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Wensday, September 30, 2009: "aytazhair" for "étagère" and "etagere"
There are several things wrong with the traditional spellings of today's word. For one thing, the word "spellings" speaks to a problem, that there are two spellings, one with accents and one without. English doesn't use accents, so the accents, at the least, have to go. But that's only the beginning.
There are three E's, all pronounced differently even tho two are in identical locations, before a single consonent. The third is silent.
The first E represents a long-A sound. It's silly to write a long-A sound with an E. In that we have a number of ways to write a long-A sound with an A, such as in ate, paid, and way, we should use one of those. "Ateagere" wouldn't work. "Aitagere" might, except AI is sometimes pronounced other ways, such as long-I in aisle, balalaika, bonsai; short-E in said and one pronunciation of waistcoat; short-E in plaid; two vowel sounds adjoining (archaic, naive, mosaic); schwa (bargain, vinaigrette, bougainvillea); and its own AI-sound (airmail, curtail, avail). If there is a clearer way to write a long-A, we should adopt that. AY has a very few words in which it is pronounced long-I (aye, ayatollah, and the proper noun Aymara), but is everywhere else pronounced long-A. So let's use that.
The next problem is the G, which stands in for a ZH-sound. How is the reader to know that? Let's just write ZH, since that's the actual sound.
The A is pronounced by some people "broad", as in father; by others, as a schwa. We can leave it as-is and let people pronounce it as they wish.
But the -ERE is ambiguous and needs to be clarified. Is it a long-E as in here, mere, and ionosphere? Or an AI-sound as in ere, where, and there? There is no disagreement here: it's an AI-sound, so let's just write AI. And if we write -AIR, we don't need a final-E, because there's only one way people would pronounce -AIR.
Putting this all together, we get: "aytazhair".
Tuesday, September 29, 2009: "dandruf" for "dandruff" and "dandriff"
We don't need a double-F at the end of this word. Compare if, chef, decaf. And we don't need two spellings. The version with a U is standard; the one with I is alternative. Of course, if people feel strongly about saying a short-I rather than short-U or schwa, they are perfectly entitled to keep a spelling with an I. But that doesn't need two F's either. For my part, I'm inclined to write: "dandruf".
Munday, September 28, 2009: "cadavver" for "cadaver"
A reader is entitled to see -AVER as having a long-A, as in engraver, shaver, and quaver. But the sound in "cadaver" is actually short-A. The way we customarily show a short-A is by doubling the consonant after it, and that is exactly what we should do here. The fact that the consonant that follows the A is a V is, logically, a matter of absolutely no importance: "cadavver".
Sunday, September 27, 2009: "baldakin", "baldakeeno", and "baudykin" for "baldachin", "baldaquin", "baldacchino", "baldachino", and "baudekin"
Whew! All the spellings and words above are related, and ultimately derive from the old Italian word "Baldacco" for the city of Baghdad. You see, the original meaning was a brocade with gold or silver threads in it, and Baghdad was famous for brocades in those days. From that, the word evolved to apply to a portable brocade canopy, and then on to an architectural canopy over, for instance, an altar in a church. In the course of this evolution, different forms, some three syllables long, some four, and variant spellings emerged. Now we have five different versions/spellings for one word with three senses. And all the spellings are nonphonetic!
Let's try to trim. Since the word with four syllables is distinct from those with three, it needs its own spelling. The version that refers only to fabric, "baudekin", needs its own spelling, because there's no L-sound in it. And the version that covers everything needs a single spelling, with a K for the K-sound, just as "baudekin" has.
The only thing wrong with "baudekin" is that the E represents a long-E sound, which is not expected. The word looks as tho the sound of the middle syllable should be a schwa. To show that it is a long-E, we need to either double the E, "baudeekin" or change the E to Y, "baudykin". "Baudeekin" would lead some people to put the syllabic stress on the EE, which is wrong. It actually falls on the first syllable. So Y is the better choice.
In "baldachin", "baldacchino", "baldachino" and "baldequin", the CCH, CH and QU all merely represent a K-sound, so we should simply write a K. Much simpler.
In "baldacchino" and "baldachino", the I represents a long-E sound, so we should write EE. In "baldachin", the I represents a short-I, which we would expect for a closed-I (that is, with an N after it at the end of the word), so we can leave I.
Oddly, the plural of the very Italian-looking words "baldacchino" and "baldachino" is formed by adding S, in the usual English way, not changing the O to I, the Italian way.
The A in all these words has different pronunciations, sometimes short-A, as in at, sometimes "broad"-A, as in father (which is also the short-O sound, as in fodder), sometimes the AU-sound of haul and dinosaur. So we needn't, and shouldn't try, to change it in any of today's words.
Happily, this all resolves to three simpler spellings for the three versions of the Middle English "baldakin" note that Middle English was more rationally spelled than later English; that is the case more often than you might imagine: "baldakin", "baldakeeno", and "baudykin".
By the way, there are, from time to time, discrepancies in the online version of some dictionaries in which the people recording auditory pronunciations are apparently not well supervised, so say things that differ from the preferred pronunciations shown in print. I encountered one such case today, in which Merriam-Webster Online shows bàal.a.kée.no and bòl.~ as the alternate text pronunciations but the guy saying it aloud says bául.~. Publishers should not confuse people with such conflicts.
Saturday, September 26, 2009: "abayence" for "abeyance"
The E and A are in exactly the wrong places in the traditional spelling of today's word. EY is ambiguous, often being pronounced long-E, as in key, abbey, and barley. The sound of the last syllable of "abeyance" is sometimes spelled -ANCE but other times -ENCE. Here, an E after the Y would reinforce the long-A sound, so is a better choice. In short, let's just flip the E and A: "abayence".
Friday, September 25, 2009: "yarrack" for "yarak"
This specialized word, for "a state of prime fitness in a hawk", has an ambiguous AR, which many readers will see as having a "broad"-A or short-O (the same sound) as in bar, car, and star, or an AU-sound as in war, warn, and warm. It actually has a short-A, as in arrow, barren, and carrier. As these examples show, ARR is a better spelling for a short-A before an R-sound. Mind you, there is no absolutely consistent treatment of ARR (warranty, bizarre, warrior). But ARR is still much more likely to elicit the proper short-A sound.
"Yarrak" might be enuf, but I think there's a good chance that the -AK will be read by many readers as having a schwa, whereas it actually has a full short-A sound. -ACK would probably incline more readers to say a full short-A (compare halfback, knapsack, counterattack): "yarrack".
My thanks to "Fishstick..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slightly different solution.
Thursday, September 24, 2009: "wonnabee" for "wannabe" and "wannabee"
This word, an alteration in spelling to show the actual sound in informal fluid speech of the phrase "want to be",* has two bad spellings. In "wannabe", the A looks as tho it should represent a short-A (as in at), because it precedes a double-consonant (annals, savannah, tyrannical). It actually represents a short-O (as in opposite, on, and odd). So why is that sound written in this word with an A? Because "want" is written with an A. It shouldn't be, but the better spelling "wont" is already taken and pronounced in unexpected ways: waunt, woent, and wunt, as well as wont! Tho we may not be able to fix "want" ("wahnt" is just about the only spelling left, and some people might think that "looks funny" and is "un-English", even tho we do use AH in various words, like Brahmin, dahlia, and mahjongg), we can fix "wannabe/e".
Apart from the issue of the sound of the first-A, in "wannabe" the ending is ambiguous. Is -ABE one syllable, as in Abe, babe, and astrolabe? Is it two syllables? If two, how is the second pronounced? A reader could easily see "wannabe" as a Japanese word, pronounced won.ób.ae or wón.ob.àe. That is not the sound intended. Wón.a.bèe is.
There is a second spelling, which ends in -BEE but is otherwise identical. The -BEE fixes the problem of the second/third syllable, but the A is still misleading.
Since the vowel sound of the first-A is short-O, let's just write O. And since the sound of the last syllable is a semi-stressed long-E, let's write -EE: "wonnabee".
My thanks to "Dogs..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
* "Wanna" by itself is regarded by some dictionaries as an informal word, but is not recognized by other dictionaries. If we are to use a fluid-speech spelling for "want to", it also should be spelled "wonna" (as "Dogs..." suggests).
Wensday, September 23, 2009: "vybrate" and "vybration" for "vibrate" and "vibration"
BR is a two-letter consonant cluster, and we would ordinarily expect that a vowel that precedes a two-letter consonant cluster would be short. But the I in today's words is actually long. To show that clearly, we could write "viebrate" / "viebration", but we have a shorter and more elegant solution, a Y as in another word with a long-I before a BR consonant cluster, hybrid. Let's use that: "vybrate" and "vybration".
Tuesday, September 22, 2009: "Weegur" for "Uighur", "Uigur", and "Uyghur"
This site does not generally deal with proper nouns, but when a particularly unphonetic word comes into the news, it demands reform. No English-speaking person who hears wée.goor or wée.ger is going to guess it starts with a UI, much less a UY, and has an H after the G! Nor should it be spelled any such way in English.
