-I is ambiguous, being pronounced long-I in many words (alibi, alkali, cacti, hippopotami). Alas, there is no wholly unambiguous way to write a G-sound ("hard" G) before a long-E sound at the end of a word, inasmuch as "soft" G is sometimes placed before not just E and I but also Y. This is why we need to replace all "soft" G's with J. We do have the pattern bogy, logy, fogy for words of similar sound to "yogi", so let's use that. Bogy and fogy are sometimes spelled "bogey" and "fogey", but the E adds nothing but length. It doesn't clarify that the G is "hard", because it precedes an E, so could still be "soft". Let's not use an E here: "yogy".

Munday, February 18, 2008: "zilagraf" for "xylograph"

Today's word is the last X-word from the list I had compiled from my own observations and suggestions from readers. A "xylograph" is the Greek-derived word for an engraving on wood or an impression made from such an engraving, which is more commonly called by English-form words like woodcut, woodblock, and woodprint. There are four things wrong with the present spelling of "xylograph": the X, the Y, the O, and the PH.

X for a Z-sound is absurd. Let's just change it to Z and have done with it.

Y for a long-I sound is perfectly reasonable, but not expected, and we should prefer spellings that people can guess when they hear a word pronounced.

The O for a schwa sound is not wrong, certainly, since any vowel can be so abbreviated and altered when not stressed as to be a schwa. But a person hearing the word would be more likely to think A than O, so that would be the better way to go.

PH is an utterly absurd way to spell the F-sound. Moreover, it is ambiguous, in that sometimes PH represents exactly what it looks like, a P-sound followed by an H-sound: uphill, uphold, upholster, chophouse, flophouse, loophole, slaphappy, peephole, etc. Sometimes PH is pronounced simply P: for instance, naphtha, diphthong, diphtheria, even upholster as many people say them. The defense of PH mounted by some Establishment types on the grounds that everyone knows to pronounce it F is false — and foolish. Let's get rid of every single PH that takes an F-sound, and write the simpler, shorter, and unambiguous F.

Putting this all together, then, we get: "zilagraf".

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

Sunday, February 17, 2008: "weer" for "weir"

EI is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced long-E (seize), sometimes long-I (eiderdown), sometimes long-A (weigh), short-I (counterfeit), even two separate vowels in adjoining syllables (deify). EIR is especially misleading, since the pronunciation in today's word is long-E (as is the EIR in weird), but the most commonly read word with that sequence is their, where the sound is flat-A! Let's make clear the long-E in "weir": "weer".

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

Saturday, February 16, 2008: "viel" and "veola" for "viol" and "viola"

Today's twofer perfectly illustrates the incomprehensible chaos of traditional spelling, two words for related musical instruments that are spelled the same for the bulk of their length but pronounced radically differently.

"Viol", which looks to many readers to be pronounced vée.yoel, especially given that "viola" is pronounced vee.yó, is actually pronounced víe.yal, just like vial or vile. The Middle English spelling was "viel", a better spelling we can now return to.

Given the long-I of "viol", the I in "viola" should be changed to its actual sound, an E. That makes this pair: "viel" and "veola".

My thanks to "Monsters..." for "veola".

Friday, February 15, 2008: "euzhury" and "euzhurious" for "usury" and "usurious"

Tho this would ordinarily be Food Friday, we have exhausted all the food words starting with U! So let's deal with a word, and its main derivative, for the practice, so common today, of charging excessive interest on money borrowed, whose spelling makes its pronunciation unclear.

The word starts with the short word us, but isn't pronounced like that. The SU thereafter could be seen as being like that combination in sugar, but is not pronounced like that either.

The initial-U is pronounced long, with a Y-glide. That sound can be more clearly spelled EU, as in euphemism or euphonious. And the actual sound of the S is better spelled ZH. Putting these together, we get: "euzhury" and "euzhurious".

