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Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
Archive of Discussions
April-June 2009

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Sunday, June 28, 2009: "iddeot/ic" for "idiot/ic"

I- before a single consonant is ambiguous, and often takes a long-I sound: icon, ibis, idolatry. Indeed, I- before more than one consonant can represent a long-I sound in at least three words: idle, isle, and islet. Let's double the D to show the I short.

IO is ambiguous, also sometimes representing a long-I sound: antibiotic, iota, riot; Iowa, Kiowa. If the sound to be represented is actually long-E, why would we use an I?: "iddeot/ic".

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

Saturday, June 27, 2009: "habichuway" for "habitué" and "habitue"

Yesterday we dealt with a Spanish word pronounced quite like the Spanish, as required an English spelling, since the two languages treat the same letters differently. Today we deal with a French spelling that is pronounced in English so far from French as to require an almost completely different spelling.

In the French word "habitué", the H is silent, the I is pronounced as English long-E, the U takes the peculiar French and German sound that I have seen described as rounding the lips as tho to say "burn" but saying a long-E instead, and the E or É takes an English long-A sound! The French is said oq.bée.chuu.wàe (where Q is silent, merely indicating that the vowel before takes its short sound); the English, ha.bích.ue.wàe. Why would we even think for a second of spelling the two the same?

This is English, and every word in it should be spelled in the English fashion: "habichuway".

Friday, June 26, 2009: "gaspotcho" for "gazpacho"

This Food Friday, let's fix the name of a Spanish vegetable soup that is served cold. In Spanish, there is a Z in the name. In most of Spain, that would be pronounced as an English voiceless-TH (ga.thpóch.oe), but no one in the United States would think of using that sound in that word. No, the sound is S, as it would be in Latin American Spanish. Any attempt to pronounce it Z (a voiced S-sound) would be absurd and artificial, because a Z in that position would always assimilate to the following-P, a voiceless sound, and so naturally become voiceless itself: an S-sound. Since the Z represents an S-sound in any case, let's just write an S and have done with it.

The second problem with the current spelling is the A, which represents neither of A's major sounds, long as in ate or short as in at. Rather, it is a "broad"-A, as in father. How is the reader to know that? Not everyone in English-speaking countries, for instance in Africa, India, or a new learner in China, lives surrounded by Spanish.

In English, an A followed by more than one consonant is ordinarily seen as short, as is any vowel followed by more than one consonant. The vowel sound before the two-letter CH consonant cluster is short-O, so let's write that.

The last issue is whether -OCH- would be enuf to show the -O- to take its short sound, or if we need to add a T before the CH, as in botch, notch, and hopscotch. Is "gaspocho" clear, or would some people see it as having a long-O? Much tho I hate extra letters, I'm afraid that a T, here, really is needed to show the O to be short: "gaspotcho".

Thursday, June 25, 2009: "freze" for "frieze"

IE is at best ambiguous (fried, fiend, friend, pliers, fiesta, pronounced respectively fried, feend, frend, plíe.yerz, fee.yés.ta). IE is plainly best reserved to a long-I sound, given that a silent-E after any vowel generally marks it as long (sundae, flee, tie, toe, glue). So a reader should be able to see "frieze" as clearly indicating a long-I.

The sound is actually long-E, which would ordinarily be written with an EE (bee, see, teeming) or E_E, where the underscore represents a consonant (theme, compete, accede).

Were we merely to replace the I in today's word with a second-E, and not drop the last-E, we would get "freeze", which is already a word, of very different meaning. We could drop the last-E, but "freez" would seem better as a simplification of "freeze" than of "frieze". That leaves dropping the I but retaining the final-E, to render the sound clear but keep the spelling distinct from "freeze": "freze".

Wensday, June 24, 2009: "eppineffrin" and "noreppineffrin" for "epinephrine", "epinephrin", and "norepinephrine"

E- is a common prefix with several meanings. As a variant of EX-, it has one group of meanings.* But E-, with or without a hyphen, has in recent years also been prepended to indicate "electronic" or "online" (e-commerce, email). The prefix, especially in the sense of "electronic", is ordinarily pronounced with a long-E. But in both "epinephrine" and "norepinephrine", we are supposed to see not E-, from Latin, but EPI-, from Greek, which has entirely different meanings** and is pronounced differently! Insane.

This reminds me of a 'rule' I heard about Japanese personal names. Names ending in -KO are feminine. Then I saw that "Akihiko" is a boy's name, and was told, "That does not end in -KO. It ends in -HIKO." Uh, genius, -HIKO ends in -KO! Here we have the same situation in reverse. "Epinephrine" begins in E-, but we are not supposed to see that but skip to the -I- to see the entire three-letter prefix EPI- as the meaningful unit. And only when you do see that as the meaningful unit do you 'know' to pronounce the E- short! Why do we put up with this madness century after century?

There is a commercial now running for some prescription drug in which "norepinephrine" is pronounced as tho written "Nora Pineffrin", because the announcer supplies a schwa where there should be a short-E. We need to give people better guidance.

The E- before the P-sound is short, not a schwa, and the way we customarily show a short vowel is by putting more than one consonant after it. In many places, as here, that means doubling a single consonant. So the beginning of today's base word should be EPPI-, not EPI.

"Epinephrine" has the familiar word for a type of tree, "pine", in it, but we are not supposed to pronounce that cluster that way, with a long-I, but with a short-I. Were we to see "pine" as meaningful, we might pronounce the entire word e.píen.a.frìen! Doubling the P cues the reader to put some stress on the first syllable, which makes far less likely a long-I in the unstressed syllable that follows, and ends the temptation to see the word as e.píen.a.frìen.

The next problem with today's words is the idiotic PH for a simple F-sound. Let's write F.

The next problem is that the stress pattern in these paired words is very unusual, falling on the -E- before the F-sound. The way to indicate that is also to double the following consonant: -FF-.

The next problem is that the -INE is ambiguous, and is not to be read with a long-I, as a reader is entitled to expect (fine, cosine, valentine), but with a short-I. The way to show that is to drop the superfluous and misleading -E. That saves us a letter and some possible confusion.

Putting this all together, we get: "eppineffrin" and "noreppineffrin".

* on EX-:  "a prefix meaning “out of,” “from,” and hence “utterly,” “thoroughly,” and sometimes imparting a privative or negative force or indicating a former title, status, etc.; freely used as an English formative: exstipulate; exterritorial; ex-president (former president); ex-member; ex-wife.

** on EPI-: "a prefix occurring in loanwords from Greek, where it meant “upon,” “on,” “over,” “near,” “at,” “before,” “after” (epicedium; epidermis; epigene; epitome); on this model, used in the formation of new compound words (epicardium; epinephrine).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009: "debbonair" for "debonair", "debonaire", and "debonnaire"

DE- is a common prefix with several meanings.* It is ordinarily pronounced with either a long-E or a short-I sound. "Debonaire" derives from the Old French phrase "de bon aire", meaning "of good lineage". In modern French, the word "de" (for "of") is pronounced with the short-OO sound of English book. But that's not the sound in present-day English "debonair" either.

No, the sound in "debonair" is just an ordinary English short-E, which before a B-sound we might expect to be shown by a double-B: ebb, webbed, nebbish. In that there is a term from cooking in which the entire first part of "debonair" appears, debone, and in which the E in the DE- is pronounced long, we would do well to double the B in the longer word: "debbonair".

In my family we sometimes play with language, mocking bad spellings. One phrase we use is (in Augméntad Fanétik), "swaev aand deebóener", for "suave and debonair".

* on DE-:  "a prefix occurring in loanwords from Latin (decide); also used to indicate privation, removal, and separation (dehumidify), negation (demerit; derange), descent (degrade; deduce), reversal (detract), intensity (decompound).

Munday, June 22, 2009: "catafalk" for "catafalque"

Today's word continues yesterday's slitely grim theme of things related to burial rituals. The -QUE here is an inefficient and ambiguous way to write a simple K-sound, so let's just write K: "catafalk".

Some speakers say káat.a.fàalk, with a short-A and sounded-L in the last syllable. Other people use an AU-sound and drop the L-sound. Still others use the AU-sound but pronounce the L. Since "Falk" is a surname that many readers know to pronounce without an L-sound, the spelling "catafalk" accommodates all pronunciations — to the extent any one spelling can.

Sunday, June 21, 2009: "bere" for "bier"

-IER is ambiguous, and has a long-I sound in a number of common words: pliers, crier, amplifier. In various other words, it has various other sounds: atelier, collier, brazier, furrier, glacier (pronounced áàe or àáe, kól.yer, bráe.zher, fé, gláe.sher), etc. (In brazier and glacier, the Z and C combine with the I to form the ZH and SH sounds.) Here, the sound is long-E plus R, which could be spelled clearly as -EER (deer, cheer, engineer) or -ERE (mere, austere, biosphere). "Beer" is already taken, but "bere" is available. So let's use that: "bere".

My thanks to "Unicycle..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.

Saturday, June 20, 2009: "accu/punkcher" for "acu/puncture"

Let's address today two related words, via the longer, which includes the shorter. "Acupuncture" is ambiguous or misleading in a number of ways. The initial A- could be read as a schwa, as in many words, from around and about to ajar and astonishment. In actuality, in today's word, the A- represents short-A, which would be clear if we had more than one consonant following the A-, as in accurate. So let's double the C.

The -TURE is misleading, since it suggests a long-U with initial Y-glide, given the silent-E at its end: -TURE. It is actually supposed to represent a CH-sound (as in church) and a short-E (better), short-U (fur) or schwa plus an R-sound, which would ordinarily be written -CHER (teacher, poacher, moocher) or perhaps -TCHER (pitcher, birdwatcher, butcher). In that -TCH- is the same sound as -CH-, there's no need to write a T.

