Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
October-December 2008

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Wensday, December 31, 2008: "limmazeen" and "limmo" for "limousine" and "limo"

There is no OU-sound in the longer of today's words. Nor is there a long-U sound, as in the French pronunciation of this term derived from a French placename. The OU is pronounced schwa, which is commonly written with an A (as in America). The S is pronounced Z, and the  second I is pronounced long-E!  In the shorter word, the I looks as tho it should be long. All these things are easily fixed: "limmazeen" and "limmo".

My thanks to "Clap..." for suggesting reform of "limousine", tho I chose a slightly different solution.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008: "kumquot" for "kumquat" and "cumquat"

Ordinarily we would save a food word for Food Friday, but we have only food words left on our list for the letter K. The name of this small citrus fruit is from Cantonese, a language that is not written in an alphabet, so when it came into English (in 1699) it was assigned what should have been a phonetic spelling but isn't. The first part, with a K rather than the more typically English C, is phonetic. (There is a variant spelling, especially common in Australia, with a C.) But somehow the second part was made to look like Latin, with which it has no relationship. Why whoever it is who spelled this for its English debut didn't just write "kumkwot" I do not know. We could write that now, but the KW sound combination, when heard, will typically produce a mental spelling QU, so let's keep the QU. Only the A is wrong, so only the A needs to be changed, to the O whose short sound is actually present in the second syllable and which will be so read for an O before a final-T: "kumquot".

Munday, December 29, 2008: "juenyer" for "junior"

Today we use the last of the J-words in our future-words list. The present spelling is ambiguous, and could be read as three syllables, júàur.  In actuality, it has only two syllables, and the OR does not take the common pronunciation aur. Compare kwashiorkor for one way a new reader might 'hear' this word, and posterior and anterior for another, where the I represents a long-E sound.The IO could also be read as having a long-I, as in ion, prior, and diorama.

-YER is a better way of writing the actual sound, as in lawyer, sawyer, and player. That would produce an -NY- consonant cluster, as would cause many readers to see the U as short ("junyer"), so we need to add an E after the U to show it long: "juenyer".

Sunday, December 28, 2008: "iland" for "island"

Curiously, the silent-S in today's word was inserted into an earlier form identical to the one we suggest today, "iland", under the influence of the French word "isle",* which derives from Latin "insula". "Island", however, actually comes from Old English "igland". In removing the S, we are merely restoring the prior, phonetic spelling of early Middle English: "iland".

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

* "Isle" was offered here as "ile" on August 9, 2006.

Saturday, December 27, 2008: "hojpoj", "hochpoch" and "hochpot" for "hodgepodge", "hotchpotch", and "hotchpot"

These related terms all have needless extra letters. DGE is a preposterous and hugely inefficient way to spell the J-sound. One way we know it's preposterous is that it never starts a word. Let's just use J.  TCH is a needlessly cumbersome way to spell the CH-sound. It also never starts a word (in English). Let's drop the T. And thus we end up with: "hojpoj", "hochpoch", and "hochpot".

Friday, December 26, 2008: "goormond", "goormondeez", "goormondizm", and "goormondize" for "gourmand", "gourmandise", "gourmandism", and "gourmandize"

This Food Friday let's deal with terms for the enjoyment of food and drink. All four of today's related words have an OU spelling but no OU-sound. The sound most people use is long-U without an initial Y-glide, which is commonly spelled OO. So let's use that.

In the second syllable, the A represents neither of A's common sounds, long (as in ate) and short (as in at). Rather, it is "broad"-A, the same sound as short-O, so let's use O.

"Gourmandise" and "gourmandize" are different words, not just different spellings for the same word. "Gourmandise" = "gourmandism" (appreciation of or interest in good food and drink). "Gourmandize" means "to enjoy fine food and drink, esp. often and in lavish quantity". We could spell "gourmandise" as "goormondeeze", but EE is an unambiguous spelling for the long-E sound, so we don't need an additional -E at the end. And -ISM is a misleading spelling that implies an S-sound when the sound is actually Z.

So today's foursome is: "goormond", "goormondeez", "goormondizm", and "goormondize".

* Merriam-Webster Online clarifies the differences between gourmet and gourmand  (and epicure and gastronome) thus:

synonyms EPICURE, GOURMET, GOURMAND, GASTRONOME mean one who takes pleasure in eating and drinking. EPICURE implies fastidiousness and voluptuousness of taste. GOURMET implies being a connoisseur in food and drink and the discriminating enjoyment of them. GOURMAND implies a hearty appetite for good food and drink, not without discernment, but with less than a gourmet's. GASTRONOME implies that one has studied extensively the history and rituals of haute cuisine.

Note: there is a variant spelling "gormand", but that's not quite right because most people use a long-U rather than AU-sound. Given the example of "floor", people who prefer that sound can continue to see that pronunciation as justified in "goormond", but "gormond" would not accommodate a long-U sound.

Thursday, December 25, 2008: "furlo" for "furlough"

OUGH is extremely ambiguous (enough, though, through, thought, bough, cough, hiccough = ee.núf, tho, tthru, tthaut, bou, cauf, hík.up). It's got to go.

If we exchange the OUGH for OW ("furlow"), we reduce but do not eliminate the ambiguity, because -OW can be pronounced as a long-O or as the OU-sound. If we simply drop everything after the O, however, we get a spelling that is efficient and clear: "furlo".

Wensday, December 24, 2008: "ettiket" for "etiquette"

QU is ambiguous, having in most words the sound of KW, but sometimes, as here, only the sound of K.

-ETTE generally signals that the word's stress falls on the last syllable. In today's word, the stress falls on the first syllable.

A single consonant following a stressed short vowel may not be enuf to indicate that the vowel is short, so it's better to double the consonant to make that clear. (It's often not necessary to show a vowel in an unstressed syllable to be short by doubling the consonant that follows it because long vowels generally take stress, primary or secondary, so an unstressed vowel is probably short or schwa.)

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008: "delux" for "deluxe"

The ambiguous spelling -UXE has misled some people into pronouncing this word with a long-U or short-OO (as in looks), whereas the preferred pronunciation is short-U. We need merely drop the E to save ourselves both one needless letter and some confusion: "delux".

The word "luxe" cannot be similarly reformed because it has more than one common pronunciation, including one with a French-U.

Munday, December 22, 2008: "collera" for "cholera"

This name for a deadly disease has been in the news of late because of an epidemic in Zimbabwe. We can't stop the epidemic remotely, but we can make the spelling of the word easier to read and remember.

There are two things wrong with the present spelling. First, it starts with a CH, but there is no CH-sound, as in church. If we drop the needless and misleading H, we are left with a C, which before an O will be read right, as having a K-sound.

The second problem is that the letter sequence -OLE- leads the reader to expect the O to take its long sound. It actually takes its short sound. Tho there is no absolutely unambiguous way to show a short-O before L or LL (cold, roll; polyp, pollen), the example of well-known words like collar, hollow and follow argues for LL: "collera".

Sunday, December 21, 2008: "bee/gile" for "beguile"and "guile"

We don't need a U in these words to show a "hard"-G — that is, G's own, unique sound. I doubt that more than a tiny fraction of readers would be tempted to see the G as "soft" (J's sound). We could as well argue that new readers seeing a U in these traditional spellings would pronounce the U. For instance, given the model of fruit and bruise, why wouldn't we expect a reader to see -guile as being pronounced -guel (like "ghoul", a word they may have heard but not seen spelled)? The U does not make these words clearer, so let's just drop it, okay?

One question remains. How do we show that the E in the first syllable of "beguile" takes its long sound? "Begile", or "beguile", for that matter, could have a short-E, as in beg. Let's double the E to show that the letter sequence B-E-G here does not form the familiar word beg: "gile" and "beegile".

Saturday, December 20, 2008: "attrofy" for "atrophy"

The traditional spelling of today's word looks like the phrase "a trophy" closed-up, which should produce the same pronunciation for the word as for the phrase: a.tróe.fe. The actual pronunciation is áat.ra.fè. We can show that pronunciation clearly just by doubling the T: "attrophy". But that would still leave the preposterous spelling PH for a simple F-sound. So let's change the PH to F. Now we have a sensible spelling: "attrofy".

Friday, December 19, 2008: "wae" for "weigh"

This Food Friday, in a holiday season in which food plays a major part, let's deal with something many of us have to do regularly this time of year to warn ourselves away from weight* gain. Weighing can also be regarded as part of cooking, in that some liquids in recipes are stated in fluid ounces (which, tho actually a measure of volume, is indexed in weight tables).

EIGH is a preposterous way to spell a long-A sound, and harkens back to the way English was pronounced 600 years ago, when not only was E said as it is in Spanish today, a clipped long-A sound, but I was also said like the Spanish-I, a clipped long-E. So E-I was a representation for the rounded, diphthongized long-A of today. Moreover, the GH was not silent but was pronounced somewhat like the CH in Scottish loch or the harsher sound represented in some pronunciation keys by KH. Tho some people find such historical matters interesting, many do not, and the history of English is irrelevant to how we should pronounce, and thus write, English today. We should not let the pronunciation of the Middle Ages complicate our lives in the 21st Century, especially since the great preponderance of present readers and writers of English have no connection to the small area of the single island of Great Britain that is the only place where English was spoken 600 years ago. If Britons were the only people who used English and were willing to persecute themselves with bizarre spellings out of nationalistic pride in the history those spellings convey, that would be their business. But English is a world language today, and British history is not our common history, so we see no reason to allow the dead hand of the past to burden us with insane spellings.