Thursday, February 14, 2008: "taist" for "taste"

It's one thing for new learners to have to recognize when a "silent-E" after a consonant signals a long vowel before that consonant. It is quite another for them to know when to skip over TWO consonants to see a following-E as showing an earlier long vowel. Yet traditional spelling does require readers of English to do that, with consonant clusters like ST (haste and paste, as well as today's word, taste), TH (bathe, lathe, unscathed), and NG (mange, deranged, change). How can we expect kids, or people learning English as a Second Language in non-English-speaking countries, to know that bather has a long-A but blather has a short-A? That danger and baster have a long-A but hanger and faster do not? And if strange has a long-A, does cringe have a long-I? This is the madness of traditional spelling that we need to get rid of.

In the case of today's word, we have a simpler pattern to show a long-A: AI as in waist: "taist".

Wensday, February 13, 2008: "sarcoffagus" for "sarcophagus"

PH is a preposterous way to spell the F-sound. That misspelling derives from the Greek letter phi . Phi is one character, not two. So there is no reason to represent it with two characters in English when we have a single letter that represents precisely that sound:  F.* So, let's just use F.

Merely substituting F for PH would give us "sarcofagus", which is unclear as to both the sound of the O and where the word's stress falls. In English, the customary way of showing a short vowel is by doubling the following consonant, here (now), F. That also cues the reader to place the word's stress on the second syllable, which is right. When we see a double-F, we know not to pronounce two F-sounds. But we cannot know when we see PH whether it represents one sound, F, or two separate sounds, P and H, just as it looks, and as it is pronounced in words like uphill, uphold, and cupholder: "sarcoffagus".

* In ancient Greek, the sound was different, but modern Greek pronounces phi as F, just as does English. How things may — or may not — have been pronounced in foreign languages, thousands of years ago (when we had no sound recordings), is a matter of absolutely no relevance to the spelling of English today.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008: "rampaje" for "rampage"

GE is ambiguous, even in final position. Tho it would not take its own sound ("hard"-G, as it get) in final position, it could take a ZH-sound: garage, collage, montage. Why use a G for a J-sound? English has a J. Let's use it: "rampaje".

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

Munday, February 11, 2008: "querk/y" for "quirk/y"

IR is ambiguous, and sometimes has a long-E sound (irritable, virulent, delirious). The sound in today's twofer is actually what is usually spelled ER or UR. Since UR wouldn't fit with QU immediately before it ("quurky"), ER is plainly the best choice: "querk/y".

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

Sunday, February 10, 2008: "parammeter" for "parameter"

Most words that start in PARA- take stress on the first syllable of that letter sequence, so it would be good to show that that is not the way this word is pronounced. Doubling the M would indicate plainly that the stress actually falls on the second syllable. That is especially advisable in that the -METER part does not mean either a measuring device (speedometer, thermometer) nor a unit of measurement (centimeter, kilometer), and putting the stress plainly on the second syllable keeps the word from ever being pronounced páa.ra.mèe.ter: "parammeter".

Saturday, February 9, 2008: "obichuary" for "obituary"

Today's word has a T where it should have a CH: "obichuary".

There is a short form for this word, "obit", that retains a T because the sound is T. Besides, "obit" is also a word to itself, meaning "date of death". The function of spelling is to show sound, not relationships among words. To use an obvious example, "pronounce" and "pronunciation" are related, but the parts that are related are spelled differently, as well they should be.

Friday, February 8, 2008: "nocho" for "nacho"

Let's deal this Food Friday with a term from Mexican Spanish for a tortilla-chip snack. Americans, accustomed to seeing lots of Spanish, know to pronounce the A "broad", the same sound as short-O in on. But some other English-language communities have been misled by the spelling into mispronouncing it with a short-A, as in at. (These are the same people who say pasta like past plus -A, and macho like match plus -O.) No, that's wrong, a spelling-pronunciation. Let us gently guide them to the correct pronunciation. We could write "notcho", but we don't really need TCH to show a CH-sound: "nocho".

Thursday, February 7, 2008: "maliss" for "malice"

-ICE is ambiguous, and can be pronounced with a long-I (entice, device), short-I (office, accomplice), even long-E (caprice, police). In today's word, the -ICE occurs after an L, making for the unpleasant inner word "lice", with a long-I. The overall word, however, is pronounced with a short-I, and -ISS is unambiguous for that sound.