Between the ACU- and the -TURE, we have what sounds like a frequent and well-understood word, punk. But it's not spelled the same way. It could, and for simplicity's sake, should be.

So today's words resolve to: "accupunkcher" and "punkcher".

Friday, June 19, 2009: "zeelofobea" for "zelophobia"

Altho I don't understand the concept, "zelophobia" is a rare word for the rare psychological condition, "morbid fear of jealousy". I wouldn't even use it in this project except it starts with Z, and we are just about out of badly spelled words that start with Z.

In any case, there are three things wrong with the present spelling: first, the E in ZEL- could be read as short, whereas it is actually long; second, PH is a preposterous, ambiguous, and inefficient way to spell a simple F-sound; and third, IA is ambiguous.

The first problem has a quick fix: double the E.

The second has an equally quick fix: write F rather than PH.

The third may not seem to some people to be a problem, in that there are so many words that end in -IA in which the I takes an unstressed long-E sound, as here. But people learning English, especially in countries where it is not the national language, should not have to know that the same spelling in different locations within a word may be pronounced very differently, and then remember when to use which sound. I has two sounds of its own, long as in bide and short as in bid. The sound in "zelophobia" is not an I-sound at all but a long-E sound.

In some words, IA does have an I-sound, long-I: bias, biannual, biathlon. In many other words, however, it takes an unstressed long-E, as in today's word, cafeteria, and academia. In at least one common word, it has a stressed long-E: galleria. I have an idea: if the sound is long-E, let's just write an E, as in area, cornea, and cochlea.

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

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

Thursday, June 18, 2009: "youtteea" for "yautia" and "yautía"

Today's word (for a root crop related to taro that is important in the Caribbean) has two spellings and two pronunciations, depending upon whether it is regarded as English or still Spanish. The written accent (which some references, not including the major online dictionaries, employ) cues the reader of Spanish to put the word's stress on that, unexpected, syllable. People who regard it as Spanish rather than English place the stress on the second syllable, which is only the Í, not the entire cluster -TIA, as most readers of English would be inclined to see it.

In English, we might expect to pronounce today's word as yáu.sha, two syllables, with the English AU-sound as in haul, taught, and pause in the first syllable, and the second syllable comprising the -TIA and being pronounced as in militia, dementia, and Nova Scotia. All of that is wrong.

The AU is said in the Spanish fashion, with an English OU-sound, and the -TIA actually represents two syllables. Merriam-Webster Online gives the pronunciation as yóu.tee.ya: anglicized., however, pronounces it in the Spanish fashion: you.tée.ya. Both agree that the AU is prounced like English OU, so the first part of the word should definitely be spelled YOU-.

Neither M-W nor spells the word with a written accent, and we don't use accents in English, so we can drop the accent for sure.

But how do we show the second and third syllables in a way that everyone will be clear on and such that people can use whichever pronunciation they prefer? "Youtea" might be seen as an (odd) compound of "you"  and "tea". "Youttea" would break the link to "you"-"tea", but might still be seen as having "tea", pronounced tee, at the end. "Youtteeya" would favor the Spanish pronunciation, with its stress on the second syllable. If, however, we drop the Y but leave the EEA,* people can know not to read this word as having an -SHA sound at the end, and be able to see whichever pronunciation, and syllabic stress, they prefer: "youtteea".

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

* Lest anyone say that EEA is "un-English", consider agreeable, disagreeable, and foreseeable.

Wensday, June 17, 2009: "zister" for "xyster"

Today's word (for a medical instrument used to scrape bones) is simple in sound but preposterous in spelling. It sounds like "sister" except for a Z at the beginning, and that's the way it should be spelled: "zister".

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2009: "waurn" for "warn"

Why is it yarn, darn, and barn, all with a "broad"-A (or short-O, the same sound), but warn, with an AU-sound? If the sound is AU, let's just write AU: "waurn".

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

Munday, June 15, 2009: "vizzible" for "visible"

The single-S in today's word is twice wrong. First, the sound is Z, not S. Second, the lack of a second consonant after the first-I allows misreading of that I as long. In combination with the S, then, the current spelling could be seen as being pronounced víes.i.bòol and meaning "something capable of being placed into a vise", which is not at all right. It is actually pronounced víz.i.bòol, with a short-I followed by a Z-sound, and means "capable of being seen". To show that clearly, we need merely change the S to Z and double it: "vizzible".

Sunday, June 14, 2009: "unkchuus" for "unctuous"

We confront today a sound split between the New World and Old. In the U.S. (and probably Canada), there is a CH-sound (as in church) in today's word. In Britain (and at least some other parts of the Eastern Hemisphere), the sound in that location is TYU, that is, a T-sound followed by a long-U with initial Y-glide. In that over 70% of all native speakers of English reside in the United States alone, we can't allow Britain to dictate spelling. We who say a CH-sound are entitled to reflect that in our spelling. If Brits wish to depart from that standard pronunciation, they are certainly entitled to reflect their own usage in spelling too. Britons in general seem to have a fondness for absurd spellings, from "gaol" (for jail) to hundreds of superfluous U's in -OR endings ("colour"), to needless extra letters at the ends of words ("programme"), to letters out of their sound sequence ("centre"), and on, and on.

That Britons may be favorably disposed to quirky, ridiculous spellings should not hold the rest of the world back. Brits see these insane spellings as part of their history. But what we still charitably call "English" is no longer the language of a small group of people on one island, but is instead the closest thing humankind has yet come to a global language, and the great preponderance of its speakers have no British ancestry whatsoever. Even Brits might want to get rid of the O in today's word, since there is no OU-sound in "unctuous": "unkchuus".

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

Saturday, June 13, 2009: "tellevize" and "tellevizhon" for "televise" and "television"

This first day after the U.S. national conversion to (crappy, unreliable) digital TV, let's fix the verb and noun for broadcast of images.

Vowel-consonant-E is a common pattern for showing a long vowel before the consonant (faceplate, splice, lure), but somehow we are supposed to ignore the E after a consonant in some places, in some words (elevator, smile but simile (él.a.vàe.ter, smíe.yal, sím.i.lèe); in enervate, we have two vowel-consonant-E patterns, the first of which (ene-) does not mark the first vowel long but the second of which (-ate) does! The same oddity applies to "televise". How can the reader know when the E does as against does not show the prior vowel long? S/he can't. So we should systematically double the consonant, as appropriate, in words in which a following-E does not mark the prior vowel long, as in the first part of today's verb.

The second issue in "televise" is that the S represents a Z-sound. How is anyone to know that? The word vise itself has an S-sound, as have concise, the noun merchandise, and paradise. If the sound is Z, we should simply right Z.

The noun "television" has the additional problem of a peculiar and ambiguous -SION, which is pronounced with a ZH-sound. Some people in Britain give it an SH-sound, tho that is not recognized by the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, and -SION takes different sounds in different words: adhesion, ascension, mansion, aversion, emulsion, explosion (aad.hée.zhan, a.sén.shan, máan.shan, a.vér.zhan, ee.múl.shan, eks.plóe.zhan). The reader should not have to try to figure out if there is some pattern that shows when an SH-sound is to be used, as against a ZH-sound.

We can spell most sounds in English clearly. We have only to decide to do so: "tellevize", "tellevizhon".

My thanks to "Doghouse..." for suggesting reform of "televise", tho I chose a slitely different solution.

Friday, June 12, 2009: "seleeneum" for "selenium"

This Food Friday, let's make two minor fixes to the name of a dietary supplement commonly mispronounced with a short-E in the second syllable, as tho it were spelled "selennium", even tho there is only one N in the traditional spelling. Many short vowels precede single consonants, even when an E follows that single consonant (ineligible, upended, element), and in "selenium", the N isn't even followed by an E but an I, so the sound is particularly unclear. The inconsistency of treatment of short vowels is part of the problem in trying to read English.

If we change the I to E, because I in combination with other vowels is sometimes long (dial, diet, diuretic), the resulting spelling, "seleneum", will be clearer to some readers, but not perhaps all. If we also double the second-E, however, the word's pronunciation should be completely clear: "seleeneum".

Thursday, June 11, 2009: "rejon" for "region"

-GI- is a preposterous, over-complicated, and ambiguous way to show the simple J-sound, which is all it stands for here. Consider these words with GI in them: give, angioplasty, apologist, doggie, reneging, gibbon, giblets — pronounced, respectively (without all possible pronunciations being shown): giv, áan.jee.ya.plàas.têe, , a.pó, dá, ri.né,, b.lats. In all those sample words, the I has a sound of its own. In "region", however, the I merely serves to show the G as having a J-sound! Ridiculous: "rejon".

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

Wensday, June 10, 2009: "parliment" for "parliament"

-LIA- in a position such as today is ordinarily said as a long-E plus schwa or consonantal-Y plus schwa: brilliant, bacchanalia, camellia, billiards. There is no such sound in today's word.

The only issue is whether to drop the I or the A. Americans pronounce "parliament" with a schwa; Brits, more like a short-I. In that Britons have more occasion to use the word, let's give them preference and drop the A, since any vowel can be pronounced as a schwa, even I: "parliment".

Tuesday, June 9, 2009: "ohnly" for "only"

Generally, a two-letter consonant cluster midword signals that the vowel before it is short. In "only", the O is long. How do we show that? "Oenly"? "Oanly"? Altho some people might see "oenly" as having a long-O as in toe, hoe, and aloe, others might read the OE as representing two vowels, adjoining, as in coed, poem, and theatergoer. OE has other sounds too, as in shoe and canoe, subpoena and foetus, roentgen and evildoer. OA might be seen as having two vowel sounds: boa, coalesce, and inchoate. Or, less likely, as having an AU sound as in board, broad, and hoarse. OH would always be clear, so altho OH within a word is unusual (tho certainly not unknown: ohm, kohl, kohlrabi), it is a superior spelling here: "ohnly".