The Uighur language, from which this word derives, is written in a form that speakers of the Uighur language are supposed to understand. English should be written in a form that speakers of English can understand. "Uighur" is not readable in English. A person guessing would likely say something like Yúe.i.gur. Or perhaps they will see the UI as in guide or guise, a long-I, which would produce Íe.gur. In both cases, the speaker of English will be left wondering if the GH is supposed to form a sound like the CH in loch, since if it were just a simple G-sound, there would be no need for an H, because G before U would always be read as an ordinary G-sound. The spelling "Uyghur" might also produce a guess like Íe.gur, taking the UY as being said as in guy and buy.
Because of its peculiar spelling and the unfamiliar sound system of the Uighur language in English-speaking countries, this word has no uniform pronunciation in English, but a spelling that is as clear as we can make it in traditional English spelling conventions is: "Weegur".
Munday, September 21, 2009: "teekee" for "tiki"
This term, for a Polynesian amulet, peculiarly takes a European spelling. Polynesia did not have writing before the arrival of European and American missionaries, who invented spelling systems for Polynesian languages based on European spelling systems. Even British and American missionaries seem to have used Continental European values in these writing systems. But English does not itself use Continental values, so should not write Polynesian (or any other) loanwords in Continental European ways.
In English, I before a consonant is short, as in it. That is not the sound in the first syllable here.
I at the end of a word is ambiguous. In words seen as foreign, it may be pronounced long-E (Afghani, khaki, tetrazzini). But in words seen as English (or in anglicized Latin), a final-I is commonly said as a long-I, as in I and iodine (alkali, alibi, alumni, cacti, stimuli). Because of this ambiguity, a reader cannot know how to say an unfamiliar word ending in I, so when we can, we should change the spelling to make the pronunciation clear. We can do that here simply by changing both I's to EE: "teekee".
Sunday, September 20, 2009: "saivyer" for "savio(u)r"
IO is ambiguous (Iowa, priority, accordion, radio, riot, pronounced íe.ya.wa, prie.yór.i.tee, a.káur.dee.yan, ráe.dee.yo, ríe.yat). Even -IOR is ambiguous (anterior, behavior, inferior, junior, prior, pronounced aan.téer.ee.yer, bee.háev.yer, in.féer.ee.yer, júen.yer, príe.yer). And of course -IOUR is a preposterous spelling that adds a letter and some confusion as to whether there is an OU-sound or not in it. There is not. The spellings "savior" and "saviour" are pronounced the same, sáev.yer.
In today's word, the sound of the -O(U)R is -yer, as in lawyer, sawyer, and layer. So let's write the second syllable of today's word -YER. What about the first part?
SAV- without an E immediately after it (or in forms of the verb "save", the base word of which does have an E after the V, and one other word, savor), would ordinarily be said with a short-A or schwa (savage, savanna(h), savant, savoir-faire, pronounced sáa.vaj, sa.váan.a, sa.vónt, sàav.wor-fáir). To show that the A is actually to be given its long sound, we need either an additional vowel before the V or an E after it.
If we put an E after it, we confuse the issue of how many syllables the word is, two or three: "saveyer". The (new) reader has to wonder if the base word is "save" or "savey", like survey, convey, and purvey. We already have a word for someone who saves, as in a bank account: saver. So why would we need another? "Saveyer" must relate to a verb "savey" (sa.váe), right? Wrong.
So we can't put an E after the V. We need to put something between the A and the V. An E: "saevyer"? Maybe. An I: "saivyer", using the sound given to AI in raid, paid, and staid?
Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! We have a winner: "saivyer".
My thanks to "Cargo..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Saturday, September 19, 2009: "rizound" for "resound"
There are actually two words with the same spelling, "resound". The one that means "to sound again" can be left as-is. The one that means to echo or be celebrated is the one we need to fix, because the S represents a Z-sound, but that's what Z is for.
The E in this member of the pair also represents more like a short-I than an abbreviated long-E (as in the common prefix RE- in words like rerun, refund, and reject). Some dictionaries, which pretend to be descriptivist rather than prescriptivist, do not permit that long-E sound in "resound", even tho a lot of people do indeed employ it. Ordinarily, we could leave that E as-is, but because there is a pair for today's word that means "to make a sound again", in this particular instance it would seem wise to substitute an I: "rizound".
My thanks to "Water..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slightly different solution. Naturally, derivatives and verbal forms like "resounding" would also change: "rizounding".
Friday, September 18, 2009: "quoddryadd" for "quadriad"
Today's unusual word, for a group of four with a common task or interest, has an unusual pronunciation that makes knowing how to say it and write it difficult: kwód.ree.yàad.
It has two A's, pronounced differently, tho they both precede a D. The first is said as a "broad"-A, which is the same sound as short-O. The second is said as a short-A, as in at. How is the reader to know that? We need to show that the first A takes a short-O sound, which is easy enuf to do. We just change it to an O: "quod~". Since it's a short-O, we need to double the following D: "quodd~".
IA is highly ambiguous, often taking a long-I and schwa (dial, reliant), sometimes a long-E and long-A (deviate, initiate), sometimes long-E and schwa (phobia, centennial), etc. A long-E and short-A is unusual and thus unexpected.
Showing that combination unambiguously is, alas, hard. -EAD ("quoddread") wouldn't do, because it would be read as one syllable, having a long-E or short-E (knead, bread). -EADD ("quoddreadd") would be seen the same, one syllable for the entire cluster. What other character than E or I, neither of which works in this location, could show a long-E sound? Y. Y does have other possible sounds, but since the double-D before it would cue the reader to put the primary stress on the first syllable, a long-I sound in the second syllable would not sound right to most people, so a Y works: "quoddryadd".
My thanks to "space..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a different solution.
Thursday, September 17, 2009: "palet" for "palette", "pallette", and "pallet"
There are three spellings and many meanings for this word that we ordinarily associate with artists. The first spelling, "palette", is the most common for the thin, small board on which a painter mixes colors, and by extension the range of colors available in a computer graphics program. But that can also be spelled "pallette" (which is as well the spelling for the name of a piece of armor) and "pallet" (which we know mainly as the platform on which goods are stacked to be liftable by a forklift). We can leave an antique and cumbersome spelling, "pallette", with two L's and two T's, for the piece of a suit of armor, an antique and cumbersome object. We should reserve the spelling with two L's and one T ("pallet") for the forkliftable platform.
For the painter's or computer graphic artist's term, we should simply drop the -TE at the end, because it suggests that the word's stress falls on the second syllable, whereas it actually falls on the first: "palet".
"Palate" was offered here July 11, 2008 as "palit", which might be a better respelling for "palette". But we don't want to create new homonymic homographs if we can avoid it.
Wensday, September 16, 2009: "ou" for "ow"
Building upon yesterday's discussion of the ambiguity of the -OW ending, let's reform a word that both begins and ends with OW, and is pronounced with the OU-sound. If the sound is OU, let's write OU. And if that is all there is to the word, then that is all there should be to the spelling: "ou".
My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009: "nouw" for "now"
-OW is ambiguous, and cannot be made clear: mow, bow, know, row, now, grow, sow are all exactly parallel in spelling, but some are always pronounced with a long-O, some are always pronounced with an OU-sound, and some (bow, row, sow) are sometimes pronounced with a long-O and sometimes with an OU-sound!
We need to banish the
-OWending and replace it with -Oor -OEif the sound is long-O, and -OUWif the sound is as in round. Ideally, we should be able to use onlhy -OU, but there are a number of words in which a final-OU takes a long-U sound without an initial Y-glide (bayou, kinkajou, marabou), so it is better to add a W to show that we mean an OU-sound, not a long-U sound: "nouw".
My thanks to "Gator..." for suggesting reform of this word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Munday, September 14, 2009: "mekannic/al" for "mechanic/al"
CH is a very-specific letter combination in English, like SH. The sound associated with the digraph CH is as occurs at both beginning and end in the word church. In Spanish, the same sound is spelled the same way. In some other languages that have that sound (not all do), it might be spelled in other ways: TCH in French, TSCH in German. In English, we should use the C + H spelling for that sound only, and change all other occurrences to something else.
In "mechanic" and "mechanical", the sound is not CH but K. So let's write K.
To show that the A is short, and that the words' stress falls on the second syllable, we should also double the N.
It's hard to argue against these changes, given that the words are already much changed from "machine",* to which they relate: "mekannic" and "mekannical".
* "Machine" was offered here as "masheen" on February 14, 2005.
Sunday, September 13, 2009: "liquify" for "liquefy"
Let us, as yesterday, take an alternate but superior spelling, promote it to standard, and banish the present standard but inferior spelling completely. "Liquefy" means to make liquid, so why would it have an E when "liquid" has an I? That just confuses people for no defensible reason. This is one of those little spelling traps that showoffs like to set. "You thought that since 'liquid' has an I, 'liquefy' should also have an I, but you were wrong!" No, the spelling is wrong, but we can make it right: "liquify".
Saturday, September 12, 2009: "kiddy" for "kiddie"
Today, let's take the better of two spellings ("kiddy") which of course is presently the alternate, whereas the worse spelling ("kiddie") is the standard and promote it to standard, then banish the worse.