The typical ways we spell a long-A today are AY (way, may, Sunday) or A_E (that is, A followed by a silent-E, either after an intervening consonant or immediately adjoining: state, mate, sundae). "Way" is already taken, but "wae" is available, so we don't have to confuse two words in one spelling but can continue to distinguish way from: "wae".

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

* "Wate" was proposed here on August 22, 2004.

Thursday, December 18, 2008: "vissid" for "viscid"

How is anyone who hears this word to know there's a C in it? The C takes its S-sound, after an S, so is effectively silent. The only conceivable justification for it, as regards sound, is that SC is a consonant cluster that might indicate to the reader that the I in the first syllable is short. But so would a double-S, which makes more sense, because SS would be seen as having a simple S-sound, but SC could be read as SK, as in the related word viscous.* Let's just drop the unexpected, needless, and ambiguous C, and write a double-S to show the first-I to be short: "vissid".

* "Viscous" was used as "viscus" on June 17, 2007.

Wensday, December 17, 2008: "therro" for "thorough"

Altho there is a short form for today's word (Merriam-Webster Online calls it a "nonstandard variant"), "thoro" is shorter but not logical, and therefore not a completely satisfactory reform of the present unphonetic spelling, because people still have to memorize the spelling rather than just sound it out in their head and write down what it should be. Traditional-spelling conventions would have the first syllable spelled "ther" (therapeutic, thermometer) and the second "o" (alto, tomato), which would yield "thero". But that would be ambiguous as to whether the E is short or, more likely, long (as in hero, which lies within "thero"). If we double the R, however, everything becomes clear and easily guessable by the hearer: "therro".

Naturally, all derivatives would incorporate the same change:  e.g., "therroly", "therrobred", "therrofare", "therrogoing", "therroness".

Tuesday, December 16, 2008: "sculpcher" for "sculpture"

-TURE is an absurd way to spell the sound -cher: "sculpcher".

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

Munday, December 15, 2008: "rebellyon" for "rebellion"

Using I as a stand-in for consonantal-Y is, shall we say, 'unwYse'.  I is not supposed to be a consonant. Y is the only letter that is supposed to be both a vowel and consonant, but in actuality, I and U, tho usually regarded only as vowels, sometimes function as consonants: lenient, onion, union, and today's word, rebellion; guava, request, anguish, vanquish. In the first group, I takes the consonantal value of Y (léen.yant, ún.yan, yúen.yan, ree.bél.yan). In the second, U takes the consonantal value of W (gwóv.a, ree.kwést, áang.gwish, váang.kwish). Today, let's deal with a consonantal-I in "rebellion".

Contrast "lion", which, tho it has the exact same letter sequence as the last part of the traditional spelling of today's word, has a vocalic-I: líe.yan (where the Y represents only a glide between the long-I sound and the next vowel, schwa) or lí (where the Y-glide is only implied).*

"Rebellion" plainly does not have the same sound as does "lion", so should not be spelled as tho it does: "rebellyon".

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

* All long vowels in English are diphthongs, comprising a main sound and a terminal glide. In long-A, -E, and -I, the glide is Y, a very-brief long-E sound. In long-O and -U, the terminal glide is W.

Sunday, December 14, 2008: "pashon" for "passion"

SSI is a silly and inefficient way to write an SH-sound, and the spelling "passion" looks as tho it should be pronounced in three syllables, as pá, páa.see.yon, or perhaps pa.síe.yan (compare to "ion"), whereas it is actually to be pronounced in two syllables, as páa.shan. Since any vowel can represent a schwa sound, we can leave the O. But we can certainly change the SSI to SH: "pashon".

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

Saturday, December 13, 2008: "oxijen" for "oxygen"

Y is a very poor choice to convey a short-I sound, especially before what could be read as the "silent-E" (also sometimes called "magic-E") that turns a vowel in a preceding syllable long even tho the E is in the following syllable: oxygen. Especially is this the case in that Y by itself often represents a long-I sound (hybrid, dynamic, gynecologist). I is a better choice.

We can't double the G ("oxyggen", "oxiggen") to show whatever vowel we use in the first syllable to be short, because GG in such a position (a) is ambiguous, so could be seen as having a G-J sound sequence as in suggest, and (b) would also suggest to many readers that the second syllable bears the word's stress, whereas it is the first syllable that is to be stressed. No, the vowel we write has to be as little ambiguous as to sound as possible, and I is less likely to be read as representing a long-I sound than is Y.  

The second problem with today's word is that GE is ambiguous (get, gesture, collage, renege.) If the sound is J, let's just write a J.

Putting these changes together, we get: "oxijen".

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

Friday, December 12, 2008: "nytro/glisserin" for "nitro/glycerin(e)"

There are 2½ things wrong with today's word(s).

First is that the Y is in the wrong place. It belongs in the first syllable, not the third, because the first syllable has a long-I sound that is now represented by a simple I before a consonant cluster (TR). But an I followed by a consonant cluster will be seen by many readers, especially new readers and especially outside the old-line English-speaking countries, as being short. Y is a clearer representation of a long-I sound in such a location.

The second problem in the traditional spelling(s) is that -YCE- looks as tho the Y should take the sound long-I, but the sound is actually short-I. -C- is thus entirely improper a spelling here, since it cannot be doubled to show the preceding vowel to be short, since "nitroglyccerin(e)" would have a KS-sound for the CC. The actual sound is C's "soft" sound, which is the same as the simple S-sound. So let's use S. Once we substitute S, it's a simple matter to double the S to show the preceding vowel to be short, be it Y or, much better, I.

The half-problem is the alternate spelling ending in -INE, which is the first spelling in Britain but second in the United States. We discussed yesterday the absurdity of using the ambiguous spelling -INE (define, machine, intestine) when the sound is short-I, and as with yesterday's word ("masculine" to "masculin"), the solution is obvious: abolish the ambiguous -INE spelling and make the -IN spelling the only one accepted everywhere.

Putting this all together, we get: "nytro" and "nytroglisserin".

We would ordinarily use a food word on Food Friday, but have run out of all badly spelled but well-known food words that start with the letter N.

Thursday, December 11, 2008: "masculin" for "masculine"

-INE is ambiguous, but plainly suggests a long-I (line, define, concubine). Other pronunciations include long-E (limousine, machine, citrine) and short-I (as in today's word, intestine, and illumine). Surely, if the sound is short-I, we don't need and shouldn't write a misleading final-E: "masculin".

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

Wensday, December 10, 2008: "lukemea" for "leukemia" and "leukaemia"

The E before the U in today's word adds nothing but length. Worse, it implies that everyone must insert a Y-glide before the long-U sound, whereas not even Britons say that. Cambridge Dictionaries Online shows that everyone says a long-U without a Y-glide, so the EU spelling is not just superfluous; it is also just plain wrong.

In Britain, the spelling is "leukaemia". The AE is also misleading, since it could be read as long-A or even, for Latinists, long-I, so the A also has to go.

Finally, the IA at the end of the word is misleading, since it could be pronounced with a long-I sound ("dial", "hiatus", "trial"), whereas the sound is actually long-E. Why would we write a long-E sound with an I? We have the letter E to carry that sound before another vowel. Let's use it: "lukemea".

Tuesday, December 9, 2008: "nokwurst" for "knockwurst" or "knackwurst"

Ordinarily we would use a food word only on Friday, and most of our Friday words fit the Food Friday theme. But in the nearly 4½ years of this project, we have run out of all but food words for the letter K.

Today's word has two spellings, one with an O and the other with an A in the first syllable, but both spellings are pronounced the same: nók.werst (or, for people who make a distinction between the ER-sound and the UR-sound, nók.wurst). The "knock-" and "knack-" have nothing to do with the English words of the same spelling, so we can get rid of the initial silent-K and the effectively silent-C. But the rest can be left as-is, to show the tie to other "wursts" (e.g., liverwurst and bratwurst): "nokwurst".

Munday, December 8, 2008: "jail/berd" for "jail/bird"

Let's dispose of two words (and all related words) at once. IR is ambiguous, having in some words a sound very like, if not absolutely identical to, a long-E: irritable, iridescent, empirical. In "bird", however, the sound is that most commonly written ER. So let's just write it ER. There are a number of combining forms involving "bird" (birdbath, birder/birding (formerly called "bird-watcher/~ing"), bluebird, blackbird, catbird, mockingbird, etc.), all of which should be reformed to -berd-. I'm using "jailbird" to address this issue, because we have only two words left in our future-words list under the letter J, and this is one of them: "jailberd" (plus "berd", "berder", "berding", etc.).
My thanks to "Fisherman..." for "jailberd", "FireW..." for "berd", and "GreenD..." for "blueberd", "catberd", and "mockingberd". Curiously, by the way, none of the online dictionaries seems to know of the term "birdbath" (or, preferably, "berdbath") for a quick washup at a basin when, for instance, the shower is broken or the hot water isn't running.