Munday, June 8, 2009: "neggativ" for "negative"

There are two things wrong with the traditional spelling of today's word. First, a related word, the verb "negate", makes unclear the sounds of both the first-E and the A. If we double the G, we make both plain: the E will be seen as short, the word's stress will be seen as falling on the first syllable, and thus the A will be seen as a schwa, all of which is right.

The second problem is the -IVE, which looks as tho it should be pronounced with a long-I (connive, alive, and all that jive). To show that it is instead a short-I, we need merely drop the -E and thus save ourselves a letter: "neggativ".

My thanks to "Red..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.

Sunday, June 7, 2009: "mistic/al/ly" and "misticizm" for "mystic/al/ly" and "mysticism"

Vocalic-Y is ambiguous, having in some words a long-I sound (hybrid, myopic, ally), in other words a short-I sound (mysterious, homonym, physical), and in yet other words, a briefly articulated long-E sound (anyone, boogyman, and of course enormous numbers of words ending in -Y, such as dummy, orthodoxy, and today's third inflected word, mystically — which in current spelling has two Y's, each with a different sound!). In today's words, the vowel sound in the first syllable is short-I, so let's just write an I.

The other issue in these words is the sound of the S before the M in "mysticism". It's not an S-sound, but Z-sound. So let's write Z: "mistic/al/ly" and "misticizm".

Saturday, June 6, 2009: "lim" for "limb"

There is absolutely no way to justify a silent-B. That's just dumb: "lim".

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

Friday, June 5, 2009: "kohlrobby" for "kohlrabi"

There are two areas of this Food Friday word that are ambiguous. First, the A could be said in at least four ways, long (as in rabies), short (rabid), schwa (ability), or "broad" (same sound as short-O: Punjabi). The correct sound,* broad-A / short-O, is the rarest for that spelling. -OBB- would be hugely clearer for that sound in this word.

The final-I also causes problems for the reader. Is it said as in alibi, rabbi, and syllabi, with a long-I? It is not. Rather, the sound is that familiar brief long-E (or, in Britain, a sound midway between long-E and short-I) that we generally write -Y (hobby, lobby, bobby). So a clear rendering of today's word is: "kohlrobby".

* There is an alternate pronuncation with a short-A, but that is surely a spelling-pronunciation that derives from the ambiguity of the traditional spelling. A clear spelling of the educated pronunciation should eradicate the mistaken pronunciation with a short-A in short order.

Thursday, June 4, 2009: "iskeum"* for "ischium"

SCH is ambiguous, sometimes having only the sound of SH (schist, borscht, mirschaum); other times the sounds of S and K in sequence (school, schematic, ischemia); and sometimes merely the S-sound followed by the CH-sound as in church (discharge, eschew, mischief). In some words, more than one pronunciation can be assigned to the same S-C-H sequence (maraschino, schedule: màa.ra.ské or ~shée~; ské or, in Britain, shéj~). There is even one family of words in which, for some speakers, the CH is silent (schism, schismatic, etc.).

To clarify that the sound in today's related words is SK, we need merely write SK.

To clarify that the I is not long (as in, for instance, diuretic, diurnal, and triumph), we can replace the I with E, which will be completely clear: "iskeum".

Derivatives, of course, take the same basic spelling, adjusted for the individual words' needs: "iskea" (irregular plural; regular plual "iskeums" would be more sensible), "iskeeaddic", "iskeeattic", etc.

* An "iskeum" is one of the two parts of the pelvis that we rest upon when sitting. Butt bones.

Wensday, June 3, 2009: "havv" for "halve"

We, um, 'have' two words of the same exact sound, both spelled absurdly. One is spelled "have",* the other "halve". They are both pronounced haav. We could, of course, write the less-common word, which would be "halve" (which means to divide into two (roughly equal) parts or diminish by half), as "haav". But AA is ambiguous (aardvark; baa; Baal; kraal; quaalude, Maalox: pronounced, respectively, órd.vork, boq or baaq (where Q is silent, and shows only that the vowel before it is short); báe.yal, bael, bail, or bol; krol; kwáe.lued and máe.loks).

How else might we spell "halve"? We could double the V: "havv". Altho there are currently no English words ending in -VV, the practice of doubling a final consonant is well understood to be a way to show a short vowel immediately before. Odd, inn, doff, schlepp, boycott. We don't notice, nor care, that some of these endings are very rare. For instance, exempting proper nouns, -DD is found only in add and odd; -NN, only in inn and (d)jinn; -GG only in egg and mahjongg. So, really, why not use a double-V to clarify that "halve" does not have an L-sound in it?: "havv".

My thanks to "Unicycle..." for this suggestion. The plural, by the way, would be the base word plus S, as is typical: odds, inns, havvs.

* "Have" was offered here June 1, 2004 as "hav".

Tuesday, June 2, 2009: "jermaneum" for "germanium"

GE is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a G-sound ("hard"-G), as in gecko, geese, and gearbox; other times, with a J-sound ("soft"-G), as in gesture, gentle, and gerbil. There is no way a new reader can know which sound applies to which word. So we need to replace the G with J, especially in that the word overall is Latin in form, and in classical Latin, according to some scholars, G was never pronounced like J but always as hard-G.

The other reform I propose today, a change of the -IUM to -EUM (as in museum) may not be as important to make, but -I- with other vowels following sometimes takes a long-I sound (dialect, diet, violate, diuretic) and there is no way the reader can know whether "germanium" is one of those cases. An E after the N has the additional advantage of suggesting that the A before that N takes its long sound, because of the influence of the E in the pattern A_E.

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

Munday, June 1, 2009: "force mozherre" for "force majeure"

This term of law* appears to be French, but has been in English for over 120 years. Its French look confuses people as to how to say it, especially people who don't know French. Even dictionary publishers don't know how to say it! At the American Heritage Dictionary's entry on, the written pronunciation shows Û for the sound of the EU, which is supposed to represent the standard ER-sound, but the auditory pronunciation gives a long-U!

Let's write ER to show the right sound.

The sound of the A is "broad"-A, which is the same as short-O. If we leave A, which is probably the most common way of showing a schwa sound in an unstressed syllable, many readers will read it as a schwa rather than broad-A / short-O. O would be clearer, tho admittedly not completely clear. Traditional spelling often does not permit absolute clarity, no matter how you may write something.

Finally, altho English rarely shows syllabic stress by spelling, it does in some cases, and this is one in which to do so would seem wise, in that the phrase's overall stress falls at the very end, as with words like kitchenette and bizarre. Let's use the model of those words to indicate this unusual stress pattern, doubling the R and adding an E: "force mozherre".

* For "an unexpected and disruptive event that may operate to excuse a party from a contract", similar to "act of God" in the sense that the person to whom it happened didn't cause it and couldn't do anything about it.

Sunday, May 31, 2009: "enrole" for "enroll"

-OLL is ambiguous, sometimes having what one should be able to expect, a short-O, in that the O precedes a double consonant (follow, pollen, rollicking), but other times having an irrational long-O (roll, poll, boll). In the case of today's word, the sound is long-O, which is more clearly shown by -OLE: "enrole".

Saturday, May 30, 2009: "debbuetont" for "debutant/e" or "débutant/e"

English does not employ accents, and most people in English-speaking countries have no idea how to type an accent, in, for instance, email, so the accent has got to go.

Even without an accent, today's word/s are ambiguous, in part because of the availability of a comparison to "rebut". "Debutant/e" could be read as dee.bút.ant, which would be very wrong. The actual sound is déb.yoo.tònt or déb.ya.tònt.  How would we show that plainly in conventional spelling? Well, we'd have to double the B to show the initial-E to be short and thus break the parallel to "rebut". The -UT- would remain unclear, however. If we add an E between the U and T, we suggest a more likely sound, a long-U with an initial Y-glide. In an unstressed syllable, the U part of that sound will naturally be reduced to a short-OO or schwa, which is right.

The A in -ANT/E might be read wrong, as representing a schwa. The actual sound is a "broad"-A, the same sound as short-O. If we use an O before the -NT/E, we get the right sound.

The last ambiguity is the final-E. Why is it there? It's not pronounced (long-E), as in recipe, abalone, or terpsichore. It doesn't indicate that the word's stress falls on the last syllable, because the stress actually falls on the first syllable. It doesn't indicate that the A should be pronounced long, even tho two consonants intervene, as in waste or taste, because the sound is not long. And in fact, sometimes the -E is not there, but "debutant" stands alone. So let's drop it everywhere.

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

Friday, May 29, 2009: "cabbin/et" for "cabin/et"

The single consonants midword in both of today's words make the sound of the vowels before them ambiguous. The A could be long, as in babies and stabilize. The sound is actually short, and the way we often show a short vowel is by doubling the consonant immediately following. If we do that in the case of the B here, we clarify the sounds in both "cabin" and "cabinet", because a long-I in an unstressed syllable will seem to most readers quite unlikely, and the double-B suggests that the first syllable takes the word's stress: "cabbin" and "cabbinet".

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

Thursday, May 28, 2009: "bauld/erdash" for "bald/erdash"

The first and second A's in today's longer word are pronounced differently. The first is not long (as in pate), not short (as in trash, dash, formaldehyde, or heraldic). Rather, it represents the AU-sound as in taut, cauldron, and auld lang syne). So let's spell it AU: "bauld/erdash".

