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Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
Archive of Discussions
January-March 2009

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009: "mohv" for "mauve"

The vowel sound in today's word is long-O (as in oh, pharaoh, and bohemian), not the AU-sound (as in haul, caught, and tautology) that the reader would be entitled to assume. In a word like this, we would expect a long-O to be spelled O_E, where the underscore represents a consonant following the long-O sound. However, we already have a stupidly-spelled word of that pattern with V as the medial consonant, move,* but the -OVE, bizarrely, represents not a long-O followed by a V-sound but a long-U (without an initial Y-glide) followed by V! So we can't use the sensible pattern. It's already in use, nonsensically.

How else might we write this sound combination, long-O + V? "Moev" (the nickname "Moe" plus a V-sound); "moave" (parallel to "loaves"); "moav", except that that might be read as two syllables, dividing at the boundary between the O and A; or "mohv". Altho "moev" would make perfect sense, it might be seen as a typo for "move", and in the only common words in English in which -OEV- occurs , the O and E are in different syllables (e.g., whoever, whatsoever, coevolve).

OH followed by a consonant is unusual in English, but certainly not unheard-of: kohl, kohlrabi, ohm. And OH is a common way of showing a long-O sound in "folk phonetics", when people try to write out the sounds of a word without using diacritics. "Mohv" is , indeed, the way's own unabridged dictionary spells it. So why not use that as the general-purpose spelling?: "mohv".

* I offered "muve" for move, on July 11, 2004.

Munday, March 30, 2009: "levvel" for "level"

The pattern vowel-consonant-E is often read with the initial vowel's long sound. In "level", the new reader should be excused for thinking it is said lée.val. Its proper pronunciation is lé but, as so often happens in English, you just have to know that to know that, because you can't get it from the spelling. The way we would clearly indicate that the first-E is short is by doubling the following consonant. The mere fact that that consonant is V is no reason not to do this: "levvel".
My thanks to "Doghouse..." for this suggestion.

Sunday, March 29, 2009: "ictheollojy" for "ichthyology"*

There is a CH in today's word, but no CH-sound (as in church). Nor is the CH even a complex, foreign sound as in German "ich" (personal pronoun for "I") or Scottish loch. It's just an absolutely ordinary K-sound, which is also regarded as the "hard-C" sound. We could, therefore, replace the misleading CH with either K or C: "ikthyology" or "icthyology". K, while perfectly rational, looks a little odd to the English-speaker's eye, so let's use C.

The next problem with this word is -THY-, which is a familiar, if antique, word to itself, pronounced with a voiced-TH (as in this and that) and a long-I sound (as in why and by). But the -THY- in "ichthyology" has neither the sound nor the meaning of "thy". Rather, the TH is unvoiced (as in think and thin) and the Y takes the sound of long-E. We can't clarify the sound of the TH, because both TH sounds have only one customary representation, invariable-TH. But if we change the Y to E, we at least clarify that sound.

The third problem with today's traditional spelling is that the single-L does not clearly show the preceding-O to be short. Unfortunately, -OL- is one of those sound/letter combinations that cannot be made completely clear because -OL- and -OLL- can both be said with a long-O (cold, roll). Still, -OLL- is more likely to be said with a short-O, given the influence of words like hollow and follow. So let's double the L. This will also distinguish the bulk of this word from a word of similar sound, "theology".

The last problem with today's word is the G for a J-sound. G has its own sound, also called "hard"-G, even before Y sometimes: gynecologist, argyle, bogy. Even the word to itself, logy (lethargic), has a hard-G! So we really do need to clarify that here, the sound is J, and the simplest way to do that, plainly, is just to write a J.

Thus do we arrive at: "ictheollojy".

* The study of fish(es).

Saturday, March 28, 2009: "huch" for "hutch"

The T in today's word adds nothing but length. We don't need a T in much or such. We don't need a T in "hutch": "huch".

Friday, March 27, 2009: "jibberish" for "gibberish"

Altho there is a spelling-pronunciation for today's word with a G-sound ("hard" G, as in give and get), the word is properly pronounced with a "soft"-G, the J-sound. The spelling-pronunciation with a hard-G probably derives from confusion with words like gibbon and the proper noun Gibbs. One main reason for spelling reform is to guide people to proper pronunciations and help them avoid spelling-pronunciations that will make them sound stupid to people in the know. So let us replace the confusing G with the absolutely clear J: "jibberish".

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

Thursday, March 26, 2009: "frakcher" for "fracture"

-TURE is a foolish and unphonetic rendering of the actual sounds. That syllable actually sounds as tho written -CHER, so let's write it as it sounds. That then argues for replacing the present-C with K, because "fraccher" is harder to decipher: "frakcher".

Wensday, March 25, 2009: "escadril" for "escadrille"

There are two needless letters in this word. The L and E at the end not only are superfluous but also would lead some people to believe that the last syllable of the word takes the stress. A few people do pronounce it that way, but most people put the stress on the first syllable. In any event, showing syllabic stress is something English spelling does not ordinarily do. Words like permit and defect can take stress on either syllable. So we don't need the two silent letters at the end, -LE, which someone hearing the word spoken would not know to write: "escadril".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009: "darma" for "dharma"*

Today, let's deal with a word from Eastern philosophy that is bandied about in New Age circles (along with "karma", the spelling of which is fine), but poorly understood by most people. We here are concerned not with the meaning of words but only with being able to pronounce them on seeing and write them on hearing.

DH is not a meaningful digraph (two-letter combo) in English, but in transliterations of words from Indian languages it represents a meaningful distinction from regular-D. DH takes a little, emphatic puff of air; D does not. We do have the same distinction in pronunciation in English (do vs. headroom), but it doesn't mean anything to us, so we don't need nor pay attention to any differential spelling. In English, the DH in "dharma" is pronounced exactly as would be plain-D, so let's drop the H, and save ourselves both a letter we have to write and an odd spelling we have to memorize: "darma".

* The term has various definitions in English, from "essence" of a thing to "religious law". Wikipedia has an article about it if you are interested in trying to pin it down.

Munday, March 23, 2009: "kymeera" for "chimera"

Today's word (for a fanciful beast or, by extension, idea made from incongruous parts), has two pronunciations, one with a long-I in the first syllable, the other with a short-I. But the most important thing to fix is the CH for a K-sound. Note that the first five letters of the present spelling form the word "chime", with a CH-sound.

Once we change the CH to K, we might be tempted to leave the rest alone, "kimera", except that (1) the preferred pronunciation has a long-I, but the familiar personal and surname "Kim" might influence readers to choose a short-I; and (2) the familiar word "era" has two pronunciations, one with a long-E and one with a short-E or schwa-before-R sound, and we intend only a long-E in "chimera". So (1) a Y would more clearly indicate a long-I sound in this location, tho it permits a short-I (compare symbiotic, mysterious, hysterical), and (2) we need EE to show the long-E sound unambiguously: "kymeera".

Sunday, March 22, 2009: "billyus" for "bilious"

At least three things jump out as odd about today's word. First, the first syllable is pronounced like the frequently encountered word bill but there's no second-L, which may lead the reader to think maybe it's not BIL- that s/he should be seeing but BI- as in bilingual, biweekly, or binoculars. After all, the absence of a second-L leaves the reader free to see the first-I as long.

Second, there is an OU, but no OU-sound. The sound is actually a schwa, that briefly articulated, unstressed, neutral vowel sound that can be used in place of any vowel in unstressed position. But why would you need two letters to represent it? If we drop the O, the -US remaining would be said right.

Third, the medial-I, between the L and O, could be seen as a syllable to itself, making "bilious" a three-syllable word. But it's actually supposed to be seen as having a consonantal-Y sound, and the word has only two syllables. Since that's the case, let's just write Y. That is not completely unambiguous, but it is a tad clearer.

Put this all together and you get: "billyus".

Saturday, March 21, 2009: "aljee" for "algae"

The singular of today's word is "alga", pronounced, in English, á, with a G-sound ("hard"-G), not J-sound. The plural we generally encounter is written "algae" but pronounced áal.jee. How did that happen?

The word "alga" is Latin, and in Latin, the form "algae" would be pronounced áal.gie (with a long-I sound in the second syllable), not áal.jee at all.

We could logically do at least three things. First, we could banish the plural "algae" completely and substitute "algas" everywhere. Scientists might use that plural to speak of multiple species of algae; but people in general regard algae as "stuff", not things, and "algae" in general parlance refers to the mass, not to specific species.

Thus we could, as our second alternative, use "algas" for different species and the word that is pronounced áal.jee for the "stuff", that collective accumulation of seaweeds or tiny green dots in the water of a fishtank or that stick to its sides.