Sunday, December 7, 2008: "insoociance" and "insoociant" for "insouciance" and "insouciant"

These inflected forms of a French-origin word, which refer to "a relaxed and happy way of acting without worry or guilt",* have an OU letter sequence but no OU-sound. Rather, the sound is a long-U without an initial Y-glide, which is often shown by OO: zoo, ooze, bamboo. Were we to drop the O from the OU and leave "insuciant", many readers in places like Britain would see the needed sound as a long-U that takes an initial Y-glide. But if we replace the U in the present OU with a second-O, everyone will know there's no Y-glide. As to whether anyone will see the resulting OO as taking the short-OO sound in good and book, rather than the long-OO as in food and tool, that is remotely possible, but unlikely. The typical reader will always see OO as long, except in a familiar word where s/he knows it to be short: "insoociance" and "insoociant".

* Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

Saturday, December 6, 2008: "hej/hog" for "hedge/hog"

DGE is a preposterous and ponderously inefficient way to write the J-sound. Let's just write J.

What shall we do about the plural  of the noun and inflected forms of the verb "hedge", tho? The ponderous ending -DGE becomes a tad less ponderous when you only have to add -S to create the plural or past tense (hedges, hedged) and can drop the -E altogether in the present progressive (hedging). But DG is still inefficient and needless.

How do we treat other words that take an -ES in the plural, or verbs that have a short vowel before the sound that trips the need for an -ES? Sometimes we just ignore the possibilities of confusion and add -ES, -ED, or -ING without doubling the prior end consonant: helixes, boxes/boxed/boxing; atlases, calluses/callused/callusing. Sometimes at least some of us double the final vowel: busses/bussed/bussing, biasses/biassed/biassing. Other people think that unnecessary and even excessive. We might predict that Britons would tend to double the J (hejjes, hejjed, hejjing) while Americans would tend not to (hejes, hejed, hejing), but at least at first, many people will see doubling the J as wise. In "hedgehog", however, no one should see any problem with substituting a J for the DGE. Quite the contrary, a compound word of two three-letter subwords will seem very tidy: "hej", "hejhog".

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

Friday, December 5, 2008: "grill" for "grille"

This Food Friday, let's give up on a distinction that is very poorly understood, between "grille", "a grating forming a barrier or screen ; especially : an ornamental one at the front end of an automobile" and "grill", meaning " a cooking utensil of parallel bars on which food is exposed to heat (as from charcoal or electricity".* Some people seem to think "grille" is just a fancy, decorative, alternate spelling for "grill", like the affected "shoppe" or "towne" one sees in shopping malls. There are restaurants or even chains of restaurants that employ the spelling "grille" in their formal name.

Actually, "grille" (screen) has an alternate spelling without the E. "Grill" (cooking utensil) does not, however, have an alternate spelling with an E. If we were to try to distinguish between these words, which are logically related, since you could use an automobile "grille" to cook steaks or hamburgers over a fire, we should go shorter ("gril"), not longer.

But trying to distinguish between these two words is pointless. The war is lost, and we are not about to re-educate uncountable millions. So let's just use the spelling shared, as first spelling for the cooking utensil and alternate spelling for the screen, everywhere: "grill".

* Both definitions from Merriam-Webster Online.

Thursday, December 4, 2008: "forj/ery" for "forge/ry"

GE is ambiguous (get, gesture), even in final position (rage, collage, renege). The sound in "forge/ry" is J, so let's just write J: "forj", "forjery".

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

Wensday, December 3, 2008: "elvs" for "elves"

An -ES on this plural noun suggests that the singular is "elve". It is not, but "elf". We are not here concerned with why it is "elf" in the singular but "elves" in the plural rather than "elfs", which we can perfectly well say without difficulty, but only to deal with spelling. The general rule of pluralization is that you add an -S to the base word, whether it ends in a vowel or consonant, unless the plural has another syllable, in which case you add -ES: boy/s, girl/s, present/s, temperature/s, umbrella/s; but church/es, rich/es. "Elves" does not follow that rule, and the mere fact that the consonant in the plural is V is no reason to add an -ES rather than -S: "elvs".

Tuesday, December 2, 2008: "decreppit" for "decrepit"

The present spelling is unclear as to both the vowel sounds and the word's syllabic stress.  CR is a consonant cluster, which could well be taken as signaling that the first-E is short and the word's stress falls on the first syllable. Actually, the first-E's sound is more like a short-I, and the word's stress falls on the second syllable. The second-E is short, but is followed by a single consonant, which makes unclear whether it is to be pronounced long.

If we were to change the first-E to I, "dicrepit", many readers would be tempted to see it as having a long-I sound and meaning something to do with two "crepits", whatever "crepits" are. (There's no such thing as a "crepit", even one, singular in nature, much less two or double in nature.)

To show at once that the second-E is short and that the word takes stress on the second syllable, we need merely double the P, whereupon the unstressed nature of the first-E falls into place: "decreppit".

Munday, December 1, 2008: "calcedony" for "chalcedony"

We can't fix everything wrong with this word because we have to work around a spelling pronunciation. We can, however, fix the first and most glaring problem, which is that there is a CH at the beginning of this word, but no CH-sound (as in church). Since the next letter is A, if we simply drop the H we show plainly what the sound actually is, a "hard"-C: the K-sound. The preferred pronunciation for the full word is kaal.séd.a.nèe, but because the word doesn't look much like it sounds, and ends with a sequence parallel to the familiar short word bony, there has developed the spelling pronunciation káòe.nee. Thus, tho I'd like to banish the spelling pronunciation (which is not recognized by the American Heritage online dictionary) and write "calceddony", I dare not double the D because that would plainly rebuke the spelling pronunciation. Today's reform must thus be more timid than I'd like:  "calcedony".

Sunday, November 30, 2008: "burry" for "bury"

A single consonant after a short vowel is ambiguous and can be misleading. In the case of today's word, compare fury and jury, which are parallel in spelling but not sound to "bury", as against furry and hurry, which are parallel in sound but not spelling. "Bury" is in fact the only common word of its pattern that has a full ER or UR sound. Let's double the R to make plain that it rhymes with flurry and scurry: "burry".

Saturday, November 29, 2008: "assid" and "asiddic" for "acid" and "acidic"

This pair of words perfectly illustrates the absurdity of spelling related words largely the same even tho they are pronounced differently. There are a great many words in English that start with an A that represents a schwa: about, ajar, among, along, astonish, and on and on. Indeed, "acidic" is another such word, where the A represents a schwa. How is the reader to know, if "acidic" is pronounced a.síd.ik, that "acid" is not pronounced a.síd, just like "acidic" with the -IC dropped? In actuality, "acid" is pronounced áa.sid, quite differently from a.síd.ik.

The way we often show a short-vowel (in "acid", short-A) is by doubling the consonant after it. We cannot do that with the C that is now in both words, because that would produce "accid", which would be pronounced with a KS-sound as in the first part of accident. But if we change the C to S in the adjective ("asiddic" — because the I is short, we have to double the D before adding the suffix), then we have an S to double in the noun. Let's do that: "assid", "asiddic".

My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion. Note: Because we have used up all common words in need of reform that start in X, Y, and Z, we are back to the beginning of the alphabet again.

Friday, November 28, 2008: "weener" for "wiener"

Despite the "I before E except after C" rule, so many people misspell this Food Friday's word that Merriam-Webster Online actually shows "weiner" as a variant spelling for "wiener". It's time to give up on getting everyone to spell this with the I before the E, and just write the word as it sounds, with no I at all: "weener".

Thursday, November 27, 2008: "velt" for "veld" or "veldt"

Today's word, for a treeless grassland in southern Africa, is from Afrikaans, which is a form of Dutch that started diverging after the 17th Century. In both Afrikaans and Dutch today, a final-D is pronounced T. The spelling "veldt" is presumably an anglicization to show speakers of English that the word ends with a T-sound. Why, then, leave a D? If the sound is T, let's just write a T, not DT.

There is a secondary pronunciation of the word overall that employs an F-sound at the beginning, which is current practice in Afrikaans but not in Dutch, which uses approximately the same sound for V as does modern English. English and Dutch are both Low (-altitude) Germanic languages, so letting the similarity between the Dutch and English V control would seem the wiser choice, especially in that pronouncing "veld" with an initial F-sound would create a needless homophone with "felt", so the better choice is both to write and to say: "velt".

Note: We have used up all common words starting in U, so skip to V today.

Wensday, November 26, 2008: "thoze" for "those"

-OSE is ambiguous, sometimes having an S-sound (dose, verbose, the adjective close) but other times having a Z-sound, as here and in nose, compose, and the verb to close). As close shows, you cannot know from the spelling which sound, S or Z, a word takes, but must memorize a list. Spelling should not require you to memorize different sounds for the same spelling but should assign different spellings to different sounds: "thoze".
My thanks to "Dogs..." for this suggestion. "Theze" was offered here on September 22, 2008.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008: "scoch" for "scotch" or "Scotch"

It's been a long time coming, but we have another Booze Tuesday today. "Scotch", with or without capitalization, is short for "Scotch whisk(e)y", mainly whisky made in Scotland from barley malt. Somehow that usage is not offensive to Scots, but calling a Scottish person "Scotch" is, we are to believe, an attack on his human dignity. (We are to use Scottish or Scots now for the people or culture.) In any case, we don't need three letters to show a CH-sound (as in church). Two letters will do just fine (attach, beech, rich, pooch, duchy): "scoch".