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

Wensday, May 27, 2009: "acchual/ly" for "actually"

There is no T-sound in today's word, and the present spelling contributes to the common mispronunciation áak.sha.le for "actually", by confusion of -TUAL- with -TIAL- in words like nuptial, substantial, and deferential. Once the T is replaced by CH, which is the, um, actual sound, that mispronunciation should gradually fade away: "acchual" and "acchually".

Tuesday, May 26, 2009: "zeeroeth" for "zeroth"

Today, let's fix the spelling of a very odd word that will make no sense to most people because it means the ordinal number for 0, that is, the number showing its order in a sequence, like first, second, third. But here, the place is zero-th. There is no ordinary use for such a word, but it apparently comes in handy in computer programming.

In any case, it is to be said like "zero" (zéer.o) plus a voiceless-TH as in think. Just writing "zero" plus TH does not, however, convey that sound. First, because the -OTH could be pronounced as in broth or cloth or behemoth or doth or Goth, not just as in both. (Brautth or brotth, klautth or kloth, be.hée.matth, dutth, Gotth.) So ambiguous, indeed, is -OTH, that some words have three common pronunciations: troth and sloth, for instance, can be said with a long-O, an AU-sound (as in haul), or a short-O. So -OTH has to be changed to clarify the pronunciation.

The sound of the E isn't clear either. Especially if the reader sees the word's stress as falling on the second syllable, the E could be seen as part of the familiar ER-pattern of blazer, geezer, and organizer. The sound is actually long-E, which we can make plain by adding a second-E: ZEE-.

Clarifying the long-O sound of the second syllable can also be done with an additional-E, tho there will then arise some question as to whether the E represents an additional syllable, as in doeth, goeth, or bioethics. "Zeroes", one of the plurals (with "zeros") of zero, has an E, as has the past tense "zeroed", so we can hope that people will not add a syllable if we place an E before the TH in today's word. But there's only so much we can do to clarify sound in traditional spelling, and a clearer spelling is better than a vaguer spelling: "zeeroeth".

My thanks to "space..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.

Munday, May 25, 2009: "yardij" for "yardage"*

Today's word contains a shorter word, AGE, which is, however, pronounced very differently. "Age" is spelled sensibly, according to a rule well understood by new learners of English, that a "silent-E" (sometimes also called "magic-E") after a single consonant signals a long pronunciation for the vowel just before that consonant: A_E shows long-A (page), I_E shows long-I (mine), etc. The actual vowel sound of the -AGE in today's word is a schwa approaching short-I. So let's write an I and drop the E so it is not read wrong, as tho long, either.

The other ambiguity today is the GE, which represents not G's own unique sound (as in give, girl, and renege), but J's sound. Let's write J.

Taking both these little steps, we get a spelling that is clear as to sound, and saves us a letter: "yardij".

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

* "Yardage" is (1) a way to express length, especially of fabric, in yards (the name for a measure of three feet, a bit shorter than a meter); and (2) "the use of a yard or enclosure, as in loading or unloading cattle or other livestock at a railroad station" or "the charge for such use".  (

Sunday, May 24, 2009: "whur" for "whir" and "whirr"

IR(R) is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a long-E sound (irritable) or short-I (iridescent). Here, the sound is the schwa-R or short-E plus R sound most commonly spelled ER (better) but also sometimes spelled UR (urgent), OR (honor), OUR (glamour), and, yes, IR (bird). This multiplicity of spellings produces problems, and some people pronounce some words wrong, substituting a different sound for the unusual vowel (sensor pronounced sén.sàur; scourge pronounced skuerj or skaurj). If we can easily clarify the right sound, we should.

Here, we could offer "wher" or "whur". Ordinarily, "wher" would be preferable, for using the most common and least-confusable spelling for this sound, ER. But here, we have a very familiar, frequently occurring word, quite similar in form but not sound, to consider: "where" (pronounced hwair). "Wher" will strike many people as a typo for "where". So UR is a better choice: "whur".

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

Saturday, May 23, 2009: "verbeena" for "verbena"

The current spelling of "verbena" (a type of flowering garden plant) will be seen by many people, especially in areas of the United States in which Spanish is common, as having a long-A sound before the N. (The correct sound is long-E.) Indeed, a related word, for a related flower, vervain, comes from the same Latin word (verbena) as "verbena", and is pronounced with a long-A in the same relative position. Doubling the E in today's word will eliminate this ambiguity very quickly: "verbeena".

Friday, May 22, 2009: "tandoory" for "tandoori"

This Food Friday let's make a minor change to clarify that the final-I of this word for food baked in a "tandoor", a type of Indian oven, is pronounced with the abbreviated long-E sound of most Y's in final position, not with the long-I sound of many words ending in -I (alibi, cacti, syllabi). There is, alas, no way to be entirely clear about this, because even -Y sometimes takes a long-I sound (quantify, qualify, to multiply), and -IE can take either pronunciation (belie, hogtie, magpie; brownie, rookie, calorie).

The A in the first syllable is also ambiguous, with many people saying a "broad"-A (as in father) but some saying a short-A (as in fat). So we have to leave it. Even if everyone agreed that it is to be said "broad", how would we respell that syllable to make that clear? "Tondoory" might be read right, but some readers might see "ton" as taking the short-U of the word ton/tonne. So let's just leave the A as-is: "tandoory".

Thursday, May 21, 2009: "sarcazm" for "sarcasm"

The sound immediately before the M in this word is Z, not S, so let's write Z:  "sarcazm".

Note: In the derivatives "sarcastic" and "sarcastically", the sound is indeed S, so the S there is fine.

Wensday, May 20, 2009: "rekliss" for "reckless"

"Reck" is an antique word for "take care", but nobody uses it anymore. "Wreck" is a word we use often, however, and "wreck" has nothing to do with "reck", so we should try to distance them further. Someone who is "reckless" is, indeed, more likely to be involved in a "wreck", so "reckless" is counterintuitive.

If we take the C out, we'd get "rekless", closer to the Middle English version, "rekles". But it remains too close to the almost-opposed concept of "wreckless". If, however, we also change the E to something else that breaks the mental link to "less" in the sense of "without", we'd make this word less seemingly paradoxical.

The sound of the E is a schwa, which can be shown by any vowel. U might do: "reklus" would be clear with only one S. Perhaps that suggests "recluse".  An I would do: "reklis" or "rekliss". A single-S might look like a plural to some readers, so a double-S would be better. I have no strong feelings either way, but think that an I is marginally better: "rekliss".

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2009: "paliss" for "palace"

"Palace" contains the shorter word lace within it, but is not pronounced like it. Lace has a long-A sound, typical of words with the pattern vowel-consonant-E: lace, place, face — but not palace. The actual sound is schwa approaching short-I, but how do we show that? Schwa is most commonly shown by the letter A, but can be shown by any vowel and even by many vowel combinations (ambiguous, foreign). "Palas" might be seen as having a schwa in the second syllable, but it would also be seen as having a Z-sound rather than S-sound at the end, as tho plural. "Palass" invites a full short-A, as in the word lass. So we have to give up on using the letter A here. The schwa in "palace" approaches short-I, and some online dictionaries show it as actually being a regular short-I, so let's use I: "paliss".

Munday, May 18, 2009: "oald" for "old"

There is no way for the new reader to know that the O in "old" is long, since it is followed by two consonants, and that would ordinarily suggest that the preceding vowel is short. The mere fact that this letter combination often takes a long-O in no way excuses it. This is one of hundreds of ad-hoc peculiarities that people are just expected to adjust to. No. We really need to rebel and say, "No!" to all this idiocy.

-OLD has other pronunciations than as in "old". Compare cuckold(schwa), folderol (short-O), solder (short-O but no L-sound), soldier (long-O but a J-sound rather than D).

We need to show the long-O sound within the spelling. We might use OE or OA. OA is a little clearer ("foam", "loan", "coal") than OE, which has some odd sounds ("canoe", "coed", and "coelum" are pronounced ka.nue, kó, and sée.lam). But there are odd pronunciations for OA too: "broad", "coalesce" and "boa" are said as braud, kòe.wa.lés, aand bóe.wa. A third possibility presents itself, in that there are words with OH in them to show a long-O: "kohl", "kohlrabi", and "ohm". But I think OA is clear enuf: "oald".

Sunday, May 17, 2009: "nun" for "none"

"None" is one of the more absurd spellings in English. It looks as tho it should rhyme with bone, phone, and cornpone, but does not. It actually sounds exactly like the word nun (a female member of a religious order), and rhymes with bun, sun, and fun. Were it not for the prior existence of the word nun, we would have no quandary as to how to spell it: why, "nun", of course. But some people may feel that the existence of the very different word nun forbids using that same spelling. I don't think it does.

The two words would rarely or never be confused in context, and we have lots of words in English that are both spelled and pronounced the same but have very different meanings, for instance row for both a line of objects and a verb meaning to propel a boat with oars; bow (pronounced with a long-O) for the knot you make to keep your shoe on and for the bent piece of wood that propels arrows; bowl for the thing that holds your cereal and the verb for throw a ball at tenpins; set for a group, or a TV receiver, or to congeal; and on and on.

We could, I suppose, place a second-N at the end of "nun" to form "nunn" as a distinct spelling for what is now spelled N-O-N-E. But why bother? There are only two common English words ending in NN, and one is a proper noun: inn and Finn. Even if we were to agree to an otherwise superfluous-N just to distinguish today's word from the word for a religious woman, would we then have to put a double-N in derivatives like nonesuch* and nonetheless ("nunnsuch", "nunntheless")? Or would a single-N seem to most people to suffice in derivatives? If a single-N would be OK in "nunsuch" and "nuntheless", how do we justify a double-N in "nunn" standing alone?

Let's just go with a single-N everywhere, and trust context to distinguish these very-different words, just as we rely upon context to distinguish among the very-different meanings of words like row, bow, bowl, and set: "nun", "nunsuch", and "nuntheless".

