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Thursday, December 31, 2009: "intreppid" for "intrepid"
There are two issues with today's word, both related to the single-P in the traditional spelling. How is the E pronounced long or short? And where does the word's stress lie? Compare, e.g., quadruped, indigent, invalid (someone who is sick), in all of which the stress falls on the first syllable, as it could well do here but does not. If we double the P, both issues are resolved. The E is short, and the word's stress falls on the second syllable: "intreppid".
Wensday, December 30, 2009: "hommafone" for "homophone"
This term for words that "are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, origin, and sometimes spelling" (American Heritage Dictionary) is spelled misleadingly. First, the PH represents not the two consonant sounds in sequence (as in uphold and uphill), but a simple F-sound. So let's use F. Second, the single-M leaves unclear the pronunciation of the preceding O. Altho some dictionaries show a secondary pronunciation with a long-O, the recorded pronunciations in the online versions give only a short-O, and I have never heard anyone use a long-O. The Cambridge Dictionaries Online show only pronuncations with a short-O. Sometimes dictionaries are too inclusive. We really don't need to accommodate the pronunciation with a long-O: "hommafone".
My thanks to "Dogs..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009: "grellin" for "ghrelin"
I chanced across today's preposterous scientific word this week, and was stunned by the stupidity of the Japanese researchers who coined the term. The Japanese language, of course, doesn't use the roman alphabet, but the researchers used it to create this name of a chemical for the international scientific vocabulary, including English, and the English-language scientific publishing world just accepted it.
Plainly, G before R does not require an H to show that the sound is "hard"-G, the only legitimate use of an H after G in English, and then in very few words, ghetto and gherkin being the only common words of that pattern; four others have GH for an ordinary G-sound before A and O, where they plainly aren't necessary to show a "hard"-G: aghast, ghastly, ghost, and ghoul. Bizarrely, the first 3 of these 4 did not have an H in Middle English. It was deliberately added for Modern English! That is indefensibly bad enuf. But GH before an R carries this nonsense much too far, and must not be permitted to stand: "grellin".
Munday, December 28, 2009: "frijjid" and "frijiddity" for "frigid" and "frigidity"
As was the case with yesterday's words, we have today issues of J-sounds being misleadingly written with a G, and of short vowels not being followed by a double consonant. As regards the J-sounds, if the sound is J, the spelling should be J.
As regards stressed short vowels, doubling the consonant after the stressed syllable will show at once that the vowel, in this case I in both places, is short and that the prior vowel is stressed. Since the base word and the derivative take stress in different locations, different consonants need to be doubled, the J in the base word and the D in the derivative: "frijjid" and "frijiddity".
Sunday, December 27, 2009: "ennerjy", "ennerjettic" and "ennerjize" for "energy", "energetic", and "energize"
It's hard to get a handle on the sounds of G. There is one sound unique to G, which is often called "hard"-G and is almost always the sound used for G before A, O, and U (gate, go, gung-ho); but note that the G in margarine* takes not the unique G-sound but the sound of J, which when used for G is called "soft"-G. The problem readers and not just new readers have with G is knowing when it is and is not pronounced "soft", since sometimes a G before E, I, and Y is still pronounced "hard" (get, give, gynecology but note that the two GY's in gynecology are pronounced differently, both as to the sound of the G ("hard" in the first, "soft" in the second) and as to the sound of the Y (long-I in the first, long-E in the second)). It's hard to believe that there are actually people who defend all such nonsense, but there are. Not on this website, of course, but in the immense spelling Establishment that insists on perpetuating this madness into the infinite future. They are not content with having made people's lives miserable for centuries in the past. They want to continue to make people's lives miserable for centuries into the future. They must be stopped!
Note that in today's words, G precedes all three of the letters that permit G to be read as a J-sound, energetic, energize, energy. There's not a single G-sound, only J-sounds, so all the G's should be changed to J's.
There's an additional problem, single consonants that leave unclear the pronunciation of the vowels before them. The middle word, "energetic", has two single consonants (N and T). A single-N or
-Tpermits reading the preceding vowel as long, which is wrong. So let's double the N's and T as well as change the G to J, which will make everything crystal clear: "ennerjy", "ennerjettic", "ennerjize".
* Curiously, "margarine", with a J-sound, derives from "margaric", with a G-sound!
Saturday, December 26, 2009: "dradle" for "dreidel" and "dreidl"
Tho Hanukkah (by any spelling) is over for this year, by a bit, let's still fix this word for a spinning top popular during the Hanukkah season. EI is ambiguous, usually taking either a long-I or a long-E sound, as in the two alternative pronunciations of either and neither. Here, however, the sound is long-A.
The alternative spelling "dreidl" employs a syllabic-L, which English does not use, and which a person hearing the word would not think to write. So -LE, -EL, -AL, -IL, -YL, or some other spelling that includes a vowel would have to be used. -LE is the most common way this sound is written, so we should use that.
In that "dreidle" or "dreidl" is a perfect rhyme for cradle, it makes best sense simply to change the spelling to parallel that: "dradle".
Friday, December 25, 2009: "carrol" for "carol"
AR is ambiguous, often being pronounced with a "broad"-A (or short-O, the same sound): bar, star, car. To show a short-A before R, it is common to double the R: arrow, barren, carrageenan. So let's do that here: "carrol".
My thanks to "Socks..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, December 24, 2009: "breo" for "brio"
Altho -IO is pronounced with a long-E in a number of words, it could take a long-I (Ohio, bio). And why should we write an E-sound with an I? This is the kind of silliness that makes learning and using English so hard. EO makes much more sense (Leo, video, stereo) for an E-sound: "breo".
Wensday, December 23, 2009: "ammarillis" for "amaryllis"
Why is a Y pronounced like a short-I in this and some other words? Y is one of the more overloaded letters in English, with five pronunciations: four vowel sounds and one consonantal sound. Moreover, in some places it is silent. The four vowel sounds are long-I (hybrid, dry, qualify); long-E (or, in "clipped" British speech, a type of short-I between long-E and the regular, stressed short-I (handy, dandy, quality); a full short-I (mystical, hysteria, dysfunction); and schwa (vinyl, ethyl, (British) pyjama). Consonantal Y is a very brief long-E sound, which is regarded by some people as an integral part of the long-U sound (youth, use, beyond). And in some words Y is effectively silent, for being unnecessary to reading the word correctly (key, abbey, baloney).* In some other words, it just marks an A as long (day, hurray, jaywalk). Poor Y must be tired! Let's lessen its burden and make the burden of the reader lighter too, at least by replacing Y where it merely represents a short-I, as here.
The other issue in today's word is the single-M, which leaves unclear the sound of the initial-A. Is it long, as many vowels before a single consonant are long (amiable, amen (as some people say it), famous)? Perhaps it represents a schwa, as many initial-A's do (amaze, amiss, amok). Or perhaps it has a short-A sound (amazon, amatory, amorous). In today's word, it represents a short-A sound. A much clearer way of showing that is to double the consonant immediately after it, in this case, the M: "ammarillis".
* There are over a hundred common words in which a final-E is pronounced long, such as abalone, psyche, and calliope.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009: "wickid" for "wicked" (evil)
Today's one spelling actually represents two quite different words, of different pronunciation. The past-tense verb form "wicked", pronounced wikt, derives from an Old English word, wice, weoc(e) and refers to drawing something up by capillary action. That's fine as-is, and is not the word we address today.
The word we are talking about today is pronounced in two syllables, wík.id, and derives from wicca, Old English for "wizard". Yes, that wicca, the same word that was revived in the 1970s for "witchcraft, esp. benevolent, nature-oriented practices derived from pre-Christian religions" (tho present-day "wicca" refers to the practice, not to an individual (male) witch, which was the Old English meaning).
If we wanted to fall back to ancient origins, we could respell this "wiccad", but the wicca people might resist the association of their semi-religious practices with wickedness. So let's just change one letter, the E, to another I: "wickid".
My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion.
Munday, December 21, 2009: "vermillyon" for "vermilion" and "vermillion"
LION is a word in itself, in which the I is pronounced long-I. Same with the shorter letter sequence ION. In today's word, the -LION and -ION are pronounced with a consonantal-Y, as in yes and yogurt. If the sound is Y, let's just write a Y.
The only remaining issue is whether to use one L or two. With only one, -LYON could be read like the surname Lyon/s, again with a long-I. If we write two L's, the word mill is, instead, seen, and the -YON is downgraded to the sound it should have, with a consonantal Y followed by a schwa: "vermillyon".