"Kiddie" ends in the familiar (sad) word "die", which has a long-I sound. "Kiddie" ends in a long-E sound, which at the end of a word is most commonly written -Y. (-EE would tend to move the syllabic stress to the end, and we don't want to do that.) At end, it's a bit hard to oppose this change, because the plural will naturally, by the regular rules of English, take -IES. But in the singular, which is used adjectivally (kiddy pool, kiddy videos, kiddy rides), we can save a letter and use the more common way of showing a long-E sound at the end of a word, -Y: "kiddy".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
Friday, September 11, 2009: "juwel/ry" for "jewel/ry" and "jewel/lery"
-EW- is a preposterous way to spell a long-U sound. Surely any spelling of a U-sound should have a U in it!
If we merely replace the first-E with a U, the fact that a single vowel and then an E follows that U will show that the U takes its long sound: "juwel", parallel to many other words with a vowel, then single consonant, then E: game, theme, fine, cone, rune). Retaining a W, rather than writing "juel", permits pronunciation of the base word in either one or two syllables, so does not tell people who say the one rather than the other that they have to change.
The longer noun, "jewelry", is spelled "jewellery" in Britain, which suggests that the pronunciation should be jue.wél.er.èe, but it's not. The longer and more ambiguous spelling is pronounced the same as "jewelry": júe(.wa)l.ree that is, either two syllables or three, with a short W-glide and schwa in the middle. It is never pronounced in four syllables. The pronunciation júel.la.rèe is frowned upon, tho the current British spelling surely permits it. A clearer new spelling should not: "juwel" and "juwelry".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion. Naturally, all derivatives would also reflect this change: juweled, bejuwel/ed, etc.
Thursday, September 10, 2009: "involv", "evolv", "devolv", "revolv", etc., for "involve", "evolve", "devolve", "revolve", etc.
Let's fix an entire little family of nonphonetic words today. The final-E on these words serves no purpose. A silent-E at the end of a word often cues a long vowel before a consonant (ate, precede, fine, rote, tune), or even a consonant cluster (strange, paste, breathe). Not here. Here, it's just a waste of space, ink, and memory to put a silent-E on a word for no purpose: "involv", "evolv", "devolv", "revolv", etc.
My thanks to "DonJ..." for "involv" and "devolv"; and to "Wurdplay..." for "evolv".
Wensday, September 9, 2009: "ayr/loom" for "heir/loom"
"Heir" comes from the same Latin root as heredity, a relationship essentially no one would see from the spelling and pronunciation of the two words. The H in heredity is pronounced, but somehow the H in "heir" is silent. Silent letters have no legitimate place in an alphabet, which is designed to convey speech. A silence, that is a pause, is indicated by punctuation, for instance a comma or period after, or an ellipsis (...) or dash () before or within a word.
As with many monosyllables,* there are other words of the same sound in English, a language of many monosyllables (which is part of why it is so popular as an international auxiliary language). The sound of "heir" is also written air, ere, and e'er, so finding a better spelling that does not create a new homophone is a tad tricky. Fortunately, there is another spelling, "ayr", that presently appears only in proper nouns (a placename, Ayr and Ayrshire in Scotland; and a surname, Ayre and Ayres). Everyone who reads English will recognize how to pronounce "ayr". As for writing it on hearing the word, that's a little trickier, but not as tricky as guessing that there is an H at the beginning of the word!: "ayr" and "ayrloom".
My thanks to "Robert..." for "ayr".
* The term for a word of one syllable is, oddly, five syllables long!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009: "jinjiva", "jinjival", and "jinjivitis" for "gingiva", "gingival", and "gingivitis"
"Gingiva" is a fancy Latin term for the "gum" from which teeth grow. "Gingival" is the adjective derived from that, and "gingivitis" is inflammation of the gums. Unlike "gum" (and "gingham", which starts the same as today's words), all the G's in today's related words represent only a J-sound. Moreover, the NG does not represent the NG-sound of fang, bring, tongs, or swung (or "gingham"). Rather, the N takes its regular sound and the G does not combine with it but goes with the following syllable, as a J-sound.
To clarify these things we need only change the G's to J's.
One issue remains. Do we retain the irregular Latin plural, with an -AE ending pronounced like long-E, even after we change the G's to J's ("jinjivae")? That doesn't seem very sensible once the base word, in the singular, no longer has a Latin spelling but an English spelling. An English word should take the plural in the English way, by the addition of S.
So today's words resolve to: "jinjiva/s", "jinjival", and "jinjivitis".
Munday, September 7, 2009: "feever" for "fever"
Altho "fever", which has a long-E in the first syllable, is arguably phonetic (for having only a single consonant after a vowel, and, further, an E after that single consonant), the existence of very frequent words like ever, every, everything, never, and seven, and less frequent but common words like sever, beverage, and clever,* all with a short-E before a -VE-, confuses the issue. So confused is the matter, that we have to change spellings of both the words with a short-E sound and of fever to make plain their pronunciation. Since "fever" takes the less-common pronunciation, with a long-E, reforming its spelling takes priority: "feever".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
* The parallel word "lever" is a special case, which some people pronounce with a short-E in the first syllable (standard in the United States) but others pronounce with a long-E (standard in Britain). Different individuals must decide for themselves whether to double the V, double the E, or leave the word as-is.
Sunday, September 6, 2009: "Ingglish" for "English"
Today, let us finally bite the bullet and address the particular absurd spelling of the name of the language whose absurd spelling "system" we more generally address at this website. We don't generally discuss proper nouns, but "english" is also a regular noun (that is, a spin imparted to a ball in billiards or tennis). But even if it were only a proper noun, "English" is so important a word, and so unphonetic, as to warrant reform.
Everyone agrees that the initial vowel sound in "English" is not a short-E, as its spelling suggests, but short-I. All reasonable people should thus be able to agree that the E has got to go, and an I put there instead.
One problem remains, however. The -NG- is ambiguous. Everyone agrees that the N and G do combine to form the NG-sound of the common -ING verb ending, or the sound in sang, ping-pong, and flung. What not everyone agrees on is whether it also includes a "hard"-G, that is, G's own, unique sound, as in mangle, finger, congress, and hunger. At least no one tries to give the NG in "English" other NG-pronunciations: engineer, engrave, ingenue (en.ji.néer, en.gráev, áan.zha.nùe). Perhaps the origin of the word "English" can clue us in to the correct pronunciation:Word History: English is derived from England, one would think. But in fact the language name is found long before the country name [because the language originated in mainland Europe]. The latter [country (or, now, regional) name] first appears as Englaland around the year 1000, and means "the land of the Engle," that is, the Angles. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes were the three Germanic tribes who emigrated from what is now Denmark and northern Germany and settled in England beginning about the fourth century A.D. Early on, the Angles enjoyed a rise to power that must have made them seem more important than the other two tribes, for all three tribes are indiscriminately referred to in early documents as Angles. The speech of the three tribes was conflated in the same way: they all spoke what would have been called *Anglisc, or "Anglish," as it were. By the earliest recorded Old English, this had changed to Englisc. In Middle English, the first vowel had already changed further to the familiar [short-I] of today, as reflected in the occasional spellings Ingland and Inglish. Thus the record shows that the Germanic residents of what Shakespeare called "this sceptered isle" knew that they were speaking English long before they were aware that they were living in England.
The name "English" indisputably comes from "Angle". "Angle" is indisputably pronounced áang.gal, with a ("hard") G-sound. So are its derivatives: Anglican, Anglicize, Anglo (with or without a hyphen), Anglophile, Anglophone. The sequence -ANGL- everywhere has a (hard) G-sound after the NG-sound: angle, mangle, bangle, dangle, strangle, tangle, triangle, rectangle, ganglion, gangly, etc.
Among widely known words, the sequence -ENGL- occurs only in words derived from "Angle" / "angle" and in two rare words, alpenglow and englacial, in both of which there is a (hard) G-sound, but no NG-sound, so they are not instructive as to how, properly, to pronounce the NG in "English".
Since the vowel sound in the first syllable of "English" is a short-I, let's look at the sequence -INGL-. Apart from adverbs formed by adding -LY to words like adoring and exceeding, all -INGL- words have a (hard) G-sound: jingle, mingle, single, shingle, tingle, etc. Even isinglass has a hard-G, even tho the preferred pronunciation does not have an NG-sound. The same is true of inglorious and vainglory. So why on EARTH would anyone refuse to pronounce a (hard) G-sound in "English"?
Well, you see, if things are not 'spelled out' in absolutely unmistakable terms, some people will make a mistake in reading. That's why we need to reform English spelling. And the name of the language is not exempt from sensible reform. It is properly pronounced íng.glish, so should be spelled "Ingglish".
If Britons wish to continue to spell the name of their most populous region ("England") and its demonym (the "English") with an E (and only one G), that's fine. Indeed, that would finally produce a clear distinction between the people (with an E) and the language (with an I, as in "international").
So, for the name of this language, we should write: "Ingglish".
My thanks to "Clap..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Saturday, September 5, 2009: "dilletont" for "dilettante"
Today's word is another example of a silly foreign spelling (Italian, tho it looks French) that has given rise to various confused spelling-pronunciations, none of which educated people use, so none of which I will dignify by showing here. There is one educated pronunciation, and it ignores the tendency in French (which many people will misread this word to be) to put the stress on the last syllable. Even in English, we might expect a word ending in -NTE to be stressed on the last syllable (détente, entente). However, the treatment of this cluster is so varied (ante, vigilante, détente, entente, debutante, andante: pronounced áan.tee, vìj.i.láan.tee, dae.tónt, on.tónt, déb.yoo.tònt, on.dón.tae) that the reader cannot know what sound to supply just from the spelling.
