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Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
Archive of Discussions
April-June 2010

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Wensday, June 30, 2010: "peddal" for "pedal"

A single following consonant makes unclear the sound of the E. Is it long, as in bedazzle, cedar, and predate? No, it's actually short. And we ordinarily show that by doubling the following consonant. So let's do that: "peddal".

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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010: "marshel" for "martial"

"Marshal" (a military rank or law-enforcement officer like a sheriff), "Marshall" (a family name (Marshall Plan) also used as a male given name and sometimes spelled with only one-L), and "martial" (related to war) are all pronounced the same, with an SH-sound. Why, then, does "martial" have a T?

It derives from "Mars", the Roman god of war, which has an S. In Latin, some inflected forms of words taken from "Mars" have a T, but English isn't Latin, and inflected forms in English generally retain the original form and merely add suffixes to it (suffix, suffixes; add, added; word, word's). So let's revert to an SH here, and distinguish this word from "marshal" by writing -EL (as in angel, novel, and level) instead of -AL: "marshel".

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

Munday, June 28, 2010: "linggwistic/s" for "linguistic/s"

There are three issues here. The first is that NG is very ambiguous (singer, finger, ingredient, ingest:, fíng.ger, in.grée.dee.yant, in.jést), so needs to be clarified. The sound here is NG + ("hard") G, which logically requires a second-G.

The second issue is that U is employed to represent a W-sound. Why? If the sound is W, let's just write W.

The third issue is that UI is especially unclear, since it could represent a long-U: juice, bruise, fruit. That is assuredly not the sound of the UI in the traditional spelling of today's words, which is W + short-I. So the UI has to go, replaced by WI.

Putting this all together, we get: "linggwistic" and "linggwistics".

My thanks to "Robert..." for this double suggestion.

Sunday, June 27, 2010: "inventer" for "inventor"

The -OR in today's word is a mere agent ending for one who invents. That ending is much more commonly spelled -ER (buyer, seller, plumber), so let's use that, in order that when a person hears the word s/he will know to spell it with an -ER, and not be tricked by a needless exception to that general rule. A large part of the reason for spelling simplification is so people will know how to write every word they hear: "inventer".

Saturday, June 26, 2010: "heppa" for "HEPA"

A single-P renders unclear whether the E in today's word is long, as we might expect of a vowel before a single consonant, or short. The sound is actually short, which will be clearer if the following consonant is doubled: "heppa".

Some people may object that in the phrase "HEPA filter", HEPA stands for "high-efficiency particulate air", and we are thus captive to the spelling "HEPA", with its capitals and nonphonetic form. Not true. Abbreviations are not necessarily captive to the word/s they stand in for. For instance, the abbreviation "No." or "no." for "number" is not an abbreviation for the English word "number" at all, but for the Italian word "numero". It isn't said like either "numero" nor the ordinary English word "no" that it looks like, but as the full English word "number". Some countries dispense with some capital letters. For instance, in Britain "Nato" is the standard form for what in the United States is "NATO". So let's not pretend that we are captive to irrational and unphonetic spellings just because they are acronyms.

"HEPA" doesn't need capitals. For one thing, all the words that comprise the acronym are ordinary words, not proper nouns (unlke "Atlantic" in "North Atlantic Treaty Organization"; and the whole of "NATO" is the formal name of an organization, so all its individual words are capitalized). The acronym "laser" — l(ightwave ) a(mplification by) s(timulated) e(mission of) r(adiation) — doesn't capitalize anything, because the terms it abbreviates are all ordinary words, as are those in HEPA. HEPA also should not retain a single-P if the abbreviation is said as a word with a short-E, because the reader needs a second-P to know that the E is short: "heppa".

Friday, June 25, 2010: "gass" for "gas"

A final, single-S is ambiguous, especially given the use of S to form the plural of nouns and third-person singular of verbs. "Gas" is exactly parallel in spelling to has, as, was, and spas, in all of which the S represents a Z-sound  (tho they are not all parallel to each other in overall pronunciation). To show an S-sound in final position, we more commonly write -SS (mass, class, harass). Let's do that here: "gass".

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

Thursday, June 24, 2010: "firey" for "fiery"

Today's word is the adjectival form of the noun "fire". The noun is spelled with -IRE, so why should the adjective be spelled -IER-? It shouldn't. One spelling should be employed in both words.