Sunday, December 20, 2009: "trampoleen" for "trampoline"
This is one of those words that I just had to look up to make sure its absurd form really was the accepted spelling. -INE is ambiguous, and can be pronounced with a long-I (line, define, aquiline as most people say it), long-E (benzine, brigantine, aquamarine), and short-I (antihistamine, as many people say it, jasmine, and aquiline, as a relative few people say it). -EEN is unambiguous: "trampoleen".
Saturday, December 19, 2009: "skairtso/s" for "scherzo/s" and "scherzi"
The traditional spelling of this originally Italian word, singular and plural, presents four problems. First, a lot of people read SCH as tho SH, but here the SCH represents not SH, nor the S-sound and CH-sound (as in church) in sequence, but an SK sound. Second, the ER represents not the sound so frequently written that way (better, erroneous, pervert), but the AI-sound of airmail, fairgrounds, and scare. Third, the Z does not take the English Z-sound, but represents a TS-sound. And fourth, the irregular plural is unexpected and pretentious, and does not comport with a number of common plural words that end in -I but take a long-I sound, not the long-E here (cacti, stimuli, octopi). Fortunately, a simple rewriting of the singular solves the first three problems, and renders pointless an irregular plural, since the new spelling is plainly not Italian, and thus solves the fourth as well: "skairtso", "skairtsos".
Friday, December 18, 2009: "rammekin" for "ramekin" and "ramequin"*
Both present spellings for today's Food Friday word are bad. The version with a QU is worse than the one with a K, because there is no KW-sound as a reader has reason to expect from a QU, but only a simple K-sound.
The A in both spellings is short, tho the pattern A_E suggests it could be long. To show that it is in fact short, we need merely double the M: "rammekin".
* A ramekin/ramequin is, like a porringer, a little ovenware bowl used to cook individual portions of, among other things, cheese dishes. Ramekins tend to have vertical ribs. If you are unclear about these terms, please see Google Images for ramekin and porringer.
Thursday, December 17, 2009: "filattelist", "filattely", and "fillatellic" for "philatelist", "philately", and "philatelic"*
PH is an indefensibly absurd way to spell the F-sound. That does not, of course, keep some extremely stupid defenders of traditional spelling from defending that absurdity, but I will assume that the people who follow this website are not morons.
The single consonants in the traditional spellings do not give guidance as to either the sound (long or short) of the vowels, nor as to where syllabic stress falls in these long words. We can do better.
In "philatelist" and "philately", we can leave the first-L single, because it goes with the following syllable. But to show that, we need to double the T to indicate that that syllable takes the stress. In "philatelic", two syllables are stressed: fìl.a.tél.ik. The first syllable takes secondary stress, and the word's primary stress is on the third syllable. So both L's need to be doubled. But the T does not, since it goes with the following, stressed syllable.
Objections that these closely related words should be spelled the same in the root are silly. They aren't spelled the same at the end; why should they be spelled the same in the beginning? No one is going to think them unrelated just because the spellings differ slitely to reflect differences in pronunciation. To suggest that they should be spelled the same to show their relatedness is no more sensible than to suggest they be said the same. They are pronounced a little differently, but listeners nonetheless know they are related. If they are spelled a little differently to show the pronunciation differences that do not lose anyone, surely the spellings won't confuse anyone either, but merely make everything clear: "filattelist", "filattely", "fillatellic".
* Today's words all relate to the study of stamps and related materials:.The common term "stamp-collecting" suffices for most purposes.
Wensday, December 16, 2009: "ourselvs", "yorselvs", "themselvs", and, basically, "selvs" for "ourselves", "yourselves", "themselves", and "selves"
We don't need an E before the S in these words. Beyond the waste of ink and energy in writing this superfluous E, the presence of a vowel between the V and S could lead the new reader to think there is an additional syllable at the end of these words, which there is not: "ourselvs", "yourselvs", "themselvs", and "selvs".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for "selvs". As proposed June 12, 2004, "your" should also be revised to "yor", since the OU is misleading, in that there is no OU-sound in this word.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009: "nobb" for "nob"
The absurd spelling "knob" was one of the first words offered here in simpler form, "nob", on June 14, 2004. There is another word of that sound and the simpler spelling, "nob", for a person of wealth and importance. It's quite uncommon, known in the U.S. mainly in reference to the San Francisco topographical feature and neighborhood Nob Hill. Should we merely leave the traditional words "knob", with its preposterous silent-K removed, and the uncommon word "nob" spelled the same? Or would it be better if we could distinguish between the two without losing phoneticity? I opt for a distinction.
A double-B at the end of a word is rare, being found in only one common word, ebb. It is, however, found in some surnames, like Tubb, Cubb, and Chubb (and, by extension, Tubbs). So it is certainly not "un-English". An extra B seems vaguely apt for the rich, who have too much of everything, and can certainly afford it: "nobb".
Munday, December 14, 2009: "mennis" for "menace"
Both the beginning and the end of today's word are ambiguous. ME is a word, as is MEN. Which pronunciation pattern controls? ACE is a word, pronounced with a long-A. If the ME- takes a long-E, perhaps the N goes with the ACE, and the second syllable has a long-A sound. You shouldn't have to know how a word is pronounced before you see it. The spelling should plainly indicate how the word is to be said.
In the case of "menace", there are, oddly, two cartoon characters called "Dennis the Menace", one in the United States and one in Britain, both playing upon the rhyme of "Dennis" and "Menace", tho a new reader would hardly see "menace" as rhyming with "Dennis". "Dennis" is a perfect spelling, in the conventions of English traditional spelling. "Menace" is a mess. Since the latter rhymes with the former, and the former has a rational spelling, we should conform the latter to the excellent pattern of the former: "mennis".
Sunday, December 13, 2009: "levvity" for "levity"
"Levi" is a name known widely, from the name of a brand of jeans as well as from the Bible, and it has both a long-E in the first syllable and a long-I at the end. The single-V in "levity" renders the pronunciation of the entire word unclear. It should be pronounced with short vowels in the first two syllables. To show the proper pronunciation, we need merely double the V, which will cause the reader to both shorten the E and stress the first syllable, which will automatically make a long-I in the second syllable very unlikely: "levvity".
Saturday, December 12, 2009: "killocury" for "kilocurie"
Kilo is a word, generally pronounced kée.loe, more than just a prefix, pronounced kíl.a. The fact that the same four letters are supposed to be pronounced differently is NOT self-evident, especially to new readers, young and grown alike. The pretense of the spelling Establishment is that all the differences we assign to the same letter sequences "should" be obvious, but they are not. Words need to be spelled clearly.
The second element of today's word derives from a proper noun, "Curie", the name of two Nobel Prize-winning scientists from France, Pierre and Marie Curie. As a name, it is pronounced kuu.rhée in French and kyue.rée in English. As a word, it is pronounced kyue.ree, with different people putting the stress on different syllables, possibly depending upon the environment in which it is said.
Both -IE and -Y are ambiguous, and can be said as either long-I or long-E (lie, magpie, defies; rookie, hankie, menagerie; pry, defy, quantify; dory, happy, quantity). But whereas there are dozens of words ending in -IE pronounced long-E, there are hundreds ending in -Y pronounced long-E, given common suffixes -ITY and -LY. So -Y is the better choice to show new readers how to pronounce this scientific word: "killocury".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Friday, December 11, 2009: "joller" for "jalor" and "jalur"*
Today's word has two spellings, neither of them indicative of its pronunciation. It rhymes with holler, collar, and dollar, but its spellings suggest a rhyme with valor or jailer. JOLL- is a clear rendering for the first syllable (as in jolly), and either
-ARor -ERwould work for the second syllable, as most people see things. -ER, however, is far more common a spelling, so is more likely to be guessed by someone who merely hears the word said. Let's go with that: "joller".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
* "[A]ny of a wide variety of East Indian rowing and sailing ships" (Dictionary.com).
Thursday, December 10, 2009: "insippid" for "insipid"
The spelling of today's word does not so much mislead, as fail to lead. If there is a single consonant after a vowel, the vowel might be long. Here, it doesn't seem likely to be long. But if the vowel is short, then the single consonant goes with the following syllable, and the later syllable would likely be stressed. The pattern of today's word leaves the reader unclear as to which syllable is stressed. The word could be pronounced ín.si.pìd or, less likely, ìn.si.píd. In actuality, it is in.síp.id. If we double the P, we show without doubt both that the second-I is short and that the word's stress falls on the second syllable: "insippid".
Wensday, December 9, 2009: "hinj" for "hinge"
As mentioned yesterday, G before E is not necessarily pronounced as a J-sound (get, gear, gecko) not even at the end of a word (collage, montage, renege). We have the letter J for the J-sound. Let's just use that: "hinj".
Tuesday, December 8, 2009: "jescher" for "gesture"
G before E is not necessarily pronounced "soft", that is, as a J-sound: get, gear, gecko. We have a letter J for the J-sound. Why wouldn't we use it?
