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Munday, June 30, 2008: "embreo" and "embreonnic" for "embryo/nic"
-YO- is ambiguous: cryogenic, myopia, myocardial. -EO- is clearer.
In the adjectival form, doubling the N would make plain both that the O takes its short sound and that the word's stress falls on the third syllable: "embreo", "embreonnic".
Sunday, June 29, 2008: "devvil" for "devil"
In mythology, the devil is the very personification of evil. The two words, tho related in logic, do not rhyme. Why are they spelled as if they do?
"Evil" has a single-V, as permits the reader to see the E as long. But so does "devil", even tho the E is short. The way we usually cue the reader to a short vowel is by doubling the consonant after it. That the following consonant in this word is V should make no difference whatsoever: "devvil".
Saturday, June 28, 2008: "capreecheo" for "capriccio"
If today's word were only a term of music, we might leave it in its Italian form, since musicians would be the only ones who'd have to deal with it, and they have lots of specialized Italian terms to deal with. But a "capriccio" can also be a "fancy, whimsy", "caper, prank", or caprice, so it needs to be anglicized.
The current spelling should be read, in English, ka.prík.see.yo, or perhaps kàap.rik.síe.yo. The word is properly pronounced ka.prée.ch(ee)o, where the parentheses surround a sound that some speakers do not say.
The first problem in the traditional spelling is small, an I used to represent neither of I's own sounds, long or short, but long-E. Long-E mid-word is most clearly spelled EE, so let's use that here.
The second problem is big. In English, CC before an E or I is pronounced KS: accent, success, accident, vaccine. That is not the sound here. Instead, the sound in "capriccio" is the English CH (as in church). So let's write CH.
The great preponderance of speakers pronounce a brief long-E between the CH-sound and the long-O at the end of the word. A few, puristically inclined people insist on seeing the word as still Italian, and in Italian, all three letters, CCI, merely represent the CH-sound, so they elide the I and go directly to the O. "Capriccio" has been in English since 1665. It's time to accept that it is fully English, and pronounce it in a fully English manner, with a long-E: "capreecheo".
Friday, June 27, 2008: "benyay" for "beignet" and "beigné"
It's Food Friday again and we're in the B's, so let's fix two spellings (for a fancy term for a type of fritter or donut) that may make perfect sense in French but none in English. We don't tell the French how to spell French. They shouldn't tell us how to spell English.
EI: altho a few puristically inclined people may pronounce the EI as a long-A (as in weigh or beige, another French word), most people (if they even know today's word) say a short-E. So we'll go with that.
GN: In English, the combination GN would ordinarily be pronounced as two adjoining consonants, (hard-)G followed by N. Not so in French. GN is the way French spells what Spanish spells Ñ and English spells NY (canyon, Runyon) or NI (onion, union), an N followed by a consonantal-Y. Both NY and NI are less than completely clear, in that both the Y and I could be given a vocalic rather than consonantal reading, but Y is less likely to be seen as sounding like an abbreviated long-E.
T or É: there is no way to justify a silent-T, nor an accent in a language that does not employ accents. Few people in English-speaking countries know how to type an accent, even in a word-processing program, much less in email. So the T or É has to go.
Putting this all together, we get: "benyay".
Thursday, June 26, 2008: "acoostic/s" for "acoustic/s"
There is an OU in the traditional spelling of this twofer, but no OU-sound. The sound is long-U without an initial Y-glide, which is often spelled OO (goose, moon, coot). So let's use that convention here: "acoostic/s".
Naturally, derivatives also change, e.g., "acoostical" and "acoostically". (By the way, we have run out of commonplace words of bizarre spelling starting with X and Z, so have skipped those letters to return to the beginning of the alphabet).
Wensday, June 25, 2008: "yesheeva" for "yeshiva"
-IVA is ambiguous (saliva, gingiva, conjunctiva). EE is unambiguous: "yesheeva".
Tuesday, June 24, 2008: "waurd/robe" for "ward/robe"
AR is ordinarily pronounced with a broad-A, as in car, alarm, and, exactly parallel in spelling to "ward", yard. The A in an A-R sequence can take other pronunciations, including short-A (arabesque), flat-A (the AI sound: aquarium), and schwa (arise), but far and away most AR's take a broad-A / short-O (e.g., farm and fob have the same sound). It is very unusual for AR to be pronounced with an AU-sound. Where that does occur, we should simply add a U to clarify: "waurd/robe".
My thanks to "Jacke..." for "waurdrobe".
Munday, June 23, 2008: "vinal" for "vinyl"
Y in this word is both unexpected and misleading. Y has several sounds. Drop the -L from today's word, and you see viny, which is pronounced víe.ne. "Vinyl" is not pronounced like viny with an L at the end. Nor does the Y take a long-I sound, another of its common uses (hyper, imply, underlying). If there were to be a Y in today's word, it should stand in for the I. That is, the I and Y should be flipped: "vynil". But we have an existing model for a word of this sound, the very familiar word final. So, let's spell it like that: "vinal".
Sunday, June 22, 2008: "eunify" for "unify"
The great preponderance of words starting with UN- are negatives of what follows the UN- prefix, which is pronounced with a short-U. When a word that starts in UN- does not have that sound, we need to make plain what sound it does have. In the case of today's word, the sound is long-U with an initial Y-glide, and the traditional way to write that is EU, as in euphonious, feud and euphemism: "eunify".
My thanks to "Boath..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, June 21, 2008: "tanjent" and "tanjenshal" for "tangent" and "tangential"
We have, in this twofer, two ambiguous spellings, GE and TI.
G is not necessarily "soft" (the J-sound) before E and I. Sometimes it is "hard" (its own, unique, G-sound): get, gear, gecko; give, gibbon, giddy. Sometimes it has a ZH-sound, mainly in words from French: genre, beige, fuselage, and gigolo as some people say it. If the sound is J, let's just write a J, OK?
TI is a preposterous way to spell the SH-sound, and is in any case ambiguous: celestial, Christianity, pitiable, poinsettia, Faustian, tiara. If the sound is SH, write SH.
Thus: "tanjent" and "tanjenshal".
Note: Some speakers actually say a CH-sound in many words in which an N precedes what is for other speakers an SH-sound, as in "attention". An implied-T after the N combines with the SH to form the TSH combination that is perceived as the English CH-sound. Speakers who prefer that pronunciation will apply it to the NSH sequence on their own, so we can write NSH without seeming to forbid a CH-sound.
Friday, June 20, 2008: "sardeen" for "sardine"
-INE is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a long-I (mine, define, columbine), sometimes with a short-I (doctrine, crinoline, medicine), sometimes with long-E (machine, saltine, gasoline). There are even more unusual pronunciations, like linguine and aborigine (ling.gwée.ne, àa.ba.ríj.i.nê). All -INE's that do not contain a long-I should, in time, be revised to other spellings. This Food Friday word is one such: "sardeen".
Thursday, June 19, 2008: "raize" for "raise"
The sound is Z. Why use an S to represent Z?: "raize".
My thanks to "Don..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, June 18, 2008: "quodruplet/s" for "quadruplet/s"
We can't make this word completely clear because it has three pronunciations. But we can make it a little less unclear in that all three pronunciations agree that the vowel in the first syllable is a broad-A or short-O (same sound), not either of A's expected sounds, long (as in say) or short (as in cat). So whether people pronounce the rest of the word differently (kwo.drúep.lats, kwo.drúp.lats, or kwód.ra.plèts), we can at least show that it's not kwaad- : "quodruplet/s".
Tuesday, June 17, 2008: "levvee" for "levee"
We interrupt our regularly-scheduled programming (marching thru the alphabet one letter a day) to bring you this emergency word, much in the news because of vast flooding in the U.S. Midwest.
"Levee" is actually two words, the one all of us know, for a raised embankment to keep water in its proper place (pronounced lév.ee), and an unusual word for a formal reception (which can be pronounced lév.ee, la.veé, or la.váe). We need to revise only the first, since the second is too unusual to worry about and has in any event more than one accepted pronunciation, which no single respelling would accommodate.
The present spelling suggests, especially to new readers, that the word's stress falls on the last syllable, as is indeed the case with two of the pronunciations for the unusual sense. The sound of the vowels is also thus unclear. If we replace the -EE with -Y, the temptation to stress the second syllable disappears. But (a) "levy" leaves the sound of the remaining-E unclear. Is it long? Is it short? And (b) "levy" is already a word, pronounced lév.ee, as intended, but having entirely different meanings relating to imposing a tax or conscripting troops. If we double the V, we at once make plain that the E is short and that this is a different word from the one that means to tax. But what of the word "levy" itself? Won't that have to be changed to show a short-E too? Let's leave the -EE ending here, given that not every word ending in -EE takes stress on the last syllable (e.g., "employee", "banshee", and "coffee"): "levvee".