My thanks to "Clap..." for suggesting reform of this word (as "nunn"), tho I chose a slitely different solution.

* Also sometimes spelled "nonsuch", tho not all dictionaries recognize that. That form, without an E, can be pronounced as tho it had the E, or with a short-O in the first syllable rather than short-U. People who use "nonsuch" and pronounce it with a short-O can continue to write and spell it differently from "nonesuch" / "nunsuch".

Saturday, May 16, 2009: "maserre" and "masuse" for "masseur" and "masseuse"

One major reason to reform English spelling is to make clear that what appear to be foreign spellings take English sounds, as here. The French form of these two words (for, respectively, a man or a woman who gives massages) has led to several different pronunciations. People who know the words from speech rather than reading are not confused. They hear ma.sér and ma.súes. Our problem is how to show those pronunciations clearly so people don't struggle to find the right pronunciation.

Since the stress falls on the second syllable, "maser" would be multiply unclear. The A_E would lead the reader to see the A as long (as in chaser), rather than the schwa it actually represents. Comparison of "maser" to laser rather than chaser would also cause some readers to see the S as representing a Z-sound, whereas it actually should represent an S-sound. In fact, "maser" already is a word (for a device to generate electromagnetic waves), and is pronounced with a long-A and Z-sound. Further, the first syllable would be stressed. So we need at least to double the R, and perhaps do more, to show that the second syllable is stressed. "Maserr" might be clear enuf. Would "maserre" be clearer?

Only a few common words in English end in RR, such as burr, err, and purr. We could make this one more. There are even fewer words in English that end in RRE, such as bizarre, parterre, and nom de guerre. Tho RR would shorter, I don't think it would be as clear as regards syllabic stress as RRE. All the words ending in RR are of only one syllable; thus, many people hearing the word now spelled "masseur" pronounced, might expect RRE rather than RR. So let's go with "maserre".

For the feminine, the current spelling has given rise to confusion as to the sound of the S in the second syllable. Some people see it as S, others as Z. Those who know the word from speech use an S-sound. If we write only a single-S — "masuse" rather than "masusse" or "masuess(s)" — people can say whichever they prefer, given words like use, abuse, and chartreuse, which can be pronounced either way.

So let's write: "maserre" and "masuse".

Friday, May 15, 2009: "lasivveus" for "lascivious"

There are at least three things wrong with the spelling of today's word (for "lewd" or "lustful"). First, there is a silent-C whose presence could not be guessed by someone hearing the word said. Second, there are two I's, only the first of which has an I-sound. The first-I has a proper, short-I sound, as in it. But the second-I has a briefly articulated long-E sound. Third, there is an OU but no OU-sound.

Fortunately, there are three quick fixes. First, drop the C. Second, replace the second-I with E. Third, drop the O. That would yield "lasiveus", but that would be unclear as to the sound of the I. To show it short, we need merely double the consonant after it, a standard way to show a short consonant. The mere fact that that consonant is V is no reason not to do this: "lasivveus".

Thursday, May 14, 2009: "intellijent" for "intelligent"

The spelling of this word is, oddly, a little stupid. It employs a G to represent the sound of J, and thus introduces an element of uncertainty that need not exist. For instance, the related word "intelligentsia", pronounced with a J-sound in its English form, is actually pronounced with a G-sound ("hard"-G) in the original Russian.

Fortunately, to clarify the sound of today's word, we need merely replace the G with J. Everything else is fine: "intellijent".

Wensday, May 13, 2009: "hybiscus" for "hibiscus"

The preferred pronunciation for today's word has a long-I sound in the first syllable, as in idol. The absence of a doubled consonant (B, in this case) after the I is, however, insufficient to cue people that the I is long — perhaps because the word's stress falls on the second syllable, and it is unusual (tho certainly not unheard-of) for a long-I to occur in an unstressed syllable (tirade but irate). Thus, a common spelling-(mis)pronunciation, with a short-I (as in it), has arisen. That variant pronunciation is apparently standard in Britain. So we need a respelling that will indicate a long-I but not outlaw a short-I.

"Hiebiscus" would outlaw a short-I. "Hybiscus" would strongly suggest a long-I (as in hybrid), but not absolutely mandate it. So that's the way to go: "hybiscus".

Tuesday, May 12, 2009: "gingam" for "gingham"

Kids are often puzzled as to why the familiar word "ham" isn't pronounced at the end of this word, as well they should be. The H, which is silent, shouldn't be there: "gingam".

Munday, May 11, 2009: "farago" for "farrago"

This unusual word (for a medley or hodgepodge) has a peculiar and misleading spelling that makes it appear to be pronounced fáar.a.gò. In actuality, it is pronounced either fa.róg.o or fa.ráe.go. That is, the first-A is a schwa, unstressed, and the second-A takes the stress, as either "broad"-A as in father (the same sound as short-O) or long-A as in vague. But the presence of a double-R suggests at once that the first-A is short as in arrow or barrel and that the first syllable, before the doubled consonant, takes the word's stress, when it is actually the syllable after the doubled consonant that takes the stress.

We can't change the -AGO part of today's word, because there are two pronunciations for that A. If everyone agreed that the word should be pronounced fa.róg.o, we could spell it "faroggo", and that would be clear. Or if everyone agreed it should be pronounced fa.ráe.go, we could spell it "faraego" or "faraigo" or "faraygo", any of which would be clearer than either "farrago" or "farago". But we can't impose a pronunciation that is not universally agreed.

We can, however, take out one of those misleading R's. That may not make the pronunciation absolutely clear, since the first-A could be mispronounced "broad" as in far, but a spelling with only one R will not misleadingly suggest that the first-A is definitely short, which it is not, nor that the word's stress falls on the first syllable, both of which the current spelling does suggest. Sometimes making things a little less bad is the best we can do in conventional spelling: "farago".

Sunday, May 10, 2009: "exejeesis", "exejeesees", "exejettics", "exegettic/al/ly" for "exegesis", "exegeses", "exegetics", and "exegetic/al/ly"

This Sunday, let's fix the spellings of inflected forms for a term meaning "explanation", especially the interpretation of religious writings. The current spelling for the main word, "exegesis", has single consonants throughout, even tho there are long and short vowels and a schwa before the different consonants. The word bears a vague resemblance to "genesis", which has stress on the first syllable, so the stress in "exegesis" is utterly unclear. And the G does not take G's own, unique sound (also called "hard"-G) but J's.

We can fix all those problems with very minor spelling changes. First, obviously, we should replace the G with what it sounds like, J. Second, if we double the third-E in the base word to show that it is long, unlike the other two, we also show that the word's stress falls on the third syllable. So the main word becomes "exejeesis".

The derivatives flow naturally enuf from that. The plural needs a second-E as well, to show that the -ES is not pronounced the way most occurrences of -ES are, a schwa or short-I (as in churches and ages), but with a long-E.

"Exegetics" has no long-E sound, so needs, in addition to the change of G to J, a second-T to show that the E before the T is short and that the word's stress falls on the third syllable.

Working backward from "exejettics" to the adjective, we merely drop the S to create "exejettic"; then to make the adverb, we add -ALLY, with a little stop at an alternate adjectival form, "exejettical". And so we have fixed an entire little family of related words: "exejeesis", "exejeesees", "exejettics", "exejettic", "exejettical", and "exejettically".

Saturday, May 9, 2009: "deff/en" for "deaf/en"

The current spelling may in part explain the dialectal mispronunciation of today's word as deef, because EA can be read properly in many words as long-E (bean, teal, commonweal). Here, however, the EA represents a short-E, as in bread, stealth, and commonwealth. In at least two spellings, you cannot know without context which sound applies: read, lead.  EA has other sounds as well:  pear, create, beatitude, area, Sean, yea, azalea, heart (pronounced, respectively, pair, kree.yáet, bee.yáa.ti.tùed, ái.ree.ya, shaunyae, azáil.ya, hort). So let's steer clear of EA in today's words.

One question remains: one F or two? English has both, for words ending in an F-sound: if, stiff, beef, doff, roof, cuff. Efficiency might argue for one, but there are already two slang words spelled "def", one of which is a synonym for "cool" (hip) and the other a short form of "definitely", so two F's would make a bit more sense, especially since the verb "deffen" has to have two F's to show the first-E short. Of course, the adjective "def" does have comparative and superlative forms ("deffer", "deffest") with a double-F, so the distinction between "deff" for "hard of hearing" would be lost there. But one doesn't ordinarily hear the slang for "cool" in the comparative or superlative. So two F's for the adjective (or, in the phrase "the deaf", noun) meaning "hard of hearing" is fine: "deff/en".

Friday, May 8, 2009: "cabbij" for "cabbage"

This Food Friday, let's fix the spelling of the humble cabbage. AGE is a word to itself, pronounced with a long-A. That is not the sound here, which is a schwa that approaches short-I in quality. Since Traditional Orthography has no unique character to represent schwa,* and any vowel can do so, let's use the letter this particular schwa most closely approximates, I: "cabbij".

* My radical reform for English, Fanetik, does employ a unique character for schwa, the letter A.

My thanks to "Moon..." for suggesting reform of "cabbage", tho I chose a slitely different solution.

Thursday, May 7, 2009: "bilyerd/s" for "billiard/s"

IA is extremely ambiguous, sometimes representing a long-I and schwa (dial); sometimes long-I plus short-A (iambic); sometimes long-I plus long-A (hiatus); or long-E plus long-A (affiliation); long-E plus short-A (sacroiliac); long-E plus schwa (encyclopedia); and sometimes a consonantal-Y sound plus schwa (civilian and today's word/s). There are also unusual sounds that don't fall under any of those categories (ambiance, triage, Christian, amnesia, commercial). So IA in today's word/s just won't cut it.