Or, third, we could try, against odds, to change the pronunciation of "algae" to a Latin form, áal.gie. To do that, we would probably have to change the spelling, perhaps to "algi" or "algie" or even "alguy". None of those spellings would be completely clear as to pronunciation.

If we give up on trying to change the pronunciation to áal.gie, but wish to preserve the useful term "algae" in a spelling that people could know how to say when they see it and guess how to spell it when they hear it said, we could change the spelling to conform to the familiar sound. That seems best to me, and the clearest spelling would be: "aljee".

Friday, March 20, 2009: "zuke" for "zouk"

This first day of spring, let's go festive, and reform a word for "A popular dance music of the French West Indies, combining African drumming styles with influences from American and Caribbean popular music."*

The present spelling has an OU but not the English OU-sound. Rather, the sound is the French OU-sound, which is an English long-U with no initial Y-glide, as in Luke and juke(box). Indeed, "zouk" is "probably akin to juke".* That sound is also written OO, but since OO has two sounds, long as in tooth and short as in took, -UKE is clearer: "zuke".

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

* American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2006).

Thursday, March 19, 2009: "yello" for "yellow"

This is easy. -OW is ambiguous, commonly being pronounced in two ways, as long-O and as the OU-sound. Where we do not mean it to have the OU-sound, we need merely drop the W.

There is one slite complication here. "Yellow" is a verb as well as adjective, and verbs take grammatical suffixes like -ED and -ING. -ED presents no problem: "yelloed". But what do we do with -ING? "Yelloing"? Tho it looks slitely odd, like the one-syllable, imitative pseudo-word "boing", we do have other verbs that end in O, no matter how it may be pronounced, to which we add -ING without more: doing, going, vetoing. No problem: "yello".

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

Wensday, March 18, 2009: "zeraderma" for "xeroderma"

Altho today's word is not yet well known, it may become so, given society's ever-deepening fixation on all things medical. It's the name for a condition of abnormally dry skin.

X is a highly variable consonant (expropriate, exist, luxury, luxuriate, billet-doux, xylophone). Tho it is usually pronounced like Z at the beginning of a word, people don't always know that, and the pronounciation eg.záe.vee.yèr for Xavier is common. So let's replace the X with the Z it sounds like here.

The rest of the word isn't so bad, except that the O is generally schwaed, and A would be a clearer rendering of schwa, especially if we change the X to a Z, because "zeroderma" would incline many people to give a full long-O value to the O, then wonder if the word is somehow related to zero, as means "no skin" or "skinless" rather than "dry-skinned". Let's write an A: "zeraderma".

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2009: "whimzy" for "whimsy" and "whimsey"

Today's word has two spellings in the singular and two in the plural. "Whimsy" always takes "whimsies"; "whimsey", with an E, can take either "whimsies" or "whimseys".

-EY is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a long-E, as here and in key, abbey, and baloney; and sometimes being pronounced with a long-A, as in hey, they, and purvey. So common is the long-A pronunciation, indeed, that uses EY as the representation of long-A in its pronunciation keys, such that the pronunciation-key spelling of hey is "hey"! So the E has got to go. "Whimsy" without the E is already the preferred spelling.

But that is not good enuf, because the S represents not the S-sound but the Z-sound. So it should simply be written Z. Today's word thus resolves to: "whimzy" (plural "whimzies").

Munday, March 16, 2009: "valeese" for "valise"

-ISE is often pronounced like -IZE, even in the United States. -ISE is standard in Britain and found in words like chastiseimprovise, and disenfranchise even in the U.S. "Valise" is not one of those words, but, as is so often the case with English, you'd just have to know that to know that. A reader cannot tell from the spelling -ISE that this I is pronounced as long-E rather than long-I.

In the U.S., the S in "valise" is pronounced as an S. In Britain, however, it is commonly pronounced as a Z. So how do we write a long-E unambiguously but the S/Z-sound ambiguously? -EESE handles this very nicely, being pronounced with an S-sound in geese but Z-sound in cheese: "valeese".

Sunday, March 15, 2009: "theeist" and "theeizm" for "theist" and "theism"

This Sunday let's take a pair of religious words that, like yesterday's words, violate the supposed 'rule', "I before E, except after C". There are so many exceptions to that 'rule' that it is not much help to new learners of English spelling.

In today's words, the EI represents two distinct vowel sounds, adjoining: long-E followed by short-I. But, as is so often the case with traditional spelling, you just have to know that to know that. It looks as tho it should rhyme with heist and poltergeist, but it doesn't.

If we add a second-E before the I,* we show that there are two vowels, the first being plainly a long-E. This is especially important in that there are two other, similar words, deist and, especially, deity, in which the EI represents two vowels, but the first is seen by some as long-A, not long-E. So we do need to clarify that the sound here is long-E: "theeist", "theeism".

The S  in "theist" does indeed represent an S-sound, but in "theism" represents not an S-sound (unvoiced/voiceless), but a Z-sound (voiced). So it should be written with a Z. There is actually a little schwa sound between the Z-sound and the M, but to show that, we'd have to choose a vowel pretty much arbitrarily, since any vowel might do perfectly well, but also might be seen as being a bigger sound than is meant. So let's not put any vowel in between the Z and M.

The last problem with today's words cannot be fixed. Both "theism" and "theeizm" could be read with a voiced-TH, like a phrase, the first word of which is the definite article "the" (as said before a vowel sound, with a long-E) or even "thee" (a form of the antiquated word for you, "thou"). But the TH is actually unvoiced. Alas, there is no way to show that in conventional spelling, and never was. Even when English employed two letters, eth (lowercase: ð; uppercase: Ð) and thorn (lowercase: þ; uppercase: Þ), for the TH-sounds, they were interchangeable. Either symbol could stand for either sound. So we'll have to leave an ambiguous TH, and trust the reader to choose the right sound: "theeist" and "theeizm".

My thanks to "fishstick..." for "theeist".

* In case you haven't seen the pattern, I underscore capital-I and -A when they stand alone as themselves (just letters) and do not represent the words "I" (myself) and "A" (one of several).

Saturday, March 14, 2009: "seez" and "seezher" for "seize", "seise", and "seizure"

Let's get rid of three words that defy the 'rule', "I before E, except after C". ("Seise" is a term of law, rarely seen, but needs to be dealt with nonetheless.) The sound in all three words is long-E, which, midword, is most simply spelled EE. So let's write that.

One question remains with "seize" and "seise": do we need to write -EEZE, or will -EEZ suffice? The present spelling has a final-E, as have the members of a small family of words patterned -EEZE (breeze, freeze, sneeze, squeeze, tweeze, and wheeze). But why would we need a third-E when two suffice to show the vowel to be long-E? Rather than write "seeze" with an utterly superfluous final-E, we might better eliminate it from all the others. That can wait till another day. Let's just drop the superfluous final-E from "seez" for now.

"Seizure" has a different problem, beyond the ambiguous EI (weird, weight, height, albeit, caducei; pronounced, respectively, weerd, waet, hiet, aul.bée.yit, ka.dúe.see.yì). The -ZURE is twice misleading. First, the Z does not take the ordinary Z-sound (the voiced version of the S-sound, as in zoo and adz(e), but the ZH-sound of the G in beige and collage. Secondly, the U_E suggests the U takes its long sound, whereas in actuality the sound is at best a short-U, which, before R (urge, burst, absurd), is reduced to the schwa-plus-R sound most commonly written ER. So let's write that.

Today's words, then, are: "seez" and "seezher".

My thanks to "Firewall..." for "seezher".

Friday, March 13, 2009: "razberry" for "raspberry"

This Food Friday we have an easy one. The P in "raspberry" is silent, and the S takes a Z-sound.* So let's just drop the P and change the S to Z: "razberry".

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

* In Britain, the A takes its "broad" sound (as in father); in the U.S., the A takes its short sound (as in at). But we don't have to worry about that in "razberry" because we leave the A unchanged, so whatever sound Brits and Yanks now apply they can continue to apply.

Thursday, March 12, 2009: "quoddra" and "quoddras" for "quadra" and "quadrae"

Today's word is a term from architecture for a small molding. It is pronounced with a short-O sound (also called "broad"-A), not one of A's main sounds, long as in ate and short as in at. The letter A is severely overburdened, with five different sounds to itself in different words: taste, hat, father, scary, war (pronounced, respectively, taest, haat, fother, ská, and waur). Let's lessen the burden.

In today's word, if we substitute O for A, "quodra", some ambiguity remains as to the sound of the O because of people's familiarity with words like quotation and phrases like quod erat demonstrandum. To make plain that the O-sound intended is short, we need merely double the following consonant, the standard way to show a vowel to be short when a single consonant might be unclear.