Munday, June 16, 2008: "thalate" and "thalic" for "phthalate" and "phthalic"
AOL hilited last Thursday a story from the New York Daily News about a matter of life and death, into which were casually dropped two essentially unreadable scientific terms, "phthalates" and "organotins":That new vinyl shower curtain with the fun rubber ducks sure has a powerful smell -- but could it be toxic?
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice, based in Washington, tested five brand curtains and liners sold at major retailers nationwide * * *
Researchers said all of the curtains contained phthalates, chemical substances used to make plastics soft and flexible, and varying amounts of organotins, which are compounds based on tin and hydrocarbons. Studies have linked such chemicals to damage to the liver and the central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems.
A puzzled reader who looks up these two words to see how they are pronounced will be lucky to find "organotin" at all. Dictionary.com refers you to an encyclopedia entry for "organotin", but no pronunciation. Thank you so much! I would be glad to add a clearer spelling for "organotin" as part of this project, except that I have no idea how to pronounce it, since the people at Reference.com did not feel a pronunciation worthy of inclusion in its short article about organotins. If the pronunciation is àur.ga.noe.tín, no respelling will make that clear. If, however, the pronunciation is aur.gáan.oe.tìn, "organnotin" would make it clearer. If the pronunciation is àur.ga.nót.in (which seems unlikely, but stranger things have occurred in the world of words), "organottin" would be clearer. Since, however, I don't know how it's pronounced, I can't help others pronounce it. Too bad, too, because it starts with O, so I could have used it as yesterday's word.
"Phthalate" does appear in a comprehensive dictionary, and the definition includes a reference to "phthalic". Starting a word in English with PHTH is indefensible stupidity. That a word may derive from Greek is no excuse. This is English, not Greek. We don't write Greek roots in the Greek alphabet, do we? So how things may have been written in a different word in a different language has no relevance to English. A billion people read, or try to read, English. Almost none of them are Greek. Why on Earth would we cripple English to accommodate Greek? It's incomprehensible, almost as incomprehensible as PHTH. We have, indeed, an expression in English, "It's Greek to me", meaning incomprehensible gobbledygook. Why would we clutter English with visual gobbledygook?
In both "phthalate" and "phthalic", the PHTH is pronounced as tho the PH weren't there. So why is it there? Let's drop it.
That may leave the sound of the first-A ambiguous. Is it short-A (as in at) or long-A (sundae)? Broad-A / short-O (as in father)? Flat-A (as in airmail)? AU (as in ball)? When A falls before L, its pronunciation becomes completely unpredictable. As it happens, the sound is short-A, and there's no clearer spelling than -AL- for that, so we'll have to leave it: "thalate" and "thalic".
Sunday, June 15, 2008: "obveus" for "obvious"
Today's word has an OU but no OU-sound. The I takes neither of I's sounds. It's not short, as in it. Not long, as in I or tie. Rather, it's a long-E. We have a spelling for that sound combination, -EUS, as in coleus and nucleus, and so it should be: "obveus".
My thanks to "Doorbell..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, June 14, 2008: "noze" and "nozy" for "nose" and "nosy" / "nosey"
The sibilant sound in today's twofer is Z (voiced), not S (unvoiced). So why is it spelled with an S?: "noze" and "nozy".
My thanks to "Unicycle..." for today's twofer, with thanks also to "yao..." for pointing out the variant spelling "nosey".
Friday, June 13, 2008: "mareena" for "marina"
The present spelling is ambiguous. -INA has at least three pronunciations, as illustrated by pastina (paas.tée.na), china (chíe.na), and retina (rét.in.a). Which pronunciation does this word take? We can show that clearly just by replacing the I with EE: "mareena".
Thursday, June 12, 2008: "langgwij" for "language"
There are at least three problems with the traditional spelling of today's word.
(1) The NG is ambiguous. Tho it is supposed to be read as NG-G, that is, as an NG-sound (and in sang) plus a following hard-G (as in anger), that is by no means plain. Some people don't say the hard-G, because they have no guidance from the spelling that it is supposed to be there. It's not that they choose to say the word wrong and will insist on dropping the hard-G sound even once they know it's supposed to be there. They just cannot tell from the present spelling that there should be a hard-G sound. They need guidance, and will accept guidance.
(2) The -(U)A_E at the end of the word suggests that the A should be given its long sound, as in age and assuage. Not so. The sound is a schwa or short-I.
(3) GE is ambiguous, even in final position. It most commonly would be said as a "soft"-G (a J-sound) in such a position, but it could be a ZH-sound (beige, massage), or even a hard-G (renege).
Each of these problems has a simple solution: (1) write NGG to show that there's a hard-G sound, not just an NG-sound; (2) replace the A_E with I; (3) replace the -GE with J: "langgwij".
Wensday, June 11, 2008: "nue" for "knew"
Is there anyone on planet Earth who would disagree that a silent-K is ridiculous? Perhaps, but no one to be taken seriously.*
When the verb "know",** in its various major forms ("know", "knew", "known"), was frozen in spelling, the K was actually pronounced. It was not silent, so was not silly. But the K has been silent, and thus silly, for centuries. It is thus long since time to drop it.
If we simply drop the K from today's word, however, we get "new", which is already a word, pronounced nu. If we write "knew" phonetically in its simplest form, it comes out "nu", which is the same sound as "new" and is also the written form of a word in itself (for the 13th letter of the Greek alphabet). But if we add an -E to "nu", we get a phonetic form that is not already another word. So let's do that: "nue".
* I received an email today from someone hostile to spelling simplification. I have hilited some obvious errors the writer made. Underlining indicates a spelling error; italicization and underlining, a grammatical error. Have I missed any?I dont believe its just me when i say that using the phonetic spelling of words in lieu of the proper way of spelling them should be taken seriously. When unable to pronounce a word, phonetic spelling is very useful. If I were to receive any reports or evaluations from any of my co-workers with the phonetic spelling of any word, I would use that as grounds for relief of their position. If you are to lazy to use a dictionary, spell check, or any device that can get you on the proper track to spelling or better understanding a word then you should consider a job asking, "would you like fries with that?". Of course they always have said, "ignorance is bliss" I'm one to disagree and say IGNORANCE IS UNACCEPTABLE. Leave phonetics to dictionaries to help you pronounce a word. Dont use it in lieu (in lew, in lou, in loo, for the people that dont understand) of proper vocabulary.
If that is the quality of our critics, we in the spelling-reform movement should make good progress fairly soon.
** "Noe" for "know" was offered here February 18, 2006. What do we do about "known"? "None" is already a word, and pronounced differently, nun. "Noen"? "Noan"? Let's think about that and deal with it some other time. I welcome your thoughts: Fanetiks@aol.com.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008: "jihod/dist" for "jihad/ist" and "jehad/ist"
"Jihad" may have come into the English language in 1869, but it has achieved pervasive prominence only in recent decades so would be expected by most readers to take foreign vowel sounds, not traditional English vowel sounds. In Britain, which is inclined to anglicize pronunciations of loanwords sooner than is the United States, the -HAD is pronounced like the ordinary English word had, with a short-A. That seems very odd in the United States, which assigns instead the "Continental" value, "broad"-A (the same sound as short-O in on).
The sound of the A becomes even less clear in the derivative word "jihadist", since the letter sequence -ADIST is familiar to us from one word, sadist, which most educated speakers pronounce with a long-A but some pronounce with a short-A. No one, however, pronounces it with a broad-A. So the A has definitely got to go.
A single-D suffices in the base word, but when suffixes are added, we need to double the D. And so we offer today: "jihod" and "jihoddist".
Munday, June 9, 2008: "igwonna" for "iguana"
U for W is foolish and misleading. How is a reader to know that the UA is not pronounced as it is in other words, such as gradual, usual, and continuation?
Moreover, the first A has neither of A's ordinary sounds, long and short (as one might expect by comparison to banana in North America and bandana everywhere). Rather, it is a "broad"-A, the same sound as short-O. O would be clearer, but only if we double the N immediately following. So let's do that: "igwonna".
My thanks to "Musc..." for this suggestion.
Note: Two words appear Tuesday to make up for a power outage in Newark, NJ that interfered Monday.
Sunday, June 8, 2008: "hault" for "halt"
AL is ambiguous. Sometimes it has the same sound as the usual, AU, pronunciation of ALL in all or ball. Sometimes it has a standard short-A (altruism, palisade, the nickname Al). Sometimes, as is the case with every vowel in some words, it takes a schwa sound (alumnus, marmalade, judgmental).