YA wouldn't do, because we would then have "billyards", and "yard" is a word pronounced differently, with a full short-O or "broad-A" sound. We need a YE for the actual sound.

As for what comes before it, "billy" is a name, a club, and a male goat, with a distinct long-E sound (if only briefly articulated). So "billyerd/s" would not be clear. If we drop the second-L, however, we get a spelling that is likely to be read right: "bilyerd/s".

Wensday, May 6, 2009: "afix" for (the verb)* "affix"

A double consonant ordinarily indicates that the vowel preceding is short, and often suggests as well that the preceding syllable takes the word's stress. Neither is true here. The A is pronounced as a schwa, and the word's stress falls on the second syllable. If we remove one F, we get a spelling that will be pronounced right: "afix".

* There is a noun for which the form with a double-F is appropriate, because it is pronounced with a short-A and stress on the first syllable, so we'll leave the noun as-is.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009: "zeerafile" and "zeroffilus" for "xerophile" and "xerophilous"

These two words (meaning something, such as a plant, that thrives in a very dry environment) have an X where a Z should be, so let's write Z.

PH is a preposterous way to spell the F-sound. Let's use F.

We also need to clarify the sounds of the vowels E and O in the present spellings. In "xerophile", the E is long and the O, a schwa. Given the influence of the word "zero", many readers would be tempted to give an O in a spelling "zeerofile" a long-O sound, which would be wrong. If we write A instead, however, readers will pronounce an unstressed A as a schwa, which is right: "zeerafile".

In "xerophilous", the E is short or a schwa, and the O represents a full short-O. The way we would ordinarily show a short vowel is by doubling the consonant immediately following, which, here, should be F.

The last problem is the OU in "xerophilous", which represents not the OU-sound but a schwa. We don't need two letters to represent a schwa. In this location, U alone will do.

So today's suggested spellings are: "zeerafile" and "zeroffilus".

My thanks to "space..." for suggesting reform of "xerophile", tho I chose a slitely different solution..

Munday, May 4, 2009: "wontun" for "wanton"

We have two problems with "wanton". First, the A represents neither of A's most-common sounds, long as in pay or short as in pat. Here, the sound is "broad"-A, the same sound as short-O (as in onward and cot). So let's substitute O. That takes us to "wonton", which also takes us to our second problem.

"Wonton" is already a word (also occasionally written as a phrase, "won ton"). It is internally self-rhyming, with both O's representing a full short-O sound. That's not the sound of the O in "wanton", which is a schwa.

Happily, we need only replace that O with a U to get a spelling people will pronounce right: "wontun".

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

I am again running behind a couple of days due to other demands, so let the Weekend Edition remain up one more day.

Sunday, May 3, 2009: "vizzij" for "visage"

There are at least three things wrong with today's word. First, the S represents not an S-sound but a Z-sound, so we should use Z. Since the I before is short, we should double the following consonant (now Z) to show that the I is short.

Second, the A looks as tho it should be long, since it forms, with the G, the common pattern vowel-consonant-E that signals a long vowel. In fact, however, it is not long, not short, but a schwa or even a short-I. Before we decide how to show that sound, however, we need to fix the third problem.

Third, GE is highly ambiguous (see discussion two days ago, at "tangerine", May 1st). Here, it represents the J-sound, so let's use a J.

At this point, we have "vizz_j". If we use an A to represent the schwa, we get "vizzaj", which many readers, if not the great preponderance, will see as having a short-A sound before the J. If we write I, however, we get a clearer rendering of the actual sound, close to if not fully at a short-I: "vizzij".

Saturday, May 2, 2009: "eunisex" for "unisex"

UN- is a very common prefix pronounced with a short-I, and it can fall before an I as much as any other letter (uninformed, unintentional, unidentified), so we cannot assume that readers, especially new readers from non-English-speaking countries, will understand that the UNI- in today's word is pronounced differently, with a long-U and initial Y-glide. That sound is better shown by EU-: "eunisex".

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

Friday, May 1, 2009: "tanjereen" for "tangerine"

This Food Friday, let's clarify the pronunciation of a word that is at least twice vague. First, NG usually represents the third nasal sound of English, after M and N, the unique sound in sing, long, and rang. But it has other sounds. Sometimes there is a G-sound (also called "hard"-G sound) in addition to NG's unique sound, as in anguish, hungry, and longer. In some other words, the NG does not represent the third nasal sound, but only the second, N, plus either a G-sound (engross, ungainly, ingredient) or a J-sound (ingenious, longevity, and today's word, tangerine).

Since the sound combination N-J is probably the least common for the NG-spelling, we really do need to clarify when it applies. Happily, we can do that handily, simply by changing the G to J.

The second ambiguity in today's word is the pronunciation of the last three letters. -INE can be pronounced with a long-I (refine, divine, confine); short-I (imagine, illumine, discipline); or long-E (machine, praline, tambourine). Because -INE is so ambiguous, different people use different sounds in the same word: Byzantine, antihistamine, strychnine). There's no need to leave readers to figure this out on their own. We can guide them to the right pronunciation just by putting the absolutely clear -EEN at the end of this word: "tanjereen".

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

Thursday, April 30, 2009: "skejjul" for "schedule"

Let's take the bull by the horns today and fix a word that is pronounced differently by all educated speakers in the U.S. (and by far most in Canada), on the one side, and Britain (and perhaps some affected broadcasters in Canada) on the other. In that the U.S. and Canada together comprise some 80% of all native speakers of English, we must not let a 20% minority hold us back from spelling sensibly.

In Britain, the reader is to see SCH- as tho it is SH- (as in schist, schmaltz, schwa); in North America, as tho it were SK (as in school, scheme, schooner — and, in fact, almost all other words starting in SCH).

The spelling "schedule"allows not just the (North) American vs. British split as to the initial sound, but also a three-syllable pronunciation by people who just don't know how to say what they see: ské.jue.wàl. No, the word has only two syllables: ské.jal. We could spell it "skejal", but that wouldn't be entirely clear. For one thing, the sound of the E might be misread because there's only one consonant following, so it might be long, as in he and she. For another, the AL might be read like the nickname "Al". So we need to double the J. That might be enuf to cause a final -AL to be read right. But -UL would be clearer (and might justify those people who insist on using a long-U now).

As for Brits, if they want to say shé.jueI, let them spell it any way they like. The rest of the world might prefer to say, and write clearly: "skejjul".

Wensday, April 29, 2009: "rejent" and "rejency" for "regent" and "regency"

GE is ambiguous, sometimes taking G's own distinctive sound (get, gecko, renege), sometimes J's distinctive sound (gentle, germane, gesture), sometimes even the ZH-sound (genre, collage, montage). We need to replace G everywhere it represents a J-sound, as here: "rejent" and "rejency".

Tuesday, April 28, 2009: "quoddrapleejic" for "quadriplegic" and (Australian) "quadruplegic"

Today's word has four problems we should fix. First, the A in the first syllable represents neither of A's main sounds, long as in ate and short as in at. Rather, it is supposed to be the "broad-A" of father, which is the same sound as short-O (as in on). An O would be clearer here, but only if the D is doubled, because "quod" might be given a Latin pronunciation, as in the full phrase "quod erat demonstrandum" that is more commonly abbreviated Q.E.D.

The second problem is that most words that start with QUADR- and have a schwa in the second syllable take A there, so a person hearing the word would likely guess an A rather than either I or U. The I and U are certainly not absurd, but it would be simpler for people to deal with an expected A.

The third problem is the sound of the E in the third syllable. In the current spelling, some people see the E as short, tho that pronunciation is not given in the auditory pronunciations at major online dictionaries, so can be dismissed as a spelling (mis)pronunciation. To give readers better guidance, we should double the E.

The fourth problem is the sound of the G. As noted here Sunday (which see, below), GI is ambiguous. Here, it represents not its own sound but J's, so let's use J instead.

Putting this all together, we get the slightly longer but much clearer: "quoddrapleejic".

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

Munday, April 27, 2009: "partizan", "bipartizan", and "artizan" for "partisan", "bipartisan", and "artisan"

The S in these parallel words (the only ones of this form in the English language) is pronounced Z, so should be written Z: "partizan", "bipartizan", and "artizan".

Sunday, April 26, 2009: "orijin", "orijjinal/ly", "orijjinate", and "orijjination",  for "origin/al/ly", "originate", and "origination"

GI is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with G's own, distinctive sound (also called "hard"-G) (give gig, gizzard), and sometimes being pronounced with a J-sound (gin, gist, giblets). If the sound is not G's but J's, let's write J. And if the vowel before the J is short, we should double the J, just as we would double any other consonant to show a short vowel: "orijin", "orijjinal/ly", "orijjinate", and "orijjination".

My thanks to "Clap..." for "orijin".

Saturday, April 25, 2009: "nesseserry" for "necessary"

There are two S-sounds in this word, but they aren't both spelled with S. The first is shown by a C, the second by double-S. But a doubled consonant often cues that syllabic stress falls on the syllable just before, whereas in this word, the first syllable, not the second, takes the stress. So if any consonant is to be doubled, it should be the one after the first syllable, which now is C. That would produce "neccesary", which would be wrong, because it would be read as having a K-S sound combination, as in accent and accessory . So neither C nor CC will do here. We need a double-S.

Could we simply flip the C and SS in the traditional spelling, to "nessecary"? No, because the C would take its "hard" sound before A. Even if we change the A to E, so we could put a C before it — and we should change the -ARY to -ERRY anyway, because -ARY could be read as having an AU-sound, as in wary and scary — why make it 'necessary' to remember that the second S-sound is spelled with a C? Let's just use S's throughout, a double-S after the first syllable, to show at once that the first-E is short and that the stress falls on the first syllable, and a single-S at the second occurrence, because we don't need a double-S there. Stress on the first syllable would make it exceedingly unlikely that the second-E is long: "nesseserry".