Note: naturally, derivative words such as "hopscoch" and "butterscoch" take the same change.

Munday, November 24, 2008: "reecreate" and "reecreation" for "recreate" or "re-create" and "recreation" or re-creation"

There are two words of similar form but different pronunciation and meaning that dictionaries tell us to write as "recreate" (pronounced rék.ree.yàet) and "re-create" (rèe.kree.yáet), respectively, but which most people are inclined to write identically. English hates hyphens about as much as it hates accents, and most people have no patience with trying to remember which words are 'supposed' to have hyphens and which not. Not so long ago, "to-day" was the standard spelling for today, and a major museum in Manhattan has as its formal name, to this day, the "New-York Historical Society". Most people see no more reason to put a hyphen in "re-create" than in "re-view" or "re-turn".

But simply dropping the hyphen leads to confusion with the verb for "refresh oneself" and its noun, recreation. Let's just double the E to show the long-E sound in the verb and noun that have to do with creating or staging again: "reecreate" and "reecreation".

My thanks to "Dogger..." for this suggestion.  Note: We have run out of common words that start with Q, so skipped to R to(-)day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008: "parly" for "parley"

"Parley" could be read as "parlay" (pronounced pór.lae), due to the influence of words like they, obey, and convey. Indeed, parlay itself has a secondary pronunciation identical to that of "parley" (pór.lee)! I don't know if that is due to confusion with "parley". If so, reforming "parley" to reduce its similarity to parlay might, over time, eliminate parlay's secondary pronunciation pór.lee. In any event, getting rid of the ambiguity of the -EY in "parley", by dropping the needless and confusion-producing E, is worth doing in itself. And we save a letter: "parly".

Saturday, November 22, 2008: "orfan" and "orfanij" for "orphan" and "ophanage"

PH is a preposterous, inefficient, and indefensible spelling for the simple F-sound, so has to go. -AGE is ambiguous, sometimes having a long-A (rampage, backstage, macrophage), sometimes a schwa or short-I (bandage, cabbage, usage); and tho the G usually takes its "soft" sound, which is actually J's sound, there are some words in which it represents the ZH-sound (corsage, montage, arbitrage — in all of which the A also takes its "broad" sound, the same as short-O).  -IJ is much clearer, and a letter shorter: "orfan" and "orfanij".

Friday, November 21, 2008: "noogat" for "nougat"

There is no OU-sound in this Food Friday word. The actual vowel sound in the first syllable is long-U without an initial Y-glide. Were we to write "nugat", some people, especially in Britain, might intrude a Y-glide before the long-U sound, so OO is a better spelling.

As for the T, most native speakers pronounce it, but at least some Britons do not. Rather, they say the word as tho it is French. No, it entered English in 1827. It is English now, and has been for a very long time. Since Americans say the T and Brits inclined to drop the T-sound do so despite its obvious presence in the current spelling, those inclined to drop it will continue to do so in a spelling that makes clearer the vowel sound in the first syllable, but everyone else will know to pronounce it: "noogat".

Thursday, November 20, 2008: "maskerade" for "masquerade"

There is no reason for a QU in this word. A literal, rather than figurative, masquerade entails the use of masks, so why would we use a QU in the longer word when the shorter word has a K? Why confuse kids and learners of English as a Second Language by using different spellings in related words for no apparent reason? Let's just use K in both places: "maskerade".

Wensday, November 19, 2008: "likan" for "lichen"

There is no CH-sound (as in church) in today's word, so should be no CH. The sound is K, so should be written with a K.

CH is also a two-letter consonant cluster, so the reader would expect the vowel before it to be short, whereas it is actually a long-I. So CH is an especially bad choice to represent a K-sound after a long vowel. If we replace a two-letter consonant cluster (CH) with one letter (K), the I before it is more likely to be seen as long.

Were we simply to change the CH to K, we would get "liken", which is already a word. In that the present word liken is a verb, and the present word lichen is a noun, the two would not ordinarily be confused. English has many words that are both spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings (bow meaning "bend to an audience", bow meaning the front of a ship; font meaning a receptacle for baptismal water, font meaning a style of type in a certain size), but if we can avoid creating more, we should.

Fortunately, the E in "lichen" takes a schwa sound, not a full short-E, and there is a more common spelling for schwa, A. So let's use that, which would give us a way to distinguish the noun for a plant from the verb meaning to compare: "likan".

* Líe.kan is the only pronunciation in North America, and the first in Britain. Some Brits employ the spelling-prounciation People who use that pronunciation are free to retain the present spelling, and proudly show their preference by drawing attention to their deviant pronunciation. The rest of the world, however, need not indulge them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008: "kanggaroo" for "kangaroo"

NG is ambiguous. It can represent a single sound or two different sounds. The single sound is the third nasal sound of standard English (with M and N), as found in the verbal ending -ING. But sometimes it represents that sound plus a (hard) G-sound, as in anger, manganese, and today's word. Conversely, NG can represent a simple N-sound and G-sound in sequence, where the N and G have no special relationship but just happen to adjoin: ungrateful, ingredient, engross; or an N-sound followed by a J-sound: tangent, ingest, avenge. So we need to clarify which of these readings applies to "kangaroo".

We might think we've got it narrowed down, because the NG is followed by an A, so a J-sound is unlikely. But we do have the word margarine, in which a G before A is indeed pronounced like a J. And we have the word hangar, in which an -NGA- sequence does not have a hard-G sound. And we have the word ungainly, in which the NG of an -NGA- sequence does not involve an NG-sound. So we need to show the hard-G. Fortunately, that is very easy to do, just by writing a second G after the NG: "kanggaroo".

Munday, November 17, 2008: "jagwahr" for "jaguar"

The reader who offered today's respelling recognized that Britons say this word very differently (jáag.yue.war (with a schwa before the R) or jáag.yue.wòr (with a short-O before the R), and proposes that they keep the traditional spelling for their pronunciation, but says that others need not be held back by it. That seems reasonable, and as with yesterday's word, today's would simply join that list of words spelled differently in Britain and North America, from "tyre" to "defence" to "cheque". British spelling is not necessarily historically nor in any other regard more authentic than American.* Given that the jaguar is an animal of the Americas, British usage cannot reasonably control.

Some people may wonder why we need an H. Well, if we just changed the U to W, we'd get "jagwar", and "war" is an all-too-familiar word, pronounced not with a "broad"-A (or short-O, the same sound), the actual sound of the second-A in "jaguar"; not a short-A; and not a long-A; but with the AU-sound (as in haul). So some readers will see "jagwar" as jáag.waur, which is wrong.

-AHR- is found in only one common English word, "Fahrenheit", where it does not have that sound, but a short-A. Still, AH is a well-understood rendering of the broad-A, and is commonly used to show that sound in folk-phonetic spellings in publications, so it's not "un-English". However, it will run up against the objection of some (stupid) opponents of spelling simplification, that it produces "simpleton spelling" — that is, spelling that is too easy! You see, some people actually think spelling should be hard!, and rational spellings are not just "simpler" but fit only for "simpletons"! There is no end to some people's stupidity.

To the extent possible, spellings should be simple and unambiguous representations of sound. If they can also serve other purposes (such as distinguishing between homophones), fine, but above all else, spelling must convey sound, as clearly as possible: "jagwahr".

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

* Interestingly, The Oxford English Dictionary uses -IZE rather than -ISE, and says:

In the last few decades, the suffix -ise has become very popular in the UK. Therefore, many people incorrectly regard -ize as an Americanism, although the form -ize has been in use in English since the 16th century. ...
Today, all major newspapers and magazines in the UK use -ise. The Times had been using -ize until the early 1980s, when it decided to switch to the -ise spelling. The Times Literary Supplement, Britain's most influential literary review[,] has continued to use Oxford spelling. Oxford spelling is also used in academic publications; the London-based scientific journal Nature uses Oxford spelling, for example. Even though British dictionaries generally give -ize variants first, the British government prefers -ise.

So as regards at least the -ISE ending, Brits have consciously CHOSEN, and only recently, to spell differently from the great majority of native speakers of English, who reside in the United States. Why, then, should Americans hold themselves back to accommodate Brits who willfully choose to complicate matters by adopting absurd spellings just to distinguish themselves from Americans?

Sunday, November 16, 2008: "incoewit" for "inchoate"

Here we have a CH that represents not the English CH-sound (as in church) but the K-sound. In that we already have a C in the word, if we simply drop the H, the C will fall before an O, and thus automatically take its "hard" sound, which is the K-sound. But we'd be left with ambiguities: "incoate".

COAT is a word, with a single vowel sound, long-O, so "incoate" would look like a two-syllable word with a needless silent-E at the end. But "inchoate" is actually a three-syllable word (with a silent-E at the end), and the A in the OA takes the sound it has in words like boa,* a schwa, except that here the following-T makes it sound more like a short-I.

Since both "incoate" and "incoat" would be read wrong, we need to experiment to see what would be read right. In no case do we need the -E. "Incoit"? No. The OI would be seen as  a single sound, and the word would thus be read as rhyming with adroit. How about inserting a W to show that there are two syllables between the C and T, "incowit"? That puts the word COW in the middle, so some readers would say an OU-sound there. But if we write "incoewit", the O and W are separated, so will not be seen as forming an OU-sound, and OE would be read as long-O, as in toe and Joe, which is right. Problems solved: "incoewit".