To show unambiguously that in this word the A takes an AU sound, we need merely add a U after it: "hault".
My thanks to "JEA..." for this suggestion. Naturally, all derivatives also change, for instance "haulter" and "haulting/ly".
Saturday, June 7, 2008: "jennerus" and "jennerossity" for "generous" and "generosity"
In today's twofer, a number of things could confuse the new reader. Fixing them will not confuse long-time readers.
GE is ambiguous (gentle, get, genre). Here, the G represents a J-sound, so let's just write J.
-ENE- is ambiguous, and could signal a long-E sound before the N. Both words actually have a short-E, and the simplest way to show that unambiguously is simply to double the N.
GENE- is especially misleading, in that there is a word gene, so the sequence GENE- will suggest that these words have something to do with genetics. They do not.
The -OU- in the ending of the first word does not represent the OU-sound. If we drop the O, we are left with a U that, in that position, will be given the proper schwa sound.
In the second word, the O's sound (long or short) is unclear, in that there is only a single S following; and a reader may have difficulty figuring out which of the five syllables to stress. If we double the S, that will at once cue the reader that the O is short and that it bears stress.
So today's twofer resolves to: "jennerus" and "jennerossity".
My thanks to "FireW..." for suggesting this pair of words, tho I chose slitely different solutions.
Friday, June 6, 2008: "frap" for "frappe" or "frappé" (milkshake) and "frappay" for "frappé" (iced dessert, ballet move)
There are two words with the same or similar spellings but different meanings here. Let's clarify both.
The regional (New England) term for a milkshake, pronounced fraap, can be spelled with or without an acute accent over the -E ("frappe" or "frappé") but the -E is not pronounced in any case.
The general word "frappé", pronounced in two syllables, is unclear as to pronunciation from its spelling, especially given that in most contexts, as in emails and ordinary hardcopy typing, the accent is in fact not written. English doesn't use accents, so most people don't know how to get them in typing. The accent has to go. That would leave the sound of the word completely unclear.
A final-E is often, but not always, silent (mustache, give, steppe). There are, however, well over 100 common words in which the -E is pronounced, as long-E (abalone, catastrophe, recipe). We must find a way to clarify the sound in "frappe". We can do so easily by replacing the -E with -AY.
The sound of the A in the (written) first syllable is made plain in the present spelling by the presence of a double-P, which marks the A as short. But we don't need a double-P unless there is a second syllable. The one-syllable term can be written with only -P. But we must retain the double-P in the two-syllable term.
So this Food Friday twofer resolves to: "frap" and "frappay".
My thanks to "Shoe..." for "frap".
Thursday, June 5, 2008: "eezle" for "easel"
There are at least two things wrong with today's word. First, there is an S but no S-sound. Instead, the sound is Z's, so we should simply write a Z. Second, EA is ambiguous, and tho someone comfortable with reading English may assume it to represent long-E (feast, eat, read (present tense)), EA can also represent short-E (bread, health, read (past tense)), long-A (break, steak), two adjoining vowel sounds (create, area), the AI-sound (pear, bear), a YA-sound (azalea, bougainvillea), even the AU-sound (Sean) or schwa (vengeance).
The -EL is phonetically reasonable but unexpected, sincle most words ending in that sound have the E and L reversed: little, drizzle, whistle. It would thus be better to have -LE than -EL for the sake of making the word's spelling easier to guess: "eezle".
Wensday, June 4, 2008: "davvenport" for "davenport"
Ordinarily, A_E would signal a long-A. That is, an A then any single-consonant and then an E will be seen as signaling a long-A sound (raven, haven, craven), so "davenport" should be pronounced dáe.van.pàurt. In actuality, it's pronounced dáa.van.pàurt.
The most common way of disconnecting an A in one syllable from an E in the following syllable and thus show the A to be short is to double the intervening consonant whatever it may be. That in this word the consonant to be doubled is a V should, logically, make absolutely no difference. So let's do that: "davvenport".
Tuesday, June 3, 2008: "cannopy" for "canopy"
The present spelling of today's word is ambiguous as to both the sound of the vowels and the word's syllabic stress.
A single consonant occurs between vowels in both places, so the word's stress could easily be on either the first or the second syllable (tho, the reader is likely to think, probably not on the third). Moreover, either of the first two vowels could be long.
If the stress falls on the second syllable, the word would likely be pronounced ka.nóe.pe, tho it is parallel to jalopy, which is pronounced ja.lóp.e. People in English-speaking countries may think, "I never heard of ka.nóe.pe, so that's probably not how it's pronounced." But English is read widely outside traditional English-speaking countries, so sound needs to be clear from spelling, not dependent upon what people have or have not heard.
If we double the N, we at once show both that the A represents its full, short sound, not a schwa, and that the word's stress falls on the first syllable, which pretty much forces the O into schwa mode. So every reader should then be clear as to the word's actual sound (káan.a.pe): "cannopy".
Munday, June 2, 2008: "bace" for "bass" (fiddle, voice)
"Bass" is a homograph for two very different words, one of which is spelled sensibly, parallel in spelling as well as sound to lass, mass, and pass. The other rhymes with ace, face, and place. That's the one that needs to be reformed, and those three rhyming words show how: "bace".
My thanks to "yaora..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, June 1, 2008: "afinnity" for "affinity"
We have run out of common words starting in X, Y, and Z, which would ordinarily be discussed today, given that we are following alphabetic sequence, so let's go back to A.
A doubled consonant ordinarily indicates a short vowel before it, but in today's word, the letter before the double-F, A, represents a schwa. The FF might lead a reader to think both that the A takes its short sound (as in at) and that the word's stress is on the first syllable, both of which are wrong. The stress actually falls on the second syllable, so if we are to have any doubled consonant in this word, it should be the N.
The A by itself in initial position will be read as a schwa if the word's stress falls elsewhere (about, ahead, around). That would leave us, however, with four syllables, all separated by a single consonant, "afinity", so determining which syllable takes the word's primary stress is problematic. Many people will guess right; many new readers, especially outside English-speaking countries, may guess wrong. Let's give them a cue by doubling the consonant after the stressed syllable: "afinnity".
Saturday, May 31, 2008: "waukytauky" for "walkie-talkie" and "walky-talky"
One silent-L is bad enuf. We sure don't need two. We also don't need a hyphen in a word whose elements are never used separately: "waukytauky".
Friday, May 30, 2008: "vejjie/s" for "veggie/s"
This Food Friday, we offer our last food-related word, albeit an informal term, in the V section of our future-words list. "Veggie/s" has TWO G's, which do not represent G's own, unique sound, the one represented by no other letter (that is, "hard"-G, as in give, get, and gecko) but a J-sound. New readers will think that a double-G must surely represent a G-sound, as in rigging, aggravate, and ragged, so they will be confused as to why, in "veggie/s", two G's do not have a G-sound. After all, two J's don't make a G-sound, so why should two G's make a J-sound? Let's fix that, by replacing the G's with J's.
We need two J's, as we would need two of almost any consonant here, to show that the E before is short: "vejjie/s".
My thanks to "JEA..." for this suggestion. "Vejjy" was suggested by "yaora...", which might be better if the word were ordinarily seen in the singular, but in actuality "veggies", the plural, is far more common except perhaps in combining form such as "veggie burger" (which would become "vejjy burger", two words or one). Since the plural of a noun ending in -Y will end in -IES anyway, there is very little point to insisting on a -Y in the singular for a word most commonly seen in the plural. (We are not going to suggest -YS for the plural of words ending in -Y.)
Thursday, May 29, 2008: "eunit" for "unit"
UN- is ambiguous, and is most commonly a prefix, pronounced with a short-U, which indicates negation. That prefix can fall before any letter, be it consonant or vowel, including I. Tho it does not fit just every word for instance, we do not "ungo", tho we can "undo" a reader should not have to evaluate whether "un-" with what follows could conceivably make sense just to know how to pronounce the U (e.g., "Hm, 'un-it' doesn't make sense, so the U may not be short"). Since in uninformed, unimpeachable, and unintentional a UNI- can indeed be the negative prefix plus the first letter of the word negated, we need to clarify when a U-N does not combine to form the negative but takes a long-U sound, with an initial Y-glide, as here. We could write a Y ("yunit"), but that might not make clear that the U is long. It could be read yún.it. So if we use a Y, we'd still have to clarify the sound of the U (for instance, by writing "yuenit"). If, however, we place an E before the UN, as in the unhappy word eunuch, the U is clearly shown to be long: "eunit".