Friday, April 24, 2009: "mellon" for "melon"

A single consonant in the middle of this Food Friday word leaves the sound of the E unclear, especially in that the first two letters spell "me", which has a long-E. The longer word has a short-E, and the usual way we try to show that unambiguously is by doubling the following consonant. Indeed, there is a family name "Mellon", which shows that someone, somewhere along the line, realized that that would be clearer: "mellon".

Thursday, April 23, 2009: "lejjend/erry" for "legend/ary"

GE is ambiguous, having at least three sounds the reader could plug in: G's own sound, which is also termed "hard"-G (get, gear, gecko); "soft"-G, which is just J's sound spelled stupidly (gesture, gentleman, germane); and French-G, which is English ZH (genre, gendarme, collage). Here, the sound is that of J, so let's write J. Since the E before the J-sound is short, we need to double the following consonant. The mere fact that that consonant is J is no reason not to do this. So the base word should be written "lejjend".

The ending -ARY is also ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with an AU-sound (scary, wary, canary); other times an ER-sound (library, budgetary, commissary); still other times with a schwa (binary, plenary, quandary). So we should clarify that the sound here is -ERRY: "lejjend" and "lejjenderry":

Wensday, April 22, 2009: "kinish" for "knish"

The K in today's word is pronounced, but we are so used to silent-K's before N that we need to clarify that. There is actually a tiny vowel sound between the pronounced-K and the N, a very short schwa. Schwa can be spelled with any vowel, but we have to choose one that won't cause readers to pronounce this word wrong. A: "kanish" looks as tho it should be pronounced like "Danish". E: "Kenish" might be seen like "Flemish" or "replenish", with a full short-E sound. O: "Konish" would be seen like "cone-ish" or rhyming with "astonish". U: "Kunish", like "punish" or maybe with a long-U, like "picayunish". Y: "Kynish" would be seen as having a long-I sound, roughly like "stylish". Of all the vowels, only I is likely to be read right, and then only after the reader first tries stress on the first syllable, like "finish". There is no really-good choice, but I is best of what's available in traditional spelling: "kinish".

Tuesday, April 21, 2009: "ich" for "itch"

We don't need a T in rich or which. We don't need a T in "itch": "ich".

Some people may object that "ich" is the German word for "I" (first person singular pronoun), pronounced very differently (eehh). Yes, it sure is. But this is English, not German. How German spells or pronounces things is a matter of zero importance in English. No one would expect to see a German personal pronoun in the middle of text all the rest of which is English, and the context of which requires the sense of the word traditionally spelled "itch".

Munday, April 20, 2009: "hurd" for "heard"

Spelling is about sound, first and foremost. If we can also convey other information, without losing sound, that's fine. But the simpleminded forms of the past all too often lose sound. In the case of today's word, people took the verb "hear" and formed its past as an irregular, "heard" rather than "heared". I don't know if it was originally "heared", and then somebody got the bright idea to drop the E (immediately or in stages, as to, for instance "hear'd" first). But however it happened, we are now stuck with the past tense of heer being pronounced herd.

Herd is, however, a word to itself, so it's probably a good idea to look for another clear way of spelling the sound herd without creating a new homograph. Other ways of spelling the ER-sound include OR (lessor), UR (fur), and IR (bird). IR, however, is sometimes pronounced as long-E (irritable), so we'd risk people reading "hird" liked "heared". Perhaps it should be "heared", but it isn't. Some speakers pretentiously assign to an unstressed-OR a full AU-sound (sensor, mentor). We don't want that. So UR seems the best solution: "hurd".

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

Sunday, April 19, 2009: "gaysha" for "geisha"

Altho some online dictionaries show a printed secondary pronunciation with a long-E rather than long-A in the first syllable, they offer only one auditory pronunciation, with a long-A. The long-E version is plainly an ignorant, spelling pronunciation produced by the ambiguity of EI. Why isn't there a third pronunciation, with a long-I (compare the two pronunciations of either)? Let's not give anyone (bad) ideas, but just get rid of the EI ambiguity so everyone knows this word is to be pronounced with a long-A: "gaysha".

Saturday, April 18, 2009: "forchun" for "fortune"

The -TUNE in today's word is not pronounced like the word of the same spelling, tune. Rather, it has a CH-sound (as in church). So let's write CH in place of the T. In Britain, the U_E takes a long-U sound; but in the United States, the U is shortened into a schwa. If we were to leave the -E, that would signal that the U should be pronounced long. If we drop the E, but leave the U, people inclined to give the U its long sound will have a U to do that with, but the rest of us will see the U as short, which in unstressed position will be pronounced as the schwa that by far most people say. Let's do that: "forchun".

My thanks to "yaora..." for this suggestion. There are some people in Britain who actually say a T-Y sound in the -TUNE part of today's word, but that pronunciation is not recognized in the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, so we don't need to accommodate it.

Friday, April 17, 2009: "eddamommay" for "edamame" and "edamami"

This Food Friday, let's fix a word from Japanese for immature soybeans, usually boiled in the pod. Japanese is not written in an alphabet, so the roman-alphabet spellings above are best-guesses as different people hear the Japanese, a language in which some vowels are so severely shortened in utterance that the English-speaker's ear might be confused as to what vowel in our universe equates. Alas, the spelling scheme employed in this rewriting (not transliteration, really, because Japanese doesn't use letters, exactly) is not that of English but of "Continental" European languages. Why, pray, should English use other conventions than its own to show how any word from a language not written in the roman alphabet is to be pronounced in English? That's CRAZY.

The first four letters of the present spellings ("edamame" is more common than "edamami", but both begin the same), EDAM, is a familiar word for a Dutch cheese, pronounced ée.dam. That is not the sound here, where the E is short, not long. The conventional way to show a short vowel in English is to double the following consonant, which here would produce EDDA.

The  last four letters of the more common English spelling, MAME, is a familiar English female name, pronounced maem. Again, that is not the pronunciation here, which is more like "mommy" but with a long-A before the Y, like the phrase "mom may".

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

Thursday, April 16, 2009: "delluje" for "deluge"

There are at least six pronunciations for this word acknowledged by major online dictionaries, NOT including one I commonly hear from people who think that the word is French, not merely derived from French: dáe.luezh.* Everyone agrees that dél.yuej is the first pronunciation, so writing the word as "delluje" would represent that clearly. It could also represent all the other pronunciations shown, if one assumes that people who see the current G as French and pronounce it thus could as well see the new J as French, inasmuch as in French both G and J before E are pronounced with the English ZH-sound. In that the pronunciation dáe.luezh is not recognized by dictionaries, and a clearer spelling would snap readers out of seeing this English word as French, let's just write: "delluje".

* "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." The people who insist on pronouncing "deluge" in a French fashion probably do so from familiarity with the expression from French king Louis XV, "après moi, le déluge" (after me, the flood [which I have been holding back]). Yes, French also has a word like the English word "deluge", but with an accent. French has a great many words like English words, but they are not pronounced the same: "rare" in French is pronounced with what is in English a broad-A or short-O, as in not or on, so rhymes with English bar. Should we change our pronunciation, rair, to conform to French ror (rahr)? I don't think so. (Actually, the French do not say dáe.luezh. Rather, the U is given that weird French-German sound that I have seen described in the Living Language course for French as rounding the lips as tho to say "burn", but instead saying a long English-E. We don't have that sound in English, thank goodness. So if people think the word is French, they should give the U, not just the first-E, a French pronunciation.)

Wensday, April 15, 2009: "calix" for "calyx" as well as "calix"

Today's paired words both mean "cup", in specialized uses. With a Y (calyx), it means the usually green base petals of a flower that form a cup for the main part of the flower; with an I (calix), it means a chalice, in church use. There is no reason to try to separate these words, nor put a Y, which should ideally represent a long-I sound mid-word, where it represents only a short-I. Let's just use the one spelling for both related words: "calix".

Tuesday, April 14, 2009: "binggo" for "bingo"

I actually heard someone on television say bíng.o, rather than bíng.go (no hard-G sound), so accepted that we do have to put a second-G into this word. Until I heard this presumably foreign-born woman (on WNYE-TV, a New York City PBS station) mispronounce it, I had thought we didn't need to fix it. The moral of this story is that if there is ambiguity, somebody is going to read a word wrong. Therefore, to the extent we can make every English word clear, we should. People really shouldn't have to guess if there's a hard-G sound in words with NG. We can simply write NGG and thereby let them know for certain that yes, there is: "binggo".

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

Munday, April 13, 2009: "aford" for "afford"

A doubled consonant ordinarily serves a couple of useful purposes, one of which is to show that the vowel before takes its short sound, another of which is to indicate that the syllable before is stressed. In "afford", neither condition holds. The A is not short (as in at), and the stress falls on the second syllable. If we drop the second-F, the word will be clearer. And we save a letter: "aford".

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

Sunday, April 12, 2009: "zeein" for "zein"

"Zein"* looks as tho it should be pronounced in one syllable, with either a long-A (like "Zane") or long-I. Actually, however, it has two syllables: zée.yin. To show that, we need merely add a second-E before the I, as in seeing: "zeein".

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

* Zein is "a soft, yellow powder of simple proteins obtained from corn, used chiefly in the manufacture of textile fibers, plastics, and paper coatings" (

Saturday, April 11, 2009: "yucka" for "yucca"

Altho the present spelling of today's word can certainly be read easily when seen, it can't readily be guessed when heard, because a "hard" -CC- (before A, O, or U) is rare (3 before A, 5 before O, none before U) among common words in English. -CK-, by contrast, occurs in hundreds of words. So let's make it easier for the new reader to spell, not just read, this word: "yucka".