The first syllable of the word contains a short-A, and showing that sound before an L is always tricky, since it can be pronounced AU even before a single-L. We learn very early to pronounce all, ball, and fall with an AU-sound, and Al, gal, and pal with a short-A. But ally and alley are pronounced with a short-A, and always and already are pronounced with an AU-sound. Still, a single-L here seems better than double: "maliss".

Wensday, February 6, 2008: "lacker" for "lacquer"

Tho it is not generally known, "lacker" is already an accepted variant spelling for "lacquer", so the idea here is to banish the less-reasonable spelling with a QU and use the more-reasonable spelling with a K always: "lacker".

Tuesday, February 5, 2008: "kommikozzy" for "kamikaze"

Super Duper Tuesday seems a perfect time to address a word whose traditional spelling is bizarre. Usually, when a word is brought in from a language written in another system than the roman alphabet, the transliterators choose either a "Continental" (European) rendering or a fully anglicized rendering, that is, either "Li" or "Lee". Here, we have a mix of mostly Continental vowels with, however, a final-E pronounced long-E rather than long-A. Very curious.

Let's fix this mongrelized spelling and render the sounds of the word is purely English fashion, with short vowels being shown by doubled consonants following, and the final long-E shown by -Y, not -E: "kommikozzy".

Munday, February 4, 2008: "jitny" for "jitney"

We don't need an E in this word. It adds nothing but length and ambiguity, in that there are a number of frequently used words in which -EY is pronounced long-A (hey, they, convey, obey, disobey, etc.). So let's just drop it, OK?: "jitny".

Sunday, February 3, 2008: "influwenza" for "influenza"

Winter being the time of year we are most concerned about getting the flu, this seems an appropriate time to address this ambiguous spelling, which could be read as three syllables rather than four. To show that it is four, we need merely insert a W at the break between the second and third syllables: "influwenza".

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

Saturday, February 2, 2008: "halajen" for "halogen"

Tho the main thing wrong with the present spelling of today's word is the G, which represents not G's own sound ("hard" G) but a J-sound, the O is also problematic because of the familiar word "halo". "Halo" has a long-A sound in the first syllable, as has produced a rare spelling-pronunciation of há, which I find in one dictionary, Random House Unabridged, but not in the American Heritage nor Cambridge — and have never heard. It is plainly a spelling pronunciation produced by comparison with "halo", the circle of light around the head of holy figures. But the prefix "halo-" is not related to "halo", which derives from a Greek word meaning "circle". Rather, "halo-" derives from a different Greek root, for "salt". But even if "halogen" did derive from "halo", that would be no reason to pronounce it with a long-A.

Many words derive from words that are pronounced differently, and the origin of a word does not control its pronunciation. Consider "pronounce" and "pronunciation". We don't say "pronounciation" (well, some undereducated people do, but the rest of us know that to be wrong). "Only" (óen.le) derives from "one" (wun), but we don't pronounced it wún.le.

To break the mental link between  "halo" and "halogen", we can change the O to A. Leaving only a single-L following the first-A would permit the spelling-pronunciation with long-A in the first syllable, but make the preferred pronunciation clearer: "halajen".

Friday, February 1, 2008: "nyoky" for "gnocchi"

This Food Friday, let's address a spelling so bizarre that it has given rise to four different pronunciations, nyó, nyók.e, nó and nók.e. Where to begin?

The beginning of the word is a good place to start. GN is the way Italian and French spell the NY sound spelled Ñ in Spanish or NH is Portuguese. In English, it is usually spelled NY (canyon) or NI (lenient), tho some words from French and Italian retain the GN (poignant, lasagna). This is why English is so hard to learn. Let's choose the simplest and least-ambiguous here: NY. Mind you, that is still slightly ambiguous, because it can be seen as having its own vowel sound, ne. But there is no completely unambiguous way in traditional spelling to show that a Y after a consonant takes its consonantal sound, not its vocalic sound.