And once we have eliminated the Latin look of the word, we should as well eliminate the irregular Latin, not English, plural "quaddrae" — pronounced, foolishly, quód.ree, which is not Latin. The Latin pronunciation (as shown in English values for the vowels, not "Continental") would be kwód.rie.

So today's words are: "quoddra" and "quoddras".

My thanks to "space..." for "quoddra".

Wensday, March 11, 2009: "fumfer" for "phumpher", "pfumpher", "pfumfer", "fumpher", and, yes, "fumfer"

Many readers may never have encountered this word for 'to mumble, sputter meaninglessly, be evasive, waste time, etc.' I have always thought of it as the puffy stammering of some upperclass Britons whose accent is so extreme that it is incomprehensible, but it would seem actually to derive from Yiddish. In any case, as so often happens when a word enters a language via the speech of ordinary people rather than thru the writing of a well-known author, an uncomplicated pronunciation (fúm.fer) has developed multiple spellings. Let's choose the simplest and most straightforward, and use only that spelling: "fumfer".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009: "-olojy", "-olojist", "-olojjical", and "-olojjically" for the inflected suffix "-ology", "-ologist", "-ological", and "-ologically"

Something a little different today, reform not of a word as such but of a suffix, in its various forms, that means "the study of" and attaches to innumerable current and future words. This is another case of words you have to memorize, because you cannot know, just by looking, how this word element is to be pronounced.

G has one sound of its own, also called the "hard"-G, that no other letter represents, and which can occur before any vowel (gain, get, give, go, gusto, gynecologist). But it also has two other sounds, one common and one fairly uncommon. The common sound is called "soft"-G, and is simply the English J-sound. It usually occurs only before E, I, and Y. But it also occurs before A in margarine! The uncommon pronunciation is the ZH-sound, as in garage, cortege, and genre, and can occur only before an E (unless there's an exception I can't think of). People should not have to memorize complicated and inconsistent "rules" to know how to read.

Opponents of spelling reform insist that people can easily determine when to use which of these three sounds. But why should people have to memorize distinctions that are unknowable from the spelling? Let's just write clear sounds everywhere.

One question needs to be addressed. Do we need to double any of the consonants to clarify that a preceding vowel is short? When the syllable before the J-sound is stressed, we can double the J: "-olojjical/ly" ("biolojjical", "theolojjically"), which at once cues the reader to give the O before the J its short sound and to place the word's stress on that syllable. -OLL- would not, however, be the slightest clearer, because it is said with a long-O in some words (roll, poll, knoll), so there would be no point in doubling the L.

Thus do we arrive at: "-olojy", "-olojist", "-olojjical", and "-olojjically".

Munday, March 9, 2009: "nitingale" for "nightingale"

Altho there are two pronunciations for today's word, they don't affect the part that needs simplification, the absurd silent-GH. If the G and H are not pronounced, they don't need to be there, so we can drop them and save ourselves both two letters we don't have to write and one more arbitrary spelling we don't have to memorize.

If there were only one pronunciation of today's word, in which the N before the G combined to form the NG-sound as in sing ("nightingale" means "night singer") we might then need a second-G to show that. But since the preferred pronunciation does not have an NG-sound, but merely an N sound followed by a separate G-sound, we can leave that part of the word unchanged: "nitingale".

Sunday, March 8, 2009: "munk" for "monk"

The vowel sound in this word is a short-U, not a short-O (compare hunk, skunk, and trunk; contrast wonk, conk, and honky-tonk), so let's just write U: "munk".

Saturday, March 7, 2009: "liggacher" for "ligature"

-TURE is a silly way to spell what sounds like -cher, and a single-G leaves unclear whether the I is long or short. Doubling the G would show plainly both that the I is indeed short and that the word's stress falls on the first syllable. Replacing the -TURE with -CHER would make that sound plain too: "liggacher".

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

Friday, March 6, 2009: "intervue" for "interview"

-IEW is a preposterous way to spell the long-U sound with an initial Y-glide. There's no U; there's no Y. -VUE has a U that is understood from the well-established words revue and prevue to have an initial Y-glide. So let's use that: "intervue".

Thursday, March 5, 2009: "huekera" for "heuchera"

Today's word, for a type of flowering plant with showy foliage, has a CH but no CH-sound (as in church) because it was named for a German botanist, Johann Heinreich von Heucher, and in the German, CH doesn't take the English CH-sound but a harsh K-sound that is sometimes written in English as KH. The mere fact that the word comes from a German name is no reason to spell it in the German fashion, because we don't really say it in the German fashion. Not only do we use an ordinary English K-sound rather than KH, but we also pronounce the EU in an English fashion, as a long-U with an initial Y-glide (as in eulogy, euphemism, and euphonious). That's not German. In German, EU is pronounced like the OY in boy or OI in joist. But we don't trouble with that, so let's stop pretending to be pronouncing this plant's name in the German fashion, but conform its spelling to its sound.

We could leave the EU and just change the CH ("heukera"). Some people reading that may know to pronounce it with a Y-glide. But there is a pre-existing English word that is pronounced like the start of today's word, but written with a UE, "hue", that everyone knows to say a Y-glide in. Conversely, there are many words with an EU that is not pronounced as long-U with initial Y-glide (amateur, caduceus, chauffeur, derailleur, lieu, etc.). So UE is the better pattern to use here: "huekera".

Wensday, March 4, 2009: "zheeclay" for "giclée" and "giclee"

We have a chance here, again, to get ahead of the curve by heading off multiple pronunciations of a newly invented English word for "the use of ink-jet printing to manufacture artistic prints" because that word has not yet made it into the major dictionaries, even their online versions. It's from French and is pronounced in the French manner: zhee.kláe. The way to show that in English conventional spelling is: "zheeclay".

Tuesday, March 3, 2009: "forcloez" and "forcloezher" for "foreclose" and "foreclosure"

Almost no one can make any sense of today's word by separating it into its assumed elements. FORE- would be seen as meaning "before" or "in front". But how would that relate to "close" (with a Z-sound), to create the sense of a lender's taking over property under mortgage? Even once you know that the FORE- does not come from the Old English word fore, meaning "before", but from Latin foris, meaning "outside", it doesn't make sense. So there is no reason to try to retain a visual tie to the familiar word "close".

This becomes important in that the noun from the verb "foreclose", "foreclosure", would have to be written with a ZH to make the sound clear, because it sure doesn't sound like the word sure, which has an SH-sound, not a ZH-sound, and an ER sound, not long-U.

Once you write -ZHER instead, the ZH's nature as a two-letter consonant cluster would incline the reader to see the O before that cluster as short, when it is actually long. To show a long-O before a consonant cluster, you'd have to put a second vowel after the O. A would produce "forecloazher", but the OA could be read as two syllables, as in boa or, less likely, in benzoate. Some people outside English-speaking countries might see it as parallel to the OA in board or broad, an AU-sound. So OA wouldn't work.

That leaves OE, as in toes, doeskin, and soloed. That might not be 100% unambiguous, but "forecloezher" would be clearer than "foreclozher", and sometimes you have to choose less-ambiguous over more-ambiguous.

The E in FORE- adds nothing but length and potential confusion with the more common prefix that means "earlier" or "in front" (foreword, foresee, forearm). So we should drop the E.

Putting these changes together we get: "forcloez" and "forcloezher".

Munday, March 2, 2009: "eevning" for "evening"

Today we address a two-syllable word that some people misread as three. The "evening" here is the early part of the nite, not the present-progressive form of "to even", as in "evening up the score".

The existence of the unrelated word "even" confuses the issue for some people, and in trying to seem more educated than they are, they pronounce the word for early nite with three syllables, which ironically makes conspicuous their lack of education or refinement.

To break the mental tie between "even" and "evening", we need merely flip the -VE- to -EV-: "eevning".

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

Sunday, March 1, 2009: "dizzerv" for "deserve"

The present spelling suggests a pronunciation of dee.sérv, with a long-E in the DE- part of the word (compare delist, delight, defend, and deprogram), and an S-sound where the S occurs. The actual sound is di.zérv, with a short-I and a Z-sound. How would we show that in conventional spelling? "Dizerv" would be seen by some readers as having a long-I sound: díe.zerv or die.zérv. To show a short-I, we'd have to double the Z. That unfortunately suggests not only that the I is short, but also that the first syllable takes the word's stress, whereas the second syllable takes the stress. Can't be helped. Indicating syllabic stress is not something traditional spelling usually does. If we show the speech sounds plainly, that is a big improvement over the present spelling.