My thanks to "Castle..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, May 28, 2008: "temperacher" for "temperature"
Altho most people do not pronounce this word in four full syllables, but in three (témp.ra.cher), and some rather more casual people drop not just the E before the first-R but that R too (témp.a.cher), many careful speakers do pronounce the ER, so we should retain it to show that that is a correct pronunciation, even if most people don't use it. Retaining the ER retains as well the bond to words like "temper", "temperate", and "temperament", so is a good thing to do.
The main problem with the present spelling is the -TURE for what sounds like -CHER, so that's what we need to fix: "temperacher".
My thanks to "Multi..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008: "seppulker" for "sepulchre" and "sepulcher"
There are presently two accepted spellings for today's word, neither of them sensible. In the more common, "sepulchre", the syllabic stress is unclear, there is a CH for a K-sound, and the -RE represents the -ER sound. This absurdity is made most plain with inflected forms of the (uncommon) verb, which means to place into a sepulchre: "sepulchred", "sepulchring".
In the accepted variant spelling of the base word, "sepulcher", only the -RE error has been fixed. Let's fix all three problems.
The word's stress falls on the first syllable, but the reader is tempted to place it on the second because of the four-letter consonant cluster at the end of the second syllable, LCHR. Doubling the P will fix that.
The CH does not represent the CH-sound (as in church) but a K-sound. There's a quick fix for that: change the CH to K.
And the -RE to -ER is an obvious fix that the accepted variant "sepulcher" already made.
Putting this all together, we get: "seppulker".
Munday, May 26, 2008: "reccord" for (the noun and adjective) "record"
Today's word is one of a pair of related words spelled the same but pronounced differently. The verb "record" is pronounced ri.káurd or ree.káurd. The noun and adjective, however, are pronounced rék.erd or, in Britain, rék.aurd. If the speech sounds, and not just the syllabic stress, are different, the two words should not be written the same. The notion that because two words are related they should be spelled the same is fatuous. "Three" and "third" are related both logically and etymologically. Should they be written the same, or similarly (perhaps "thir" and "third" or "three" and "threed"), but still pronounced differently? With words like "record", the reader sometimes assumes one part of speech and discovers only later in the sentence that it was the other, so has to go back mentally and repronounce it to make sense of the passage it falls in. Let's save ourselves such wasted time and effort by just respelling the noun and adjective: "reccord".
Sunday, May 25, 2008: "quoddrupedd" for "quadruped"
There are two things wrong with the traditional spelling of today's word. First, the A has neither of A's ordinary sounds, long and short, but represents "broad"-A, the same sound as short-O. That is, "quad" rhymes with "odd". So let's substitute ODD for the AD, which has the additional advantage of suggesting that the first syllable probably takes some kind of stress, which makes the two-syllable pronunciation kwa.drúept less likely.
Second, -ED is the standard form of the past-tense ending of verbs, so "quadruped" looks like the past and past participle of a verb "to quadrup" or, more likely, "quadrupe". It is not.
Actually, the reader is supposed to see not -ED but -PED, a form of a Latin word meaning "foot". That reminds me of someone who told me that in Japanese, a personal name that ends in -IKO is feminine (e.g., Noriko). But, I said, Akahiko is male, to which he replied, that Akahiko ends not with -KO but -HIKO! No, since -HIKO ends with -KO, Akahiko does indeed end with -KO. (To make things even worse, some webpages advise that most Japanese personal names that end in -O are male! So -HIKO is male, -KO is female, but -O is male! Such craziness.) In any case, tho "quadruped" does end in -PED, it also ends in -ED, which renders it unclear to people who don't know what it means. You should not have to know what a word means to know how to spell it or pronounce it.
If we end this word not in -ED but -EDD, people will know that it is not a past-tense verb form and know as well to look earlier in the word for something recognizable as a meaningful unit, and thus back up to the -P-. The -DD will as well indicate that at least the -EDD forms a distinct syllable, and that that syllable also bears some stress, as indeed it does in this word, the stress pattern being major-stress/unstressed/secondary stress: kwód.roo.pèd or kwód.ra.pèd.
Putting this together, then, we get: "quoddrupedd".
Saturday, May 24, 2008: "paje/r" for "page/r"
GE is ambiguous, even in final position (beige, collage, renege). There's no reason to use a G for the J-sound. We have J for the J-sound, which makes much more sense: "paje/r".
My thanks to "rhod..." for "pajer".
Friday, May 23, 2008: "ommelet" for "omelette" or "omelet"
OME is ambiguous at best, and misleading at worst, in this Food Friday word. Moreover, in the fuller spelling, the wrong letter is doubled.
OME follows the "silent-E" pattern of vowel-consonant-E. That pattern often signals that the vowel before the consonant takes its long sound. Unfortunately, sometimes the E in the following syllable has no such relation to the vowel in the prior syllable, but there is no way for the reader to know that.
In omega, homeland, and domelight, the O is long. In come, some, and become, the O is pronounced as a short-U. In thermometer, conglomerate, and comet, short-O. In abdomen (as most people say it), syndrome (as some people say it), and barometric (as all people say it), schwa. There is even one word, and its derivatives, women, in which the O of the OME sequence is pronounced short-I! So we really do need to clarify which sound the O takes in today's word: short-O. The usual way to show a short vowel is to double the consonant immediately following: here, the M.
There has, in the United States, already been one simplification of this word, to drop the final -TE, so that "omelet" is now the standard spelling, and "omelette" the variant. The reverse is the case in Britain. Oddly, the preferred pronunciation in Britain is two syllables, óm.lat, whereas in the U.S. it is three, óm.a.lat. So the country that has the longer spelling has the shorter pronunciation, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, as discussed above, dropping the -TE, tho it does eliminate two needless letters, including a doubled letter in the wrong place that could lead people to put the word's stress on the last syllable (compare cassette, brunette, and kitchenette), leaves the sound of the O unclear. Doubling the M while dropping the -TE would still save us a letter while making the pronunciation clearer: "ommelet".
Thursday, May 22, 2008: "nute" for "newt"
EW is an unphonetic and, here, unpredictable spelling.
Phonetically, EW suggests a short-E followed by W, either a full consonantal-W or a W-glide. If you actually say a short-E followed by W, you get an approximation of long-O, not long-U.
As "Unicycle...", who proposed this word, says, "'newt' is the only word in the entire English language that ends in '-ewt', but there are many words that end in '-ute'." Quite so, and thus a person who hears this word spoken will not likely guess "newt". To the extent possible, we should strive for spellings that are both readable on sight and guessable on hearing: "nute".
Wensday, May 21, 2008: "mombo" for "mambo"
Most vowels have two sounds, long and short. We overload A with additional sounds, "broad" (father, bar) and "flat" (adversarial, alias), plus an AU-sound in some words (alter, salt), as well, of course, as the schwa sound in a great many words (about, filament, academia). That is too much to load onto one letter. So let's gradually offload all the sounds other than long and short, as by replacing "broad"-A with short-O, the same sound, as here: "mombo".
Tuesday, May 20, 2008: "lether" for "leather"
EA is most commonly pronounced long-E (seal, bead, peat), but here the sound is short-E, which in that location would ordinarily be spelled just E (whether, tether, together). So let's drop the A and at once make the sound clearer and save ourselves a letter: "lether".
Munday, May 19, 2008: "naev" for "knave"
When the traditional spelling of English was frozen, toward the end of the 15th Century, the K in "knave" was pronounced. It no longer is, so should be dropped. That would leave "nave", which is already a word of drastically incompatible meaning.
Other ways than A_E of spelling a long-A are AY, AI, and AE. "Naiv" would look like an alternate spelling or misspelling of "naive". "Nayv" would probably be clear, but is unconventional in appearance, since we don't expect an AY in the middle of a word unless it be a compound word or an inflected form with suffix (payday, playpen, naysayer). "Naev" is also unconventional in appearance, and in many words from Latin, AE represents a long-E sound, but we do have some words from languages other than Latin in which AE mid-word is pronounced long-A (Gaelic, maelstrom). "Naev" doesn't look Latin, so has a good chance of being read as representing long-A.
In any case, the word "knave" doesn't come up much, so one unconventional spelling or another wouldn't much matter. I think "naev" is a little more in keeping with tradition than "nayv", so I choose: "naev".
Sunday, May 18, 2008: "juj/ment" for "judge/ment" and "judgment"
DG(E) is a preposterous way to spell the J-sound. Let's just use J. This will also end the wondering, "Is there an E after the G in 'judg(e)ment'?" No, there is not, because there's no G in: "juj/ment".
Saturday, May 17, 2008: "inshure" and "inshurence" for "insure" and "insurance"
SU to represent an SHU-sound is bizarre, unreasonable, and inconsistent with most words, where SU represents what you would expect it to represent, a simple S-sound followed by a U-sound (sue, suit, supervisor). If there is an SH-sound in a word, let's just write SH.