The O, by itself, surrounded by consonants -NOCCH-, looks to some readers to be short, tho it is better pronounced long. To show it plainly long, we might add an E or A, -NOE- or -NOA-, but that would ban the pronunciation with a short-O. So let's leave it just-O. Besides, -OA- could represent two vowel sounds, long-O and something else, be it long-A, short-A, or schwa.

CH in this word does not take the English CH-sound (as in church). A new reader would be entitled to see CCH as the sound in fracture, but that is not the sound it takes. CH, or CCH, is the way Italian spells the K-sound. So people trying to remember how to spell this word (for little dumplings usually served with sauce or grated cheese) might write only a single-C, whereas for some reason there are two C's as well as an H! The whole cluster can be replaced by one English letter, K.

The final-I is also ambiguous, given that there are many English words in which -I is pronounced long (alibi, alkali, cacti, sci-fi, wi-fi). The most common way of showing the abbreviated long-E (or, in some British dialects, short-I) at the end of a word is -Y. So let's use that here.

Putting this all together, we end up with a spelling that permits either a long- or a short-O sound. The radically-anglicized pronunciations with no Y-sound are not accommodated, it's true, but they are spelling-pronunciations anyway. And if readers who see "gnocchi" can ignore the G entirely, they will equally be able to see "nyoky" and ignore the Y: "nyoky".

Thursday, January 31, 2008: "feef/dom" for "fief/dom"

This historical term from the feudal area is used metaphorically today to speak of something controlled by one dominant person, so is appropriate to address in the modern era. IE, or I_E, where the two vowels are separated by a consonant, should, the reader thinks, be pronounced long-I: tie, pie, fries; pine, site, entice. There is no reason to write a long-E with IE. EE (or E_E) is the obvious spelling for long E, and fits here perfectly: "feef" and "feefdom".

Wensday, January 30, 2008: "egreejus" for "egregious"

In the present spelling, the long-E of the second syllable is lost in a sea of letters, one of which is a G that does not take G's own sound but the sound of J. That G falls before an I, not an E. The I complicates both the sound of the preceding E and the sound of the G. We are accustomed to seeing an E after a consonant as signaling a long vowel in the prior syllable. I serves no such role. Rather, the E of the second syllable is surrounded by consonants, in the cluster -GREG-, which makes it look short (as in the short form of the personal name Gregory, of the same spelling). We need to double the E to show it long.

IOU is a preposterous spelling for a schwa sound, and because it is so long, some people see that spelling as representing two vowels, a long-E followed by a schwa or short-U. It is actually supposed to convey only a schwa. Let's get rid of the IO and leave only the U before the S, as in bonus, minus, and abacus.

Altho some people see the initial-E in today's word as sounded more like a short-I than short-E, it is unstressed, so either sound will do fine. The E retains the Latin word origin "e" or "ex", "out of", in this case "out of the herd", standing out as conspicuous. Thus, retaining the E seems better than changing it to I.

GI is not automatically perceived as a J-sound, so if we want to be clear that the sound is J, we should simply write J.

Bringing this all together, then, we end up with: "egreejus".

Tuesday, January 29, 2008: "derailer" for "derailleur"

The present spelling of this word looks so very French that everyone who knows anything about the sound system of French is going to try to pronounce it that way, when it is actually completely anglicized, as sounds like an agent noun from the ordinary word "derail": "derailer". There is, however, no such noun in ordinary use. "Derailleur" and "derail" come from the same French verb, dérailler, and a "derailleur" does essentially derail the chain of the bicycle off one 'rail' (sprocket) onto another. So there is no reason not to write it in ordinary English fashion, just as it sounds: "derailer".

Munday, January 28, 2008: "calipso" for "calypso"

Y for a short-I sound is a preposterous spelling that a person who hears the word would be most unlikely to guess. English words should ideally be instantly readable on sight and spellable on hearing: "calipso".

A joint NASA-French space agency satellite to study the atmosphere took the name CALIPSO, for "Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation". That may seem very contrived, especially the "pathfinder" part, but the resulting name  is phonetic, unlike the traditional spelling for the Caribbean musical form.