In today's word, the stress is on the first syllable, and the correct pronunciation in English is díl.a.tònt. So we should change the A to O and drop the silent final-E: "dilletont".
Friday, September 4, 2009: "caffeteerea" for "cafeteria"
This Food Friday, let's fix the spelling of a type of eatery. The English spelling is also the Spanish spelling (save that the Spanish has an accent over the I: "cafetería"), but the same word is pronounced very differently in the two languages. Similar spellings occur in some other languages, with different pronunciations: German, "Cafeteria"; French, "cafétéria"; Dutch, "cafetaria". There are two problems with an international spelling, namely, (1) that it is unlikely to conform to the spelling system of each language, and (2) that people trying to learn English will read a non-English spelling wrong.
In English, -AFE- is generally pronounced long-A plus an F-sound (safe, strafe, chafe). But here, the F separates two syllables: kàaf.a.tée.ree.ya. In Spanish, the pronunciation is kòf.ae.te.rrée.ya. English does contain one word that is spelled the same as the start of today's longer word: café or cafe. But it is pronounced differently from the start of the longer word: kaa.fáe. So not only does the longer word deviate from the pronunciation of the same spelling in other languages, but it also deviates from the pronunciation of the shorter word incorporated within it!
To show the English sounds right, including, to some degree, syllabic stress, we need to rewrite this word in English conventions: "caffeteerea".
My thanks to "yaora..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Thursday, September 3, 2009: "bizmuth" for "bismuth"
This is easy. The sound is Z, not S, so the spelling should be Z, not S: "bizmuth".
Wensday, September 2, 2009: "accolite" for "acolyte"
A single consonant following an initial A is not enuf to make plain the sound of the A. Compare acorn and acoustic. In "acolyte" the A is neither long nor a schwa, but short (as in at). The way we often make plain that a vowel is short is by doubling the consonant after it. Here, the C would need to be doubled. Compare accolade.
The other issue with today's word is the -YTE, which, tho perfectly phonetic when read, would probably not be guessed by a person who hears the word said and tries to write it. -ITE is much more common, and indeed there is a similar word, "aconite" (a poisonous plant also called "monkshood"), which is a perfect rhyme for "acolyte" but has an -ITE. To use accolade as an example again, we could spell it "accolayde", but who would guess that on hearing it?
Putting these two small changes together, we get "accolite".
Tuesday, September 1, 2009: "khot" for "xat"*
"Xat" is a spelling that is 2/3 absurd. The T is OK. The X is meant to represent none of the familiar sounds of X in English (KS, GZ, GSH, GZH, Z: pox, exist, luxury, luxurious, xylophone). Nor does it represent the sounds assigned to it in Old Spanish (English SH), modern Portuguese (SH, KS, S, or Z), nor even the pinyin system for writing Chinese (an SH). No, here the X represents a harsh KH sound, like CH in German "ach" and Scottish English "loch".
The A represents neither long-A (ate) nor short-A (at), but the "broad"-A (as in father).
How is anyone to know how to say this? Well, you rewrite it phonetically, that's how: "khot".
* "Xat" is a term for a totem pole from the Haida language of northwestern North America (British Columbia and Alaska).
Munday, August 31, 2009: "windo/es" for "window/s"
-OW is ambiguous, sometimes having a long-O sound (tow, flow, grown), sometimes an OU-sound (now, plow, frown). There is absolutely no way the reader, especially a new reader from a non-English-speaking country, can know which sound to apply. When the sound is a simple long-O, we should simply drop the confusing W at the end of the word.
In the plural, many words ending in O add only -S (discos, armadillos, egos), while many others add -ES (dingoes, heroes, tomatoes). Here (if not indeed everywhere), -ES seems more advisable, given the computer ties between the word "window" and the acronym DOS (with which "windos" would end; "WinDos" is indeed a familiar acronym for "Windows DOS"). DOS is pronounced with a short-O, not long. So today's prioposed reform is: "windo" and, plural, "windoes".
Sunday, August 30, 2009: "variagate" for "variegate"
IE would not ordinarily be said in two syllables, as is required here. IA is clearer: "variagate".
This word is generally used only in forms like ~ed and ~ation, which become "variagated", "variagation".
Saturday, August 29, 2009: "teer" for "tier"
IER is ambiguous, and is commonly pronounced in two syllables, long-I followed by the ER of better, ermine, terabyte, and thousands of other words: pliers, fiery, hierarchy. It is also commonly pronounced in two syllables, the first being long-E and the second the familiar ER: carrier, barrier, copier. Other pronunciations are less common, for instance, atelier, collier, concierge, espalier, crosier, glacier, glazier, hieroglyphics, and papier-mâché (pronounced áat.al.yàe or àat.al.yáe, kól.yer, kon.see.yáirzh (tho I suspect that stress will soon shift to the first syllable as the word becomes more widely known), is.páal.yer or ~.yàe, króe.zher, gláe.sher, gláe.zher, hie.ra.glíf.iks (as most people say it), and pàe.per-ma.sháe).* The sound in today's word, a plain long-E followed by an R-sound, is quite uncommon, being found in only a few words, like pier, pierce, fierce, and tier itself. If the sound is long-E, why would we write it with an I?: "teer".
My thanks to "Unicycle..." for this suggestion.
* In the standard pronunciations of crosier, glacier, and glazier, the I has no sound of its own but merely combines with the S, C, or Z to form an SH or ZH sound, in effect substituting for an H. "Received" British pronunciation differs from standard in pronouncing these words króe.zee.ya, gláa.see.ya, and gláe.zee.ya. The rest of the world may want to force the issue someday by changing the spellings from SI (or ZI in the alternative spelling crozier), CI, and ZI to ZH, SH, and ZH, respectively, and letting Britain keep its quaint spellings and dialectal pronunciations to itself.
Friday, August 28, 2009: "sourkrout" for "sauerkraut"
It's Food Friday. Today, let's fix a word with a simple English sound but a very un-English spelling. Unlike most English words with preposterous spellings, today's comes not from French but from German. It doesn't really matter where a word comes from, tho. What matters is that it be spelled in a way that readers of English can know how to say it and hearers of English will know how to write it: "sourkrout".
My thanks to "Don..." for offering a respelling for this word, tho I went with a different form.
Thursday, August 27, 2009: "rickashay" for "ricochet"
By far most native speakers of English use an only partially anglicized pronunciation for today's word, with a frenchified long-A/silent-T ending. Some Britons, however, use a more-anglicized pronunciation, with a short-E/sounded-T ending but they still use a French pronunciation for the CH, which is the same as the English-SH. Pronouncing the T is plainly not the universal practice in Britain, however, inasmuch as the Cambridge Dictionaries show only the long-A/silent-T pronunciation. Variant pronunciations of this type proceed only from the confusion produced by the absurd spellings that people in the educational and publishing Establishments insist we retain.
Lest you think the pronunciation rík.a.shèt is more sensible, given the spelling, ask yourself, "Why not, then, rík.a.chèt?" It is also worth noting that some people in Britain drop the final-T sound from restaurant, even tho this finds no warrant in the Cambridge Dictionaries either. Indeed, the very same person who pronounces the T in "ricochet" may drop it from restaurant!
The standard pronunciation is indicated by an old Wild West comic strip in the United States, Rick O'Shay, save that O' is commonly pronounced with a long-O, whereas the O in "ricochet" is pronounced as schwa. Any single vowel, and at least some vowel combinations, can be pronounced as schwa, but A is probably the most frequent representation of that unstressed, neutral vowel sound, so let's use that: "rickashay".
Wensday, August 26, 2009: "quoddlabet" for "quodlibet"
Today's word may not be familiar to most readers, but most people have probably heard a quodlibet (pronounced quód.la.bèt), a medley of two or more songs sung at the same time. The word is from Latin, and people who have studied Latin but are unfamiliar with the word from speech would likely give it a Latinized pronunciation, with a long-O and possibly a long-E sound for the I: quóed.lèe.bat, or even quoed.lée.bat, with primary stress on the second syllable. But the pronunciation has actually been fully anglicized, and the O, closed by the D, takes its short sound, as we would expect of any English word (cod, pod, rod). To show that plainly in this longer word, however, we probably need to double the D. And to save people from the temptation to pronounce the I as either a long-E or a long-I, but move them to pronounce it schwa, as is correct, we are well advised to change the I to A, in that the sound of the end of the word is exactly parallel to the end of alphabet: "qoddlabet".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009: "patwah" (singular) and "patwahs" (plural) for "patois" (singular and plural)
Today we have another of those crazy spellings from French that not only bears scant relation to the sounds of English, of which the word is now part, but also is pronounced two different ways, one singular (no S-sound) and one plural (with the S pronounced, tho as a Z-sound). It is truly incredible that people actually defend such nonsense and fite to keep it.
Let us make plain here that the mere fact that English and French have a 'history', like a formerly married couple, is of ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST to the bulk of the people who use English every day or would like to learn it. How French spells things is likewise of absolutely no interest to the bulk of current and future users of English as international auxiliary language, in places like China and India. If they wanted to learn French, they would learn French directly, not thru English.