* There is a British pronunciation with a long-A sound rather than schwa or short-I for the second element in the OA spelling. People who say that will not want to adopt a spelling that indicates a short-I. They may prefer to retain the present spelling or simply to drop the H and leave "incoate", and this infrequently used word would simply join the list of words spelled differently in Britain and the United States, from "labour" to "gaol".

Saturday, November 15, 2008: "hoast" for "host"

There is no way a reader could know that the O in this word is to be pronounced long, given that it is followed by not just a single consonant but a two-letter consonant cluster. Further, there are other words with this same sequence of letters, OST, in which the O is short or something else: agnostic, cost, foster, jostle, posterior. Indeed, the entire four-letter group HOST has a short-O in the word hostelry. So we need to clarify that the O is long. There is a convention readily at hand by which to do this, the OAST of boast, coast, and toast. So let's use that: "hoast".

Friday, November 14, 2008: "goolosh" for "goulash"

This Food Friday, let's address the name of a popular stew of Hungarian origin, in which the consonants are fine but the vowels are both wrong. The OU does not represent the English OU-sound but a long-U without initial Y-glide. That sound is often spelled OO, as in ooze, booth, and bamboo. So let's use that, since "gulash" would be twice ambiguous. Some people might see the U as long with a Y-glide, which would be wrong. Others would read it as short-U, also wrong.

The A in the second syllable is supposed to represent "broad"-A , as in father, which for most speakers is the same sound as short-O in bother. But because there is no one there to tell the reader that the A is broad, some people read it as short, which has given rise to the spelling-pronunciation gúe.laash. We do not have to respect that (mis)pronunciation, however, since both Merriam-Webster Online's and's auditory pronunciations say only gúe.losh. So let's replace the ambiguous A with the clearer O.

Putting these two changes together, we get: "goolosh".

Thursday, November 13, 2008: "fountan" for "fountain"

AI is the wrong spelling for the vowel in the second syllable of today's word. For one thing, AI is highly ambiguous: gain, plaid, airmail, said, naive (pronounced, respectively, gaen, plaad, airmail, sed, noq.yéev). For another, the entire syllable -TAIN is commonly pronounced with a stressed long-A: abstain, contain, retain, maintain, etc. In "fountain", however, the sound is schwa, which is never stressed and is usually shown by a single letter, most commonly by the single letter A. So let's drop the I, save a letter, and make the pronunciation clearer:  "fountan".

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

Wensday, November 12, 2008: "ebbony" for "ebony"

Today's word was always ambiguous, given the single consonant after the initial-E and the fact that "bony" is a word, so the reader could easily see this as being pronounced èe.bóe.nee. It's actually supposed to be pronounced éb.a.nee. Now that many words have been coined with an initial-E, pronounced long-E, for "electronic" (such as email and ecommerce), it is especially worthwhile to clarify the pronunciation of this older term by doubling the B: "ebbony".

Tuesday, November 11, 2008: "diafram" for "diaphragm"

This is one of the weirder words in English, with both a PH for the simple F-sound and a silent-G! Craziness. Let's review yesterday's discussion of PH:
First, the preposterous PH for an F-sound has to go. It's not just cumbersome and inefficient to use two letters where one will do, but the two letters P and H have nothing to do with an F-sound. Whether they are said separately or together, they will never form an F-sound.

And PH isn't even consistently an F-sound, but in some words the two letters are given their own individual pronunciations (uphill, uphold); and in other words, some speakers say only a P-sound (diphtheria, diphthong). We should not have to think whether a given word is an exception to the PH = F rule but simply get rid of that rule. There are far too many "rules" that don't work in English spelling to retain this one.

The silent-G before the final M of today's word should not require discussion. It's just stupid, so let's drop it. That leaves us: "diafram".

Munday, November 10, 2008: "cartoggrafy"and "cartoggrafer" for "cartography" and "cartographer"

There are two things wrong with today's words. First, the preposterous PH for an F-sound has to go. It's not just cumbersome and inefficient to use two letters where one will do, but the two letters P and H have nothing to do with an F-sound. Whether they are said separately or together, they will never form an F-sound.

And PH isn't even consistently an F-sound, but in some words the two letters are given their own individual pronunciations (uphill, uphold); and in other words, some speakers say only a P-sound (diphtheria, diphthong). We should not have to think whether a given word is an exception to the PH = F rule but simply get rid of that rule. There are far too many "rules" that don't work in English spelling to retain this one.

The second problem with today's traditional spellings is that the syllabic stress is unclear. Altho showing syllabic stress is not something English always does, when you have a four-syllable word, it sure would be helpful to show where the primary stress falls. The rule in English is to alternate stressed and unstressed syllables. If you start a four-syllable word with a stressed syllable, you would start with this pattern: stressed-unstressed-stressed-unstressed. Here, that would mean cár-to-gráph-y, parallel to words like áb-a-ló-ne and ál-i-mó-ny. That happens not to be the stress pattern of today's words, but how is the reader to know that? A native speaker who hears that pronunciation for "cartography", even if he doesn't know the particular word, might think it doesn't sound right, and then try another stress pattern. But how is a new learner of English outside an oldline English-speaking country, to know what "sounds wrong" and what doesn't? If we can cue stress easily, shouldn't we?

One common way we show syllabic stress is to double the consonant after the stressed syllable — but, as we can see from syl-láb-ic, that doesn't always work). Still, it's all we've got, so let's use it: "cartoggrafy" and "cartoggrafer".

In the less common word "cartographic", the stress differs, so it would be spelled "cartograffic", with a single-G but double-F, again to show syllabic stress properly.

Sunday, November 9, 2008: "bennefiss", "benneficial", "bennefit" for "benefice", "beneficial", "benefit"

A single consonant before an E is often seen as signaling that the preceding vowel takes its long sound. When that is not the case, the convention is to double the consonant before the E. Here, BENE- could be seen as having a long-E in the first syllable, whereas it actually has a short-E. People who guess right about this word might be surprised by the word clerestory, which they would likely guess is pronounced kler.és.ta.ree but is actually pronounced kléer.stau.ree. Since we have readily at hand the doubled-consonant convention, why not use it and not force people to guess?

The first of today's related words also has a problem with its third syllable, because -ICE sometimes takes a long-I (as in the word ice itself, plus words like device, entice, and sacrifice) . We can employ the doubled-consonant convention here too. The sound of the C is S, so that is the consonant to double.

The other words of today's threesome have only the BENE- problem: "bennefiss", "benneficial", "bennefit".

Saturday, November 8, 2008: "afgan" for "afghan"

There is absolutely no reason for there to be an H in this word for a knitted or crocheted coverlet. No one in the English-speaking world says anything but a simple G-sound for the GH. G before A would take its "hard" (that is, its own, unique) sound without an H. An H is used in only two common words (gherkin and ghetto) to prevent a "hard"-G from falling right before an E as might lead to ambiguity as to whether the G takes its own sound or the sound of J. The G in this word, however, does not precede an E, but an A, so the H serves absolutely no purpose. Let's just drop it, OK?: "afgan".

We have used up all the common words beginning in X, Y, and Z that needed reform, so are starting at A again.

Friday, November 7, 2008: "whay" for "whey"

-EY is ambiguous. It can be pronounced with a long-A (as here) or long-E (key, alley, jitney). -AY is clear: "whay".

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008: "thred" for "thread"

EA is ambiguous. Its most common sound is long-E (bean, heal), but in some words it represents short-E (bread, health); long-A (break, great); broad-A, or short-O, the same sound (heart, hearth); the AI-sound (pear, wear); various two-syllable pronunciations (create, realistic, diarrhea); a YA-sound (azalea, bougainvillea); even the AU-sound (Sean) and schwa (vengeance, pageant). Why force people to guess which sound is meant (the past tense of mean)? If the sound is short-E, and it is followed by a D, we can make that plain simply by dropping the A: "thred".

Wensday, November 5, 2008: "scor/bord" for "score/board"

The traditional spelling of today's compound word shows the absurd inconsistency that new learners of English have to cope with. Each element in the compound term has the same vowel sound, AU as in haul, but the two identical sounds are spelled differently, O(R)E in "score", OA(R) in "board". In a consistent spelling system, this word might be spelled "scaurbaurd" or "skaurbaurd", but this project is about making only minor changes to conform to common spellings.

We have already offered "bord" for "board" (December 6, 2004), but, absent today's compound, might not have bothered with "score", in that ORE, while a tad longer than necessary, is not misleading. But in that we do have today's compound to fix, we might as well fix "score" at the same time.

For the AU-plus-R sound in both parts of today's word, the two most common spellings are OR and ORE. If we were to choose ORE for both, for internal consistency, we would produce "scorebored". The problem is that "bored" is a word to itself, past tense of the verb "bore", so the meaning would be confused. OR, the shorter formulation, would work in both parts of the word, as to save us two letters overall, so let's use that: "scorbord" and, thus, "scor".

Tuesday, November 4, 2008: "raje" for "rage"

GE is ambiguous, even in final position: college, collage, renege. If the sound is J, let's just write a J: "raje".