Sunday, January 27, 2008: "baptizm/al" for "baptism/al"

The -ISM in these words is not the familiar -ISM of ideologies (Communism, Fascism, racism, egalitarianism, Americanism), and even if it were, the sound isn't S but Z. In the case of this Sunday's word, however, the base verb, baptize, has a Z, which foolishly gets transformed into an S in the written form of the noun and adjective, even tho the sound remains a Z! Why do we put kids thru this nonsense? If it's a Z-sound, let's just write a Z: "baptizm" and "baptizmal".

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

Saturday, January 26, 2008: "acny" for "acne"

There are over 100 familiar words and names in English that end in an -E that takes a long-E sound — not counting words that end in AE, a Latin plural that is also commonly pronounced long-E: acme, epitome, calliope, catastrophe; Phoebe, Zoe, Albuquerque. But one does not expect a final-E to be pronounced long-E. In fact, we often don't expect it to be pronounced at all, since silent-E is very commonly found at the end of a word. The usual way to spell a long-E (or, in some British dialects, short-I) at the end of a word is -Y. Let's use that here: "acny".

Friday, January 25, 2008: "zeety" for "ziti" and "zitti"

This Food Friday, let's anglicize an Italian loanword to reflect English use of vowels. A final-I is often pronounced long-I in English (alibi, cacti, alumni). A long-E in final position is most commonly spelled -Y.

"Ziti" contains the shorter word "zit" but is not pronounced that way. If the sound is long-E, let's use a more conventional spelling, the clearest of which is EE: "zeety".

Thursday, January 24, 2008: "yae" for "yea"

EA has a number of sounds, but it is most commonly pronounced long-E (eat, feast, year). In a relative few words, it is pronounced short-E (head, breadth, wealth). Long-A is not what the reader expects from EA. If we simply flip the two letters, however, the sound becomes clearer: "yae".

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

Wensday, January 23, 2008: "zeebeck" for "xebec", "zebec", "zebeck", and "chebeck"

This name for a small sailing vessel used in Mediterranean commerce has four spellings, none of them quite right. The sound is zée.bek, with stress on the first syllable, which none of the present spellings makes plain. If we take the closest to standard English, "zebeck", and add an E to the first syllable, that would suggest powerfully that the word's stress falls on the first syllable: "zeebeck".

Tuesday, January 22, 2008: "waje/r" for "wage/r"

As with yesterday's words, we have here a needless G for the J sound. Let's get rid of it and substitute unambiguous J: "waje", "wajes", and "wajer".

Munday, January 21, 2008: "verj", "converj/ent", and "diverj/ent" for "verge", "converge/nt" and "diverge/nt"

Let's simplify three related words, and their derivatives, in one fell swoop.

GE is ambiguous and inefficient. Altho in final position, it is usually pronounced J, there are many exceptions: luge, arbitrage, beige, collage, and more have a ZH-sound. But even if a final-GE were clear — which it is not — why use two letters to express one sound that is more simply, and unambiguously, spelled with the single letter J?

In "convergent" and "divergent", the GE is mid-word, not final, and GE is sometimes pronounced with G's own sound ("hard") mid-word: beget, anger (as contrasted to ranger or danger, which have a J-sound), bigger (as contrasted to suggest, in which only the first-G is "hard", but the second-G is pronounced J), Luger, meager. In hanger and singer, there is no G-sound at all, only an NG-sound. The reader really cannot know, just from the spelling, when GE takes a hard-G, ZH, or soft-G (J) sound, or, indeed, no sound of its own whatsoever.

J in all of today's words would be unambiguous, so let's use that: "verj", "converj/ent", and "diverj/ent".

My thanks to "Moon..." for "converj/ent" and "diverj/ent".

Sunday, January 20, 2008: "euvula" for "uvula"

The second-U in this word, for the thing that hangs from the roof of your mouth toward the back, is not the problem. Most readers will see it as a long-U or schwa with a Y-glide, which is fine. The first-U, however, is ambiguous, because it could be short (as in up) or, much less likely, long but without a Y-glide (Ugric, umiak, Upanishad), or a short-OO sound, also without a Y-glide (Uzbek, umlaut).