The -E at the end of the word is silent but serves no useful purpose. It does not indicate a long vowel in the prior syllable (-SERV-), because that vowel is short. No one would see the final-E as suggesting that the word's stress falls on the last syllable, because the word from which it derives, serve, also has a silent-E but is only one syllable, so there is no issue of syllabic stress for the -E to clarify. It is simply superfluous, a waste of energy and ink, so should be dropped.

These three little changes produce a spelling that is perfect as to speech sounds, even if less than perfect as regards cueing the reader to syllabic stress: "dizzerv".

Saturday, February 28, 2009: "kyron" for "chiron"

Let's get ahead of the linguistic curve today, by simplifying a word that has not yet made it into the dictionaries, even online dictionaries, for a type of graphic used by broadcasters to show information, such as a news crawl or a bar containing static text, at the bottom of the screen while independently generated video appears above. I don't know how "Chiron", the name of a centaur (half-man/half-horse) from ancient Greek mythology, came to apply to this technology and the visuals it provides, but it has.

The spelling is bad. The CH represents not the English CH-sound (as in church) but a plain old K-sound. So let's change the CH to K. "Kiron" might be clear, except that -IRON- is poisoned by "iron", the one word in all of English (with its derivatives) in which that letter sequence is pronounced not as you might imagine, íe.ron, but íe.yern. Since we don't want anyone misreading the respelling for "chiron" as kíe.yern, we need to avoid -IRON. "Kieron" would likely be read like the Irish name Kieran (pronounced kée.ran). How else might we write a long-I, if not IE? Y. If we write "kyron", most people should pronounce it right, kíe.ron. So let's do that: "kyron".

Friday, February 27, 2009: "baishamel" for "béchamel" or "bechamel"

This Food Friday, let's fix the term for a white sauce, sometimes with onion and nutmeg, from French cookery.

The first problem is the accent, which in French indicates a long-A sound but in English means nothing. Few people know how to get an accent in, for instance, email or from a typewriter, so the accent has got to go.

The second problem, then, is the sound of the E. It is neither of E's usual sounds, long as in be nor short as in bet, but, as noted above, a long-A. The most common way of showing a long-A midword, when there's no E in the next syllable to serve as the silent-E (or "magic"-E) that marks a vowel in the prior syllable as long is to write AI (staid, paid, maid).  So let's do that.

The next problem is the CH, which represents not the English CH-sound (as in church) but the French-CH, which is the English SH-sound. So let's just substitute SH.

Put this all together and you get: "baishamel".

* Curiously, after I started today's entry, I saw that AOL is hiliting an "ultimate mac and cheese" video from AOL Food chef Tyler Florence in which he tells how to make a béchamel sauce!

Thursday, February 26, 2009: "advencher" for "adventure"

-TURE is an absurd way to spell what sounds like -CHER, so let's simply write -CHER: "advencher".

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

Wensday, February 25, 2009: "zoewoid" for "zooid"

The present spelling of today's word is ambiguous. It could be seen as "zoo" followed by "id" and thus pronounced zúe.wid. It's actually pronounced zóe.woid. How do we show that? Folk phonetics might write "ZOH-oid" in a pronunciation key, but that wouldn't work in a regular word, without a hyphen: "zohoid" looks as tho the H is pronounced its usual way, whereas it would actually be silent.

The first part of the word would be plain if written "zoe", but we couldn't just shove that up against the second part: "zoeoid", because the reader could not know if there are two vowel sounds (zóe.(w)oid) or three (zóe.(w)ee.(y)oid). There are only two vowel sounds, and they are separated by a W-glide. If we show the W-glide, as W, we have the solution: "zoewoid".

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2009: "yungger" and "yunggest" for "younger" and "youngest"

-NG- is ambiguous, sometimes having a hard-G sound in addition to its own, unique NG-sound (longer, anger, finger); sometimes only its own sound, without a hard-G (singer, hanger, humdinger); and sometimes having no NG-sound at all, but either an N-sound followed by a hard-G (engage, engorge, engross) or an N-sound followed by a J-sound (danger, ingest, avenger) . The reader is just supposed to know which sound applies to which word. Let's provide some guidance.

In today's words, the comparative and superlative forms of the adjective "young" (which has already been offered here as "yung")* a hard-G sound is added before the -ER or -EST. There's no way the reader can know that unless we show that, by writing a second-G: "yungger" and "yunggest".

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

* On November 5, 2004.

Munday, February 23, 2009: "wosp" for "wasp"

-ASP is misleading in this word. Compare asp, rasp, and clasp. The sound is not short-A, as the reader should be able to expect, in that the A is followed by a two-letter consonant cluster, SP, but "broad"-A, which is the same sound as short-O (osprey, gospel, hospital). Let's just write an O: "wosp".

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

Sunday, February 22, 2009: "vicker" for "vicar"

The spelling of today's word is ambiguous, in that a single-C following the I of the first syllable leaves the sound of the I unclear. Is it long? Is it short? This is made plain by the fact, not generally known, that "vicar" (with a short-I) and "vicarious" (with a long-I) are related, and originate in a Latin word that means "substitute". In Episcopal usage, a vicar substitutes for the parish priest at a local chapel; in Roman Catholic use, a vicar is a representative of the Pope.

In any case, to show that the I in "vicar" is short, we could double the C, "viccar", but (1) -CC- for a K-sound is uncommon, even if it is not rare (buccaneer, moccasin, occasion) and (2) -CAR is ambiguous, as could lead some people to pronounce it like the word for "automobile", with a broad-A / short-O sound. The vowel sound in "vicar" is actually the schwa-plus-R sound most commonly written -ER (bigger, owner, western), so -ER would be much clearer. We could not write -ER after VICC-, however, because in "viccer" the CC would be read as a KS or X-sound. So we'd have to write not -CC- but -CK-, as in innumerable words (back, check, dock, luck; and, rhyming with "vicar", bicker, kicker, and slicker). Let's do that: "vicker".

Saturday, February 21, 2009: "thro", "thrue", and "throen" for "throw", "threw", and "thrown"

-OW has two pronunciations, long-O and the OU-sound. It is not possible to know just from seeing the word on the page which pronunciation applies: how, now, cow, endow (OU-sound) alternates unpredictably with grow, show, glow and borrow. You have to know the word to know the pronunciation. Not good enuf. 

We don't have to eliminate this letter combination at the end of a word, but we should assign it to just one of its standard pronunciations. The long-O sound is easily indicated simply by dropping the W. If we assign -OW to the long-O sound only, we would have to write the OU-sound differently, as perhaps -OU itself (hou, nou, cou, endou) or -OUW if people are, irrationally, uncomfortable with OU ending a word (houw, nouw, couw, endouw). -OU without a W would conform to the sound in thou, but the sound in the other familiar words of this unusual ending, -OU, have a long-U (or long-OO) sound: e.g., you, bayou, and caribou. We could certainly change all of those to -U or -OO. But since merely dropping the W in words that have a long-O sound is simpler and, in the case of today's word, displaces no other word, that would be the easier way to go: "thro", on the model of the informal, accepted variant spelling "tho".

"Threw" is a tad more complicated, because "thru" is an accepted variant spelling for "through". Simply adding an -E clarifies the issue: "thrue".

And if we make an "add -EN" rule for irregular verbs like "throw", parallel to the "add -ED" rule for regular past tense, "thro" becomes "throen", which will not be confused with throne, a noun for a monarch's chair.

Thus we arrive at new, clear spellings for all three forms of today's irregular verb: "thro", "thrue", and "throen".

There is one place where visual confusion would occur, the third-person singular "he / she / it throes", which equates with the plural of the infrequently-encountered noun "throe", for a sharp pain. But since a reader is unlikely to encounter a passage in which the noun and verb would be confused in context, that should not cause problems.

My thanks to "Dogs..." for "thrue".

Friday, February 20, 2009: "scauld" for "scald"

This Food Friday, let's fix a word that refers both to a cooking process of briefly subjecting food to boiling or almost-boiling water, and to a risk in cooking, being injured by steam or hot water. The A in "scald" does not have either of A's most common sounds, long as in ate or short as in at. It doesn't even have A's third most common sound, "broad" as in father. Rather, it represents the AU-sound as in haul and caustic. There's a simple, obvious fix. Let's just add a U to form the familiar AU-spelling to show the AU-sound: "scauld".

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

Thursday, February 19, 2009: "revvel" for "revel"

RE- is a very common prefix, usually pronounced with a long-E — remind, return, and the verb rebel, which is exactly parallel to "revel" but pronounced differently (ree.bél). Here, unlike many RE- words, the stress is on the first syllable, and the first-E is short. Doubling the V will at once show the first-E to be short and cue the reader to place the word's stress on the first syllable: "revvel".