Should the spelling be -IER in both? No, because there are many words that would have to be changed to be consistent: ire, wire, admire. Even if we could accept "wier", and "admier", "ier" would 'look funny' — and we wouldn't want that. (Never mind that thousands of English words 'look funny', with silent letters galore — knight, for instance — PH for F, and letter sequences like -EAUX.)

Let's leave "fire" as-is, and add -Y for the adjective: "firey".

Wensday, June 23, 2010: "exillarate" and "exillaration" for "exhilarate" and "exhilaration"

We don't need any silent consonant, so the H has got to go. Some people might be tempted to say it if it's there, on the theory that it wouldn't be there if it were silent. But it is silent, so should not be there. That saves us a letter.

The second issue in today's words is that the single-L leaves unclear the sound of the I. Is it long? Is it short? It's short, which is better shown by a double-L following. So let's take the letter we saved before the I and add a letter after the I. Now our words are the same length as they started, but clearer: "exillarate" and "exillaration".

Tuesday, June 22, 2010: "defuze" for "defuse"

-USE is one of those endings that can, absurdly, be pronounced with either an S-sound or a Z-sound. Why? If the sound is Z, let's just write a Z. In the case of today's word, a spelling with Z is shown as an accepted variant. It should be not a variant spelling but the standard spelling, with no variant with an S recognized at all: "defuze".

Munday, June 21, 2010: "keemotherrapy" for "chemotherapy"

CH should be reserved for the CH-sound, as in church. Here, the CH stands for a simple K-sound, not even the harsh KH or CH sound in words like khan or loch. So let's just write K. That is clearer, and saves us a letter. We have other uses for an extra letter.

"Kemotherapy" might be seen as having a short-E sound in the first syllable, and indeed a few people do use that SPELLING­pronunciation. Let's use the letter we saved in eliminating the misleading CH, to double the E, in order to show plainly that the sound is long-E, not short.

That takes care of the first part of the word. Later, however, we have some ambiguity, including the issue of where the stress falls in this five-syllable word. That would be the third syllable. One simple way we often show syllabic stress is by doubling the consonant at the end of the stressed syllable, which in this case is R. Let's do that too:  "keemotherrapy".

Naturally, the shorthand term "chemo" would also change, to "keemo".

Sunday, June 20, 2010: "balonay" for "ballonet"*

-ALL- is ambiguous. It is usually seen as having an AU-sound (as in all, ball, tall) but can also represent a short-A sound (alley, ballet, tally). Alas, there is no completely unambiguous way to show a short-A sound before L, but -AL- is a little clearer: Al, alimony, alabaster.

The second issue in today's word is the French -NET, which has a silent-T and a long-A sound instead of either long- or short-E. Long-A at the end of a word is customarily spelled -AY. So let's do that.

"Ballonet" also takes stress on the last syllable, but showing syllabic stress is not a customary feature of English spelling. Permit, combat, and insert are among many words that can take stress on either syllable, and the spelling does not show which: "balonay".

* A "ballonet" is one of the smaller balloons within the big balloon that a blimp is.

Saturday, June 19, 2010: "ajenda" and "ajendum"* (rare) for "agenda" and "agendum"

There is never any reason to use a G for a J-sound. If the sound is J, let's just write a J: "ajenda" and "ajendum".

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

* "Agenda" is usually treated as singular, for a list of things to do, with the plural being "agendas". Rarely, someone will use "agendum" for a single item on the list.

Friday, June 18, 2010: "yorz" for "yours"

As discussed here on May 22nd in regard to "his" and "hers" (offered as "hiz" and "herz"), absent an apostrophe to show possessive case, there is no justification for using an S for a Z-sound.

Further, there is no OU-sound in "your" — which looks as tho it should be pronounced like our, hour, or flour, in two syllables (~óu.wer), whereas it is only one syllable, with an AU-sound. That sound before R is more commonly spelled OR (tho we do have words like dinosaur, centaur, and Minotaur in which AU is used). So let's drop the U to leave the clearer OR: "yorz".