In the noun derived from "insure", the traditional spelling substitutes an A for the E that occurs naturally in the verb. Why? We have -ENCE endings aplenty (independence, recurrence, deference). There's no reason to change the E to A.
Today's twofer thus resolves to: "inshure" and "inshurence".
My thanks to "Firewall..." for today's suggestions.
Friday, May 16, 2008: "ote quizeen" and "ote cooture" for "haute cuisine" and "haute couture"
The state of "naturalization" (anglicization) of originally foreign words is often unclear, so people cannot know just from the spelling whether a word retains the pronunciation it had in its original language, or has been fully anglicized, or partly anglicized, with some sounds changed while others remain as in the original language, different from customary English use. For instance, the borrowed word "jalapeño" / "jalapeno" has two common pronunciations, one basically Spanish except that the H-sound is gentle rather than harsh, the other partially anglicized, with the J said like an H and the Ñ pronounced in the Spanish fashion, but the E pronounced as an English long-E rather than long-A in the Spanish way.
In phrases like "haute cuisine" and "haute couture", the reader cannot know whether the H is pronounced, in the English fashion, or silent, in the French. Let's respell "haute" to show plainly (a) that the H is indeed silent and (b) the AU is not the usual AU-sound, as in haughty, but long-O. This being Food Friday, we offer "haute cuisine" first.
But we might as well address "haute couture" today too. "Couture" has three pronunciations, one still French (kue.túur), the other two anglicized as things are said in, respectively, the United States (kue.túer) and Britain (kue.tyúer). The fact that Britons put an initial Y-glide into the long-U sound in the second syllable (but not the first), whereas in the U.S. the sounds are the same in the two syllables, argues against rewriting the word as "cootoor", even tho -TURE is sometimes pronounced with a CH-sound (future, literature) in Traditional Orthography. There are limits to how plain you can make things and still use only T.O. In this project, we are gradually changing all the CH-sounds to CH-spellings, so -TURE for tyúer is fine.
Today's twofer, then, is: "ote quizeen" and "ote cooture".
* "Quizeen" by itself was offered on December 30, 2005.
Thursday, May 15, 2008: "jermane" for "germane"
In the short run, replacing the ambiguous G (is it "hard"? is it "soft"?) with unambiguous J will at once make the sound clear and distinguish this word from the entirely unrelated word "German", a proper noun/adjective we are not presently offering with a J. Ultimately, of course, proper nouns need to be treated like ordinary words because they have to be read among ordinary words, and it would be unreasonable to have one set of rules for ordinary words and an altogether different set of rules for proper nouns. For now, however, let's just reform this ordinary adjective to show that the initial consonant has a J-sound and the word has no relation to Germany: "jermane".
Wensday, May 14, 2008: "famus" for "famous"
MOUS comprises the bulk of the now hyper-frequent word mouse, and that's appropriate, because OU should (though all too often it does not) represent the OU-sound. In words like ignoramus, mandamus, and one pronunciation of shamus, we don't need an O in the ending of words that rhyme with "famous", so we don't need it here: "famus".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008: "emmigray" for "émigré", "emigré" or "emigre"
English doesn't use accents or other diacritics, and most people in English-speaking countries have no idea how to put accents or a dieresis on words in, for instance, emails, so the accents have to go. "Emigre" is puzzling in appearance, especially in the "e"lectronic age, where E- is prepended to various words to signify an electronic or Internet version. -RE is sometimes used for the -ER ending, especially in Britain but even in the U.S. in a few words, like macabre, massacre, ogre, and, by some people, theatre. Many readers are unclear about how to pronounce macabre because of its odd spelling. If "emigre" is perceived as a British version of an assumed, if unknown, word "emiger", how would either spelling be pronounced? Ee.míe.ger? E.mée.ger? Ée.mìe.ger?
The actual sound (ém.i.gràe) is simple, and if we just write it the way it sounds, everyone will know how to pronounce it and no one will have to struggle to find a way to put accents on it: "emmigray".
Munday, May 12, 2008: "damzel" for "damsel"
There is no S-sound in this word, so should be no S. The sound is that of Z, so let's spell it with Z: "damzel".
Sunday, May 11, 2008: "cannister" for "canister" (and "bannister" for "banister"
There are only two common words of this form, "canister" and "banister". Many people will be surprised that the superior spelling "bannister", with two N's, is an alternate spelling, and "banister", the inferior spelling, is the original. Both these words should be conformed to the more reasonable spelling, with a double-N that at once shows with certitude that the A is short and that the word's stress falls on the first syllable. In the case of "bannister", that means only banishing the spelling with one N and insisting on the already-accepted alternate with two instead. In the case of "cannister", that means abolishing the present standard spelling in favor of the better spelling: "cannister" and "bannister".
Saturday, May 10, 2008: "bedspred" for "bedspread"
In this word, the first syllable is perfectly phonetic, but the second is not. The two syllables rhyme in sound but differ in spelling. That's easily fixed. The A is misleading, since most EA's are pronounced long-E, but here the sound is short-E, as in the first syllable/word of today's compound word, "bed". So let's just drop the needless A, whereupon we get an elegant sight-rhyme as well as sound-rhyme: "bedspred".
My thanks to "GreenD..." for this suggestion.
Friday, May 9, 2008: "acromatic" for "achromatic"
The H in this word adds nothing but length and the possibility of confusion if people try to pronounce the CH with a CH-sound (as in church). So let's just drop it: "acromatic".
Thursday, May 8, 2008: "zoafobia", "zoafobic" and "zoafobe" for "zoophobia", "zoophobic", and "zoophobe"
We're out of common words that start in Z, so offer today an uncommon word whose spelling may mislead people. "Zoophobia" appears to have four syllables (zue.fóe.bee.ya) and to mean "fear of zoos". It is actually five syllables (zòe.wa.fóe.bee.ya) and means an abnormal fear of animals.
We can clarify that by changing OO to OA, as in boa, Noah, and Samoa. And as long as we're changing the beginning of the word, we might as well change the ridiculous PH in the middle to a simple F, and save ourselves a letter.
We could as well offer -EA rather than -IA for the ending to "zoophobia", on the model of area, cornea, and trachea, but that really isn't clearer than -IA, since -EA can also take stress on the E (idea, rhea, spirea) or be pronounced in one syllable (sea, pea, flea). So let's leave the -IA, especially since we have to return to an -I- for "zoophobic": "zoafobia", "zoafobic", "zoafobe".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for "zoafobic" and "zoafobe".
Wensday, May 7, 2008: "yohimbeen" for "yohimbine"*
-INE is ambiguous, having three common pronunciations, one with a long-I (fine, divine, porcupine), one with a long-E (benzine, machine, magazine), and the third with a short-I (heroine, illumine, jasmine). There is also at least one unusual pronunciation, in two syllables, first short-I, then long-E (aborigine). -EEN is not ambiguous: "yohimbeen".
* Yohimbine is a chemical used as a drug for sexual dysfunction and in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008: "zilafaje" for "xylophage"
A "xylophage" is a wood-eating insect (the best known being the termite). This is one of those ridiculous spellings inflicted upon English by scientists who give things names from Greek and/or Latin, as tho they should be regarded as linguistically neutral and international (that is, equally preposterous in almost every country), even tho such spellings end up presenting readers with needless extra letters and unguessable spellings. "Wood-eater" and "xylophage" both have three syllables. "Wood-eater" or "wood-eating insect" is comprehensible to anyone who knows English, a language that over a billion people around the world can read to some degree, and another billion or more are learning. By contrast, Greek is spoken by only 13 million people. Latin is spoken by almost no one today. So what languages do scientists create new words in? Greek and Latin. Absurd but true.
The least we can do is render these preposterous scientific words into sensible English spellings* that listeners might guess. That means, in this case, at least converting the X to Z, the PH to F, and the G to J, their actual sounds. We could leave the O, in that any vowel in unstressed position will tend to be schwaed. But some people are tempted to try to make a long-O sound of any O in any position, so as long as we're changing this much, we might as well change the O to A, which most people will know to pronounce as a schwa in an unstressed syllable: "zilafaje".