The sound of today's words is páa.twoq in the singular and páa.twoz in the plural.* Traditional conventions would likely show "patwah" for the singular and "patwahs" for the plural. So that's what I propose: "patwah" and "patwahs".**
* The Q in the singular is silent; it merely serves as a final consonant to close the O and thereby mark it as short; you can see in the plural that the Z shows the O short in the same way, by closing the vowel.) That is the way these words would be spelled in my Fanetik system, which is used, with accents for syllabic stress, in pronunciation keys at this site.
** There are some speakers who use a Frenchified pronunciation with a broad-A / short-O (same sound) in the first syllable but everything else the same: pót.woq / pótwoz. If they are able to see an A in the traditional spelling ("patois") as taking a short-O sound, they can see the A in a reformed spelling as taking the same sound, so there is no reason to write these words "potwah/s". "Patwah/s" could be read with a broad-A / short-O in both syllables; but "potwah/s" could not be read with a short-A in the first syllable, which is by far the preferred pronunciation.
Munday, August 24, 2009: "overvue" for "overview"
I offered "vue" for "view" on February 19, 2005, so this is a natural further step. IEW is an extremely bizarre spelling for the sound here, long-U with an initial Y-glide. IE would ordinarily be read as a long-I sound (pie) or long-E (cookie). Adding a W-glide at the end of either of those sounds does not create a long-U, with or without an initial Y-glide, so the spelling IEW is completely unjustifiable. If the sound is long-U, we should write a U. A final "VU" wouldn't do, however, because the only instance we have of that spelling is in the phrase from French, déjà vu, and there it is pronounced as a long-U without a Y-glide, also thought of as a long-OO sound (as in boost). We do have -VUE pronounced with the right sound in the words revue and prevue, so let's use that: "overvue".
Sunday, August 23, 2009: "noogy" for "noogie", "nuggie", and "nugie"
There are three spellings for this informal term, all of them less than ideal. The vowel sound of the first syllable is a short-OO, as in good, book, and wood, so U is a bad choice. The -IE in "noogie" isn't bad but it is less than ideal, if for no other reason that it uses two letters where one, a -Y, will do: "noogy".
My thanks to "caj..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, August 22, 2009: "marriwonna" for "marijuana" and "marihuana"
This illegal drug is the subject of endless debate about legalization, alleged medical uses (or excuses), or strict enforcement of prohibitions against a drug that many people seem to regard as so harmless that they feel free to drive under its influence (and end up killing people from that poor decision, a decision made under the influence of that very drug). Because the drug is spoken of often, we need to give it a sensible single spelling that reflects its pronunciation in English, not Spanish.
AR is ambiguous, but is probably most commonly pronounced with a short-O sound as in bar, star, and guard. The sound here is short-A, which is better written ARR: arrow, barren, and arrogant. So let's use ARR.
There is no way to justify a J here. It is silent, so shouldn't appear. The H in the alternative spelling is also silent, so also should not appear.
UA is ambiguous, sometimes representing two adjoining vowel sounds (dual, accrual, annual); sometimes a W-sound plus schwa (aqua, adequate) or short-A (aquatic (preferred pronunciation), quack, quagmire); sometimes W plus long-A (antiquated, quaver, dissuade); W plus the AI sound (antiquarian, foursquare); W plus short-O (qualified, guava, iguana); W plus short-E (antiquary, reliquary); W plus the AU-sound (quark); sometimes even just a short-A (quatrefoil, guarantee). Here, the sound is W plus short-O, so let's substitute WO.
A single-N is not sufficient to show the O to take its short sound, so we should double the N.
And thus we arrive at a perfectly clear spelling in common English conventions: "marriwonna".
Friday, August 21, 2009: "lemmon" for "lemon"
It's Food Friday again. Let's address a tart fruit whose juice is used not just in the summertime cooler, lemonade, but also in various cleaning products because of a fragrance many people find refreshing and clean-smelling. "Lemon" is exactly parallel in spelling to demon, but the two words are pronounced differently. "Lemon" has a short-E; demon, a long-E. A long-E in more reasonable, given the single consonant after the E. To show a short-E, we need to double the M, as in the name of the renowned film actor Jack Lemmon: "lemmon".
Thursday, August 20, 2009: "kril" for "krill"
English is inconsistent about when a final consonant is doubled, and when not: full/beautiful, if/riff, pill/peril, step/schlepp, add/fad. Altho the idea of saving a letter by dropping one of a double consonant at the end of a word is appealing, sometimes it's hardly worth doing, since the consonant has to be doubled again before any grammatical ending is added: buz/zed, boycot/ting, eb/bed.
In the case of today's word, however, there are no endings to be added. The word is an invariable noun, so it does not take even an -S for plural, much less verbal endings. So let's save ourselves a letter by dropping the needless second-L: "kril".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, August 19, 2009: "jarvy" for "jarvey"
Today's unusual word is Irish English* for the driver of a hackney** (a horsedrawn coach). -EY is ambiguous, being pronounced long-A in some words (hey, they, convey, survey, purvey) but in many other words, long-E (jockey, barley, blarney, covey, turkey, baloney). That the sound is long-E in today's word will be shown more clearly if we just drop the E. That will also save us a letter, which is all to the good: "jarvy".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
* From a nickname for "Jarvis", tho why that should be isn't clear to me.
** "Hackny" was offered here on December 12, 2007.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009: "ilet" for "islet"
The S in the traditional spelling of today's word is silent. Why would we write it if it's silent?: "ilet".
Munday, August 17, 2009: "huzband" for "husband"
The S in today's word represents not an S-sound, but a Z-sound, so let's just write Z: "huzband".
Sunday, August 16, 2009: "greef" and "greev" for "grief" and "grieve"
-IE- is ambiguous, sometimes representing a long-I (pie, amplifies, allied); sometimes two syllables (acquiesce, science, alien); and sometimes a long-E, as here. Why would we write a long-E sound with an I?
In today's verb, there is a final-E that adds nothing (compare chief, field, spiel and indeed today's first word, "grief"; they are not written "chiefe", "fielde", "spiele" and "griefe"). So let's drop the final-E: "greef", "greev".
My thanks to "Earth..." for "greef".
Saturday, August 15, 2009: "flanj" for "flange"
-ANGE- is multiply ambiguous. In words like change, angel, and ranger, the A is long, the GE represents a J-sound, and the N and G do not combine to form the NG-sound of sing. In angelic and tangent, the A is short but the GE still represents a J-sound. In hanger, banged, and boomeranged, the A is short and the GE is part of an NG-sound. In anger, the G both joins with the N to form the NG-sound and takes its own unique sound, as in get and go. In blancmange, some people employ a French pronunciation, in which the GE is said as ZH. Everyone pronounces mélange with the ZH-sound. And on and on.
Here, the A is short and the GE represents a simple J-sound. If we replace the GE with a J, everything falls into place, and everyone knows what to say: "flanj".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
Friday, August 14, 2009: "estchue" for "eschew"
The present spelling of today's word has given rise to the repulsive, ignorant spelling-pronunciation e.shú, because SCH is ambiguous. Never mind that we have lots of words like school, scheme, and schizophrenic, in which SCH is pronounced K, but few words like schlep, schlemiel, and schuss, in which SCH is pronounced as tho written SH, without a C, so if one were to see any sound in the middle of "eschew" other than an S-sound followed by a separate CH-sound (as in church), it should be an S-sound followed by a K-sound. In actuality the SCH represents only the sequence S-sound followed by CH-sound. A simple way to show that is to add a T between the S and the CH. Better spellings are not necessarily shorter spellings.
The second problem with today's word is that -EW is an unphonetic way to write a long-U sound. A U-sound should ideally have a U in it. One question remains, however: do we write the U at the very end ("estchu") or add an -E ("estchue")? "Estchu" is perfectly sensible, and an -E doesn't really add anything in terms of phonetic clarity (flu, haiku, guru). But an E at the end does conform the word to a far more common English convention (revue, accrue, clue), so would be more likely guessed by a new learner of English on hearing the word spoken, and that has value: "estchue".
Thursday, August 13, 2009: "derryair" for "derrière" and "derriere"
There are three things wrong with the traditional spelling of today's word. First, the puristic form, from the French original, has a grave accent, and English doesn't use accents, so the accent has to go. A form without the accent is widely seen. Let's just make sure whatever spelling is used, it has no accents.
Second, -ERE is ambiguous. Does it represent a long-E, as in here, austere, and atmosphere? Or an AI-sound, as in there and anywhere? Or perhaps the ER-sound, as in were? The sound here is AI as in air, so let's spell it that way.
In the middle of the word we have a long-E sound, represented in the traditional spelling by an I. Writing Y would be clearer.
Putting this all together, we get: "derryair".
Wensday, August 12, 2009: "shameez" for "chemise"
The spelling of today's word is about as wrong as you can get. There's not one sound spelled right.
The CH represents not the CH-sound (as in church) but the SH-sound as in she. That would be the last thing a new reader would guess, since the CHEM- at the start of the word conjures words like chemical, chemistry, and alchemy, so the second guess, after a CH-sound (choose, cherub, sachem), would be a K-sound.