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

Thursday, June 17, 2010: "woen't" for "won't"

WON should rhyme with on, con, and don, but doesn't. It actually rhymes with bun, stun, and gun — but not in "won't". The vowel sound in "won't" is neither the short-O one would expect nor the short-U of won and wonder. Rather, the sound is long-O, which the reader could not guess. If the sound is long-O, it needs another letter, beyond the O.  E (toe), A (loan), or W (low) might ordinarily show an O to be long, which would yield "woen't", "woan't", or "wown't — but "wow" is a word with an OU-sound, so that won't do. "Woan't" might be read as indicating a second syllable (compare coalesce, boa, and Samoa), so that's out. "Woen't" includes the word woe, so is a good choice: "woen't".

Wensday, June 16, 2010: "ventrillokwee" for "ventriloquy"

Today's word is very odd-looking at the end, but there's an issue in the middle, too. TRI is a familiar letter sequence meaning "three", and in that there is only one L in the traditional spelling, the I could well be long. Since the I is actually short, we should double the L. That would have the added advantage of indicating that the word's stress falls on the second syllable.

The most obvious oddity about the traditional spelling, however, is the QUY, the pronunciation of which is not at all obvious. A reader might think it parallel to guy, or wonder if the QU is said in the usual way, like KW, or as a simple-K, as in quetzal, quiche, and many words ending in -QUE.

The sounds that the QUY letter sequence is supposed to convey can be much more clearly written KWEE.

Putting these two little fixes together, we get: "ventrillokwee".

Tuesday, June 15, 2010: "tinitis" for "tinnitus"

There are a great many -ITIS words for medical conditions, which makes an -ITUS for a medical condition unexpected. The result is that many people spell this with -ITIS and are irritated that they get it wrong, feeling that a trap was set for them. Part of spelling simplification is making it easier to guess how to spell a word that is heard. So we should change the U to I.

A second change is also advisable, removal of the second-N, which is misleading in suggesting that the word's stress falls on the first syllable, even tho the bulk of speakers put it on the second. A double-N is counterintuitive for the preferred pronunciation in North America, again making it hard for people to guess, on hearing, how the word is spelled. The absence of a second-N does not require others to stress the second syllable. They can continue to stress the first if they wish: "tinitis".

Munday, June 14, 2010: "shal" for "shall"

ALL is ambiguous, but is most commonly pronounced as in all, ball, and hall, with an AU-sound. That is not the sound in "shall", a word that is going out of use but is still available to people who want to use it, especially in the legal sense of "must". Rather, that sound is a short-A, as in the nickname Al and words like alabaster and alimony — which sound is shown by one L after the A. We can thus make this word a little clearer and save ourselves a letter: "shal".

Sunday, June 13, 2010: "radeus" for "radius"

Why would we use an I for a long-E sound? It may surprise you to know that -IUS is found in only 6 common words or names, whereas -EUS is found in 13. Let's make it 14 for -EUS and 5 for -IUS. The additional advantage of changing the I to E here is that it will make plain that the A is long: "radeus".

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

Saturday, June 12, 2010: "perl" for "pearl"

EA is ambiguous ("ear", "tear", "bread", and "rhea" are pronounced eer, teer or tair, bred, and rée.ya). To the extent possible, then, we should avoid EA if something else will do. Here, simply dropping the A leaves the ER-sound this word actually has, so we can save a letter and increase clarity: "perl".

"Perl" is also the spelling of the name of a high-level computer programming language. Originally, it was written as block-caps, PERL, supposedly for "Practical Extraction and Report Language". Ordinarily we would avoid creating new homographs, but since Perl is a specialized term within the field of computer programming, and can be distinguished from the ordinary word (for the gem produced by oysters) by the fact that the programming language has at least an initial capital. If that is insufficient, programmers can go back to block-capitalization to distinguish "Perl" from (former) "pearl".

Friday, June 11, 2010: "meskeet" for "mesquite"

This Food Friday, let's fix the name of a type of wood burned in grilling and barbecuing, for the flavor it imparts.

The familiar word QUITE is part of the longer word "mesquite", but is not pronounced the same. In quite and a word parallel to "mesquite", despite, the I is long (as in I, site, and polite). But in "mesquite", the I takes the long-E sound. Why should we spell a long-E with an I? Mid-word, the clearest spelling of long-E is EE, so let's write that.