If the sound were short, we could double the V ("uvvula"), but to clarify that it is long and has a Y-glide we'd need to write EU, YUE, or YOO ("euvula", "yuevula", "yoovula") — and OO has a short sound, as in good and book, so YOO would still be ambiguous. EU (as in euphonious and euphemism) seems best. It also puts more weight on the first syllable than the current spelling does, as might incline more readers to put the stress there rather than on the second syllable: "euvula".

Saturday, January 19, 2008: "chochka" for "tchotchke", "chotchke", "tsatske", and "chachka"

This word for a cheap trinket is from Yiddish "tshatshke", itself a transliteration from the Hebrew alphabet! It is spelled at least four ways, NONE of them phonetic in English. Closest is "chachka", but the first-A isn't right, because an A in that position, before a consonant cluster three deep, would be expected to be pronounced short-A, as in that. If we change that to O, the resulting spelling conforms to standard English conventions, so should be clear: "chochka".

"Tsatske" actually has a different pronunciation, tsóts.ka, but since it is merely a variant of the word that is more commonly spelled in other ways and pronounced chóch.ka, it is dealt with here.

Friday, January 18, 2008: "sault" for "salt"

People learning English are first taught that vowels have two sounds, long and short. The sound of the A in this Food Friday's word is neither long (as in say) nor short (as in cat). Nor is it even "broad-A", as in father. Indeed, the sound isn't an A-sound at all but the AU-sound, as in haul, or, even more to the point, assault. So let's spell it with AU: "sault".

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

Thursday, January 17, 2008: "relm" for "realm"

"Realm" contains the shorter, familiar word "real", but isn't pronounced like it. Rather, it is pronounced like elm, helm/et, and overwhelm, none of which contains an A. There is no reason for an A to be present in "realm" either, and good reason for it not to be there: "relm".

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

Wensday, January 16, 2008: "quoddrattic" for "quadratic"

As with yesterday's word, there are two things wrong with the traditional spelling of today's word:  (1) an A when the sound is neither of A's standard pronunciations, long (as in day) or short (as in at); and (2) the single-T permits of a long vowel beforehand, but that A is short.

The sound of the first-A in the traditional spelling is "broad-A", which is the same as short-O, whereas most people who see an A will try to use one of A's typical pronunciations, long or short, and end up mispronouncing this word. Let's just use O. The consonant cluster DR immediately following may not, however, seem sufficient to mark the O as short, in that the DR will be seen as starting the second syllable, not ending the first syllable. If we double the D, however, the first D will be seen as ending the first syllable and marking the O as short, which is the right sound.

When we come to the one remaining A, before the T, the absence of two or more consonants after it would incline some readers to say a long-A, which is wrong. If, however, we simply double the T (doubling a consonant being a traditional way to show that a preceding vowel is short), we get an unambiguous spelling according to well-understood principles of traditional spelling: "quoddrattic".

Tuesday, January 15, 2008: "packisandra" for "pachysandra"

There are two things wrong with the traditional spelling of this name of a popular evergreen groundcover:  a CH where there is no CH-sound (as in church) and a Y for a short-I sound. Fortunately, there are also two very quick fixes: simply change the H to K and the Y to I: "packisandra".

Munday, January 14, 2008: "od" for "odd"

There's no need for two D's in this word. There are no double consonants in words like on, bid, and or. We don't need a double consonant here either: "od".

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

Sunday, January 13, 2008: "noiz/y" for "noise" and "noisy"

If the sound is Z, why write S, much less SE? Moreover, SE at the end of a word is often given the S-sound, not the Z-sound: house, lease, morose. Let's just write Z where we hear Z: "noiz" and "noizy".

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

Saturday, January 12, 2008: "maline" for "malign"

The G in the traditional spelling of this word is silent. So why is it there? "Line" doesn't have a G. Nor should "malign": "maline".