The second issue in today's word is the preposterous -TURE for what sounds like -cher. If it sounds like -cher, let's just write it -CHER.
One question remains. Can we just push an S and a CH up against each other, or do we need to insert a T to show that the S-C-H sequence does not form a simple SH-sound? SCH for an SH-sound is actually quite rare, and we do have words like eschew, discharge, and mischief in which we do not feel the need to put a T in to separate the S- and CH-sounds. So no, we don't need a T: "jescher".
My thanks to "Music..." for this suggestion.
Munday, December 7, 2009: "faulter" for "falter"
-ALT- does not always take the AU sound: altitude, altruism, alto; royalty, admiralty, casualty (áal.ti.tùed, áal.true.wìz.am, áal.toe; rói.yal.tee, áad.mi.ral.tee, káa.zhu.wal.tee). So we need to clarify that this word contains an AU-sound (as in auburn, cause, and dinosaur), by inserting a U between the A and L, just as in the words fault, assault, and vault: "faulter".
My thanks to "Mail..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, December 6, 2009: "eddify" for "edify"
The vowel sound in the first syllable of today's word is short-E, tho that is not clear from the spelling, because an E before a single-D could be long (edict, obedience, encyclopedia). To make the sound clear, we need merely double the D, as we do in some other words (eddies, bedding, reddish): "eddify".
Saturday, December 5, 2009: "dezire" for "desire"
"Sire" is a well-known word, pronounced with an S-sound. Why, then, is "desire" pronounced with a Z-sound? Plainly, if the sound is Z, the letter marking it should be Z.
There's a secondary issue. The vowel sound in the first syllable, as most people say the word, is a short-I. Should we, then, change the E to I, "dizire"? Perhaps not, since a few people do say a brief long-E sound. For now, let's leave everything the same except the S: "dezire".
Friday, December 4, 2009: "choclateer" for "chocolatier"
It's Food Friday again. Today, let's simplify the misleading French-form spelling for a person or company that deals in chocolate.* The present spelling would incline the reader to see the word as French, and pronounce it in a French fashion: shòe.koe.lôt.ee.yáe. Altho the word does come from French, it has been in English since 1888, and hasn't been pronounced in the French fashion for decades: "choclateer".
* I offered "chocolate" here as "choclat" on January 2, 2005.
Thursday, December 3, 2009: "berro" for "borough" and "boro"
-OUGH- is one of those ridiculous spellings that started most spelling reformers thinking that English needs serious change. It has six different pronunciations (enough, through, thought, bough, though, cough: e.núf, tthrue, tthaut, bou, thoe, kauf), and there is absolutely no way to predict which pronunciation applies to any given word.
In today's word, the -OUGH is pronounced as a simple long-O (or, in dialectal British English, a schwa). At the end of a word, O by itself suffices to show a long-O. Thus the short form "boro".
Unfortunately, the pronunciation of the first syllable is also unclear in the current spelling. OR is often, but not always, pronounced with an AU-sound, as in haul, cause, or astronaut. Most other times, the O in the OR retains a short-O value, as in orange, forest, and horrid; or a schwa, as in actor, visitor, and inquisitor. The sound in "borough" is similar in sound to that schwa, but stressed, which schwa cannot be. That sound is commonly written ER or, much less commonly, UR: ermine, emergency, erstwhile; urgent, fur, curse. Since simple spelling should be easily guessed by someone who hears a word spoken, it is good practice to use the more common spelling, here, ER.*
Since -ERO would remain ambiguous as to whether the E is long (hero, zero), we need to double the R to preclude a long-O.
Thus do we arrive at the thoroughly simplified, clear, and guessable spelling: "berro".
* Besides, there already is a word "burro", for a donkey.
Wensday, December 2, 2009: "afrunt" for "affront"
There are two things wrong with today's word. First, the double-F serves no purpose. It does not mark the preceding A as short, tho a reader should be able to rely on a vowel before a double consonant being short. The double-F doesn't mark the preceding syllable as stressed, either, because the word's stress actually falls on the second syllable. So the FF is doubly misleading. We need to drop one F.
The second thing wrong is the O, which represents no O-sound but a short-U. If the sound is U, let's write a U: "afrunt".
"Frunt" for "front" was offered here on February 16, 2005; and "frunteer" for "frontier" on February 17, 2005.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009: "hoalsum" for "wholesome"
There is no W-sound in today's word, and -OME should be pronounced with a long-O, as in home, dome, and chromosome. So let's reform both parts of the word to show the actual sounds: "hoalsum".
"Hoal/ly" was offered here for "whole" and "wholly" on October 16, 2005.
Munday, November 30, 2009: "vivvid" for "vivid"
A single consonant after a vowel leaves the sound of that vowel unclear. Contrast today's word with village and villain, both of which are clear as to the I in the first syllable's being short. In the word vital, everyone agrees that the I is long; but in the word vitamin, Americans and Canadians say a long-I, but Britons say a short-I. A similar difference in pronunciation, tho not along geographical lines, occurs with the word vivacious.
We have really got to stop making people guess how words are pronounced, and just show them in spelling how to say every word in the English language. If the vowel is short, it needs to be marked by a double consonant (or other consonant cluster) between syllables (tho at the end of a word, a single consonant will do): "vivvid".
Sunday, November 29, 2009: "tole" and "toal" for "toll" and "tôle" or "tole"
It is bizarre to have a doubled consonant after a long vowel. Especially is a long-O misleading in -OLL: follow, holler, collagen. There are, alas, a number of other words in which -OLL does represent a long-O sound: boll, roll, controller. To show unambiguously that an O before an L-sound is long, we need to replace the O with something more. OE might do, either together or separated by a single-L: "toel" or "tole". OA would also do, such that "toll" would become parallel to coal, goal, and shoal.
As it happens, there is an alternate spelling, "tole", for a couple of senses of "toll". There is also, however, an entirely different word (for "enameled or lacquered metalware, usually with gilt decoration, often used, esp. in the 18th century, for trays, lampshades, etc.") that sounds the same and is also spelled "tole", with a variant spelling of "tôle". It is unreasonable to reserve the better spelling for an uncommon word, and consign the common word to an unreasonable spelling. So let's alter these words thus: "tole" for all senses of "toll"; and "toal" for (present) "tôle" and "tole".
My thanks to "yaora..." for the spelling "toal", tho I have applied it to the uncommon homonym rather than the more frequently heard word.
Saturday, November 28, 2009: "savanna" for "savannah"
The spelling of today's word without a final-H ("savanna") is the preferred form. Let's make it the only form, that is, make the superfluous-H unacceptable: "savanna".
Friday, November 27, 2009: "raggoo" for "ragout"
This Food Friday, let's fix a word that looks as tho the second syllable should be pronounced like the word "out" (brownout, checkout, closeout). That is not the sound here, which is actually a long-U with no initial Y-glide (as in bamboo, cuckoo, kangaroo). Let's spell it like the words it sounds like: "raggoo".
Thursday, November 26, 2009: "quottuordecillyon" for "quattuordecillion"
There are a couple of problems with today's word (for an extremely large number). First, the "broad" sound of the A (the same sound as short-O) is ambiguous and might not be expected (compare attic, battery, matter). Second, the final letter sequence -LION is a familiar word learned early, but does not have that sound (líe.yan) here. Rather, the -I- is said like a Y. Let's just use a Y: "quottuordecillyon".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, November 25, 2009: "falanx/es" and "falanjees" for "phalanx" and "phalanges"
PH is an indefensibly absurd way to write the F-sound, so has got to go. The rest of the singular pretty much has to stay as it is, because there are two pronunciations, one with a long-A in the first syllable (the preferred pronunciation in the United States) and the other with a short-A (the preferred pronunciation in Britain). The single-L after the first-A leaves the issue unclear, and both sides can justify their preference.
For the plural, once we get rid of the make-believe Greek PH (which isn't Greek at all, since it's not written in the Greek alphabet), there remains very little reason to retain the silly plural "phalanges" (used mainly for the sense of fingers or toes, not for a military array or a group). But if we do retain it, it should be spelled phonetically, with a J for the J-sound (after all, the singular doesn't have a G, so why should the plural?) and two E's to show that "phalanges" doesn't rhyme with the last two syllables of "oranges": "falanx", "falanxes", "falanjees".
Tuesday, November 24, 2009: "oranj" for "orange"
GE is ambiguous (get, gentle, montage, pronounced get, jén.tool, mon.tózh), and an inefficient and irrational way to spell the J-sound. If the sound is J, let's just write a J: "oranj".