* A Greek root is a Greek root whether it is spelled with an X or Z, PH or F, G or J. If we recognize the sound zíe.la- as deriving from the Greek word for "wood", or zéera- as deriving from the Greek word for "dry", then representing that sound clearly in English is all we need do to show the etymology. It makes no more sense to insist on an X or PH than it would to insist on writing Greek elements of English words in the Greek alphabet! Indeed, spelling reformers should counter any objection to changing X's and PH's by demanding that if we are going to be puristic, and taint English with un-English spellings, we might as well follow that reasoning to its ultimate conclusion and teach everybody the Greek alphabet, then make all keyboards on all typewriters and computers bi-alphabetic, and write Greek elements in Greek letters. More, let's add Russian characters and write words like "intelligentsia" and "balalaika" in Cyrillic letters; add the Arabic alphabet to write words like "algebra" and "Islam"; add the Devanagari script to write words like "thug" and "pajamas"; Chinese characters to write words like "chow mein" and "feng shui"; Japanese characters to write words like "bonsai" and "karaoke", and on and on. Opponents of spelling reform cannot win this.
My thanks to "fishstick..." for "zilafaje".
Munday, May 5, 2008: "waultz" for "waltz"
-ALT- is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a short-A (altitude, altruism), sometimes with an AU-sound (alter/nate, exalted), sometimes with a broad-A/short-O (gestalt, schmaltz), and of course, in unstressed position, as a schwa (penalty, royalty). This word has the AU-sound, so why not just spell it with an AU to make that plain?
-TZ is an unusual and unphonetic spelling, given that Z is ordinarily the voiced pair to unvoiced S, yet the -TZ ending takes the S-sound. Still, that is perhaps preferable to respelling this with a -TS, since that might cause the word to be seen as plural. We can leave that part: "waultz".
My thanks to "JEA..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, May 4, 2008: "verjin/al/ly" for "virgin/al/ly"
IR is ambiguous, often being pronounced by many people with a long-E (irritable, irrigation, Iroquois), sometimes with a short-I (irascible, iridium, irrational), sometimes with a long-I (irate, iris, iron), and only sometimes with the sound more commonly written ER. In that ER is clearer for the sound in this Sunday's word, let's choose that.
GI is also ambiguous, sometimes representing "hard"-G (give, gift, giggle), sometimes "soft" (gigantic, giblets, gin). Sometimes either can be used (gimbal). And sometimes neither is right (gigolo, which despite its plainly Italian look is actually French in origin, so is given, by some speakers, a ZH-sound for the first-G). The sound here is English "soft"-G, which is simply the J-sound, so let's write J.
Putting these two changes together, we get: "verjin", "verjinal", and "verjinally".
My thanks to "Caste..." for "verjin".
Saturday, May 3, 2008: "un/tu" and "in/tu" for "un/to" and "in/to"
I was very surprised, in checking to see when we offered "tu" for to, to find that we haven't! It's about time we did. "Untu" is an opportune word with which to do so, in that it starts with a U and ends with a U, so seems nice and neat. Once we've done "untu", "intu" is an obvious additional step. So today's threefer is: "tu", "untu", and "intu".
My thanks to "Dogs..." for "unto".
Friday, May 2, 2008: "tocko" for "taco"
It's Food Friday again. You might think that everyone knows the sound system of Spanish, from which this word derives, well enuf to know how to pronounce "taco". You'd be wrong. In Britain, people actually anglicize it to táa.ko yes, that's with a short-A, not short-O. We do not have to respect that utterly ignorant pronunciation but can conform this word to English spelling conventions so that even Brits will know how to say it. I don't know how commonplace tacos, or taco chips, are in Britain nowadays, but Britons can at least know how to say the word even if they do not know how a taco looks or tastes: "tocko".
Thursday, May 1, 2008: "sithe" for "scythe"
The C in this word is silent. So why is it there? The Y is unexpected in the middle of a word, so, while it is certainly not unphonetic, it is not what a person would likely guess on hearing the word said, especially given the familiar words lithe, tithe, and writhe. Let's revise this word to conform to that pattern: "sithe".
Wensday, April 30, 2008: "remminiss/ent" and "remminissence" for "reminisce/nt" and "reminiscence"
There are two things wrong with today's words. First, RE- is more commonly pronounced with a long-E, but here it takes a short-E. And SC is an unreasonable and unexpected spelling for what is only an ordinary, uncomplicated S-sound, so people have to memorize an absurd spelling rather than just write what they'd expect to write after a short-I, a double-S. Doubling the M will show plainly that the first-E is short; replacing the C with a second-S will show the I to be short, without complicating things with a silent-C: "remminiss/ent" and "remminissence".
Tuesday, April 29, 2008: "questchun" for "question"
-TION is an absurd spelling for a syllable that sounds like -shun, but at least it is commonplace and people know how to pronounce it. Here, however, it sounds not like -shun but like -chun, so there's no reason to retain the -TION spelling. If it sounds like -chun, let's write it -CHUN.
The only, well, question, then is whether we need a T between the S and CH to show that there are two sounds there, and the SCH does not represent a single sound, SH: "questchun".
Altho TCH (itch, scratch) is ordinarily an inefficient way to show the CH-sound, here it is actually more efficient, because it allows readers to know the sound with certitude rather than waste time guessing, which they would have to do if the sequence were only -SCH- rather than -STCH-. For instance, many people see eschew as being pronounced e.shú, when it is actually es.chú. Saving us from confusion is well worth one extra letter: "questchun".
Munday, April 28, 2008: "parrafernailya" for "paraphernalia"
AR is ambiguous, often being pronounced with a "broad"-A or short-O (the same sound), as in car, afar, and cinnabar. That is not the sound here. Rather, the sound is short-A. We often show a short-A before an R-sound by doubling the R: arrow, barrel, marriage. Let's do that here.
PH is a preposterous way to spell a simple F-sound. Let's substitute F.
-ALIA- is ambiguous. Sometimes it takes a long- or flat-A before the L (Australian); sometimes short-A (Italian). Sometimes it is pronounced in three syllables (inter alia, retaliate), sometimes two (Episcopalian, valiant). -AILYA is clearer. It shows the long- or flat-A sound clearly, but allows the end of the word, after the L, to be pronounced in one syllable (more common) or two.
So today's reforms combine to form: "parrafernailya".
Sunday, April 27, 2008: "afishus" for "officious"
There's a lot wrong with today's word. Let's start at the beginning and end at the end.
The word starts with an O that, for some reasons, is all too often mispronounced as tho the word were written O'Fishus. It actually represents not a long-O but a schwa sound. Schwa at the start of a word is commonly written A (about, ajar, around), so let's use that.
The sequence OFFIC- suggests to people that the word has something to do with an office. It does not. It actually means "objectionably aggressive in offering one's unrequested and unwanted services, help, or advice; meddlesome". So changing the O to A is particularly useful in breaking the mental connection to "office".
A double-F suggests that the syllable before it is stressed. It is not. So we can drop the second-F and save ourselves a letter.
CI is a silly way to spell the SH-sound. SH is plainly much more reasonable.
And -OUS has no OU-sound, so we can drop the O, save ourselves another letter, and make the sound plainer (as in bonus, alumnus, and impetus).
Putting this all together, we get: "afishus".
Saturday, April 26, 2008: "niyeef" and "niyeev" for "naïf" / "naif" and "naive" / "naïve"
Yesterday we dealt with the common pronunciations of AI. Today we deal with two uncommon pronunciations, o.ée and ie.yée (where O without a following E represents short-O, or "broad"-A, the same sound). This is so uncommon a way of seeing AI, even in French, from which both words derive, that the French have to put a dieresis on the I to show that it is pronounced in a syllable separate from the A.
In French, "naïf" is the masculine and "naïve" the feminine of the same adjective which, in French, can also serve as noun for a person of the appropriate gender. Both words have the same meaning as the English word "naive" (no dieresis in ordinary use), for someone innocent and guileless. In English, "naïf" (with or without the dieresis) is generally used only as a noun, for a person (of either sex) who is hopelessly unsophisticated or gullible. "Naive" (with or without the dieresis) serves as the adjective for both male and female persons.
Since almost no one in English uses a dieresis over words like these, and few people know how to type a dieresis over a vowel outside a very sophisticated word-processing program (as, for instance, in email), the two dots have got to go.
Since the remaining bare-AI will not be seen as representing two syllables, some other way of spelling the actual sounds must be found.
I_E is a common way of showing a long-I (bite, spine, chastise). So we can use that in the first part of the alternative to the AI here. But there is already, at the end of "naive", in the syllable that starts between the A and the I, an I_E ("naive") that is pronounced not long-I but long-E! This is the kind of insanity that makes it so hard for people to read and write English, and it's got to be fixed.
A Y-glide is used by most speakers to separate the two syllables of "naive", so let's write a Y to show that, in both parallel words.