The QU in "mesquite" represents not the complex KW-sound in quite, but a simple K-sound. If the sound is K, let's just use K: "meskeet".

Thursday, June 10, 2010: "lezbeean" for "lesbian"

The traditional spelling of today's word uses an S to represent a Z-sound, and an I to represent a long-E sound.

If the sound is S, let's just write an S.

If the sound is long-E, mid-word, let's just write the clearest rendering of long-E mid-word, EE.

Putting these two quick fixes together, we get: "lezbeean ".

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

Wensday, June 9, 2010: "injectiv" for "injective"

-IVE is ambiguous. It should, and sometimes does, take a long-I, given its pattern vowel-consonant-E (alive, arrive, revive). But other times it takes an irrational pronunciation with short-I (give, the verb live, defective). To clarify that today's word has a short-I, we need merely drop the final-E, which will also save a letter: "injectiv".

Tuesday, June 8, 2010: "heleum" for "helium"

Why would we spell an E-sound with an I? We write petroleum, linoleum, and museum with an E. Let's write today's word with an E as well: "heleum".

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

Munday, June 7, 2010: "jip" for "gyp" and "gip"

GY is ambiguous, usually being pronounced with a J-sound; but there is one family of words in which it has a G-sound, also called "hard"-G: gynecology, gynecologist, gynecologic, gynecological, etc. J would be clear.

The alternative spelling of today's word, with GI, is also ambiguous, in that GI can be pronounced either with G's own, unique sound (give, gibbon, gizmo) or J's sound. Most readers could be expected to see "gip" as being said as in Ronald Reagan's nickname, "The Gipper", with a (hard) G-sound. Again, if the sound is J, let's just write J.

The second issue applies only to the spelling of today's word with a Y. Y is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced as a long-I (by, hybrid, flyer); sometimes as long-E (mystery, rowdyism, yclept); sometimes as short-I (abyss, mystery, hysteria). If the sound is short-I, as it is here, let's just write an I: "jip".

Sunday, June 6, 2010: "fillit" for the non-food senses of "fillet"

There are several meanings and two pronunciations for the spelling "fillet". Most refer to a strip of something inedible, such as a ribbon, headband, or architectural molding. Most people will, however, see it first as the food term, pronounced fi.láe. When it refers to other things, and is pronounced fí, we should spell it as it sounds: "fillit".

* The food sense of "fillet" was offered here as "filay" on December 8, 2006.

Saturday, June 5, 2010: "exess" and "exessiv" for "excess" and "excessive"

We don't need a C in this word. Requiring both an X and a C is excessive.

Moreover, -IVE is ambiguous: alive, derive, connive; derivative, consumptive, pejorative; naive, recitative (music), endive (as some people say it) are pronounced, in the first group, with long-I; in the second group, short-I; in the third group, long-E. If we drop the final-E, we not only save another letter but also make plain the pronunciation of the I: "exess" and "exessiv".

Friday, June 4, 2010: "drazhay" for "dragée" and "dragee"

This Food Friday, let's de-Frenchify a word that originated in French but has been in English for over 150 years. It has more than one meaning, but perhaps is best known as one of the little, silver, bead-like decorations on cakes that you don't know are edible or not. (They are.) In any case, there are at least four things wrong with the present spelling.

First, the A is ambiguous, which leads to there being two pronunciations abroad in the world, one with a short-A, the other with a "broad"-A (or short-O, the same sound). Since there are two widespread pronunciations, we cannot change this to prescribe one sound or the other, but must leave the ambiguity so people who use either pronunciation can continue to say whatever they like.

Second, the G does not have an English G-sound (as in give, get, and go). Looking farther, it has a GE, but does not take either of the most common sounds of GE, a regular, "hard"-G, with or without one of E's sounds (gecko, renege), or a J-sound, also with or without an E-sound (gesture, revenge). Rather, today's GE takes the least-common sound of GE, that in collage, montage, and genre, which is shown in some dictionaries' pronunciation keys by ZH. Let's use that instead.

Third, "dragée" has a written accent, whereas English does not use accents, and most people in Engish-speaking countries haven't a clue how to type an accented-E, so the accent has to go.

Fourth, there is a written EE that isn't pronounced as long-E, which is very misleading. The sound is actually long-A, which at the end of a word is most clearly written -AY.