(1) My thanks to "yaora..." for this suggestion. (2) Q was the next letter in sequence but we have run out of common words that start in Q and need reform.

Munday, November 3, 2008: "peeple" for "people"

The traditional spelling of today's word is one of the odder renderings of a word used very frequently, an apparent three-syllable spelling for a two-syllable word. The word has had other spellings: in Middle English, "peple"; and before that, Anglo-French "pople", "peple" (again), and "peuple" (which is also Modern French for people). The word goes back to Latin "populus", which is why there's an O in it. But the O hasn't been pronounced , in English, for centuries. It's time for it to go.

"Peple", one older spelling, is ambiguous because the two-letter, PL consonant cluster could be seen as rendering the first-E short: pé That E is actually long. The simplest and clearest way to write a long-E midword is EE. So let's apply that simple convention: "peeple".

Sunday, November 2, 2008: "ootray" for "outré"

Today's word* is one of those from French that retain a French spelling, including even an accent, despite having entered English long ago — in this case, almost 300 years ago. English doesn't use accents, so the accent has to go. Once you drop the accent, you're left with "outre", which looks as tho it could be a British spelling for "outer" (like "centre" for "center"). Actually it is pronounced very differently: ue.tráe. How would we spell that clearly in English?

"Utray" could have a short-U rather than long, without an initial Y-glide (ut.rae). Or it could conceivably have a long-U with initial Y-glide (yue.trae). The word's stress could be on either syllable, no matter how it's spelled, because English spelling does not indicate syllabic stress. (The presence of an accent does not, in French, indicate syllabic stress (tho it does in Spanish), so dropping the accent or leaving it would have no effect on how the word is read in English.)

How else might we spell it? "Uetray" looks odd and could be read as wét.rae.

OO is a bit ambiguous too, in that there is a long-OO sound, as in food and bamboo; and a short-OO, as in good and book. The inclination of the typical reader, however, is to see OO as long, except in the few words we know it to be short, so that would seem the best solution: "ootray". 

* Defined as "passing the bounds of what is usual or considered proper; unconventional; bizarre." ( Unabridged)

Saturday, November 1, 2008: "nuetral" for "neutral"

EU is both unexpected in this word and ambiguous. At the beginning of a word, we would read EU as a long-U sound with an initial Y-glide: euphemism, eulogy, Europe. In Britain, most people do use exactly that sound in "neutral". In the United States, however, almost no one does. Rather, EU is, in North America (where the great majority of all speakers of English as a native language reside), said as a simple long-U without Y-glide, as tho written "nootral". We're not going to suggest OO here, because that would forbid the British pronunciation, and our purpose is, to the extent possible, to offer spellings that are clearer for people on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as to new learners of English worldwide.

UE is a much more common spelling for the long-U sound than is EU, and can be seen as having an initial Y-glide (cue, imbue, value) or not (blue, true, accrue). Different people pronounce some words both ways (due, avenue, Tuesday).

EU is also more likely to take other pronunciations: amateur, chanteuse, coleus. So UE is clearer while permitting both the British and American pronunciations.

You might at first wonder if we need an E at all, either before or after the U. Well, look at the word if we just drop the E entirely: "nutral". Plainly many people, and probably most, would read that as having a short-U: nut-ral. So we need an E somewhere. "Nuteral" would be read as three syllables. So UE seems the best solution: "nuetral".

Friday, October 30, 2008: "menyu/es" for "menu/s"

This Food Friday, let's fix the word for the list of offerings in a restaurant (or options in computer programs). The -U is ambiguous (compare haiku, guru, and kudzu, where there is no initial Y-glide before the long-U sound). We should thus show that there is a Y-glide in this word, which is easy to do. Just write -YU rather than -U.

The plural, "menus", is also unclear (compare genus and Venus). -ES is far clearer: "menyu/es".

Thursday, October 30, 2008: "libberal" for "liberal"

We ordinarily show a short vowel by doubling the consonant that follows. Here, we have the pattern vowel/consonant/E, which often indicates that the vowel is long. In this case, compare the -IBE- to that same letter sequence in libel, describe, and diatribe, all of which have a long-I. Today's word has a short-I. We even have the expression "women's libber", which shows how this sound sequence should be spelled. Plainly, we need to double the L: "libberal".

Wensday, October 29, 2008: "kacheena" for "kachina"

"CHINA" is the largest part of today's word, and both the country and the dinnerware of that spelling have a long-I. This name of a Hopi spirit and doll, however, has a long-E, which is most clearly shown, mid-word, by EE: "kacheena".

Tuesday, October 28, 2008: "jakpot" for "jackpot"

The C in today's word serves no purpose, and adds nothing but length. The -CK ending in the verb "jack" could be regarded as necessary because grammatical suffixes like -ED and -ING can be added to the root, and the CK clearly shows the A before it (jacked, jacking) to be short whether a suffix is added or not. Naturally, if we shortened "jack" to "jak", we could form the past and progressive forms by doubling the K, as we do in yakked and yakking, but some people have an irrational aversion to double-K. (If this project should advocate changing -ACK to -AK generally, we'll probably do an entire group of such words on one day. But not today.)

In today's word, which is not related to the verb "jack", the "jack" is in the middle of the word, followed by P, so the sound of the A is always clear. We don't need a CK. K will do very nicely, thank you very much: "jakpot".

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

Munday, October 27, 2008: "interppolate" for "interpolate"

Today's word has a highly unusual, and thus unexpected, pronunciation as regards stress pattern. The word's main stress falls on the second syllable, and secondary stress on the last syllable: in.téàet. The reader would expect, from other INTER- words (ínterèst, ìntercôntinéntal, ìnteráction), that the first syllable would bear at least secondary stress, and the third syllable would probably bear the primary stress, and thus contain a long vowel: ìn.ter.póe.laet. When a word's pronunciation is so very different from what the reader might expect, it is appropriate to mark that difference. Doubling the P would cue the reader to put primary stress on the second syllable, whereupon all the other sounds of the word fall into place: "interppolate".

Sunday, October 26, 2008: "hyerarky" for "hierarchy"

There may be no completely satisfactory spelling, using only long-established conventions, for this word, but there are clearly two things wrong with the traditional spelling. First, IE is ambiguous, especially before an R. Compare pier, bier, cashier (long-E sound) and barrier, carrier, terrier (two syllables, long-E plus short-E or schwa). There are other pronunciations in hieroglyph (long-I), collier (consonantal-Y followed by short-E), and atelier (consonantal-Y followed by long-A). In "hierarchy", the IE has none of those sounds but a long-I followed by a short-E or schwa. -YE- would be clearer.

The second problem with "hierarchy" is that the CH represents not the CH-sound (as in church) but a K-sound. If the sound is K, let's just write a K.

Putting these two changes together, we get: "hyerarky".

Saturday, October 25, 2008: "gajjet" for "gadget"

DG is an ungainly, overlong, and, here, ambiguous spelling for the J-sound. In today's word, the last part looks as tho it could be the familiar word "get", learned very early in the study of English, which has a "hard-G" (which we could simply call the G-sound, that one sound that G, uniquely, conveys). "Gadget" thus might be a compound word, gad-get. Compare floodgate, handgun, and mudguard, in which the DG marks the boundary between the first and second elements in a compound word. The spelling "gadget" can thus leave a new reader, especially outside an oldline English-speaking country, wondering "What is a 'gad'?"

As it happens, there is indeed a word "gad", a verb that means "To move about restlessly and with little purpose".* So is "gadget" a compound word meaning to get (become) 'gaddy'? ("Gaddy" is not a recognized word, but the suffix -Y can be added to many words, so a new learner cannot know that there is no such word as "gaddy" without looking it up. Even then, if an idea could be expressed by "gaddy", a person could create that word from "gad". English isn't simple, even as it works grammatically. We can at least simplify its spelling so that people might know how almost every word is to be pronounced, which will eliminate one piece of the overall language's complexity.)

There's a further problem of perception here, in that not just DG but also DGE is sometimes used to represent the simple J-sound. So is "gadget" even two syllables? Perhaps it is one syllable, a verb "gadge" with a T in the past and past participle (like learnt, burnt, and crept). It happens that it's not, but that is not self-evident to the new learner. People in English-speaking countries will have heard the word that sounds like gáa.jat innumerable times, so when they see "gadget" they can guess that it is the (odd, cumbersome) spelling for gáa.jat. But (a) why should we have to guess what a spelling sounds like? and (b) how are people who are not just learning to read but also just now learning English, a language not their own but perhaps hugely different in every particular, including alphabet (if their language even uses an alphabet, and not a syllabary or ideographs), to know that "gadget" is pronounced gáa.jat, when they've never heard the combination of sounds gáa.jat? English does not belong to the oldline English-speaking countries alone, but to the entire world, and our spelling must be simple not just for the kids in English-speaking countries but for new readers, of every age, everywhere.

We should thus strive to get rid of all DG's and DGE's that represent the simple J-sound. And once we substitute a J, we need to follow the convention that a single consonant after a short vowel is often doubled to show that the preceding vowel takes its short sound. J should be no different from any other consonant in this regard: "gajjet".

* American Heritage Dictionary.