The -IVE of "naive" could be rewritten -EVE, and that might be clear from comparison to the familiar word (and name) eve. Then again, there are only two common words ending in -EVE (that is, only -EVE, not -IEVE or -EEVE), one of which, breve, can be pronounced with a short-E. Were we to apply the same pattern to the respelling of "naif", we would write -EFE, and there is no common word in English that ends that way. Since that is so, we might as well go with clearer spellings, -EEF and -EEV. Altho there is no present word that ends -EEV, there are two common words that end in -EEF (beef and reef). So let's use that pattern for both words.
Putting this all together, we get: "niyeef" and "niyeev".
My thanks to "Cargo..." for "niyeev".
Friday, April 25, 2008: "maiz" for "maize"
It's Food Friday again. This week, let's reform the technical and British term for what in the U.S. is always called "corn". ("Maize" is also the name given a lite yellow color, like that of corn, especially in mail-order catalogs and shopping websites where they don't want to say that a sweater is simply "yellow".)
AI is a common way of spelling the long-A sound. It does have other sounds (short-A in plaid; short-E in said), but the added silent-E of the present spelling makes the sound no clearer than AI alone. Indeed, there are only five words in the entire English language in which the sequence -AIZE occurs, and in three of them (archaize, Hebraize, and Judaize) the AI represents two syllables, not a simple long-A at all.
We shouldn't simply drop the I and leave "maze", because that's already a frequently used word. But we can certainly drop that final-E that adds nothing but length: "maiz".
Thursday, April 24, 2008: "en/larj/ment" for "en/large/ment"
GE is ambiguous, often taking a regular G-sound ("hard"-G) at the beginning or in the middle of a word: get, gear, geezer; beget, together, anger. It might also take a ZH-sound in those positions: genre, beau geste, bourgeois. So ambiguous is GE, indeed, that to show it to be "soft", we sometimes feel the need to put a D before it: judge, badge, acknowledgement. People who have been reading for a long time might know not to expect a hard-G in final position, but a final -GE might nonetheless not be pronounced "soft" (like J), but rather as the ZH-sound: beige, garage, arbitrage. The sound in today's base word, "large", is J, so let's save ourselves not only a letter but also some guessing, and just write J: "larj", "enlarj", "enlarjment".
My thanks to "Bookk..." for "larj", "Moon..." for "enlarj".
Wensday, April 23, 2008: "kee" for "key"
-EY is ambiguous. Sometimes it's pronounced long-E (as here and in alley, blarney, and parsley). Other times, it's pronounced long-A, as in hey, they, whey, obey, and abeyance. "Kee", however, is clear: "kee".
Naturally, derivatives should also change, such as keebord (my thanks to "Boath..." for that suggestion), keewerd ("GreenD..."), keecard, keehole, keenote, keepad, keepunch, keestone, keestroke and many others.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008: "jezzebel" for "jezebel"
A single consonant followed by E often signals that the vowel before that consonant is long (e.g., bake, stripe, trapeze). The most common way of making plain that a vowel is short is to double the consonant immediately following. Let's do that here: "jezzebel".
Munday, April 21, 2008: "immajjin/ation" for "imagine" and "imagination"
IMA- would ordinarily be read with a long-I, as in the feminine given name "Ima" (variant of Emma or Irma) and the slang abbreviation "Ima" for "I am going to". We could double the M after the I: "imma-", but that would seem to shift the word's stress to the first syllable unless we do something later in the word to balance it out.
The end of today's base word is also misleading, because (1) G before I is not always "soft" (the J-sound): give, gift, gibbon, giddy; and (2) -INE would ordinarily be read as having a long-I sound: fine, divine, spine. Solutions for both problems are simple. First, replace the G with J; second, drop the -E.
Changes proposed thus far would produce "immajin", which will be read as taking stress on the first syllable, as foreseen above.
But if we double the J, at once to make absolutely plain that the A could not be long (tho in an unstressed syllable, a long-A would seem to most readers unlikely) and to show that the stress might fall on the second syllable. "Immajjin" would present a reader with a choice of syllables to stress, whereupon the reader will mentally check the sound of each alternative (ím.aa.jin vs. i.máaj.in), recognize there is a familiar word pronounced i.máaj.in but none s/he knows pronounced ím.aa.jin, and make the right choice. The stress would be especially obvious in the longer of today's twofer, "immajjination".
We could gamble that if the second syllable is stressed, the reader will guess that the first syllable would not have a long-I sound even if the M were not doubled: "imajjin", but a double-M is less vague. So, tho we might not need a double-M, having it seems a better choice than trying to do without: "immajjin/ation".
Sunday, April 20, 2008: "hevven" for "heaven"
EA is ambiguous, but most commonly serves as a stand-in for EE, representing a long-E sound (compare heaving, leaves, sheaves). One might doubly expect the EA in "heaven" to be long in that there is an E after a single consonant following the EA, as there is in the word heave. These miscues would lead the reader to see the EA as long-E, when in actuality the word has a short-E. So let's drop the A, which has no reason to be there, and leave the E. That would produce "heven", still ambiguous as to the vowel sound in the first syllable. We need to show it to be short-E.
The most common way of showing a short vowel is by doubling the consonant immediately following it, so let's do that here: "hevven".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, April 19, 2008: "jerrymander" for "gerrymander"
The pronunciation of today's word is a mispronunciation produced by its spelling. The contemptible custom of drawing legislative districts to favor the party in power got its name from Elbridge Gerry, a distinguished politician from Massachusetts who served as governor at the time a grotesquely drawn district gave rise to the term "gerrymander" from a combination of his last name and the word "salamander", to which the appearance of the district was likened. But "Gerry" was pronounced with a G-sound, that is, "hard"-G, not a J-sound. Once the word was written down and used in places where people were not familiar with Elbridge Gerry, it was read as having a "soft"-G, as in "Gerald". This is a perfect example of the kinds of confusion we produce when we refuse to write phonetically.
It is far too late to try to restore the original pronunciation of today's word. To conform sound and spelling, then, we have to change the G to J: "jerrymander".
Friday, April 18, 2008: "fettucheeny" for "fettuccine" and "fettuccini"
This Food Friday, let's get rid of two unphonetic spellings, the alternates for the name of a type of pasta consisting of narrow, flat strips.
Speakers of English cannot be expected to know when Italian uses one C as against two C's before an I to show what is, after all, just the English CH-sound (as in church). Nor should we have to know whether the original singular form of the Italian word is masculine (fettuccino), as takes an I in the plural ("fettuccini") or feminine (fettuccina), as takes an E in the plural ("fettuccine"). Nor do we know when a T is doubled in Italian and when not. Ordinarily, an E in words with "Continental" values would take a long-E or schwa sound, but the final-E in "fettuccine" is pronounced in English as long-E. CC in English before an I is ordinarily pronounced KS: accident, succinct, vaccinate. Let's simplify everything into a single, clear spelling that works in English, not Italian.
The T does needs to be double, to show that the first-E is short: "fett-". The CC, however, is entirely wrong in English, so should be replaced by CH. The I immediately thereafter is wrong, so should be replaced by EE. The final-E of the spelling "fettuccine" is not exactly wrong, since we do have a bunch of words that have a final-E pronounced long: apostrophe, recipe, vigilante. But we do not ordinarily expect a single-E in final position to be pronounced at all, much less as a long-E. In the spelling, "fettuccini", the I is misleading, because many English words ending in I take a long-I sound: alibi, cacti, hippopotami. The sound in both spellings of this Italian pasta's name would be far better shown in English by -Y.
Putting this all together, we get: "fettucheeny".
Thursday, April 17, 2008: "ombushure" for "embouchure"
There are three serious problems with the traditional spelling of this word (which is most commonly used in the sense of the mouthpiece of a wind instrument or the adjustment of the lips to such a mouthpiece). First, the initial-E represents a short-O. Second, there is an OU but no OU-sound. Indeed, the OU doesn't represent even its second most common sound, long-U without a Y-glide (also conceived of as long-OO, as in food). No, here the sound is short-OO (as in good or book, or the U in bush, as here). Third, the CH represents not the CH-sound (as in church) but the SH-sound (as in shush).
Making the simplest substitutions to these three problem areas, we get: "ombushure".
Wensday, April 16, 2008: "deceet" for "deceit"
"I before E, except after C" is one of those rhymes we have to use to try to remember how to navigate the appalling hodgepodge that is English spelling.* We can save ourselves the trouble in many cases simply by replacing the IE or EI with EE: "deceet".
* Never mind that this "rule" doesn't work as a universal verity, there being many -CIE- combinations in English (ancient, financier, even deficiencies). There are longer versions, of the "rule", but they don't really work for every word either.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008: "crinj" for "cringe"
Tax Day in the United States seems as good a time as any to reform this word.