Wensday, February 18, 2009: "parrasite" for "parasite"

-AR- is ambiguous, usually being pronounced with a "broad"-A, the same sound as short-O: part, parlor, parcel. In some other words, like particular, parabola, and parade, the A (before R) takes the schwa sound. Here, however, it takes a short-A, as in at. How is the reader to know that?

A person may learn to look for the four-letter sequence, PARA-, and learn as well to pronounce it with a short-A. But the reader will then encounter parabola, separate, and comparable, and find that the first-A in -PARA- is not always pronounced short-A. Spelling should not require you to evaluate the situation in a particular word to know what to say, but that's what we have to do, hundreds of times a day.

To show a short-A before an R-sound, we have the spelling -ARR-, as in arrow, barren, and carry. Of course, the spelling of English being as insanely chaotic as it is, even that is not foolproof, and -ARR- has other pronunciations: warranty, arrange, warred. Absent fundamental reform, to an absolutely consistent, radical spelling system (like Fanetik), the best we can do with some sounds is make things clearer, not absolutely clear: "parrasite".

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2009: "oezher" for "osier"*

-SI- is an odd, ambiguous, and unexpected way to spell the ZH-sound (osier, crosier, and brasier, but busier , greasier, and easier). If the sound is ZH, let's just write ZH. But ZH is a consonant cluster, which may suggest to the reader that a single vowel before it is short, so "ozher" would be ambiguous. To show that the O is long, we need either an E (as in toe) or an A (as in oat) after it: "oezher" or "oazher". OA can be read as two syllables (boa, coalition), so OE would seem the better choice: "oezher".

* An "osier" is a type of willow used in making baskets.

Munday, February 16, 2009: "nasturshum" for "nasturtium"

We have a great many words with -TION having an SH-sound. There are so many of them, that we don't need to change it, even tho it is an irrational spelling, because it is well understood and pronounced uniformly. But -TIUM is rare, and has no agreed pronunciation. In different words, different speakers say different things. For instance, strontium is pronounced strón.tee.yam, ~.chee.~, ~.shee.~, and stron.sham. We cannot, therefore, reform it, nor the other few words ending in a -TIUM that is pronounced inconsistently. But "nasturtium" has only one pronunciation for the -TIUM, -sham (the vowel sound being schwa), so we can make its spelling clearer. If we change the -TI- to -SH-, everything else can stay the same: "nasturshum".

Sunday, February 15, 2009: "mition" and "mitionerry" for "mission" and "missionary"

Why should we have to remember which of multiple spellings for the -TION suffix applies to any given word (nation, compulsion, suspicion, complexion as against direction)? When we hear .shan we should be able to plug in -TION and have done with it. We write emition, edition, and prohibition. Let's write "mition" too.

As for the -ARY ending, that is ambiguous:  contrast wary, boundary, scary, peccary (pronounced respectively wái.ree, bóun.da.rèe, skái.ree, and pék.a.rèe). The sound here is, which is better written -ERRY (berry, cherry, terrycloth).

Putting these two changes together, we get: "mition" and "mitionerry".

Saturday, February 14, 2009: "libberty", "libberate", "libberation", and "libberteen" for "liberty", "liberate", "liberation", and "libertine"

The Presidents' Day weekend seems a good time to reform the ambiguous spellings of these words related to freedom (and, in the case of "libertine", the misuse of freedom). All of today's words have an I before a single consonant followed by an E, as would lead many readers to think the I is long (compare libel; indeed even without an E, LIB- sometimes takes a long-I: libation and library). To show a short-I, one would ordinarily double the following consonant: fibber, jibberjabber, women's libber. That little change would make the short-I clear. So let's do that with all of today's words.

The one remaining item is the ambiguous -INE of "libertine" (compare valentine, magazine, heroine, pronounced váal.en.tìen, máag.a.zèen or màag.a.zéen, and hé, respectively). To show plainly that the vowel sound in the last syllable is long-E, we need to change the -INE to -EEN: "libberty", "libberate", "libberation", and "libberteen".

My thanks to "fishstick..." for "libberty".

Friday, February 13, 2009: "kreplokh" for "kreplach" or "kreplech"

This Food Friday, let's fix a term from Jewish cookery, for a type of dumpling often served in soup. The first syllable is fine, but the second is wrong. The CH does not represent a CH-sound as in church but a harsh guttural from Yiddish and the related language German (as in the expression Ach du lieber) or in Scottish loch, which is more clearly shown by KH. Some people pronounce the KH as in German ach, some just pronounce it as an ordinary K. But in any case, the sound is not CH.

The vowel sound is either "broad"-A or short-O (the same sound) or a schwa. Any vowel can be schwaed, but A before a two-letter consonant cluster is more likely to be seen as short-A as in at than broad as in father (or O as in on), whereas it is the latter sound we want to cue the reader to, so O is a superior spelling: "kreplokh".

Thursday, February 12, 2009: "janniter" for "janitor"

Today's word isn't seriously misleading, but it is unclear as to two points. First, single consonants leave room for misreading one or more vowels as long. In this word, the A might be seen as unclear. A new reader, familiar with the name Jane, might see the absence of a double-N as suggesting a long-A. Simply doubling the N at once shows that the A is short and that the word's stress falls on the first syllable, whereas the present spelling gives no cue to syllabic stress. Tho English spellings often leave syllabic stress unclear, if a spelling that is clearer as to a vowel's sound can also cue syllabic stress, so much the better.

The second clarification we can make is that the vowel of the last syllable is not the AU-sound (as in or, haul, and caustic), but the -ER sound of erroneous, better, and perfect: "janniter".

My thanks to "space..." for suggesting this word, tho I chose a slitely different, and shorter, solution.

Wensday, February 11, 2009: "isosseleez" for "isosceles"

There are three things wrong with the spelling of today's word (for a triangle that has two legs of equal length). First, there is a silent-C, which one could not anticipate from hearing the word pronounced (ie.sós.a.lèez). Second, it looks like a plural but isn't. There is no such thing as one "isoscele". Third, -ES is ambiguous, and could be pronounced with a short-E or schwa.

The quick fix for the silent-C problem is to replace the C with a second-S, which will show at once that the O is short and that the word's stress falls on the second syllable.

The problem of a perceived plural and the ambiguity of the -ES are both easily fixed by changing the -ES to -EEZ.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2009: "huebris" for "hubris"

The present spelling of this word for excessive pride could be read as having a short-U because there is a two-letter consonant cluster (BR) after it. To show that the U is long, we need only insert an E before the BR: "huebris".

Munday, February 9, 2009: "jelotto" for "gelato"

Chelsea Handler of the late-nite cable talk show Chelsea Lately recently mispronounced today's word with a hard-G, then corrected herself and added "or however it's pronounced", which shows that the word causes problems so should be reformed. "Gelato" is plainly foreign, but from what language, and how is GE pronounced in that language? If it were German, the G would indeed be hard. If it were Spanish, the G would be pronounced like a harsh English H. If French, like ZH. If Italian, like English J.

Well, it happens to be from Italian, but you shouldn't have to know that in order to know how to pronounce it. If the sound is J, write a J! And if the sound of the second syllable is a short-O, write O. You'd then have to double the T to show that the O is short. And thus do we end up with the crystal clear: "jelotto".

Since "jelotto" is a thoroughly anglicized spelling, the plural then becomes "jelottoes", always, not ever the irregular, Itallian "gelati", which would be written "jelotty"; but that would make no sense as a plural of "jelotto" in English. Since it IS English we're concerned with, we need to obey the rules of English, which pluralizes words ending in O with either -S or -ES, but better -ES because that's always clear, whereas some words ending in -OS are singular and pronounced with an S-sound rather than Z-sound (pathos, bathos, ethos)

Sunday, February 8, 2009: "ferst" for "first"

IR is ambiguous, being pronounced in some words as tho written EER (irritable, vireo, pirouette) but other times as tho written ER (bird, stir, thirst, and today's word, first). The sound in today's word is also sometimes written ER, OR, AR and UR (better, actor, library, fur), but ER is by far the most common rendering. So let's use that: "ferst".

Saturday, February 7, 2009: "escatolojy" for "eschatology"

There are two things wrong with the current spelling of today's word (for a branch of theology concerned with the end of life or end of the world) . First, there is a CH but no CH-sound (as in church). The quick fix for this is simply to drop the H, which will leave C followed by A, which will be read correctly. And we'll save a letter.

Second, the G is ambiguous. Is it "hard" — that is, does it take G's own unique sound, as in fogy, argyle, baggy, and gynecologist? Is it "soft", the sound better shown by J, as in theology, gyrate, and gymnasium? Why should we have to remember? Why can't we just look at the word and know with absolute certainty how it's pronounced?