Friday, January 11, 2008: "lunchon" for "luncheon"

It's Food Friday. Let's do lunch(eon). As with yesterday's word, the E in today's word adds nothing but length and possible confusion. Is it pronounced, as would make "luncheon" three syllables? If not, why is it there? Let's just drop it, okay?: "lunchon".

Thursday, January 10, 2008: "kalidoscope" for "kaleidoscope"

Why would there be an EI in this word? The E adds nothing but length and confusion. Is it said with a long-E sound, as in weird, seize, receive, and as most people pronounce either? Or is it said with a long-I, as in height, sleight, heist, and the way some people, especially Brits, pronounce either? How about something else, like long-E and then short-I, as in albeit or a/theism? Long-A, as in weight and freight? Long-E, then long-I, as in nuclei or caducei? Short-I, as in forfeit and counterfeit?  Short-E, as in heifer? A schwa, as in foreign and sovereign? What??

Let's just take the E away and leave only the I: "kalidoscope".

Wensday, January 9, 2008: "jule" for "joule"

The standard pronunciation for this term is juel. Altho some dictionaries allow of a secondary pronunciation for this scientific term for a unit of energy, "joul", the Cambridge Dictionaries do not so allow, and the unit is named for a British scientist. (The pronunciation joul is actually jóu.wal, inasmuch as one cannot naturally fit OU and a following "light-L" in the same syllable, and we don't usually employ a "dark-L" in final position.  "Dark-L", articulated toward the back of the mouth, is the sound in "cold", and usually occurs in such a position, before another consonant. "Light-L" is the L we ordinarily use in all other positions within a word, front (like), medial (aloud), and final (final).) Wikipedia also shows only the pronunciation juel for the name of the scientist, so jóu.wal is plainly a spelling-pronunciation (the OU being read as having the English OU-sound, not the French OU, which is English long-U without the initial Y-glide, also understood as the long-OO sound) that will vanish as soon as the correct pronunciation is made clear thru a reformed spelling. So let's save a letter by taking the O away, and leave a clearer pronunciation. "Less is more": "jule".

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2008: "indulj/ent" for "indulge", "indulgent"

GE is an ambiguous and inefficient way of showing the J-sound, which is better written simply J. GE can sometimes be said with G's own, "hard" sound: get, gecko, geld; names like Gertrude, Gephardt and Geffen. Altho one would not expect a GE at the end of a word to be "hard", (1) why should the pronunciation of a consonant depend upon where in the word it falls? (B always takes a B-sound, wherever it may fall: big, dab, bob, baby); (2) in many words, GE in final position is thought inadequate, especially if a short vowel precedes it, so a D has to be added to the mix (acknowledge, judge, bridge), whereas if we use J, we can use one letter rather than three; and (3) most words that end in GE do so only in the base form, but, since they undergo inflection, suffixes appear after the G in most forms, so the GE is no longer at the end of the word. That is the case with today's twofer, "indulge" and "indulgent". In fact, with some inflected forms, one has to make a substitution, I for E: "indulging". Why should people have to go thru all that? Let's just change the final-GE to J: "indulj" (with the present progressive being simply "induljing") and "induljent".

My thanks to "Multi..." for "indulj".

Munday, January 7, 2008: "hy" for "high"

The GH in the traditional spelling of today's word wasn't always silent but was pronounced as a guttural, probably much like the CH in German ach or Scottish loch. But the GH of "high" has been silent for centuries, so let's get rid of it.

If we merely drop it, we will create a new homograph with the greeting hi. We don't need to do that. We can use Y instead of I: "hy", parallel to by, sly, and try. That will also simplify the comparative (-ER) and superlative (-EST) forms of this adjective, since we can simply add them without more ("hyer", "hyest"): "hy".

Sunday, January 6, 2008: "jenneral" for "general"

If the sound is J, let's just write a J. That would yield "jeneral". But that's ambiguous as to the sound of the E in the first syllable, because there is an E in the second syllable, separated by only a single consonant. That second-E could thus easily be read as the silent-E that marks the prior-E long, which is not the right sound. If, however, we double the N, the first-E becomes plainly short, and the whole word is clear: "jenneral".