Munday, November 23, 2009: "nul" for "null"
We don't need two L's at the end of a word (foil, heel, animal). "Null" is only rarely treated as a verb, its sense being more commonly expressed by nullify, so we needn't worry about whether people would have to double the L before adding grammatical suffixes like -ING or -ED. For that, people can make their own choice, as they do with words like travel and cancel, with which some people do double the L but others don't. For most uses, however, that issue does not arise: "nul".
Sunday, November 22, 2009: "medeeval" for "medieval" and "mediaeval"
Altho only pretentious people pronounce today's word in four syllables, some dictionaries insist on showing that absurd pronunciation as preferred. Preferred by fools in medieval jesters' costumes, perhaps. By educated people? No.
In any case, IE and IAE are both highly ambiguous spellings that do not convey the sounds intended. EE shows the sound of the second syllable in both three- and four-syllable pronunciations. Pretentious people who insist on pronouncing two E-sounds between the D and the V have two E's with which to justify that. Each could represent a long-E. So how can they object to this much simpler spelling?: "medeeval".
Saturday, November 21, 2009: "loover" for "louvre" and "louver"
Why is there an OU in this word, when there's no OU-sound? The sound is long-U without an initial Y-glide, an exact rhyme for Hoover. So let's spell it like Hoover (but without an initial capital letter): "loover".
Friday, November 20, 2009: "killogouss" for "kilogauss"
I addressed the first part of today's word on October 29th:"Kilo-" used as a combining form is pronounced differently from the same letter sequence used as a noun, for "kilogram". The noun is pronounced kée.loe, the combining form, kíl.a- (with a schwa in the second syllable). Altho overly permissive dictionaries include the pronunciation kíl.oe for the noun, I do not recall ever in my nearly 65 years on Earth, having heard anyone say kíl.oe for the noun. "Killo-" is a better spelling for the combining form than would be "killa-", because it retains a mental link to "kilo" and the metric system's prefixes, rather than connecting instead to the verb "kill" and derivatives like "killer".
As regards the second element of today's word, the vowel is not the AU-sound (as in haul, caustic, and auk) but the OU sound as in out, roust, and account. So let's just replace the A with O: "killogouss".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion. Naturally "gauss" also changes to "gouss". "Degouss" was offered here August 14, 2007.
Thursday, November 19, 2009: "junkcher" for "juncture"
TU is an absurd way to spell the CH-sound (as in church; not "tuurtu"). We could change only the end of today's word, and leave the first four letters: "junccher". But that might puzzle the reader, and someone hearing the word is unlikely to come up with that spelling. If we had generally simple spelling, people who hear a word that sounds like júngk.cher would expect it to be spelled like "junk" and the first party of "cherry". So let's spell it as it sounds: "junkcher".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, November 18, 2009: "irridessent" for "iridescent"
There are two problems with the traditional spelling of today's word. First, there is a single-R, when we are accustomed to RR after an initial I (irritate, irredeemable, irrational); and second, there is an unexpected, unreasonable, and unguessable SC where someone who hears the word said would expect SS: "irridessent".
The less frequently heard verb"iridesce" would be "irridesse", to show stress on the last syllable.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009: "hotell" and "motell" for "hotel" and "motel"
Indicating syllabic stress is not a large part of English spelling, but sometimes we do show unexpected stress thru spelling: largesse, doyenne, kitchenette. Why not for these two words, to distinguish them from the stress pattern of the related word hostel? Both English words are from the same Old French word. "Hotel" is from French hôtel, in which the Ô marks where an S used to be in Old French: "hostel", just like the modern English word. English "hostel" derives from the identical Old French word.
English hostel takes stress on the first syllable; "hotel" and "motel" (motor hotel) both take stress on the second syllable. (In my family, however, we tend to play with words, and pronounce them with stress on the first syllable, just as they look.) We should show that, if we can do so without too much trouble. And we can. All we have to do is double the -L. A lot of words end in LL (well, cell, shell), so there's certainly no reason not to do it, since it would not be simply superfluous but would actually serve a purpose, to show stress. And altho some words with an -LL do not take the stress on that syllable (barbell, tortoiseshell), others do (befell, farewell). I think that in the case of today's words, the -LL will incline readers to stress the second syllable, which is all to the good: "hotell" and "motell".
My thanks to "yaora..." for this dual suggestion.
Munday, November 16, 2009: "noo" for "gnu"
"Gnu" is one of the most famous, or notorious, unphonetic words in all of English, and one of only a handful in which G is silent before an N. There really is no way to justify such a preposterous spelling. Merriam-Webster Online says it derives from "Khoikhoi t'gnu". So why don't we write "t'gnu"? Conversely, if we do not write "t'gnu", why should we write "gnu"?
It's not as tho dropping the silent-G would offend the Khoikhoi, because that group has disappeared into larger nearby groups (in Southern Africa).
Some dictionaries claim that there is a secondary pronunciation with a Y-glide before the long-U sound, as in few, view, and you, that would bar the respelling "noo" (like zoo, bamboo, and hullabaloo). But who says nyu? Britons are much more inclined to use such a YU-sound than Americans, but the Cambridge Dictionaries Online shows only one pronunciation, without an initial Y-glide. We can thus pretty well dismiss the pronunciation nyu as a pretentious spelling-pronunciation, arisen not from the actual speech of a significant community but merely from the ambiguity of the present spelling. The clear spelling the word should have will get rid of that spelling-pronunciation posthaste: "noo".
Sunday, November 15, 2009: "flaish" for "flèche" and "fleche"
Today's word (for a slender spire on a church) has one pronunciation in standard English, and another in frenchified English and actual French. In French, it sounds like the English word "flesh", with which it must not be confused. That's probably why the English pronunciation is flaesh, with an English long-A sound, even tho the people who borrowed it into English probably knew that in French an E with a grave accent is generally pronounced like an English short-E.
The spelling in English must change, for at least three reasons. First, English doesn't use accents, so the accent has to go. Second, there is a CH in the present spelling, but no CH-sound (as in church). Rather, the CH is pronounced as an English SH-sound, so should be written SH. Third, there is a needless and potentially misleading -E at the end, which could induce some people to think the E before the CH is to be pronounced long (as the vowel before the CH in ache, brioche, and cloche are long), and induce others to think the E is pronounced, as long-E (psyche, troche, Apache). So we definitely need to drop the final-E.
We can replace the È with AI. Most people will see that as a long-A (as in aid, paid, and laid). But people who insist on a puristic, French-style pronunciation can justify it by comparison to the AI in said, again, and against (as most people say them): "flaish".
Saturday, November 14, 2009: "experteze" for "expertise"
The traditional spelling of this word is misleading in two ways. First, -ISE is often pronounced with a long-I (improvise, devise, chastise), especially in Britain, where it is the preferred spelling for what is in the United States the -IZE ending for verbs.
Second, the S in some -ISE endings is pronounced as an S (vise, concise, paradise), whereas here it should be pronounced as a Z.
The uncertainties associated with the -ISE ending have produced a spelling-pronunciation for today's word, with a long-E and S-sound. There is no need to accommodate mispronunciations that arise only from ambiguities in spelling. Rather, we should guide people to the correct pronunciation, in this case ek.sper.téez.
How best to show that? -EEZE is found in six words (and their derivatives), among them freeze, sneeze, and wheeze), but it's quite an absurd and inefficient spelling, since EE is unambiguous so doesn't need a silent-E at the end to show that the vowel before the Z is long. We could drop one of the E's. Which one?
"Experteez" would be clear and efficient, but a final -EEZ is not found in any present word, even tho it is clear from English conventions how it must be pronounced. -EZE is found in one word, trapeze, so can't be attacked as "un-English". Let's go with that: "experteze".
Friday, November 13, 2009: "dinjy" for "dingy"
There are three easily confused words to separate here. First is "dingy", pronounced dín.jee. The second is "dinghy", pronounced díng.ee by most people but supposedly díng.gee by some (according to Dictionary.com), tho I've never heard that pronunciation. The third is the slang term "dingy", for loony or dopey, and pronounced as you might expect of the spelling "dingy": díng.ee. There is no way to clarify these words while keeping an NG in all.
Tho you might think that the way to show that the N and G do not combine to form the NG-sound of song, rung, and thing would be to put an E after it, as we do with binge, hinge, and flange, so the word that means having a dull or dirty appearance would be spelled "dingey", that is actually an alternate spelling for "dinghy"!
No, we need to replace the G in today's word with J, which is absolutely unambiguous. We could then leave "dingy" for screwy and "dinghy" for the small boat: "dinjy".
My thanks to "Music..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, November 12, 2009: "coller" for "choler"
CH is a letter combination that has its own distinct sound, "the CH-sound", as in church. All CH's that do not take that sound should be changed. In today's word, where the CH represents a K-sound, we have an easy fix, because if we merely drop the H, we are left with a C before an O, which automatically takes the "hard"-C sound, which is the K-sound.