The -ISE at the end is also misleading. It might be said with a long-I and S-sound (vise, precise, the noun merchandise), or a long-I and Z-sound (rise, improvise, chastise). But no, it's pronounced with a long-E and a Z-sound! We could write that -EEZE, as in breeze, freeze, and squeeze. But why write a superfluous final-E? EE is unambiguously long-E, so we don't need a silent-E to show it long. Let's drop the final-E and save a letter.
The first-E in "chemise" is given neither of E's own sounds, long as in beet or short as in bet. Rather, it represents schwa. Any vowel can be reduced to schwa in unstressed position, but the most common representation of schwa is probably A. Here, if we were to write "shemeez", the SHE- might be read like the personal pronoun she, with a long-E. Changing the E in that location to A would, thus, seem advisable.
And thus we end up with: "shameez".
Tuesday, August 11, 2009: "bosun" for "boatswain", "bo's'n", "bo'sun", and "bosun"
Yesterday I proposed banishing a nonphonetic standard spelling in favor of its phonetic accepted-alternate. Today, let's banish three absurd spellings for one sensible accepted-alternate.
"Boatswain" is properly pronounced bóe.san. Some people who see it in print and don't know that most of the letters are superfluous may assign the spelling-pronunciation "bóet.swàen", but that is wrong. Shorter spellings to show that most of the letters are not pronounced have been in print for over 140 years. Bo'sun and bo's'n are preposterous spellings that produce confusion in people who try to remember how the word is to be spelled. Is there one apostrophe, or two? If one, where does it fall?
There is no defensible reason to retain all the letters of the longest spelling. The word* was originally spelled "batswegen", but was simplified in about 1450 to what was then a more phonetic rendering, "boatswain". We, however, haven't had the good sense to update the spelling to our time, even tho it hasn't been pronounced bóet.swàen in centuries. This change is long overdue: "bosun".
* For a warrant officer in the navy or merchant marine.
Munday, August 10, 2009: "aline" for "align"
A silent-G is indefensibly absurd, so has got to go. Once we drop it, we are left with "alin", which would be read with a short-I. To show that the I is actually long, we need merely add an E at the end, which will also induce most readers to place the stress on the second syllable, which is right. So right is this, indeed, that "aline" is actually a recognized alternate spelling, but you never see it. Instead, the stupid spelling with a silent-G is standard! It's time to change that, to banish the moronic form with the silent-G and substitute the intelligent alternative with the silent- or "magic"-E. Silent-G serves no purpose, and could not be guessed by a new reader just hearing the word. Silent-E is the way traditional spelling marks a vowel long in thousands of words, so that spelling will be read right on sight and guessed right on hearing: "aline".
My thanks to "FirePo..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, August 9, 2009: "zoaspore" for "zoospore"
This unusual word from science looks like a compound word, zoo + spore, but the "zoo" is actually a prefix, not the regular word for an animal park, and means of animal nature, able to move on its own here, a spore that can move on its own. In the prefix, ZOO- is pronounced zóe.wa-, so should be spelled, in present conventions, "zoa-": "zoaspore".
Saturday, August 8, 2009: "yeg" for "yegg"*
We don't need two G's on this noun. One will do very nicely: "yeg".
My thanks to "Fishstick..." for this suggestion.
* "Yegg" is rarely-heard slang for "A thief, especially a burglar or safecracker" (American Heritage).
Friday, August 7, 2009: "zeerafite" and "zeerafittic" for "xerophyte" and "xerophytic"
"Xerophyte"* is spelled absurdly. The X represents a Z-sound, and the PH represents a simple F-sound. Let's write Z and F.
That would produce "zerofyte", but that would appear to involve the familiar word zero, which would cause the O to be read as long-O, whereas it is actually a schwa, and cause many readers to think that the word has something to do with the concept of zero, which it does not.
An A rather than O here would be far more likely to be read right. But "zerafyte" would be ambiguous as to the sound of the first-E, because ER even before a consonant is often read not with a long-E but with the familiar ER-sound found in enormous numbers of words (e.g., boomerang, enumerate, and masquerade). EE, however, would make plain that the sound in today's words is long-E.
Should we leave the Y? We could, because it would be phonetic when seen. But what about when the word is heard, not seen? Will the listener envision a Y, or an I, before a -TE (quite, anthracite, satellite). Let's make the spelling easy to guess by people trying to 'sound it out': "zeerafite".
The adjectival form has a short-I. The way we often show that is by doubling the consonant after it. Let's do that here.
So today's words resolve to: "zeerafite" and "zeerafittic".
* A plant well adapted to an arid environment.
Thursday, August 6, 2009: "whoe" for "whoa"
-OA is ambiguous, ordinarily being pronounced in two syllables, a long-O followed by schwa: boa, jerboa, protozoa. Of common words ending in -OA, only cocoa and whoa end in a long-O sound without a schwa. Cocoa wouldn't need anything after the second-O to be clear ("coco"). Whoa, however, cannot simply drop the A because of the bizarrely spelled but very frequent word who, pronounced hu. Until and unless we can change the spelling of who, as to "hoo" or "hu", we can't change "whoa" to "who". We could change it to "wo" if the HW sound in the recorded pronunciations of online dictionaries is pretentious and no one really says that. But if the HW sound really is said by some people, we have to retain the WH, since "hwo" is "un-English" and even unclear, given the odd but frequent word two, which, like who, is pronounced with a long-U! This is why English is so appallingly hard to learn, because bad spellings drive out good.
The best we can do with "whoa" is change the A to E, as in hoe, doe, and toe: "whoe".
My thanks to "Doghouse..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, August 5, 2009: "vybrafone" and "vybraharp" for "vibraphone"and "vibraharp"
The two-letter consonant cluster BR renders unclear whether the I in today's first word is long or short. It should be short, because of the consonant cluster, but the sound is actually long-I. The way to show that better is with Y, as in hybrid, hypoglycemia, and hydrofoil.
PH is of course a preposterous way to spell the simple F-sound in today's first word, so let's just write an F.
A "vibraphone" is a musical instrument that is also called "vibraharp", so we might as well fix that at the same time: "vybrafone" and "vybraharp".
My thanks to "Jacke..." for suggesting reform of "vibraphone", tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009: "unjulate" for "undulate"
We have today another of those words that Brits and (North) Americans pronounce differently. Britons pronounce the spelling -DU- in today's word as D plus a consonantal-Y plus a short-OO (as in foot, good, and book). (North) Americans use a J-sound plus either short-OO or schwa. There really is no reason for (North) Americans, who are the great majority of all native speakers of English, to spell in a British fashion. If we say a J-sound, let's write J. If Britons say a DY-sound, let them write it as ever they wish, and this will simply join that relatively short list of words spelled differently on the opposite sides of "The Pond" (the Atlantic Ocean): "unjulate".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion. Incidentally, some Britons say the DY sound in, for instance, "duly" so sharply that the word might as well be written "juely".
Munday, August 3, 2009: "tittilate" for "titillate"
The double and single consonants in the first part of today's word are logically reversed. The double letter should follow the stressed syllable, which leads the reader to think the second syllable is stressed. If we switch the doubling from the L to the T, the reader is guided instead to stress the first syllable, which is correct: "tittilate".
Sunday, August 2, 2009: "sacrilij" and "sacrilijjus" for "sacrilege" and "sacrilegious"
-EGE completely misrepresents the sound in today's base word. It suggests a long-E and leaves the sound of the G unclear (compare renege and protege). The vowel sound before the G is actually short-I, so should be written I. And the GE is supposed to represent a simple J-sound. Why use two wrong letters when we can use one right one, J?
In the adjective derived from "sacrilege", the E is again wrong, and now the G is followed by an I! but is still supposed to be read as "soft", a J-sound. Contrast give, girl, and gift. Why do we do this to kids, learners of English as a Second Language, and ourselves?
Moreover, there is an OU in the adjective but no OU-sound. The O is not just superfluous. It is actually misleading. So let's drop it.
If we substitute J for the GI and drop the O, we get "sacrilijus", which might be OK. But a single consonant might leave some readers unclear as to whether the I is long or short. To show clearly that it is short, we need merely double the following consonant. That that consonant is a J has nothing to do with anything. There is no reason to treat J any differently than any other consonant.
So today's words resolve to: "sacrilij" and "sacrilijjus".
Saturday, August 1, 2009: "rappid" and "rapiddity" for "rapid" and "rapidity"
A single-P leaves unclear whether the A is long or short. In a parallel word, vapid, a small proportion of speakers give the A its long sound (as in day, date), as a spelling pronunciation.* We can clarify today's adjective simply by doubling the P: "rappid".
In the related noun, the A is reduced to a schwa, and the word's stress shifts to the second syllable. To show both that the first-I (before the D) is short and that the stress falls on the second syllable, we should write only a single-P but a double-D.
To object that two different spellings for two forms of the same word will confuse the issue, would be foolish. Many related words differ in sound, and those differences are reflected in the spelling. We don't, after all, spell the past tense of go "goed" but "went", and the past tense of refer has a double-R (referred), even tho the present tense has only a single-R. Spelling should follow sound.
So today's words are: "rappid" and "rapiddity".
* "Vapid" was offered here as "vappid" on April 8, 2009.