English doesn't need two sounds for G, as requires people to memorize which G's before E, I and Y take a G-sound and which a J-sound. If the sound is J, let's just write a J, OK?

Putting these two small changes together, we get: "escatolojy".

Friday, February 6, 2009: "demmytass" for "demitasse"

This Food Friday, let's fix the name of a small cup for, or of, strong black coffee. Curiously, in this day of special coffees, one doesn't often hear of demitasse, but it is still around.

The spelling is misleading. The main problem is the -ASSE ending, which leads the reader to think the last syllable bears the word's stress, when in fact the first syllable takes the main stress, and the last, only secondary stress.

The vowel of the first syllable may be unclear to new readers, in that it is followed by only a single consonant, M. If we double the M, we at once make plain that the preceding E is short and that some stress falls on that syllable.

If we also drop the final-E, we clarify the stress pattern.

The one remaining issue is the sound of the middle syllable. -IT- suggests a short-I, but in fact most people give the I a briefly articulated long-E sound: déàas. A better way to show that is with a Y, as in enormous numbers of words ending in Y (happy, dummy, any) and some words that have a Y in the middle (anybody, everything, copyright). People who prefer a shorter sound, like short-I, can read the Y as short-I (mystery, hysterical, physical), if that be their choice. But people who want better guidance as to how the word is usually pronounced will find Y clearer than I: "demmytass".

Thursday, February 5, 2009: "shambray" for "chambray"

If the sound at the beginning of today's word (for a type of fabric) is SH, why is it spelled CH? Let's spell it as it sounds: "shambray".

Wensday, February 4, 2009: "benine" for "benign"

There is no justification for a silent-G, and we have a simple fix for it in this word, simply to replace the -IGN with -INE: "benine".

There is an uncommon word "benignant", which is just fine the way it is, because the G is sounded, not silent.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009: "agressiv" for "aggressive"

Today's spelling is twice absurd. First, a double-G suggests that the vowel before it takes its full short sound, in this case, short-A, as in at. In reality, however, the A represents a schwa, not a short-A at all. Second, -IVE suggests, as does any vowel-consonant-E sequence at the end of a word, a long vowel before the consonant, in this case, I: jive, dive, strive, alive.  But the I in "aggressive" is short. The old idea that no English word should end in V was always arbitrary and irrational. It is now also obsolete: shiv (variant chiv), rev, improv.

Naturally, related words, such as "aggression", also drop the second-G.

Putting these two little changes together, we get: "agressiv".

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

Munday, February 2, 2009: "yarro" for "yarrow"

-OW is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced, as here and in know, flow, and stow, long-O, but other times being pronounced ou (as in now, cow, and how). It's the W that causes the confusion, so let's just drop it, OK?: "yarro".

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

Sunday, February 1, 2009: "waurm" for "warm"

"Warm" is exactly parallel to "farm" in spelling but not in sound. The A in "warm" represents the AU-sound, so let's write that sound that way: "waurm".

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

Saturday, January 31, 2009: "vicount" for "viscount"

There is an S in this word as written but not as heard. That is, "viscount" is exactly parallel in spelling to "discount", but does not rhyme with it. The S is silent, and the I is long. Absurd. Why should people have to remember to write an S that is not pronounced, and alter the sound of the I to ignore a consonant cluster of two letters (SC) to assign a long pronunciation where a short vowel would be expected? The S confuses the reader, because its presence suggests that the I takes its short value. The reader is supposed to pretend it's not there, and thus read "vico-" rather than "visco-". The reader should not have to pretend a letter isn't there. The writer should just not put it there. All silent consonants throughout English should be eliminated: "vicount".

Friday, January 30, 2009: "talyatelly" for "tagliatelle"

This Food Friday, let's deal with the name of a type of Italian pasta in narrow, flat strips,* a word with a silent-G and ambiguous medial IA and final-E.

If we merely drop the silent-G, we get "taliatelle", which remains ambiguous as to both the IA and the final-E. IA can be pronounced various ways (dial, deviate, ammonia: díe.yal, dée.vee.yàet or dée.vee.yat, a.móen.ya). And a final-E can be silent (gazelle), long-E (calliope), or long-A (fiance, as people type it if they don't know how to put an accent over the final-E (fiancé), as in email).

As long as this word retains an Italian form, there will be people who Italianize the pronunciation to create the final-E into a long-A. That is a spelling-pronunciation. In English, the final-E should be pronounced long-E.

The fixes for these two problem areas are, fortunately, simple. We can just change the IA to YA, and the final-E to Y: "talyatelly".

* "Tagliatelle" is also called "fettuccine" and "fettuccini", which were offered here on April 18, 2008 as "fettucheeny".

Thursday, January 29, 2009: "seego" for "sego"

In the 1850s, when this word (for a type of lily and its edible bulb found in the western United States) entered American English from the Amerind language Paiute, the spelling may have seemed a clear rendering of the sequence long-E, hard-G, and long-O. But in the intervening century and a half, and especially recently, under the impact of an enormous increase in the number of people and words of Latin American origin, Americans have become more accustomed to seeing words like this as being pronounced as tho Latin or Spanish, and thus taking non-English sounds. Now, a reader is likely to see "sego" as being pronounced like "ego" in Latin (ség.oe) or, more likely, as tho it were Spanish (sáe.go). To show that the first syllable has an English long-E, then, we would do better to double the E: "seego".

Wensday, January 28, 2009: "rezine" and "rezzignation" for "resign" and "resignation"

SIGN is a word to itself, pronounced sien, with an S-sound, long-I, and no G-sound. Here, however, it is supposed to be pronounced with a Z-sound (with the rest being the same: long-I and no G-sound). An I followed by a consonant cluster (here, GN) should be short. And there is no justification for a silent-G, especially in -SIGN-, because in the related word signature, the G is pronounced, which can be written where it is pronounced and omitted where it is not pronounced. Readers should not have to memorize variations that do not relate to sound. The very purpose of an alphabet is to convey sound.

If the word-element here is pronounced zien, which one should expect, from hearing it, to be written "-zine" in conventional spelling, it should be spelled as it is said: "rezine" (and "rezines", "rezined", "rezining"). Further, if the derivative "resignation" has a short-E (whereas "resign" has a long-E) and a sounded-G, it should be written to reflect that, with a double-Z to show a short-E and a written-G to show a sounded-G.

So today's twofer is: "rezine" and "rezzignation".

My thanks to "Clap..." for "rezine".

Tuesday, January 27, 2009: "pasteel" for "pastille"

-ILLE is ambiguous, being pronounced variously -eel (chenille), -ee (ratatouille), and -il (vaudeville). Here, the sound is -eel, which is clearly better spelled -EEL: "pasteel".

Munday, January 26, 2009: "odor" for "odor"

The sound of the second syllable of "odor" is generally spelled ER, and some readers are misled, when they see -OR, into giving that ending more stress than it should receive, and into altering the vowel to the AU-sound (mentor, orator). A person hearing "odor" pronounced correctly would not think to spell it with an -OR, and it is important for literacy that people not be made to feel stupid for writing what a word should look like rather than an irrational "correct" spelling that is unphonetic. So let's replace the O with an E: "oder".

Munday, January 26, 2009: "utherwize" for "otherwise"

Today's word is a compound of two unphonetically-spelled words, "other" (pronounced ú* and "wise" (pronounced wiez). Altho there are other words spelled like "other" that are also (stupidly) pronounced with a short-U rather than short-O (mother, brother), there are also words of the same form in which the O is pronounced as short-O, as the reader should be able to expect (bother, pother). So we can't just say, "Well, all words with the letter sequence -OTHER- are pronounced with a short-U, so we can just let this one pass."

Similarly, -ISE is not always pronounced with a Z-sound but sometimes takes an S-sound (vise, concise, imprecise), so we need to make plain whether a Z-sound or S-sound is to be said.

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

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

Sunday, January 25, 2009: "noetiss" for "notice"

"Notice" is twice ambiguous. It could be seen as "not-ice" or "no-tice". In both cases, the reader should be able to rely upon ICE being pronounced the same as the word of the same spelling (meaning "frozen water"). But in "notice", the ICE does not have a long-I, like ice, but a short-I. If we change the representation of the final S-sound to SS to make plain that the I is short, we would produce "notiss", which, due to the influence of the extremely frequent word not, learned very early, it would likely be seen as "not-iss" (like the negative of "iss", whatever that were to mean). So we need to show a long-O before the T.

There are five common ways to show long-O: (1) O in final position (go, armadillo); (2) O before a single consonant (mobile, photograph); (3) OW, tho more commonly in final position than mid-word (show, bowl, blowhard); (4) OA (roast, coat) and (5) OE (hoe, toenail).