Saturday, January 5, 2008: "feerse" for "fierce"

This is one of those times I have to check the dictionary to see if I really have the traditional spelling right, because it seems so ridiculous. Why on Earth would there be an I in "fierce"? (Compare "fiery".)

It turns out that the Old French form of the word was "fiers". But the Anglo-French version (later in time) did not have an I (fers) and the Latin word (earlier) from which all forms derive, ferus, didn't have an I. If a spelling without I was good enuf for Latin and good enuf for Anglo-French, it's good enuf for Modern English

Now, what about the C? If the sound is S, why write a C? We couldn't just end the word with a single-S and expect it to be pronounced S, since most words ending with a single-S are plurals, and most are given a Z-sound (words, plurals). We could either double the S or write -SE to show an S-sound in final position: "feerss" or "feerse". There is not a single English word ending in -RSS, so let's not write that. It's not that it's illogical. It's perfectly logical. It's "just not done by the best people." However, there are, of course, lots of words ending in -RSE (horse, disburse, parse), so we shouldn't be averse to such a spelling here: "feerse".

Friday, January 4, 2008: "ayclair" for "éclair"or "eclair"

For this Food Friday, let's get rid of an accent and clarify a sound. This French-looking word has been in English for over 140 years but still has an accent in formal use. English doesn't use accents, and most people don't know how to type an accent in email. The invention of a number of words with an initial E- for "electronic" might suggest to some new readers that "eclair" has something to do with computers. It has no such connection, but is an oblong puff pastry with cream filling.

The sound of É in French is English long-A, which is shown in various ways in English, most clearly by AY but also by AI and AE in different settings. AI also, however, represents "flat-A", the vowel sound in both syllables of airmail and, indeed, in the second syllable of this very word. So "aiclair" would have the same spelling for two different sounds: aiclair. AE is also ambiguous, being pronounced long-E in some words (algae, aegis), flat-A (aeronautics), long-I (maestro), short-E (alternate spelling anapaest), even long-A, then short-I (phaeton). AY is clearest: "ayclair".

Thursday, January 3, 2008: "derth" for "dearth"

Today's word has the shorter word dear within it, but is not pronounced like it. There is no need for an A here, and good reason not to allow one, because it misleads the reader: "derth".

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

Wensday, January 2, 2008: "chaist" and "chasen" for "chaste" and "chasten"

Let's unlink words that are at present linked in appearance but not in either sound or , really, in logic. Altho these two words are related in origin, few people will see "chaste" (pure and virginal) as having anything to do with "chasten" (to castigate), and the T in "chaste" is pronounced but in "chasten", silent.

"Chaste" is one of those curious words in which a silent-E is supposed to show a long vowel before an intervening consonant cluster, not just a single consonant. We can easily deal with a silent-E after a single consonant, but how many consonants do you need to estrange an E after from the vowel before that cluster? Well, at least two: waste, strange. Never mind that there are some words in which there is no silent-E, but there is a long vowel before two or even more consonants (cold, pastry). This is the craziness we need to get rid of, which makes it so hard to learn to read and spell English.

"Chaste" is parallel in sound to "waist", so let's use that clearer pattern: "chaist".

"Chasten", however, should not be spelled with a T, so we don't need an AI. "Chasen" will do quite nicely without either a T or I.

So today's de-linked twofer is: "chaist" and "chasen".

Tuesday, January 1, 2008: "beuty" and "beutiful" for "beauty" and "beautiful"

Let's start the New Year with "beauty" (and its derivatives). Altho this word derives from French, and the French equivalent is beauté, the French EAU is ordinarily pronounced long-O, even in words now English: beau, bureau, chateau, plateau. "Beauty" doesn't have that sound. Rather, the sound is long-U with an initial Y-glide, which is sometimes written EU: euphonious, euphemism, feud. In fact, the Anglo-Norman spelling, around 1275 A.D., was "beute" — no A. The addition of the A, presumably to make it closer to the French original, was a deliberate act of later scribes or scholars, the same people who put a B in what had been spelled "dette". It is long past time to undo their mischief: "beuty" and "beutiful".

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

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