Friday, July 31, 2009: "quotiddeon" for "quotidian"
There are two problems with this word as non-English-speaking people (who use English as auxiliary language in international communication) might see it.
(1) The single-D renders unclear whether the first-I is long or short. We should double the D to clarify that the sound before it is short.
(2) IA is ambiguous, sometimes representing a long-I (dial, diaphanous, maniacal), whereas the sound here is long-E.
Two simple changes clarify both areas of the word: "quotiddeon".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, July 30, 2009: "pachuly" for "patchouli", "patchouly", and "pachouli"
TCH is an inefficient way of writing the CH-sound, and today's word also has an OU but no OU-sound, plus two different ways of spelling the vowel of the last syllable, one more ambiguous than the other.
CH will suffice for a CH-sound after A: attach, bachelor, spinach.
U before a single consonant will suffice to show either a schwa or a long-U sound (for the two pronunciations this word is given: páach.a.lèe and pa.chúel.ee).
And -I is often pronounced long-I: alibi, cacti, hippopotami. So -Y is a better spelling, because it is only infrequently pronounced long-I (quantify, deny, the verb multiply).
Putting this all together, we get: "pachuly".
Wensday, July 29, 2009: "oeing" for "owing"
[The original discussion has been superseded by that of September 2, 2011.]
Tuesday, July 28, 2009: "neckliss" for "necklace"
Altho today's word derives from a "lace" (in the sense of a cord to hold things tight, as in "shoelace") for the neck, in "necklace", the vowel sound in the second syllable is a schwa or short-I, not the long-A of "shoelace". So we need to replace the -ACE with -ISS to show the actual sound: "neckliss".
Munday, July 27, 2009: "mavverick" for "maverick"
The letter sequence vowel-consonant-E is often to be read as marking the first vowel long (maven, navel, paver). That is not the sound here. Rather, the A is short. The simplest way to indicate a short vowel is to double the consonant after it: "mavverick".
Sunday, July 26, 2009: "lingger" for "linger"
NG is ambiguous. Sometimes it is to be regarded as a digraph (two-letter combination) that represents the third nasal sound of English, after M and N (sing, clang, wrong). Sometimes it is intended to represent that sound plus a hard-G (finger, longer, English). And sometimes it is not to be taken as a digraph at all, but just the two letters N and G sitting alongside each other (engross, engine, ingenue).
In today's word, the NG represents the NG-digraph plus a hard-G, but there is no way a reader who does not know the word can know that, because in words exactly parallel, the same letter sequence takes other sounds: singer, ringer, gunslinger; ginger, harbinger, porringer (pronounced síng.er, ríng.er, gún.sling.er; jín.jer, hór.bin.jer, pór.in.jer). We need to insert a second-G to show that in this case, there is a hard-G after the NG-sound: "lingger".
Saturday, July 25, 2009: "killogram" for "kilogram"
-ILO- is ambiguous: kilo, silo, pilot, kilometer (pronounced kée.loe, síe.loe, píe.lat, and both ki.lóm.a.ter and kíl.a.mèe.ter). Here, the I is short, so we should show that by doubling the consonant after it, the L. Once that is done, most readers will know to reduce the O to schwa: "killogram".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Friday, July 24, 2009: "jeepny" for "jeepney"
-EY is ambiguous: hey, key, they, blarney (pronounced hae, kee, thae, blór.nee). The E confuses the issue, so let's just drop it, OK?: "jeepny".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, July 23, 2009: "iddeosincrasy", "iddeosincrattic", and "iddeoccrasy" for "idiosyncrasy", "idiosyncratic", and "idiocrasy"
The first-I in today's word is short, but the new reader has no way to know that, because the consonant after it is single, so it could be long. The second-I represents a long-E sound, not either long-I nor short-I, so should be replaced by an E. The Y represents a simple short-I sound, so should be replaced by I.
In "idiosyncratic" we have two additional issues, the sound of the A and where the word's stress falls. In "idiosyncrasy", the A is pronounced as a schwa. In "idiosyncratic", however, the A takes its full short sound, and the word's stress shifts from the fourth syllable to the fifth. We can show both those things by doubling the T.
The word "idiocrasy" is an unusual variant, and has, in addition to the same problems at the front of the word, an ambiguity as to the pronunciation of the O, especially given that in "idiosyncrasy" and "idiosyncratic" it is pronounced long. In "idiocrasy", however, the O is short. The way we would ordinarily show that is by putting more than one consonant after it, but it already has the two-letter consonant cluster CR, which is not clear as to the sound of the O, because both consonants could be part of the following syllable. If we double the C, however, we show both that the O is short and that the word's stress falls on the third syllable.
There is one more issue some people might like us to address, the unusual -SY ending, which is sometimes pronounced with a Z-sound (busy, lousy, nosy). -CY might be clearer. But if the sound is S and the spelling is S, that should be fine: ecstasy, fantasy, courtesy. We should change the S to Z in words where it represents a Z-sound, not change an S to C if the sound is S!
Putting this all together, we get: "iddeosincrasy", "iddeosincrattic", and "idioccrasy".
Wensday, July 22, 2009: "hyfen" for "hyphen"
PH is an indefensibly ridiculous way to write the simple F-sound. In today's word, which starts like the word "hype", it is specially absurd, given that there are words in which the P and H are both given their ordinary sounds (uphill, upholstery, flophouse), so a new reader in a non-English-speaking country might be puzzled in trying to make sense out of a seeming compound word, "hyp-hen". If the sound is F, let's just write an F: "hyfen".
Tuesday, July 21, 2009: "gluv" for "glove"
-OVE is highly ambiguous and impossible to predict. In some words it is pronounced with a long-U sound, without an initial Y-glide: move, prove, reprove. In others, it has what the reader should be able to expect, a long-O, given the pattern vowel-consonant-E: cove, stove, interwove. And in yet others, it has the short-U in today's word: love, shove, above. How is the reader to know that grove and glove, which are exactly parallel and differ by only one letter, are pronounced differently (groev and gluv, respectively)?
The sound here is short-U, which we can, and should, write unambigously as a plain U before the final consonant V: "gluv".
Munday, July 20, 2009: "froofroo" for "froufrou" and "frou-frou"
In this doublet,* there are two OU's, but no OU-sound. The sound is long-U without an initial Y-glide, which is often spelled OO (too, bamboo, and voodoo. So let's use that. And we don't need a hyphen, which adds nothing but length. Let's save a character and, thus, a tiny bit of effort and ink: "froofroo".
* Is there a different term, specific to linguistics, for words that repeat themselves, such as mahi-mahi, booboo, pooh-pooh, hush-hush, and ylang-ylang?
Sunday, July 19, 2009: "espree/dacore" for "esprit /de corps"
"Esprit" is a word to itself but is commonly regarded as short for "esprit de corps". The long version takes the form of a three-word phrase, but is one idea so should be one word.
The first word of the original French phrase has a silent-T; the third word, a silent-P. That may make sense in French (tho not really; the spelling of French is nearly as insane as that of English, except it is a better guide to pronunciation than is English spelling), but such silent consonants make no sense whatsoever in English. We should drop them.
The I in "esprit" is pronounced as a long-E, not an I-sound at all. EE is the simplest way to show long-E unambiguously in any location.
Altho "esprit" can be used alone, "de corps" cannot, but is an inseparable part of the phrase "esprit de corps". Thus there is no warrant to put it into two or even one separate word, since that word has no meaning on its own. Instead, it should be joined to the reformed and unambiguous respelling of "esprit", in phonetic form. Today's words thus resolve to: "espree" and "espreedacore".
Saturday, July 18, 2009: "diammeter" for "diameter"
The current spelling of today's word could easily be read díe.ya.mèeter, especially if it is seen as part of the metric system, whose terms maintain the long-E in "-meter". The actual pronunciation is die.yáam.a.ter. We can show that by doubling the M, which will cue the reader to put the stress on the second syllable, which makes far less likely a long-E in the third syllable: "diammeter".
My thanks to "rhode..." for this suggestion.
Friday, July 17, 2009: "cappucheeno" for "cappuccino"
This Food Friday, let's fix the spelling of a beverage that has become very popular in the U.S. in recent years. Altho in Italian -CCI- might be pronounced -chee-, in English -CCI- is pronounced -KSI-, as in accident, succinct, and occidental. In that today's word is now fully English, it should be spelled with English conventions. The present spelling should be read, in English, as kàap.uk.síe.noe, with the -INO being pronounced as in albino, rhino, and wino. Since that is not how the word is supposed to be pronounced, we need to write it so that people who neither know nor care to know Italian but need to know English (such as students and businesspeople in China and India) can read it correctly from English conventions, not Italian: "cappucheeno".
Thursday, July 16, 2009: "bonnamee" for "bonhomie"
The present spelling is nothing like the pronunciation. The spelling is French; the pronunciation is English, so should be written in English conventions: "bonnamee".
Wensday, July 15, 2009: "amorfus" for "amorphous"
PH is an indefensibly stupid way to spell the F-sound, especially in that it sometimes represents merely what one should be able to expect, a P-sound followed by an H-sound: uphill, uphold, hophead. So we should definitely replace the PH with F.