But "coler" would be seen as having a long-O, whereas "choler" has a short-O (as most educated speakers say it, like "collar", from which we will want to distinguish it by spelling if we can do so without losing phoneticity). Again, we are fortunate in having a quick fix that not only indicates to most readers that the O is short but also allows people who insist on a long-O to justify saying one. If we double the L, "coller" will be understood by most readers as having a short-O, but people who want to say a long-O can justify that by comparison of "coller" to roller, stroller, and comptroller: "coller".
Wensday, November 11, 2009: "bussle" for "bustle"
There is no way to justify a silent-T, and if it stays around long enuf, some people are going to insist on pronouncing it, as they do the once uniformly silent T in often: "bussle".
Tuesday, November 10, 2009: "aplom" for "aplomb"
There is no way to justify a silent-B: "aplom".
Note: There is a variant pronunciation with a short-U rather than short-O in the second syllable. If people can look at "aplomb" (with an O and a B) and see a U-sound, they can equally look at "aplom" (with an O but no B) and see a U-sound.
Munday, November 9, 2009: "wor" for "wore"
The verb for which "wore" is past tense is "wear", not "weare". So why is there an -E in the past tense? The past participle is spelled "worn", not "woren" or "worne". So let's just drop the -E, OK?: "wor".
* "Wear" was offered here as "wair" on August 20, 2006.
Sunday, November 8, 2009: "viddeo" for "video"
The pattern vowel-consonant-E often signals a long vowel before the consonant: timeline, writedown, shamefaced. A new reader could be excused for seeing "video" as two syllables, víed.oe. Actually, it is three syllables, víd.ee.yòe. Let's just make the sound of this word absolutely clear, by conforming its spelling to the standard convention of a doubled consonant to mark a prior vowel short: "viddeo".
Saturday, November 7, 2009: "twol" for "toile"
OI is ordinarily pronounced as a quick combination of the AU-sound followed by a Y-glide (which is, in turn, a briefly articulated long-E sound): hoist, boisterous, and, most relevant to today's word, toilet, which contains the entire word "toile" but assigns very different sounds to that letter sequence. In "toile" (without a final-T), the sound is twol in Fanetik, or "twahl" in folk-phonetics. "Twahl" is perfectly reasonable, but looks a little odd, because AH mid-word and before a consonant, is unusual. I think this looks more like a regular word: "twol".
Friday, November 6, 2009: "sosheemy" for "sashimi"
It's Food Friday again. Today, let's fix a word that entered English in 1876 but is regarded as a recent borrowing (for raw fish in Japanese cuisine) because the food it stands for has become popular in English-speaking countries only in recent decades. Because the word was given an ambiguous spelling, it has developed four different pronunciations. First is the puristic, Japanese-style sósh.i.mee, which few speakers of English actually say. Second is sosh.ée.mee, with a full short-O (or "broad"-A) sound in the first syllable. Third is sa.shée.mee, with a schwa in the first syllable. And fourth is the more thoroughly anglicized saa.shée.mee, in Britain, with a standard short-A (as in sash, mash, and slapdash) in the first syllable. (Remember, these are the same people who say páas.ta for "pasta", even tho many say "past" with a broad-A. Language is not rational. It just is.)
By far the most common pronunciations for "sashimi" (in English) are the second and third, both of which could be shown by the same spelling, "sosheemy". Some readers will see a full short-O; others will schwa it. "Sosheemy" could also accommodate some of the people who put stress on the first syllable, tho they would more likely prefer a spelling like "soshimmy" (tho that could be read as tho a hyphenated phrase "so-shimmy"). "Soshimmy" (or "sahshimmy", which "looks funny") would, however, be more prescriptive than "sosheemy" (tho it would produce a pronunciation close to the original Japanese), and would require most people to change the way they actually say this word. This spelling would not: "sosheemy".
Thursday, November 5, 2009: "raseem" and "rassemose" for "raceme" and "racemose"
A "raceme" is an arrangement of a group of flowers on single little stems off a main stem, as in lily of the valley. "Racemose" is the adjective. Both need reform.
The typical reader is likely to see "raceme" as being pronounced ráe.seem, since it starts with "race", a very common word learned early. In actuality, the stress falls on the second syllable, and the word is pronounced either rae.séem or ra.séem.
The adjective is worse. It looks as tho it should be pronounced ráes.moes (2 syllables), when it is actually to be pronounced ráas.a.mòes (3 syllables).
The problem is the C, which points the reader in the direction of "race" and does not allow most people to think of the A before it, in the adjective, as anything but long. If we replace only the C, with S, we get "raseme" in the noun and "rasemose" in the adjective, which is still very unclear.
If we also replace the -EME in the noun with -EEM, we get "raseem", which pushes the stress to the second syllable, where it properly lies.
For the adjective, we need to double the S to show that the A is short, and then the rest falls into place: "rassemose". There remains a little ambiguity, as to whether the -OSE is pronounced with an S-sound as in dose, verbose, and diagnose, or a Z-sound as in nose, propose, and enclose. There is only so much clarity you can achieve with traditional spelling conventions. We can't prevent people from supplying a Z-sound even tho we write an S. We've done what we can: "raseem" and "rassemose".
Wensday, November 4, 2009: "kwux" for "qux" and "quux"
"Qux" and "quux" are "metasyntactic variables" in computer jargon.* Plainly, these are new coinages, since computers haven't been around for centuries.* People actually created these idiotic coinages and preposterous spellings deliberately, knowing that people in general would have no idea how to pronounce them. That kind of aggression against language and linguistic aggression against society has got to stop.
The sounds are simple in both words: kwuks (plural, kwúks.as, tho the fool who invented the word from some obscure Latin source originally wanted "quces" or "quuces" and how exactly would they be pronounced? One might think kwúe.siz, or kwúe.seez, but why should the plural be so very different from the singular? This is a case of pretentious (and probably emotionally insecure) people creating an "in" crowd who alone are to know how to use a word. If we had an English equivalent of the Académie Française, such coinages would simply be banned from general use. If people want to use their own "in" jargon or pseudo-language among a friendship group, not a professional group, that's their business, but publications and dictionaries would be forbidden to include them. Rather than ban such words, we should instead insist that coinages follow simple rules, prime among which is that they be easily read.
"Kwucks" would be the clearest spelling for the sound, but it looks plural (like ducks), whereas it is actually singular. If we write "kwucks" for the singular, we'd have to write "kwuckses" for the plural. We could do that, but "kwucks" plainly invites confusion. "Kwux", however, looks singular, parallel to crux, and in regular English fashion, would take as the plural "kwuxes", like "tuxes": "kwux".
My thanks to "space..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
* That seems to mean that they take the place of things like a, b, c or x, y, z in a formula. I'm not clear whether "qux" is a simplification of "quux", or if both can be used in the same series, which wouldn't make any sense but the spellings don't make any sense, so maybe the usage doesn't make any sense either.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009: "feebee" for "phoebe"
Continuing with our trek thru Greco-Roman mythology, let's fix a word for a type of bird, a North American flycatcher, whose name is imitative of its call. The spelling given was intended not to be phonetic as such but to match a familiar, but wildly unphonetic, female given name. "Phoebe", pronounced fée.bee, is a name of Greek origin for a Titaness, who was the sister of Oceanus, from whose name derive the words discussed yesterday.
"Phoebe" is a totally, indefensibly, preposterous way to spell the sounds fée.bee. PH for F is absurd. OE for long-E is absurd. And a single-E at the end of a word of more than one syllable that is to be pronounced as long-E is very hard to justify. Put them all together, and you've got the perfect storm of spelling idiocy.
Yet, when whoever named a little bird wanted to spell its imitative name so that other people might know how to say it, they used that preposterous spelling rather than, say, "feebee", "feeby", or "feebie". Why? Perhaps they thought "feeby" could be pronounced with a long-I at the end, as in dry or qualify; and "feebie" could also be pronounced with a long-I, as in tie and magpie. OK. But why not "feebee"? Surely that is unambiguous: "feebee".
Munday, November 2, 2009: "oashan", "oashanoggrafy", and "oashanograffic/al/ly" for "ocean", "oceanography", and "oceanographic/al/ly"
Yesterday I mentioned the Roman god of the sea (Neptune), so let's fix the spelling of the word for the world's largest seas, and the mapping thereof.
"Ocean" is a preposterous spelling that makes no sense whatsoever. The new reader would likely sound it out as óe.seen, oe.séen, óe.see.yan, oe.sée.yan, or even ós.een, ós.ee.yan, or os.ée.yan.