(There is a fifth problem, that the word's stress falls on the last syllable, which is unusual for a noun, but hardly unheard of (garage, delay, concern). But since English spelling does not generally indicate syllabic stress, that is not the kind of problem that spelling reform is ordinarily designed to fix.)

Putting together the fixes we can make, we get: "drazhay".

Thursday, June 3, 2010: "carravell" for "caravel" and "caravelle"

CAR spells the very familiar little word for an automobile, and is pronounced with a "broad"-A or short-O (the same sound). That is not the sound in "caravel" or "caravelle", which is a short-A as in at. Altho there is no way to be perfectly clear as to a short-A before R, doubling the R gives people a cue not to use a "broad"-A:  arrow, barrel, carry.

A caravel is a type of fast, European sailing ship of the 15th-17th centuries. "Two of the three ships in which Christopher Columbus made his historic voyage in 1492 were caravels, the Ni[ñ]a and the Pinta"* (Encyclopaedia Britannica on

There is a variant spelling, "carvel", which is pronounced with a schwa in the second syllable, but the spellings "caravel" and "caravelle" both have a full short-E. To show that, we would do well to double the L in the reformed spelling. But we don't need an E after the double-L, because that would suggest that the last syllable takes the word's stress, when it's actually the first syllable that does so: "carravell".

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

* Replicas of these two caravels tour various ocean and inland ports in the United States, from their home port in the British Virgin Islands.

Wensday, June 2, 2010: "bordwauk" for "boardwalk"

We have separately offered both "bord" and "wauk" here,* but this evocative summer term combines the two, so shows how the principles of spelling simplification apply to derivatives and compound words: "bordwauk".

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

* "Bord" (December 6, 2004); "wauk" (October 18, 2004).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010: "admition" for "admission"

How did the word "admit", with a T, get a noun form with two S'es? -TION is the most common form of that suffix, and if the word it is to be added to ends in a T, why on Earth would we not use -TION? Conversely, the word "admonish", takes the form with T, not one with one or two S's. Traditional spelling, he is strange. Let's add the T-form of the noun suffix for a verb ending in T: "admition".

Munday, May 31, 2010: "whurl" for "whirl"

There is no I-sound in this word, not long-I as in fine, piper, or tidy; not short-I as in kin, pick, or fix. The sound is that which is most commonly spelled ER, but sometimes also UR. In today's word, UR is the better choice, because some speakers say it with a sound very like short-OO, which is one use for U (push, pull, put). In fact,'s pronunciation key employs a U ("hwurl, wurl"), so we can employ a U in a clearer general-purpose spelling: "whurl".

Sunday, May 30, 2010: "vizeer" for "vizier"

-IER is ambiguous, and is usually pronounced as two syllables (-ee.yer: fancier, lazier, quirkier). Here, it is one syllable, with a simple long-E, so let's get rid of the misleading I and replace it with a second-E: "vizeer".

There is a secondary pronunciation víz.yer in print in some online dictionaries but they give only vi.zéer as the auditory pronunciation. The etymology shows plainly that víz.yer is an erroneous spelling-pronunciation, since the predecessor words are Turkish vezir and Arabic wazir.

Saturday, May 29, 2010: "thurst/y" for "thirst/y"

IR is ambiguous, often having a long-E or nearly long-E sound as most people say it (irritable, iridescent, irretrievable), but sometimes taking the ordinary ER- or UR-sound (bird, irk compare to herd, perk and curd, murk). In today's words, the sound is the one most commonly spelled ER and less commonly UR. We could write "therst" and "thersty". But, given the model of "Thursday", we can be more confident that the voiceless-TH sound, rather than the voiced sound, will be understood by the reader if we use UR: "thurst" and "thursty".

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

Friday, May 28, 2010: "sausij" for "sausage"

This Food Friday, let's clarify the sound of the word for a popular type of food eaten at meals morning, noon, and nite in many countries. The second syllable of this word is SAGE, which is a word to itself, a type of spice (often used in pork sausage, interestingly) and is pronounced with a long-A. That's not the sound in the longer word, which is a schwa that closely approaches a regular short-I. SAGE also employs the curious spelling GE for a J-sound. Why use a GE to show a J-sound? We never use a J to represent a G-sound. Let's just write: "sausij".