In the ending, there is an OU but no OU-sound. Rather, the sound is a schwa, which in that position is often written with a U (bonus, abacus, litmus). To make this clear to new readers, we need merely drop the O, which has the additional virtue of saving us a second letter, shortening a 9-letter word to 7 letters: "amorfus".
Tuesday, July 14, 2009: "zeebue/s" for "zebu/s"
Ordinarily we deal with the base word when offering reforms. Here, it is the plural that drew our attention, because it is currently formed by the simple addition of S, which produces the ambiguous "zebus" (compare circus, campus, and, most pertinently, rebus). We might leave the singular as-is but insert an E before the -S for the plural, as we often do, so the singular would be "zebu" but the plural, "zebues".
But as long as we are examining this word, we might as well eliminate the possibility of its being misread as having a short-E in the first syllable, in the way that some Britons say a short-E in "zebra", by adding a second-E to the first syllable: "zeebu". The second syllable has two pronunciations, as it is (-bue and -byue). We don't need to leave the reader unclear as to the first syllable too. So let's double the E in the first syllable.
Further, to clarify the plural, let's just add an -E at the end of the singular so there is no mistaking how the plural is formed or pronounced. You just add an -S to: "zeebue" and get "zeebues".
My thanks to "Fishstick..." for suggesting reform of the plural, tho I chose a more thoro reform.
Munday, July 13, 2009: "yuway" for "yu-wei"
Today's word* is inadvisable in two ways. First, there is a hyphen for no apparent reason. Perhaps it means something in Chinese, but it does not in English. Second, EI is ambiguous, ordinarily being pronounced either long-E or long-I but in "yu-wei" being pronounced long-A. At the end of a word, long-A is most clearly written -AY, so let's write that: "yuway".
My thanks to "Fishstick..." for this suggestion.
* Dictionary.com defines yu-wei as "(in philosophical Taoism) action of an artificial or arbitrary kind." The Chinese is apparently stressed on the second syllable, but there's no way the reader can know that from either the traditional spelling or a reformed spelling. Indicating syllabic stress is not something spelling strives to do, tho sometimes things like doubling a consonant or appending a double-consonant plus E (-ETTE, -ARRE) does suggest where the stress falls.
Sunday, July 12, 2009: "wize" and "wizdom" for "wise" and "wisdom"
The S in these words represents not its own sound but that of Z. So let's write Z, because it is perfectly possible to see "wise" as parallel to vise, concise, and imprecise, in which the S represents its own sound. Similarly, the S in "wisdom" could perfectly well represent its own sound, as in disdain, jurisdiction, and misdeed but does not: "wize" and "wizdom".
My thanks to "Clap..." for "wize".
Saturday, July 11, 2009: "vittiligo" for "vitiligo"
This word, for a disorder in which patches of skin lose their pigmentation, has been much in the news with the passing of Michael Jackson. It has two pronunciations for the I in the third syllable, long-I (preferred) and long-E. We need do nothing there, since the preferred pronunciation can be reached readily thru the spelling, an I followed by a single consonant. The I we should clarify is the first one, in VIT-, since it too is followed by a single consonant but does not take the long-I sound that the reader is entitled to expect (compare vitamin, vitality, and vituperate). To show plainly that the sound is short-I, we need to double the T: "vittiligo".
Friday, July 10, 2009: "undecillyon" for "undecillion"*
The present spelling ends in -LION, the familiar name of "The King of the Jungle" (or, more properly, savannah). It is not pronounced like that, tho. Instead, the I substitutes for a Y, for no good reason. If the sound is Y, let's just write a Y: "undecillyon".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
* "Undecillion" is the name of a very large number that almost no one ever uses, but we are just about out of common badly-spelled words that start in U.
Thursday, July 9, 2009: "teriffic" for "terrific"
The wrong letter is doubled in this word. Compare terrible, in which the stress is, as one might expect, on the syllable before the double-R. Here, the stress is on the syllable before the F, so it is the F that should be doubled. That would also serve to distance "terrific" mentally from terrible, a word with which it is linked etymologically but to which it is opposite, a positive rather than negative term. It makes no more sense to write "terrific" despite where the word's stress falls than it would to write "teribble". A doubled consonant is often seen as cueing syllabic stress, and a double-R provides a misleading cue in today's word. Let's supply the right cue: "teriffic".
Wensday, July 8, 2009: "shist" for "schist"
Why is there a C in this word? The sound intended by the SCH- is a plain SH-sound, but the spelling suggests an SK sound, as in school, scheme, and schizophrenia. Let's just drop it: "shist".
Tuesday, July 7, 2009: "rapporturr" for "rapporteur"
-EUR is ambiguous, being seen by some people as containing a long-U and by others as having only the sound that is most commonly spelled ER (better, ermine, person) but sometimes OR (bettor, word, actor), AR (library, contrary, laggard), or UR (fur, burst, urgent).
In today's word (for a person who presents reports, as of the proceedings of an organization), the -EUR definitely contains the ER / OR / AR / UR sound. Altho the most common way of writing that sound is ER, "rapporter" would likely be read much as "reporter". In "rapporteur", the last syllable is stressed, and one way we might show that is to double the R. (A final double-R should not raise objections: compare err, burr, purr. "Rapporterr" might be clear, except that some people pronounce "err" like air. "Rapportur", with a single-R, might be recognized as having the stressed last syllable, but a second-R is probably clearer: "rapporturr".
Munday, July 6, 2009: "quoeshent" for "quotient"
TI is a preposterous way to spell the SH-sound, when the conventional spelling is S-H. In today's word, the start, QUOT-, is also the start of three familiar words in which the T has, unsurprisingly, the T-sound (quota, quotation, and quote). In quotation, we have the odd -TION ending in which the TI represents an SH-sound, but the mere fact that in -TION the TI represents an SH-sound does not warrant using TI for the SH-sound generally, for instance before E, as here. Is the reader to see tie, cutie, bootie, and a host of -TIES endings for words that in the singular end in -TY (atrocities, absurdities, calamities), as having an SH-sound? You see the problem.
If the sound is SH, let's just write SH. In the one hugely common ending -TION, we might, at least for the moment, leave a TI, but in due course it should be replaced by SH there too.
One problem remains with today's word. If we substitute SH for TI, we get "quoshent", which should and will be read by some people as having a short-O, given a two-letter consonant cluster after the O. The sound is actually long. There are 3 common ways to show a long-O: OE (toe, backhoe, and many words that end in O but to which a suffix is added, such as potatoes and tiptoed), OA (toast, approach), and OH (ohm, kohlrabi). OA sometimes, however, represents two syllables (boa, coalition), so that's not an ideal choice. OH is relatively unambiguous, but may look odd near a second-H, after the S: "quohshent". So OE would seem best: "quoeshent".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, July 5, 2009: "fonnics" for "phonics"
It is absurd but true that a number of the words that deal with sound are not themselves phonetic but spelled absurdly. The pretense that we can teach people to read present English easily by phonetic approaches is absurd. Tell me a "rule" and I'll find an exception. "PH is pronounced F"? Oh? How about uphold, upholstery, and Phnom Penh? "K before N is silent": knish, Knesset. GH is silent or pronounced like F: pigheaded. So how do you pronounce "knight"??
We need to stop making excuses for the inexcusable stupidity of current spelling, and start fixing the spelling, not telling kids (and foreign students) that there is something wrong with THEM if they can't learn to read and write English. No, there's something wrong with English: "fonnics".
Saturday, July 4, 2009: "ohn" for "own"
OW is ambiguous, sometimes representing an OU-sound, sometimes only a long-O. There is no way the new reader can know which sound to apply, the one in down and brown or the one in own and grown. Perhaps we can preserve OW for one use or the other, but which one? Perhaps we need to get rid of that letter combination altogether. For now, we need only fix "own". Fortunately, we have a perfect model in the word ohm: "ohn".
Friday, July 3, 2009: "neollojizm" for "neologism"*
NEO- is a common prefix, usually pronounced née.yoe, with a long-O and stress on the first syllable, containing the E (neocons, neoclassical, neocolonial). Here, the O is short and the second syllable, containing the O, is stressed.
OL is ambiguous, and could be seen as representing a long-O, which would reinforce the idea that NEO- takes a long-O (old, bolo, one common pronunciation of olfactory). Here, the O is short, as in hollow, collagen, and pollen. OLL is not entirely unambiguous (boll, roll, collate), but it is somewhat clearer in suggesting a short-O. So let's double the L.
GI is ambiguous (give, gist). Where, as here, it represents a J-sound, we should replace the G with an unambiguous J.
The last issue is the S in the -ISM ending, which is pronounced like Z, so should be written Z: "neollojizm".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
* A neologism is a new word or new usage for an established word, or the creation or use of new words.
Thursday, July 2, 2009: "merj/er" for "merge/r"
GE is an inefficient and ambiguous (genre, burger) way to spell the J-sound. Let's just write J: "merj/er".
My thanks to "Bookk..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, July 1, 2009: "lilly" for "lily"
A single consonant following does not suffice to show the I in this word to take its short sound. Compare wily, which has a long-I. Other words with a stressed short-I in such a position have a double-L: dilly, silly, filly, even willy-nilly. We should double the L here to permit people who hear the word said, to spell it in an expected way and be correct: "lilly".
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