The -CE- is supposed to be read as an SH-sound, but how is anyone to know that? There are very few words in English in which -CE- is pronounced SH, mainly the
-CEOUS group, the OCEAN- group, and a few outliers like caduceus (as some people say it). We don't need several different ways to write the SH-sound, so should at the very least trim away rare forms like -CE-.
"Oshan" would probably, however, be seen by many readers as having a short-O because SH is a consonant cluster, and a vowel before two or more consonants is usually (tho, alas, not always) short. To show that the O is actually short, we need to add another vowel to the O. OE would work at the end of a word (toe, aloe, doe) but not at the beginning, because some readers, especially in Britain, would see it as representing a long-E, short-E, or short-I sound (as in oedipal and the British spellings oestrus and oedema). Conversely, OA would not work at the end of a word, because it might be read as two syllables (boa, jerboa, protozoa), but should work at the beginning (oak, oat, oath). So "oashan" would be clear.
-OGRAPHY and -OGRAPHIC are pronounced slightly differently, but both need the ridiculous PH for an F-sound to be changed, so the smallest change they should be subjected to is substitution of F (-OGRAFY) or two F's after the short-A (
-OGRAFFIC). By the same token, the short-O in the -OGRAFY ending could more clearly be shown by doublng the G (-OGGRAFY). These small, sensible phonetic indicators will not lead anyone to doubt that -OGGRAFY and -OGRAFFIC are related.
So today's suggested reforms are: "oashan", "oashanoggrafy", and "oashanograffic/al/ly".
Sunday, November 1, 2009: "neptuneum" for "neptunium"
The name of the Roman god of the sea from which this name of a chemical element derives is Neptune; and we have words that end in -EUM (museum, ileum, petroleum). So why change the -E in Neptune to -I- for "neptunium"? Let's change the I back to an E: "neptuneum".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, October 31, 2009: "masc" for "masque"
Halloween seems an appropriate time to reform this word for a masquerade ball (or a more elaborate aristocratic entertainment of old).
-QUE is an inefficient way to write a K-sound. But we would like, ideally, to distinguish this word from the related word mask. We can do so by using a C for the K-sound, on the model of disc and mollusc: "masc".
My thanks to "Dogs..." for this suggestion.
Friday, October 30, 2009: "leav/s" for "leave/s"
We have today a linguistic oddity, two words of very different meaning that are conflated in the plural of the noun (singular of which is "leaf") and the third-person singular of the verb ("leave"). All have been closely related for many centuries, and the identical forms (both spelled "leaves") are a tad inefficient in having an E that adds nothing to the phonetics. So let's just drop the E from all forms: "leav" and "leavs".
Thursday, October 29, 2009: "killobyte" for "kilobyte"
"Kilo-" used as a combining form is pronounced differently from the same letter sequence used as a noun, for "kilogram". The noun is pronounced kée.loe, the combining form, kíl.a- (with a schwa in the second syllable). Altho overly permissive dictionaries include the pronunciation kíl.oe for the noun, I do not recall ever in my nearly 65 years on Earth, having heard anyone say kíl.oe for the noun.
"Killo-" is a better spelling for the combining form than would be "killa-", because it retains a mental link to "kilo" and the metric system's prefixes, rather than connecting instead to the verb "kill" and derivatives like "killer".
How about the end of the word? Do we need an -E? Or would "killobyt" do? Y can be said as here: long-I (dry, hybrid, qualify). It can also, however, be said as a short-I (abyss, mystery, hysterical) or long-E (mystery, quality, adverbially).
Do we even need a Y, or would -BITE do? The spelling with Y was devised to make the computer sense distinct from other uses of "bite", and that seems wise. So let's retain the Y.
In that there is a very similar word, "kilobit", from which today's word needs to be distinguished, it seems inadvisable to leave any doubt as to how the Y is said. It is a long-I sound, and the final-E makes that clear.
Putting this all together, we get: "killobyte".
My thanks to "space..." for suggesting today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Wensday, October 28, 2009: "jottee" for "jati"
This word for "caste"* takes "Continental" values for the vowels, but English does not. The A is pronounced "broad", the same sound as English short-O (as in on, dot, and jot). The I is pronounced as a long-E, whereas in final position, -I could in English be pronounced long-I (cacti, strati, and corpus delicti). A long-E at the end of a word of more than one syllable in English is most commonly shown by -Y, sometimes by -EY (tho that is inconsistently pronounced), sometimes by -EE, and even, in over 100 words, just -E (epitome, abalone, calliope). "Jotty" might seem the simplest way to write the sounds of today's word, but it is already taken for an uncommon word, the adjectival form of the verb jot. The next best spelling is: "jottee".
My thanks to "space..." for suggesting today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
* Also, in Hindu philosophy, "jati (genus) describes any group of things that have generic characteristics in common" (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
Tuesday, October 27, 2009: "itterate" and "reeitterate" for "iterate" and "reiterate"
Both of today's words mean "to repeat"; "reiterate" means to "repeat, often excessively". Both are also ambiguous as to the sound of the I because there is only a single-T after it, followed by an E, and the pattern vowel/single-consonant/E often cues the reader to pronounce the first vowel long: nice, fine, quite. That is not the sound here. In today's words, the I is short. The way to cue the reader to its being short is to double the T: "itterate", "reitterate".
In "reiterate", the EI is ambiguous, and is usually pronounced either long-E or long-I. Here, however, it represents two adjoining vowels, long-E followed by short-I. To show the long-E, we need to double the E.
Putting these two things together, we get: "itterate" and "reeitterate".
Munday, October 26, 2009: "hiway" for "highway"
I was surprised to find that "hiway" is not recognized as an alternative spelling for "highway", in that most people in English-speaking countries have seen it countless times in informal use. But it's not recognized. It should be not just recognized but the standard spelling. After all, if you separate the two elements of this compound word, the first part doesn't make very good sense. We usually think of "high" as in up, more elevated. But a "highway" can be in a valley or along a shallow beach at sea level. So there is no good reason to keep the silent-GH just to show a link to the word "high". (Of course, that word should not have a silent-GH either. Indeed, no word should have a silent-GH! ) So let's save ourselves a couple of letters, and save kids and other new readers the trouble of having to remember two silent letters they have no reason to think are present: "hiway".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, October 25, 2009: "gi" for "guy"
The current spelling looks as tho it should be said like the current word gooey and the acronym GUI (for "graphical user interface"): gúe.wee, with a long-U followed by a long-E. In actuality, the U and Y are said together as a long-I sound. There are only two common words in all of English in which -UY is said as long-I: guy and buy. There should be none.
The ways English ordinarily shows a long-I sound at the end of a word are with just-I (hi, pi, alumni); IE (pie, tie, underlie); Y (dry, qualify, the verb multiply); and, in a few words, YE (bye, lye, rye). The first three of these spellings are inconsistent as to sound, and can be pronounced long-E (or a kind of short-I in "clipped" British dialects): bikini, cookie, quantity. -YE is consistent, but is found in so few words that the reader might not know that.
So how should we write the final long-I in "guy"? "Gie" will appeal to some people, but that letter sequence occurs in other words, like dogie, hoagie, and boogie-woogie, where it takes a long-E sound, so that seems unwise. Complicating a choice is the fact that sometimes G takes a J-sound, so trying to get people to see it as having its own, unique G-sound is problematic. That may explain why there is a U in this word to begin with, to show that the G is "hard" (compare guide, guest, guild). Another letter used (if rarely) after G to indicate a "hard"-G sound is H (ghetto, gherkin).
I suspect so many readers would be tempted to assign a "soft"-G to "gye", by comparison with gyrate, gym, and gyroscope, that that would not be a good choice. And there are so many words ending in -GY, pronounced with a soft-G and long-E (biology, energy, dingy), that that, too, would be an unwise choice. That pretty much forces us to GI, even tho there are a very few words in which that too is given a "soft"-G (J-sound), such as magi, sarcophagi, and fungi as some people say it. Still, there are so few such words that this does seem the best solution: "gi".
My thanks to "Clap..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Saturday, October 24, 2009: "fotwah" for "fatwa"
We have in this word (for a decree issued by an Islamic scholar) the chance to prevent the development of alternative pronunciations, but only if we act fairly soon. The present spelling looks as tho it should be pronounced fáat.wa, whereas it is actually pronounced fót.woq (where the Q is silent and merely closes the preceding vowel to show that it is short). In traditional conventions, that pronunciation should be written: "fotwah".