GE is both inefficient and ambiguous. In this word, it merely represents a J-sound, which J-alone does more efficiently. GE can also represent other sounds (get, gecko; genre, beau geste), even in final position: beige, collage, blancmange, melange. So let's just replace the GE with J: "crinj".
My thanks to "Peace..." for this suggestion.
Munday, April 14, 2008: "boe" for "beau"
EAU is one of the trigraphs most people don't think English has, three letters for one sound. There are others, like SCH for the SH-sound, -TCH for the CH-sound, -AIT for long-A, -DGE for the J sound, etc. EAU is perhaps the most arbitrary, because no way can you get a long-O sound from the separate sounds that could be assigned to E-A-U, whereas you can arguably get the other sounds from one or more of the letters in the other trigraphs.
In "beau", the EAU is just a long and silly way to write the long-O sound. We could change it to -OE or just -O. "Bo" is an informal personal name, so "boe" for "beau" might be a better choice. But "Bo" is also fairly uncommon, and would in any event be unlikely to be confused with "beau" in context, so one could equally argue that the shorter a spelling, the better, so "bo" would be better. Two-letter words ending in -O do, however, present a tiny problem, in that two of them, do and to, have a long-U sound rather than long-O. -OE is clearer, as in doe, foe, and toe, so that seems the better way to go: "boe".
My thanks to "Music..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, April 13, 2008: "aulter" for "altar"
People who already read well may not appreciate how hard a word like "altar" is for learners. Perhaps they would appreciate that if we rewrote it a tad: al-Tar. Does it still look like ául.ter? Or does it suddenly look as tho it should be pronounced aal.tór (where the O represents the short-O of on or broad-A of tar)? That is the way "altar" looks to new readers.
The first-A in today's word has none of A's most common sounds: not short-A (as in at, or as, or the nickname Al), not long-A (as in ate), not even "broad"-A (as in father). No, here it represents the AU-sound (as in haul). Let's write the AU-sound with AU.
The second-A, before the R, is also misleading, since it looks as tho it should be the broad-A of bar. It should not. It merely represents the sound most commonly spelled ER, so let's spell it ER.
Putting these two things together, we get: "aulter".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, April 12, 2008: "zoewon" for "zoon"
"Zoon" looks as tho it should rhyme with "zoom", and in fact there is a dialectal word in the South (meaning "To fly with a humming or buzzing sound",* that is pronounced that way. But what we address today is a two-syllable word from biology that refers to a small, independently moving organism. It is also a suffix, -"zoon". The word to itself is pronounced zóe.won, with a full short-O in the second syllable, and takes as plural either "zoons" (zóe.wonz) or "zoa" (zóe.wa). The suffix is pronounced -zóe.wan, with a schwa in the second syllable.
"Zowon" wouldn't work, because it could be read with an OU-sound in the first syllable. So we need an OE. "Zoeon" would be confusing. Is it two syllables? three? (zóe.wee.yòn or zóe.wee.yan)? We need a W to show the syllabic break. So today's words are: "zoewon", singular, and "zoewons" or "zoa" (as-is) in the plural.
* American Heritage Dictionary.
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, April 10, 2008: "ittrium" and "ittric" for "yttrium" and "yttric"
The traditional spelling of today's twofer is linguistic mischief committed against the English language by scientists who decided that because this rare-earth element was discovered near a Swedish town named Ytterby, it should be spelled with an initial Y. Who cares where it was discovered? If it had been discovered in Greece, would we have to spell it in the Greek alphabet, or if in India would we have to write it in Indic script? Think, people! If you're going to coin a word, spell it so people can know how to say it on seeing and write it on hearing.
In the case of today's words, a second-T is perhaps not really necessary, since the consonant cluster TR might suffice to show the initial-I to be short: "itrium". But since that does introduce a tiny bit of doubt could the first-I be long? we might just as well leave the double-T from the original spelling: "ittrium" and "ittric".
Thursday, April 10, 2008: "zeeriscaping" and "zeeriscape" for "xeriscaping" and "Xeriscape"
"Xeriscape" is a trademarked term for an approach to landscaping that employs drought-tolerant plants and otherwise makes the best of available water (rainfall, runoff, etc.) to avoid having to water a garden. The XER- is from the same Greek root as in "xerox".* In the revised spelling "zerox", we have the model of "zero" to show the E long. If , however, we were to respell "xeriscaping" as "zeriscaping", the sound of the E would be ambiguous. It might be long, but many people, perhaps most, will see it as short. So let's just write EE to make the long-E clear.
Rewriting these words with Z, even if the rest of the spelling stayed the same, would get around the trademarking, which was a very odd thing for a public authority to do to begin with. Ordinarily, and properly, things developed by governments become public property, in that they were developed with public moneys to begin with. So let's replace the preposterous X with a sensible Z: "zeeriscaping" and "zeeriscape".
* Offered here as "zerox" on November 6, 2007.
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, April 9, 2008: "waurt" for "wart"
A-r-t has a "broad"-A, or short-O, the same sound. Why, then, would w-a-r-t have an AU sound? In neither word does the A have either of its standard sounds, short (as in at) or long (as in ate). This is the kind of nonsense that makes it so hard for people, especially in non-English-speaking countries, to learn English. Let's make a little change to "wart" to make its sound clear. All we need do is insert a U: "waurt".
My thanks to "Dogs..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008: "valv" for "valve"
Why is there an E at the end of the traditional spelling of today's word? The A isn't long, and the word has only one syllable. The E serves absolutely no purpose, so let's just drop it, okay?: "valv".
My thanks to "Wurdplay..." for this suggestion.
Munday, April 7, 2008: "eunicycle" for "unicycle"
An initial-UN often represents a negative sense, as in unknown, uninformed, and unreasonable. So it is not self-evident from the spelling that "unicycle" means a vehicle with one wheel, and people should not have to know the meaning of a word in order to know how to say it. So let's use an initial-EU as in euphemism and euphony to show the sound that actually starts this word: "eunicycle".
My thanks to "Cal..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, April 6, 2008: "taroe" for "tarot"
"Tarot" has a silent-T, but you have to know it's silent in order to know not to pronounce it. That's not the way spelling is supposed to work. Spelling is supposed to show you how a word is said, not how it's NOT said.
We can't just drop the final-T, however, because there is already another word, "taro", for a plant with an edible tuber. We can, however, replace the silent-T with a silent-E, which is a standard way of spelling a long-O at the end of a word and does not mislead as to sound (toe, ice floe, sloe gin fizz, eeny meeny miny moe): "taroe".
Saturday, April 5, 2008: "scripcher" for "scripture"
The weekend is a good time to address the foolish spelling T(U) for the CH-sound (as in church). If the sound is CH, let's just write CH, okay?: "scripcher".
My thanks to "Staek..." for this suggestion.
Friday, April 4, 2008: "raddish" for "radish"
This Food Friday, let's fix the ambiguous spelling of a tart salad vegetable. The single-D renders the sound of the A unclear. Compare modish, which has a long-O and single-D, and reddish, which has a short-E and, thus, a double-D. The A here is short, so the D should be doubled: "raddish".
Thursday, April 3, 2008: "quontity" and "quontify" for "quantity" and "quantify"
There are a couple of problems with this pair of words, not least that they are parallel in spelling but not in pronunciation. The first part is the same, with the A being given its "broad" pronunciation, not either of its expected sounds, long or short. The "broad" A is the same sound as short-O, and an O in that position, before the NT consonant cluster, would be read correctly, as short.
But both words end in -Y, tho "quantity" takes a long-E sound but "quantify" takes a long-I. Can't be helped, because there is no way in conventional spelling to clarify that. -IE ("quantifie") and -YE ("quantifye") could both be read as having a long-E. So we have to fall back upon a rule: -FY is pronounced with a long-I when it ends a verb.
Today's twofer, then, is: "quontity" and "quontify".
Wensday, April 2, 2008: "pannel" for "panel"
"Panel" contains the smaller word "pane", but is not pronounced like it. The A is short, and we often show a short vowel by doubling the consonant immediately after it (compare "flannel"). Let's do that here: "pannel".
Tuesday, April 1, 2008: "afishal" for "official"
Altho today's word derives from "office", there is a common spelling-pronunciation with an initial long-O, as tho it were spelled "oaficial" (oe.físh.al). "Office" doesn't have a long-O, but some people nonetheless see "official" as having one. The sound is actually a schwa, not a long-O, short-O, or AU-sound (as in "office" as most people say it: áu.fis). To make that plain and completely break this word away from a long-O mispronunciation, we need merely change the O to A.
CI is an odd way to spell an SH-sound, which is what is present in this word. Let's replace the CI with SH too, as long as we're revising this word.
Putting those two things together, we get the clear spelling: "afishal".
My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion.
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