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

Friday, October 24, 2008: "friccasee" for "fricassee"

In this Food Friday word, the wrong consonant, the S, is doubled, as suggests to the reader that the word's stress falls on the second syllable. In actuality, the second syllable is the only syllable that bears no stress. Some speakers stress the first; some the third. In either case, we need a double-C to show plainly that the I is short and that some stress, primary or secondary, falls on the first syllable: "friccasee".

Thursday, October 23, 2008: "eppalet" for "epaulet" or "epaulette"

The bulk of today's word, in its original form, is Paulette, a female given name quite different in pronunciation. The original spelling, "epaulette", has already been simplified by some writers, to drop the -TE, but the sound is still not clear. The AU does not take the AU-sound (as in haul, aura, and astronaut), but is reduced to a schwa. Schwa can be represented by any vowel or, as you can see here, vowel combination, but is most commonly shown by a simple A. The E at the beginning takes its short sound, but a single consonant following makes that unclear. If we add a second-P and drop the U, we get a clearer spelling in the same number of letters: "eppalet".

Wensday, October 22, 2008: "deparcher" for "departure"

-TURE is an indefensibly peculiar way to spell what sounds simply like -cher. One might make a case for retaining the -TURE if the U took its long sound with an initial Y-glide. But, despite the presence of a silent-E at the end of the word, the U takes its short sound. Were we to drop the -E, we'd be left with "departur", which is plainly wrong. If , however, we were then to change the T to CH, we'd get "deparchur", which is clear, and would be read correctly. But when people hear dee.pór.cher, they are more likely to guess -ER at the end (as in archer and marcher) than -UR, so let's use that: "deparcher".

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2008: "cozmettic/s" for "cosmetic/s"

There are two obvious problems with this pair of words, S for a Z-sound in the first syllable and a single consonant following a short vowel, the E. The first problem has a quick fix that doesn't affect anything else, to change the S to Z. The second problem has a quick fix, doubling the T, that at once both shows clearly that the E is short and that the words' stress falls on the second syllable: "cozmettic/s".

My thanks to "Caste..." for suggesting this word, tho I chose a very slitely different change, with two T's rather than one.

Munday, October 20, 2008: "binj" for "binge"

GE is ambiguous, even in final position (age, collage, renege). Today's word, relatively clear in its root form, becomes unclear when you add the grammatical endings -ED and -ING. "Binged" and "binging" look as tho they contain not a J-sound but only an NG-sound, as in stringed and stringing. Some people use an alternative spelling for the present progessive form, "bingeing", to show the J-sound, but there is no alternative form for the past or past participle, "binged". Tho "bing" may not be recognized by dictionaries, you can hear people using it as an imitative word to represent, for instance, the bell sound a microwave oven makes when it is done, an alternative to "ding". But whether something is recognized as a word is not the issue in spelling, because if a spelling is unclear, people may think their (mis)reading represents a word they just haven't encountered before.

J is unambiguous, by itself or before grammatical suffixes. So let's use that: "binj", "binjed", "binjing".

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008: "aker" for "acre"

Today's word is very peculiar. It has a long-A in the first syllable, but a consonant cluster following, which would ordinarily signal a short vowel. There is a silent-E in the second syllable, but it's not there to make the A long. Rather, it is the vowel for the second syllable, except it is flipped logically with the R, whose sound follows that of the E to form the ER sound found in thousands of words. It's like the flipped ER of the British spelling of words like center ("centre") and theater ("theatre"), except that "acre" is from Old English, not French, and in Old English was spelled with an ER (æcer). Apparently the C had a "hard" sound then, but C before E now takes its "soft" sound (like S), with only one notable exception, Celtic, which purists pronounce with a K-sound for the CE. Medieval scribes knew they could not write ACER and expect people to say a hard-C. But A-C-R-E would take a hard-C, and the hope was that readers would see the RE as having the same sound as in "centre". Most native speakers of English today don't write "centre", but "center", and you can't just flip the RE in "acre" because "acer" would be said wrong. So we have to change the C to K when we flip the RE to ER. Then everything is clear: "aker".

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

Saturday, October 18, 2008: "welcom" for "welcome"

-OME should have a long-O, as in home, dome, and tome. But -OM ordinarily takes a schwa sound (atom, accustom, kingdom), which is the right sound here: "welcom".

Friday, October 17, 2008: "vommit" for "vomit"

On "Food Friday" we usually deal with a word that relates to eating, which for most people is a pleasant thought. But sometimes food doesn't agree with you, or the flu or something like motion sickness causes us to expel the contents of the stomach, an unpleasant experience that takes various unpleasant colloquial names. The formal name is "vomit". It is parallel in spelling but not sound to omit, which has a long-O and takes stress on the second syllable. "Vomit", by contrast, has a short-O and takes stress on the first syllable.

The way we often show a short vowel is by doubling the consonant after it. A doubled consonant also often shows that the syllable before it takes stress, as is the case here. So adding a second-M  to today's word clarifies both issues neatly: "vommit".

Thursday, October 16, 2008: "ultimit" for "ultimate"

-ATE is ambiguous. There are many words that serve as different parts of speech, pronounced differently, such as legitimate (adjective: le.jít.i.mat (where A represents schwa); verb: to le.jít.i.màet) and advocate (noun: á; verb: áàet). Thus, in order to know how to pronounce one of those words, you have to know how it functions in a sentence, that is, what part of speech it is. "Ultimate", however, is not one of those words. It has only one pronunciation for both its adjectival and noun senses.* That pronunciation has no long-A sound, unlike the most common pronunciation of the similar words ultimatum and its uncommon plural, ultimata (the usual plural being ultimatums).

The actual sound in the last syllable of "ultimate" is either a schwa or a short-I. Since any vowel can be given a schwa sound, but -AT might be read wrong as representing a full short-A (as in at), we should write -IT: "ultimit".

* Merriam-Webster shows a verbal sense (to end) and pronunciation (with a long-A) for "ultimate", but other online dictionaries do not, and as a practical matter no one uses "ultimate" as a verb.

Wensday, October 15, 2008: "thissle", "brissle", "whissle", "grissle", and "missletoe" for "thistle", "bristle", "whistle", "gristle", and "mistletoe"

We have time to head off some spelling-pronunciations by revising an entire little family of words that presently contain a silent-T. The T in often, long silent everywhere,* has made a comeback as people who think spelling determines sound see a T and pronounce it. Most educated people know that the T in often was no more to be pronounced than the T in "thistle" (or, for that matter, soften, where it would make more sense, since the T in the adjective from which it derives, soft, is pronounced). In that there are hundreds of millions of people now learning English outside the old-line English-speaking countries, there is some urgency about eliminating confusing spellings so that new spelling-pronunciations do not arise. Let's prevent the emergence of thís.tal, on the inapt model of pistol, by replacing the T in today's words with a second-S: "thissle", "brissle", "whissle", "grissle", and "missletoe".

My thanks to "Clap..." for "whissle" and the derivative "whissler". All derivatives are implied in all suggestions made in this project.

* The American Heritage online dictionary says:

Usage Note: During the 15th century English experienced a widespread loss of certain consonant sounds within consonant clusters, as the (d) in handsome and handkerchief, the (p) in consumption and raspberry, and the (t) in chestnut and often. In this way the consonant clusters were simplified and made easier to articulate. With the rise of public education and literacy and, consequently, people's awareness of spelling in the 19th century, sounds that had become silent sometimes were restored, as is the case with the t in often, which is now frequently pronounced. In other similar words, such as soften and listen, the t generally remains silent.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008: "shoddenfroida" for "schadenfreude"

This seems an appropriate word to discuss as we start to see Halloween decorations go up. It's a $2-word with the unpleasant meaning, "malicious joy in the misfortunes of others".* It is given its original German pronunciation, which is easy enuf to say but entirely unreasonably spelled for English.

SCH is ambiguous, and in English is ordinarily pronounced SK (school, schedule) or like its two elements, the S and CH, side by side (discharge, eschew). -ADE- is likely to be seen as having a long-A. -EU- would ordinarily be seen as long-U, with or without an initial Y-glide (euphony, feud; chartreuse, pseudonym), but is sometimes pronounced differently (amateur, coleus). The SCHAD- is pronounced just like the simple English word "shod", with a short-O. To show a short-O mid-word, before an E, we would double the D, which is just what we do with "shodden", which is pronounced the same as the SCHADEN- here. The actual sound of the -EU- is like OI in boisterous or OY as in boy. Mid-word, we would ordinarily use OI. And the -E at the end of the word is not silent, as it is likely to be seen by readers of English, but represents a schwa. At the end of an English word, schwa is most commonly spelled -A (addenda, parka), so let's use that.

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

* Online Etymology Dictionary.

Munday, October 13, 2008: "refference" for "reference"

The verb from which this noun derives is refer, which takes stress on the second syllable. The new reader has every reason to think the second syllable retains the stress and the E in the first syllable retains its long sound in the derivative, as is the case with the related pair refer and referral. But in "reference", the stress shifts to the first syllable and the vowel in that syllable changes to short-E. The way we often show a short vowel is by doubling the consonant after it, and that also often signals that the syllable before takes stress, so simply doubling the F will indicate both changes handily: "refference".