(1) does not apply, since we're dealing with a sound mid-word, not in final position. (2) is what we would have in "notiss", and it does not suffice. (3) "Nowtiss" would be read as nóu.tis, because OW can represent the OU-sound, especially mid-word (howl, kowtow) — and because now, like not and ice, is a frequently encountered word learned very early. (4) OA in "noatiss" could be read as having two syllables, as in "Noah" or "coatimundi".  So we're left with (5), OE, as our best chance at making this sound clear in this position, in this word: "noetiss".

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

Saturday, January 24, 2009: "maitrix" for "matrix"

MATR- is ambiguous. The A precedes a two-letter consonant cluster, so would ordinarily be read as taking its short value, as in at and atrophy. In words like matrimony and matrilineal, it does. In matriculate and matriculation, the A takes the schwa sound. But in matron, matriarch, and today's word, "matrix", the A is long, as in ate and atrium. It's also long in the latinized plural of today's word, "matrices" (tho "matrixes" is an accepted alternative), even tho in matricide the same letter sequence, MATRIC-, represents a short-A — again. Round and round we go in dizzying inconsistency, so you can't tell just from seeing this letter sequence how it is to be pronounced.

To show the long-A in today's word, we need to insert something between the A and TR. E might do, "maetrix"; Y might do, "maytrix"; and I would also do, "maitrix". Of the three, AI is most common mid-word, so let's use that, even tho there are a couple of words in which AI is pronounced as short-A (plaid, by everybody; plait by some): "maitrix".

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

Friday, January 23, 2009: "loowow" for "luau"

This Food Friday, let's reform one of those odd Hawaiian words (for a type of feast) with too many vowels in a row and an unconventional use of AU. The digraph AU ordinarily represents a distinct sound in English, as in haul, autumn, and caustic. That same sound is represented in other ways (war, awful, storm), but right now we're concerned with easing the reader's task in figuring out what sound to apply to the end of the word for a Hawaiian feast.

In "luau", the AU represents the sound much more commonly spelled OU (found, doubt, house) or OW, especially in final position (chow, now, powwow). Alas, that spelling is ambiguous (show, know, below, in which the sound is long-O). In the case of the particular word "luau", however, if we spell the end -WOW, it will almost certainly be read like the word wow, with an OU-sound.

We could, thus, write "luwow" and be clearer, but some people might see the U as representing a short-U or schwa sound. OO, however, would be read right, as a long-U without an initial Y-glide: "loowow".

Thursday, January 22, 2009: "kosha" for "kasha"

The A in this word (for buckwheat or other types of porridge or the dry grain from which it is made) is generally pronounced not like either of A's main sounds, short as in at or long as in ate, but "broad", as in father. However, probably because an A appears before a two-letter consonant cluster (SH), a few people assign a spelling-pronunciation with a short-A, as tho the word were written "cash-a".

Broad-A and short-O are the same sound. If we replace the first-A with O, we will eliminate the spelling-pronunciation that takes a short-A sound. Given that some people can produce problems with almost any spelling, we can't be certain that no one will then pronounce the O long, but since it is followed by a two-letter consonant cluster, by far most people can be expected to read the O as taking its correct, short, sound: "kosha".

Wensday, January 21, 2009: "jattrafa" for "jatropha"

Today's word is not yet widely known, but may become so as the world seeks alternatives to fossil fuels. "Jatropha" is a shrub that grows in marginal lands and produces seeds that can be used to produce diesel fuel.

The spelling makes no sense. The pronunciation is jáa.tra.fa, but the spelling makes it look as tho it should be pronounced ja.tróe.fa — or, if one is just learning English and hasn't yet gotten to the PH = F point, ja.tróp.ha (compare uphill and uphold). Fortunately, we can reform the spelling before the current, irrational form becomes entrenched.

PH is a preposterous way to spell a simple F-sound, so let's substitute F. TROPH- suggests the frequently heard word "trophy", which has a long-O. But the O here is pronounced schwa, which is most commonly shown by A. The first-A in the current spelling looks as tho it should be pronounced schwa, but it's actually a full short-A, which we would commonly indicate by doubling the consonant immediately following, the T. Putting this all together, we get: "jattrafa".

Tuesday, January 20, 2009: "iz" and either 'z or 's (as appropriate) for "is" and 's (in contractions)

There's no reason for the Z-sound in "is" to be written with an S. "Is" is not a plural as could argue for retaining an S as a grammatical marker for the plural, but the third-person singular of the verb "to be". In the frequently heard contraction it's, for "it is", the Z-sound changes to an S-sound because of assimilation to the prior T, an unvoiced consonant. In there's or s/he's, the Z-sound remains because the preceding consonant or vowel is voiced. We should show that, especially for the guidance of people learning English as a Second Language, in its hugely important function of auxiliary world language. So today's proposed reforms are: "iz", and either 'z (when the preceding sound is voiced) or 's (unvoiced) in contractions.

Munday, January 19, 2009: "hoze" for "hose"

"Hose" rhymes not with dose or morose but with doze and froze: "hoze".

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

Munday, January 19, 2009: "kosha" for "kasha"

The A in this word (for buckwheat or other types of porridge) is generally pronounced not like either of A's main sounds, short as in at or long as in ate, but "broad", as in father. However, because an A is employed in the spelling before a two-letter consonant cluster (SH), a few people assign a spelling-pronunciation with a short-A, as tho the word were written "cash-a". Broad-A and short-O are the same sound. If we replace the first-A with O, we will eliminate the spelling-pronunciation that takes a short-A sound. Given that some people can produce problems with almost any spelling, we can't be certain that no one will then proceed to pronounce the O long, but since it is followed by a two-letter consonant cluster, by far most people can be expected to read the O as taking its correct, short, sound: "kosha".

Sunday, January 18, 2009: "jennerate" and "jenneration" for "generate" and "generation"

GE is ambiguous, sometimes taking a "hard"-G (get, gecko), sometimes a "soft"-G (the J-sound: gesture, genius), and occasionally even a ZH-sound (genre, gendarme). Since the J-sound is present in today's words, let's just use a J.

The letter sequence GENE-, found within both of today's words, is a word to itself, pronounced with a long-E. The sound here is short E. At the end of today's base word, the -RATE has the same pattern as the beginning GENE-, vowel-consonant-E. How is a reader to know that the E_E is short but the A_E is long? The way English often shows a short vowel unambiguously is by doubling the consonant after it, in this case an N. Let's do that here: "jennerate", "jenneration".

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

Saturday, January 17, 2009: "fluction" for "fluxion"

-XION is a bizarre way to show what is in all but six common  words spelled -CTION (suction, induction, destruction). Even if a new reader should be able to guess how "fluxion" is pronounced on seeing it, who, on hearing it, would think to spell it with an X?: "fluction".

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

Friday, January 16, 2009: "empeeric/al" for "empiric/al"

"Empirical" has nothing to do with a word it looks like, "empire". It comes from a different word in a different ancient language (Greek rather than Latin for "empire"), and is pronounced very differently, with a long-E sound rather than long-I for the I before the R. Standard dictionary pronunciation keys show "empire" as having a long-I, but with "empirical", most dictionaries are most unhelpful. They may show an ordinary I, which would indicate a regular short-I as in it, or an I with a circumflex accent over it (î), rather than a long-E, because many lexicographers apparently think this long-E is somehow a special case, so should not be shown by an E with macron (long mark: a horizontal line over the E) or by a double-E. Even the IPA rendering suggests that a short-I falls before the R. But if you check the audio pronunciations at Merriam-Webster Online or, you hear an obvious long-E. Let's not play silly games. The sound is long-E, and the clearest rendering of that sound mid-word is EE: "empeeric/al".

Thursday, January 15, 2009: "dayzhavu" for "déjà vu" and "deja vu"

This phrase of French origin is never separated into its parts, either "deja" (with or without the accents) or "vu" without the other, so there's no reason to treat them as separate words. Shove them together.

Now, how should we spell the resulting word? The J takes not an English J-sound, but the sound spelled ZH in pronunciation keys. Since ZH is well understood, let's replace the J with ZH. The E has a long-A sound, which is more usually written AI than AY mid-word. But AI after D conjures "dais", in which the AI represents two vowels, either long-A then short-I or long-I then short-I. So AY is clearer. We can leave the U, because altho most people say a long-U without an initial Y-glide, like OO in bamboo, some people actually do use the initial Y-glide, as in revue. And we can leave the A, because A can represent either of the common pronunciations, "broad"-A (or short-O, same sound) and schwa, of the À — but the accent of course has got to go. Putting this all together, we get: "dayzhavu".