Friday, October 23, 2009: "exerpt" for "excerpt"
The C here is entirely superfluous, so let's just drop it, OK?: "exerpt".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, October 22, 2009: "demmonstrate", "demmonstration", and "demmo" for "demonstrate", "demonstration", and "demo"
A single consonant after the E in these words leaves the sound of the E unclear. Compare demon, which starts exactly the same but has a long-E, whereas all of today's words have a short-E. We can clarify today's words very easily, simply by doubling the M: "demmonstrate", "demmonstration", and "demmo".
Wensday, October 21, 2009: "calaza/s" for "chalaza"* and "chalazae" or "chalazas"
We have here one of those crazy words coined (or should we write "choined"?) by scientists without any regard to the way English works (or Spanish, or French...), that uses a CH not for the English CH-sound (as in church) but for a K-sound on the preposterous ground that it derives from Greek so should use CH. Greek doesn't use CH: those are roman letters, not Greek. Writing CH for a K-sound in English just because a word derives from Greek is intellectually indefensible, indeed contemptible in its pretentiousness and foolishness. In its etymology, Dictionary.com writes KH in its transliteration of the Greek word used here, which could conceivably be defended as the way to write the English word if people used a harsh, non-English guttural for the KH. But nobody does! Not scientists, not lay people.
Once we get rid of the H, the CA- shows plainly that an ordinary K-sound occurs. We could actually substitute a K for the CH, but some people would regard that as a step too far.
Once we drop the pretentious New Latin form of the word, we can get rid of the pretentious -AE plural too: "calaza" and "calazas".
* The white strand in an egg that attaches the yolk to the eggshell.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009: "blouzy" for "blowzy", "blowsy", and "blousy"
The three variant spellings of today's words show how bad they all are. In "blowzy" the Z is right, but the -OW- is ambiguous. The first four letters form the word "blow", which is said with a long-O, not the OU-sound, which is the actual sound in "blowzy". In "blowsy", both the OW and the S are misleading. In "blousy" the OU is right but the S is misleading. We should ditch all three extant spellings and write both parts of the word clearly: "blouzy".
Munday, October 19, 2009: "ajjulation" for "adulation"
The great majority of native speakers of English pronounce the -DU- in today's word (and its various related verbal and adjectival forms) with a J-sound. Some Britons, however, say a -DYU- sound sequence. The fact that a minority says things differently should not hold back the majority. If Brits want to say -DYU-, they can keep the present spelling if they wish, but the rest of us can move on to recognize that the sound we use is J, so should be written with a J or, since the vowel before is short, two J's: "ajjulation."
Sunday, October 18, 2009: "yardong" for "yardang"*
Altho AR is commonly (but, of course, not uniformly) pronounced with a "broad"-A (or short-O, the same sound), the first part of today's word is fine as-is. The second part, however, equates in form with the mild interjection "dang" (euphemism for "damn"), which rhymes with rang, sang, and fang. That is not the sound here, which is another broad-A/short-O. An A in the second syllable is thus misleading, because the reader would not expect it to be "broad", given other words of that spelling, like those shown above. The short-O sound there needs to be written with an O: "yardong".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for today's suggestion.
* Geology: a single ridge or area of wind-eroded ridges parallel to the prevailing wind.
Saturday, October 17, 2009: "wurm" for "worm"
OR is most commonly (tho of course not always) pronounced with an AU-sound, as in haul, caustic, and aura. The sound here is most commonly written ER, and that might seem at first the best way to go. But in some dialects, ER is said more like AIR, whereas UR is much less likely to be read wrong, so let's write U: "wurm".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Friday, October 16, 2009: "vizzit" for "visit"
The S in this word represents not an S-sound but a Z-sound. If the sound is Z, let's just write a Z or, since the vowel before it is short, two Z's and not make people guess. The S comes from the word's ancestry, but if you go far enuf back, to Latin videre, you'll see that if etymology is to control, the word should be "vidit". It's not "vidit", tho, so the ancestry of the word is irrelevant to how it should be written now: "vizzit".
The derivative "visitor" could be written "vizzitor" or, perhaps better, "vizziter".
Thursday, October 15, 2009: "oomiak" for "umiak" and "oomiak"*
One of the things we need to do in simplifying English spelling is settle on a single spelling for each word and choose the simpler alternate in every case. Of the alternate spellings of today's word, "umiak" is plainly the worse, since it leaves the sound of the U unclear. Is it long-U? With an initial Y-glide, as in unit? Without a Y-glide, as in Upanishad? Short-U, as in unappreciated? A short-OO, as in umlaut? A long-OO, as in bamboozle?
The existing alternate spelling, "oomiak", is not wholly unambiguous, alas, because IA can be pronounced a number of ways, and even OO has two sounds, long as in food and short as in good. But it is clearer, especially since most people who see OO are inclined to give it its long sound, which is correct here: "oomiak".
* "A large open Eskimo boat made of skins stretched on a wooden frame, usually propelled by paddles." (American Heritage)
Wensday, October 14, 2009: "timpany" for "timpani" and "tympani"
Today's word is a plural with no singular. It refers to a set of two or more kettledrums as used in an orchestra (where "kettledrum" is too mundane, I suppose). The singular of this Italian word would be "timpano", but that is not recognized as an English word. To make things worse, the alternate spelling "tympani" is influenced by "tympanum", the word for the eardrum except that the plural of "tympanum" is "tympana" or "tympanums"! So "tympani" is just plain wrong.
A final-I is often pronounced long-I: cacti, stimuli, hippopotami. That is not the sound here. Here, it's supposed to represent a long-E (or, in "clipped" British speech, a type of short-I). There is no way the reader can know that.
A better spelling tho not wholly unambiguous, because -Y can be pronounced long-I too: qualify, deny, (the verb) multiply would follow the pattern of company: "timpany".
Tuesday, October 13, 2009: "solsa" for "salsa", "salsifee" for "salsify"
The present spellings of today's words are ambiguous and confusing.
"Salsa" has come into English in two senses, dance music and spicy Mexican dipping sauce, and has, because of its un-English spelling, already acquired three pronunciations: the Spanish-style sól.sa (with the A given its "broad" pronunciation, as in father, the same sound as short-O); sául.sa, because of the spelling's resemblance to "salt"; and, in Britain, which often radically anglicizes foreign words, sáal.sa. (Brits also, for instance, say páas.ta, with a short-A, as in at). This is a lot of variation to have arisen in the 47 or so years the word has been present in English, and is a perfect example of why it is critical to try to stabilize and uniformize pronunciation by applying clear spellings early on.
Unfortunately, it's very hard to make vowel sounds clear before L and R. Still, -OL- is more indicative than -AL- here. For one thing, it rules out the clumsy British spelling-pronunciation sáal.sa. It does not, alas, completely rule out sául.sa, because -OL- can be pronounced with an AU-sound: aerosol, alcohol, phenol.
"Salsify" is completely unrelated to "salsa", but you wouldn't know if from the spelling. The current spelling makes it look like a verb that means "to add salsa to", pronounced with a long-I at the end: sául.si.fìe or sól.si.fìe. It is actually a noun, for a plant used in cooking that is also called the "oyster plant" or "oyster vegetable" for its flavor; and is pronounced sáal.si.fèe. Again, because of the difficulty of making plain any vowel before L (or R), we can't completely clarify this word. But we can at least make sure people don't pronounce the end with a long-I, but with a long-E, which will eliminate the thought that it is a verb.
So today's newly separated words are: "solsa" and "salsifee".
Munday, October 12, 2009: "ripreez" and "riprize" for "reprise"
The traditional spelling of today's word/s conceals two very different meanings and pronunciations. It's time to make all clear.
The first word "reprise" is a legal term that means "a deduction or charge made yearly out of a manor or estate", is pronounced with a long-I (ri.príez), and is usually used in the plural. That is not the word most people know, and is not pronounced as most people expect. It needs to be reformed to replace the S with Z, so people will know to pronounce it like "prize".
In both words, the RE- is not said with a long-E, as the reader might expect from words like repeat and relearn. Rather, the sound has been shortened and altered to a short-I, so we should write I, not E.
The second word "reprise" means "repeat", especially in music. That word is pronounced with a long-E: ri.préez. It also has a Z-sound where an S now stands. If it's a Z-sound, we should just write a Z. And if it's an E-sound, we should use E, not I.
The one question remaining is how to write the long-E-plus-Z sound: -EZE, -EEZE, or -EEZ: "ripreze", "ripreeze", or "repreez". "Ripreze" is sensible but looks vaguely un-English perhaps Italian, to be said ree.práe.zae or even ree.práed.zae or ree.práet.sae. So let's not write "ripreze". Well, then, which?: -EEZE or -EEZ?
Altho -EEZE is more conventional (freeze, sneeze, wheeze), it is also inefficient. The -EE- shows plainly that the sound is long-E. A final-E is utterly superfluous. As long as we're changing this word to make it clearer, let's also make it more efficient: "riprize" for the legal term, "ripreez" for the sense of "repeat".