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

Sunday, October 12, 2008: "quodrennial" for "quadrennial"

Presidential elections are a quadrennial event (occurring once every four years) and the Presidency has a quadrennial term (lasting four years), so the last few weeks before a Presidential election is an appropriate time to fix the first vowel in today's word, which is currently A but does not have either of A's main sounds, short as in at or long as in ate.  Rather, it is "broad"-A, as in father, the same sound as short-O. A has other sounds as well, such as the AI sound in words like scary and AU sound in words like wall. That really is too much to load onto a single letter, and requires the reader to think too hard and possibly guess wrong as to which of its five sounds to plug into any given word. Since the sound in today's word is like the short-O in odd and rod, let's use O: "quodrennial".

Saturday, October 11, 2008: "palavver" for "palaver"

Today's word has two largely incompatible meanings (a serious conference or meaningless chatter), but meaning is not our concern here. Pronunciation as indicated by spelling, is. The word has an unexpected stress, on the second syllable (like the word it derives from, Portuguese "palavra", meaning word). The spelling, however, gives no indication of that, so the typical reader of English will see it as taking stress on the first syllable and having only a schwa in the second syllable: páal.a.ver. There's an obvious quick fix for this. If we double the V, we at once show the second-A to have its full short sound and suggest that the word's stress falls on the second syllable, which it does.

As with yesterday's word, fixing today's word entails doubling a V. Double-V, tho unusual, is found in a number of English words (for instance, savvy, divvy, skivvies), so is certainly not "un-English". Quite the contrary, it follows standard operating procedure for showing a short vowel: "palavver".

Friday, October 10, 2008: "uvven" for "oven"

For this Food Friday, let's fix the spelling of a device used in the preparation of many foods. "Oven" is parallel in spelling but certainly not sound to over: ú versus óe.verOver is sensibly spelled, with both a single consonant and a following-E indicating that the O is long. In "oven", the O is not long, not short, but a short-U sound! This is, in short, a perfect example of the insanity of traditional spelling.

If the sound is short-U, write a U, not an O. And double the V to show the U is short: "uvven".

Thursday, October 9, 2008: "nachural" for "natural"

The present unphonetic spelling of today's word, which uses T to represent a CH-sound, comes not from this adjective itself but from the noun from which it derives, nature, and is improper even there, as the word is now pronounced. The sequence that would approximate a CH-sound (as in church) is T + consonantal-Y, so if the word were pronounced náe.tyuer, that could transition easily to the present CH-sound. But in fact the vowel sound of the second syllable (of both the noun "nature" and the adjective "natural") is not long-U with an initial Y-glide at all, so the T should be changed to CH.

The actual vowel sound of the second syllable is not long-U but what is most commonly represented by ER (better, person, term), but also by IR (bird, birth, third), OR (bettor, worse, worst), AR (beggar, nectar,  altar), and, most aptly for today's word, UR (surge, burden, liverwurst). Yes, that sound, which many dictionaries show as a schwa, but which is a special kind of schwa, can be represented by every vowel, even Y, in its occasional use as a vowel: martyr, satyr, and zephyr! Since "natural" already has a U, and UR can express the actual sound in the second syllable of today's word, let's use UR: "nachural".

Wednesday, October 8, 2008: "marrathon" for "marathon"

"Mar", the first part of today's word, is a word to itself, pronounced differently. It rhymes with bar, car, and star. The way we ordinarily show a short-A (as in at) rather than broad-A (or short-O, same sound) before an R-sound is by doubling the R: arrow, arrogant, barrel. In that traditional spelling is hugely inconsistent, there are ARR sequences with different sounds (warren, arrest, quarry), but the bulk of ARR's do represent a short-A then R sound sequence. So let's use that: "marrathon".

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2008: "lenz" for "lens"

"Lens" looks like the plural of "len", but there is no such word as "len". I was thinking before I looked up the etymology of "lens", that a vaguely similar word forms the plural by adding S, so one would expect this word to be a plural: lentil/s. I was thus amused when I found that "lens" derives from the Latin for lentil, on account of its shape!

The actual plural of today's word is "lenses", which is misleading as to sound if the reader sees it as parallel to dispenses or licenses, with an S-sound for the first S, the one after the N. Working backward, then, a new reader, especially outside an English-speaking country, could conclude that the S after the N in the singular takes an S-sound, since it's not a plural so would not need a Z-sound. Reasonable, but wrong.

The sound is Z, in both the singular, "lens", and plural, "lenses". So let's change the S in the singular to Z, and leave the -ES as-is because we do not, in this project, want to take on the spelling Establishment and insist on changing grammatical endings: "lenz", "lenzes".

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

Munday, October 6, 2008: "nollej" for "knowledge"

The present spelling of today's word is cumbersome, wildly unphonetic, and ambiguous. The silent-K plainly has to go. The OW in the middle of a word could be read as having the OU-sound. Each of the D and G could be read as having their own distinctive sound, and the -E could be read, therefore, as taking some sound as well, either schwa or long-E.

Mind you, there are some sounds that cannot be rendered completely unambiguously in traditional spelling. OL is one. No matter how you write it, some readers will see it as having a long-O sound. One L (old, oleander). Two L's: knoll, roll. Still, a double-L has a greater chance of showing a short-O before it: follow, hollow. So let's use that.

The entire three-letter ending, -DGE, is supposed to be read as a single consonant, the J-sound. Let's just write a J.

What about the vowel of the second syllable? It's a schwa, that neutral, unstressed vowel that can be spelled with any letter but is most commonly spelled with an A. "Nollaj", however, would probably be seen by many readers as having a full short-A sound. How about an I, since many dictionaries suggest the sound is a full short-I rather than schwa? "Nollij", or even "nolij" might do. But the letter now present in the second syllable is an E, so perhaps the most conservative change, least objectionable to people who have reservations about the entire idea of spelling reform, is to retain the E, even tho much around it changes (and shortens, from 9 letters to 6: "nollej".

My thanks to "Music..." for suggesting reform of this word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.

Sunday, October 5, 2008: "jessamin" for "jessamine"

There is no reason for a final-E on this word (an alternate term for jasmine),* and good reason for there not to be. The current spelling makes it look as tho it rhymes with valentine or Clementine. It does not. The I is short, not long, but an E after a consonant tends to mark the vowel of the prior syllable as long. So let's just drop it: "jessamin".

* We proposed "jazmin" for "jasmine" on July 5, 2008.

Saturday, October 4, 2008: "invay" for "inveigh"

This is one of those words with indefensibly preposterous spellings that no one has attacked with sufficent vigor (that is, inveighed against) to get them changed. The EIGH isn't even an unambiguous representation of a long-A sound, which might be one way to justify it, because there are words like height and sleight in which that letter sequence represents a long-I sound. So let's end the nonsense. The simplest and clearest way to show a long-A sound at the end of a word is -AY: "invay".

Friday, October 3, 2008: "hevvy" for "heavy"

EA is very ambiguous, usually being pronounced long-E (bean, least, pea) but sometimes short-E (bread, head, instead), long-E followed by another vowel (creation, idealize, rhea), and occasionally AU (Sean), AI (pear, the verb tear (to rip)), long-A (steak, break), YA (azalea), schwa (vengeance), etc. Over time, all EA's that can be more clearly shown by other spellings should be replaced, with the possible exception of leaving EA where it is pronounced EE, its most common sound. The EA in today's word is not one of those. Rather, the sound is short-E, which, mid-word, would ordinarily be shown by doubling the following consonant. The mere fact that that consonant is V is no reason not to double it. There are double-V's in other words (savvy, divvy, civvies, skivvies): "hevvy".

My thanks to "GreenD..." for this suggestion. Naturally, all derivatives would also change: hevvily, hevvywate (suggested by "Cal..."), hevvyset, etc.

Thursday, October 2, 2008: "heela" for "Gila" (monster)

Today's word derives from the Mexican-Spanish name of a river in the U.S. Southwest. That's why it is capitalized and the G is given an H-sound, which G before I takes in Spanish. But this is English; almost nobody knows that Gila is the name of a river; and the name of the poisonous lizard need not be tied to a specific river, since it is found on land, not in the water, and in places other than the shores of the Gila River. Thus we should both change the G to H and eliminate the capitalization from that H.

The I takes neither of I's customary sounds, long (as in lilac, isolate, and alkali) and short (debilitate, dilatory, filament). Rather, it is to be read as a long-E, which is most clearly shown by EE.

Put those changes together and you get: "heela" (monster).

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

Wensday, October 1, 2008: "fyord" for "fjord" or "fiord"

In many Germanic languages, not including English, J is pronounced like consonantal-Y in English. So common is that use that the International Phonetic Alphabet uses the character J to represent the Y-sound. But English has a different sound for J, which sound (as in just and jam) is represented in French, for instance, by DJ. This is English, so we shouldn't use J for anything but the English J-sound. If the sound is instead English consonantal-Y, we should simply write Y.

The alternative spelling "fiord", with an I instead of J, is better than the spelling with a J, but not quite right. It is more likely to be pronounced in two syllables than is a spelling with a Y ("fyord"), and some readers might not be clear on what sound to give the I. It could be seen by new readers, especially in a place like China or Russia, which does not use the Roman alphabet, as taking a long-I sound, so that "fiord" might be pronounced like the present word "fired". Y in that same location would be less likely to be pronounced wrong, and permits the two-syllable pronunciation that some people give this word even as it suggests the better, one-syllable pronunciation: "fyord".

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

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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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