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

Friday, April 10, 2009: "Khosa" for "Xhosa" and "Xosa"

This project does not generally deal with proper nouns, but today's word is such an egregious offense to phonetic spelling — and we have so few words left that start with X — that I'm making an exception.

In today's word we encounter one of the problems English causes people who would use it: English borrows from so many languages that the same spelling can represent very different sounds. By far most English words starting in X, derived from Greek, start with a Z-sound. But the English word "Xhosa" / "Xosa", taken from an African language of the same name, is pronounced with more like the harsh guttural sound of CH in "loch", a puristic rendering of "Chanukah" or "khan", or at least a K-sound — in short, nothing like the expected Z-sound.

The actual sound is a click, which pretty much no one in the Western world can produce. Nor should we even try to put so alien a sound into an English word. There are specialized symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet, and the exclamation point [!], for clicks, but English doesn't use the IPA, only the roman alphabet, and does not use punctuation marks as stand-ins for letters,* so we have to make do with whatever seems closest in roman letters: "Khosa".

* The apostrophe is sometimes used to represent a glottal stop in attempts to write dialect (e.g., "bo'l" or "bot'l" for "bottle" in Scottish and some local dialects in the U.S.), but many readers wouldn't understand such a rendering.

Thursday, April 9, 2009: "wume" for "womb"

Today's word is thrice badly spelled. First, it has a silent-B, which cannot be justified in any world of reason. Second, it is parallel in spelling to another word with a silent-B, comb, which is, however, pronounced with a long-O, whereas today's word is pronounced with a long-U. And third, there is another word in which the same four-letter sequence is pronounced just as it looks, wombat. So the B has definitely got to go (as tho there were any doubt about the advisability of writing a B only if there's a B-sound).

One way to show a long-U mid-word is by placing OO there, and trusting people to see it as taking the long-OO sound (as in food, tool, and boost. Alas, there is also a short-OO sound (as in good, book, and took), so OO is not the way to go(-o), because some people say words like room, roof, and root with a short-OO (tho the same people do not say doom, proof, or loot with a short-OO).

Another way English often shows a long vowel, any long vowel, is by placing a single consonant and silent-E after it. Long-U is a little tricky, in that sometimes it takes an initial Y-glide, and sometimes it doesn't. So we have words like perfume and legume, with an initial Y-glide; words like assume and presume, in which some people, most particularly Britons, say a Y-glide and others do not; and words like flume and plume, in which no one says a Y-glide. Given that the sound immediately before today's long-U is W, no one would say a Y-glide, so we have a winner!: "wume".

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

Wensday, April 8, 2009: "vappid" for "vapid"

Altho some dictionaries accept a secondary pronunciation, a spelling-pronunciation, with a long-A, I do not recall ever, in my 64 years, hearing anyone actually say that, and both and the Cambridge Dictionaries Online do not recognize it.

You can see why some people might misread "vapid" as having a long-A, inasmuch as there is only a single-P in the spelling, and the word is thought to be related to "vapor", which does properly have a long-A sound. But in that the preferred pronunciation in all four online dictionaries I have consulted, and the only pronunciation shown in two, has a short-A, we can assume the pronunciation with a long-A is a misreading, and reform this word so future generations are not misled: "vappid".

Tuesday, April 7, 2009: "takeela" for "tequila"

In our first Booze Tuesday feature in a very long time, let's fix a term from Mexican Spanish, in which QU does not take its usual sound in English, a K-W combination, but represents a simple K-sound. If the sound is K, let's write K. The I (tequila) also takes a foreign pronunciation, the English long-E. The E (tequila) would take a briefly uttered English short-A sound, or a short-E, depending upon the speaker and speed of utterance. In English, however, it's a schwa, which is most commonly written A. So let's use A.

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

Munday, April 6, 2009: "serrendippity" for "serendipity"

In today's word for "happy accident", single consonants make some vowel sounds before those consonants ambiguous. This is especially the case with the R, which is followed by an E, because vowel-consonant-E is a common way we mark the first vowel as taking its long sound. If we double the R and P, we make clear the sounds before them, and also cue the reader to place the primary stress of  this five-syllable word on the third syllable, before the double-P.

We don't need a double-T (as in kitty, witty, or nitty-gritty), however, because the double-P's marking the third syllable as taking stress make it very unlikely that a long-I would appear in the syllable immediately thereafter: "serrendippity".

Sunday, April 5, 2009: "relijjon" and "relijjus" for "religion" and "religious"

GI is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with G's own, unique sound (also called "hard"-G) (give, gill, gibbon) and sometimes being pronounced "soft", which is just the sound of J (gibbet, gin, gist). If the pronunciation is not G's own sound, but J's distinctive sound, we should use J to represent it. In today's word, the vowel before the J-sound is short. The way we customarily show a short vowel in a word that continues into another syllable is by doubling the consonant immediately after it. The mere fact that that consonant is J is no reason not to do this.

In the adjective, there is an OU but no OU-sound. The sound would be plain if we simply dropped the O and wrote only the U, as in bonus. So today's words are: "relijjon" and "relijjus".

My thanks to "rhod..." for suggesting these words, tho I chose a slightly different solution.

Saturday, April 4, 2009: "quoddrafonnic" and "quoddrasonnic" for "quadraphonic", "quadriphonic", and "quadrasonnic"

Part of the problem with bad traditional spelling is that new words are created from old, unphonetic elements, so spelling becomes a little worse each year. Today's words are variant terms for what is also called "four-channel recording", a step up from stereophonic recording, which involves two speakers, to four speakers, representing four different microphone locations.

We don't need two spellings for the first term, "quadraphonic" / "quadriphonic".

The first-A is ambiguous (compare quagmire, aqua, aquarium). In today's words, the sound is not so much an A-sound as the short-O sound. So we should write O, which, followed by the consonant cluster DR, will be understood as short.

We don't need a ridiculous PH for a simple F-sound. If people hear an F-sound, they are entitled to expect an F in the spelling.

Moreover, the O in the third syllable of the current spelling of all three words is short, but a single-N after it does not show that clearly. If we double the N, we at once make plain that the O is short and cue the reader that these long words all take primary stress on the third syllable.

Putting this all together, we get: "quoddrafonnic" and "quoddrasonnic".

My thanks to "space..." for today's suggestions.

Friday, April 3, 2009: "parmazon", "parmajonna", and "parmajonno" for "parmesan", "parmigiana", and "parmigiano"

This Food Friday, let's fix ambiguous spellings for related words that have led to common spelling-(mis)pronunciations. The problem, you see, is that for some reason, a great many native speakers of English think that all foreign languages are French, so all words perceived as foreign are pronounced as tho they are French, and all letters are assigned French speech sounds. Thus the G before I in "parmigiana"/"~o" is perceived as "soft", but instead of being given the English "soft-G" sound — which would be right, because soft-G in both English and Italian (the actual source language of today's words) is pronounced as an English J — they assign the French soft-G, which is said like an English ZH!

That same sound (ZH: the voiced-SH) is also, incomprehensibly, given by many people to a plain-S in "parmesan". Presumably these speakers associate "parmesan" with "parmigiana", and carry over the ZH sound they mistakenly see there, into "parmesan".

Both "parmesan" and "parmigiano" refer to Parma, a city in Italy, where the particular hard cheese at issue is a regional specialty. So if it's from Parma, we don't need to change the vowel to either E or I in English, but can leave it as A in both derived words.

The S in "parmesan" isn't pronounced as S, but as Z. The fact that it is not pronounced as S is apparently taken by some readers as further warrant to pronounce it ZH. So let's change the S to Z.

The -AN is pronounced not with a short-A or schwa, but with a full short-O. So let's change it to O. That fixes the first word: "parmazon".

The second word, which has two forms, for the feminine (more common: -A) and masculine (-O), needs a change of the first-I to A ("parma-"), a change of the GI to J ("parmaj-"), and a change of the -ANA or -ANO to -ONNA or -ONNO to show at once that the vowel sound is short-O and that the word's primary stress falls on the third syllable (which is more commonly seen by linguists as the "penultimate" syllable, the next-to-last syllable).

Putting this all together, we get: "parmazon", "parmajonna", and "parmajonno".

My thanks to "Firewall..." and "Clap..." for today's words, tho I chose slightly different solutions.

Thursday, April 2, 2009: "oblitterate" for "obliterate"

Today's word contains a slightly shorter word pronounced quite differently, literate (pronounced lí, vs. a.blíàet or, as some people say it, oe.blíàet). The Latin word from which both derive, oddly, is litteratus, with two T's. Somehow one got dropped,* leaving the ambiguous -LITE- in the middle, which could be read as having a long-I. Let's go back to the superior Latin spelling of this part of the word, which works better in English too: "oblitterate".

* The word origin (from shows, oddly, that "oblitterate" is exactly what happened to the English form of today's word: one letter was 'caused to be forgotten':  "1590–1600; < L oblitteratus (ptp. of oblitterare, efface, cause to be forgotten), equiv. to ob- OB- + litter(a) LETTER + -atus -ATE1".

Wensday, April 1, 2009: "nasent" for "nascent"

Altho there are two pronunciations for today's word (náe.sant and náa.sant), the C is silent in both, so shouldn't be there. The pronunciation with a short-A would be clearer, and easily guessed on hearing, if it were spelled "nassent". But that would preclude the equally acceptable pronunciation (and the one I personally prefer) with a long-A. If we simply drop the C, the result will permit both pronunciations but compel neither: "nasent".

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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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