Sunday, October 11, 2009: "quoddrantectomy" for "quadrantectomy"
Today's word* has an A for a short-O sound, which is also conceived of as "broad"-A. A is a highly overloaded vowel letter, being used for the sounds in at, raging, scary, war, father, library, and alert. Let's lessen its burden.
In today's word, the first syllable rhymes with "odd", so let's spell it like that: "quoddrantectomy".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
* A quadrantectomy is a breast-cancer surgical procedure more extensive than lumpectomy but less drastic than radical mastectomy.
Saturday, October 10, 2009: "patteo" for "patio"
There are only two widely used words of this pattern, "patio" and "ratio", pronounced drastically differently: páa.tee.yoe and ráe.shee.yoe. Readers of English are accustomed to seeing -TIO- in the -TION ending, and pronouncing it as tho the TI were SH. That is not the sound in "patio", so we need to change the spelling to show the actual sound: "patteo".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Friday, October 9, 2009: "octojenarean" for "octogenarian"
Today's word has two of the three areas of ambiguity as yesterday's ("nonagenarian" to "nonajenarean"), so I'll just lift those parts from yesterday's discussion. Words like "octogenarian" and "nona~" are bound to be used more commonly in the future, as people in industrialized countries live longer. One forecast says that half of babies born today in advanced countries will live to 100.
The first ambiguity in today's word is the pronunciation of the G. Does it take its own, unique sound, as in get, gear, and gecko? Or J's sound, as in jolt, juice, and justice? It takes J's sound, so we should substitute J.
The second area of ambiguity is the IA, because IA can be read with a long-I (alliance, defiance, reliant). Here, it is supposed to represent a long-E. If we substitute an E for the I, there remains some ambiguity, because a new reader might see -EAN as having only one syllable. But we have words like subterranean, aurorean, and c(a)esarean, in which the right sound sequence occurs, and it just makes better sense to use an E than an I for an E-sound: "octojenarean".
Thursday, October 8, 2009: "nonajenarean" for "nonagenarian"
There are three areas of ambiguity in today's word. First, since there is a single consonant following the O, the reader cannot know whether the O is to be pronounced long or short. This has led to two pronunciations, one short, for seeing NON- as the meaningful unit for determining pronunciation, and one long, seeing NONA- as the meaningful unit. As it happens, NON-, in the sense of a negating prefix, is not the meaningful unit; NONA-, meaning 90, is. So we should definitely not double the N. That will leave people free to use a short-O, but that (mis)pronunciation is well established, so we're stuck with it.
The second ambiguity is the pronunciation of the G. Does it take its own, unique sound, as in get, gear, and gecko? Or J's sound, as in jolt, juice, and justice? It takes J's sound, so we should substitute J.
The third area of ambiguity is the IA, because IA can be read with a long-I (alliance, defiance, reliant). Here, it is supposed to represent a long-E. If we substitute an E for the I, there remains some ambiguity, because a new reader might see -EAN as having only one syllable. But we have words like subterranean, aurorean, and c(a)esarean, in which the right sound sequence occurs, and it makes more sense to use an E than an I for an E-sound: "nonajenarean".
My thanks to "Fisherman..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, October 7, 2009: "massiv" and "masseef" for "massive" and "massif"
Today's words were both originally French, tho "massive" entered English in the 15th Century and "massif" in 1873. In French they are pronounced the same except for the last consonant: mo.séev/mo.séef, both with an English "broad"-A (short-O; same sound) in the first syllable and an English long-E in the second syllable; and both are stressed on that syllable.
In English, we have separated the two forms. The feminine, "massive", has become an adjective; the masculine, "massif", has become a noun (for an isolated section of mountains). The adjective has seen its stress moved to the first syllable and the vowel in its second syllable altered to short-I. The noun retains a long vowel in the second syllable (tho it's a long-E, not the long-I that the reader has a right to expect: dive, drive, derive), and retains as well stress on the second syllable.
The reader, especially in a country like China or India where French is pretty much unheard, cannot be expected to know or care about any of this. S/he just wants to know how to pronounce both words. So we need to write them both in English fashion: "massiv" and "masseef".
Tuesday, October 6, 2009: "lommay" for "lamé" and "lame"
Since most people in English-speaking countries do not know how to type an accent over a vowel, and English doesn't use accents, today's word ends up being the puzzling "lame", which is pronounced laem, means "crippled", and thus makes no sense where what is intended is a fabric with metallic threads. The A is actually given its "broad" pronunciation, a short-O sound, and the E is pronounced as long-A, completely different from what a speaker of English should be able to expect. The actual sound is clearly written in English as "lommay", with the second syllable stressed.
There is no unambiguous way in conventional English to show syllabic stress, and egret and regret are written in absolutely parallel fashion, even tho the first takes stress on the first syllable and the second takes stress on the second syllable. So we can sensibly write the sounds, and leave the stress to intuition or dictionaries. People who know what the word means will know where the stress falls: "lommay".
Munday, October 5, 2009: "jettavator" for "jetavator"
A single consonant leaves ambiguous whether the preceding vowel is long, short, or a schwa. Here, for instance, there are three single consonants with three different vowel sounds before them. We can leave the second-T single, since the A before it is indeed long. We can also leave the V single, since it goes with the following syllable. But the first-T has to be doubled, because it closes the vowel E and the reader has to know that the E is pronounced short (as in getting, better, and jettison): "jettavator".
My thanks to "space..." for this suggestion.
* A jetavator is an aerospace term invented from "jet" and "elevator" that means "an extension of the exhaust nozzle of a rocket, for controlling the direction of the exhaust gases".
Sunday, October 4, 2009: "indijeen" and "indijen" for "indigene" and "indigen"
There are a couple of things wrong with the first of today's words. The first problem is shared with the second word, a G for a J-sound. If the sound is J, let's just write a J. The second problem is that the -ENE is ambiguous, and in fact is pronounced two ways, first, with a long-E sound before the N and second with a schwa in that location. More to the point, "indigene" and aborigine are mentally related concepts, so the reader might think that the final-E is pronounced long-E in "indigene", as it is in aborigine. Since it is not, leaving an -E at the end of "indigene", or "indijene", is a very bad idea. We should instead put the second-E immediately after the first, which will at once indicate clearly that the proper sound in that form of the word is long-E and that there is no vowel sound at all after the N. If people want to use a schwa sound, let them use the spelling "indijen", with a single-E. So today's suggestions are: "indijeen" and "indijen".
Saturday, October 3, 2009: "hommagraf" and "hommagraffic" for "homograph/ic"*
PH is an absurd way to write the simple F-sound, so has got to go. A single-M is ambiguous, and permits the spelling-pronunciation hóe.ma.gràf. The correct pronunciation has a short-O (hóm.a.gràf), and we need to clarify that, because a lot of words with HOMO- at the beginning have a long-O even two long-O sounds, before and after the M. Even if we change the second-O to A, to avoid the affectation of a long-O in unstressed position, the first-O will remain unclear if we don't double the M. By contrast, we do not need a double-F at the end of the noun (if, chef, mischief), because any consonant at the end of a word is enuf to show the vowel before it short. We do, however, need a double-F on the adjective, because -AFIC would be ambiguous, and could have a long-A, whereas the sound in today's words is actually short-A: "hommagraf" and "hommagraffic".
* A homograph is "a word of the same written form as another but of different meaning and usually origin, whether pronounced the same way or not, as bear1 'to carry; support' and bear2 'animal' or lead1 'to conduct' and lead2 'metal' (Dictionary.com Unabridged).
Friday, October 2, 2009: "jiraff" for "giraffe"
GI is ambiguous, and the reader is entitled to see any G, even one before an I or E, as having a G-sound, as in give, gibbon, begin; and gear, beget, and gestalt. If the sound is actually that of J, let's just write J.
The other little problem with today's word is the final-E. We don't need an E here, and it is indeed misleading, because a silent-E can signal a long-vowel earlier in the word, even after two consonants: strange, waste, tulle. So let's just drop it, OK?
We can leave the double-F, tho, to indicate that the word's stress falls on the second syllable: "jiraff".
Thursday, October 1, 2009: "furnus" for "furnace"
Autumn weather having hit much of the United States and Canada hard, many people's thoughts are turning to checking out the "furnace" for the long, cold months ahead. So this is an appropriate time to fix the silly -ACE ending on today's word. Contrast fireplace and the problem becomes clear. -ACE should have a long-A sound, but the sound in "furnace" is a schwa, which before a final S-sound is sometimes spelled -US (alumnus, bonus, prospectus). So that's the way to go: "furnus".
My thanks to "Fireworks..." for this suggestion.
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