Wensday, January 14, 2009: "calus" for "callous" and "callus"

In much the same way as a gambler needs to 'know when to hold them, know when to fold them', defenders of the current spelling 'system' need to know when to give up on drawing distinctions that people just can't remember. Be it led vs. lead* or "callous" vs. "callus", there are fine distinctions between some words that people in general just can't keep track of, whereupon we need to just give up on drawing distinctions and collapse the two into one. In the case of "callous" and "callus", the first is by far the more frequently used, but it is also irrationally spelled, with an OU but no OU-sound. Let us instead select the one without the O for both.

Let's also admit that -ALL-, contained within both present words, is misleading, because as a word to itself and in words like ball, call (also within both of today's words), and tall the vowel sound is AU, which is not the case here. In both "callous" and "callus", the sound is short-A, as in Al (short for "Albert" or "Alfred"), not AU. As Al and alimony have a short-A that is shown by a single-L following, we can reduce the possibilities of misreading and save ourselves a letter by dropping the second-L: "calus".

* See September 14, 2008.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009: "blud/dy" for "blood/y"

OO is ambiguous, but is usually pronounced as either long-U without an initial Y-glide (boost, loot, cootie) or as a short sound unique to OO (hood, hoof, book). Rarely is it pronounced, as in today's words, short-U. Let's get rid of that bizarre, unphonetic spelling. "Blood" and "bloody" rhyme with bud and buddy. They should as well be spelled alike: "blud" and "bluddy".

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

Munday, January 12, 2009: "addenoid/s" for "adenoid/s"

ADE is a one-syllable word to itself, commonly used in compounds like lemonade and orangeade. In that use, it is pronounced with a long-A: aed.  -ADE is also a one-syllable suffix in words like cannonade, fusillade, and promenade, in which it is sometimes pronounced with a long-A and sometimes with a "broad"-A (or short-O, same sound): kàan.a.náed, fyúàed or ~òd, prom.a.naed or ~od (stress is variable)). But in "adenoid/s", the ADE- represents two syllables, with a short-A in the first and schwa in the second. The way to show that is by doubling the D, which will at once mark the A as short and cue the reader to place the primary stress on the first syllable, which forces the E to take a schwa sound: "addenoid/s".

Sunday, January 11, 2009: "yommaka" for "yarmulke"

There is a formalistic, pretentious spelling-pronunciation for this word that pronounces both the R and the L (yór.mul.ka), tho the E is pronounced as a schwa by everybody, and A is the clearest spelling for a schwa in final position. An E in final position is sometimes pronounced long-E (abalone, epitome, apostrophe), so we should definitely replace the E with A. If we did nothing else, that would leave "yarmulka", which does not fix the problem of silent letters.

The reality is that "yarmulke" is almost always pronounced by unpretentious people as yóm.a.ka, and telling people they 'should' pronounce letters they in fact do not pronounce is rather obnoxiously pedantic. In that in Hebrew, the word for this skullcap worn by observant Orthodox Jews is "kippah" (pronounced kée.poq), the pretentious set might prefer to shift to that term and stop trying to force people to pronounce an R and L in the other term that they have no intention of pronouncing: "yommaka".

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

Saturday, January 10, 2009: "worp" for "warp"

AR is ambiguous, but its most common pronunciation is a short-O (or broad-A, same sound) followed by an R-sound: harp, sharp, tarpaulin. The mere fact that a W precedes the -ARP- in these parallel spellings should not change the way the A is pronounced, but there is, alas, an all-too-common word learned all too early, "war", that may explain why "warp" and words derived from "war" are the only common words in the entire English language in which -ARP- has an AU-sound. Rather than fight the influence of "war", let's just shift from -AR- to -OR-, which will be read right: "worp".

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

Friday, January 9, 2009: "vizer" for "visor"

"Visor" looks as tho it should rhyme with "eyesore", whereas it actually rhymes with fertilizer or energizer. So the S should be changed to a Z, and the O to an E: "vizer".

Thursday, January 8, 2009: "thi" for "thigh"

Altho we could reserve this word for a Food Friday, people, and not just chickens, have thighs too, so it's not just a food word. The GH was pronounced once — 600 years ago. That was then. This is now. It's not pronounced anymore, so let's just drop it: "thi" (the plural would follow the standard rule of adding -ES: "thies").

Wensday, January 7, 2009: "scairce" for "scarce"

Today's word contains a shorter word pronounced differently, "scar" (skor vs. skairs). The sound is not the common AR-sound of car, bar, and star but the less-common sound in wary and scary. That sound is often spelled AI (air, fair, stairs). So let's use that: "scairce".

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2009: "re/corse" and "corce" for "recourse", "course", and "coarse"

Today, let's resolve three words that are similar in sound but not meaning, and less than ideally spelled. "Course" and "recourse" are etymologically related, but the ordinary user of language would see no logical relationship between them. They both derive from a Latin word that means "run". A "course" is the route one runs, walks, or otherwise follows. "Recourse" logically means running back to a place of safety. "Coarse" is unclear, and etymologists speculate that it came out of the phrase "of course", meaning "commonly found" and thus, by extension, "lacking refinement". But "coarse" also means having a rough texture or large grains, so one can make a case for maintaining a distinction between the words rather than spelling both the same.

"Course" has an OU but no OU-sound. If we simply drop the U, we get a clear spelling: "corse".

"Coarse" has a needless and potentially misleading A, because in some words, OA represents two distinct vowels in sequence: boa, inchoate, benzoate. So we should drop the A. That would also leave us with "corse".

Fortunately, we have two ways to show an S-sound at the end of a word following an R, -SE and -CE, so we can distinguish these words. (If the words ended with a vowel sound immediately before the S, we'd have -SE and -SS.)

In that "course" is by far the more common word or word element,* it should take the more phonetic spelling, with an S for an S-sound: "corse", "recorse", "corce".

Naturally, all derivatives take the same root spelling: e.g., concorse, discorse, intercorse, racecorse, watercorse.

Munday, January 5, 2009: "quoddriceps" for "quadriceps"

The A in today's word does not represent either of A's most common sounds, short as in at and long as in ate. Rather, it is a "broad"-A, which is the same sound as short-O. The mere fact that the letter combination QU precedes the A does not sufficiently cue the reader to pronounce the A broad (quack, quagmire, quart). No, if the sound is short-O, we should write an O. And to show that the O is short, we need to double the following consonant, the D: "quoddriceps".

Sunday, January 4, 2009: "parragraf" for "paragraph"

AR is ambiguous, and PH for the F-sound is preposterous.

AR is often pronounced short-O, as in bar, car, and star. It is also, however, sometimes pronounced with a short-A (character, prevaricate, and today's word); AI-sound (wary, scary, agrarian); AU-sound (war, quartet, quartz); short-E (adversary, necessary, afterward); and as a schwa (around, angular, sluggardly). A short-A before an R-sound is better written with two R's. And an F sound is best shown by an F. Tho some words end with a double-F (staff, puff, bailiff), that's not really necessary (if, leaf, thief): "parragraf".

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

Saturday, January 3, 2009: "apoze" and "oppozition" for "oppose" and "opposition"

There are three problems with the verb "oppose". First, the double-P suggests that the initial-O takes a full short-O sound, whereas the sound is actually schwa. Second, the double-P also suggests that the word's stress falls on the first syllable, but it actually falls on the second. Third, the S represents a Z-sound, not an S-sound as it should, and does in other words like verbose, morose and comatose.

In the noun "opposition", the only problem is the S for a Z-sound. That "apoze" and "oppozition" look quite different is of no importance. "Be" and "is" are extremely different, but no one sees the need to spell them similarly just to show the tie. Spelling is about sound. Meaning is for dictionaries: "apoze" and "oppozition".

Friday, January 2, 2009: "naikid" for "naked"

The present spelling makes this word appear to be one syllable, like raked, baked, and faked. It's actually two syllables. If we replace the E with an I, the result, "nakid", could be read as having a short-A. If we add an I after the A, however, we make plain that the A is long: "naikid".

My thanks to "Firewall..." for suggesting this word, tho I decided on a slightly different solution.

Thursday, January 1, 2009: "meeyander" for "meander"

How is the reader to know that the letter sequence MEAN- in this word is not pronounced like the familiar word of the same spelling, "mean":  that is, meen? The word looks to be two syllables, but is actually three, mee.yáan.der. We don't need a double-A in the regular spelling of the word (as distinct from a pronunciation key), since short-A is the default sound for an A followed by a consonant cluster, but we do need the Y to show the syllabic break between adjacent vowel sounds, and we then need a double-E to show that the sound before the Y is long-E (compare hey, they, and whey). Tho the resulting spelling is significantly longer than the current, it is clear, whereas the present spelling is not. And what does it matter if there are more letters, given the meaning of the word?: "meeyander".

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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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