Thursday, May 27, 2010: "realisticly" for "realistically"

-LY is a prefix that makes an adjective into an adverb, but here, the adjective is realistic, not realistical. There is no such word as "realistical", so the adverb for something realistic should be: "realisticly".

Wensday, May 26, 2010: "pauz" for "pause"

Today we deal with a Z-sound expressed by an S plus E. If the sound is Z, we should simply use Z, and not make the reader guess what sound the S takes, because it perfectly well could be pronounced S (vise, lease, the adjective close). In today's word, if we simply replace the S with Z, we get "pauze", but the E is superfluous. If the original word had been spelled "paus", it would be pronounced right, but the reader would wonder if it is singular or plural. Once we change the S to Z, no such confusion would arise, since in English the plural is formed in S, not Z. Therefore we don't need an E after the Z, but can save a letter with no loss in clarity: "pauz".

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010: "meen" for "mien"

The current spelling of today's word is very misleading. It looks to me and many other people as tho it should be pronounced in two syllables, mé It's actually only one, identical in pronunciation to mean. Since that spelling is already taken, however — and is actually ambiguous, because it, too, could be pronounced in two syllables — let's use the simplest spelling for a long-E mid-word, EE: "meen".

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

Munday, May 24, 2010: "litteracher" for "literature"

There are a couple of things wrong with the traditional spelling of today's word. For one, it starts with LITE, which is an informal spelling for "light", and which informal spelling conforms to a common pattern in which vowel-consonant-E has a long vowel sound before the consonant. For another, the TURE is pronounced with a CH-sound plus an ER-sound, but there is no CH, and T should not be pronounced CH. The vowel-consonant-E sequence URE looks as tho it should be pronounced with a long-U, but it is not.

To show that the I is short, we need to double the T, as in the word "litter". To show the CH-sound, we should simply write CH. And to show that the last syllable has an ER-sound, we should just write ER: "litteracher".

Sunday, May 23, 2010: "instructiv" for "instructive"

-IVE suggests a long-I (jive, strive, alive), whereas here, and in many other words, it contains a short-I. To show the proper sound, we need merely drop the final-E: "instructiv".

Saturday, May 22, 2010: "hiz" and "herz" for "his" and "hers"

These possessive forms of the third person masculine and feminine pronouns have an S for a Z-sound. It's bad enuf when apostrophe-S marks a singular possessive regardless of the sound of the S: man's (Z-sound), cat's (S-sound). But when there is no apostrophe, to still have to show an S regardless of the sound is intellectually indefensible. We couldn't make a possessive of these words by adding apostrophe-S (hi's, her's). His may mean he's, but since we don't say heez and don't use an apostrophe, the spelling should accord with the sound. Nor could we write her's, because the apostophe-S goes on the subjective (nominative) case, so it would have to be she's, like he's, which we also don't say except as a contraction for "he is" or "she is". Since we don't say she's for the possessive and don't use an apostrophe, we aren't bound to respect the S of the usual possessive (with apostrophe), but can spell the word "hers" as it sounds, with a Z also, just like its male counterpart: "hiz", "herz".

My thanks to "Clap..." for "hiz".

Friday, May 21, 2010: "grapefrute" for "grapefruit"

This Food Friday, let's fix two words, and any derivatives, that use an unusual and ambiguous spelling for the simple long-U sound. "Fruit" has a UI, which is often pronounced as two syllables, long-U plus short-I (conduit, intuitive), but sometimes as a simple short-I (circuit, biscuit) or, as in "fruit", as a simple long-U (suit, recruit). When "fruit" is preceded by "grape", the clash in treatments of the two long vowels, A (-APE-) and U (UI), becomes jarring. Let's just take the hugely frequent pattern vowel-consonant-E from "grape" and apply it to "fruit", within this compound word and standalone: "grapefrute".

* Derivatives would retain this general form, as appropriately altered, e.g., "fruty", not "frutey", because EY is ambiguous (they, hey, convey).

Thursday, May 20, 2010: "friccativ" for "fricative"

This term from phonetics* has two I's, both short, that could easily be seen as long. The first is followed by a single consonant. The second is followed by a single consonant and then E, so is very likely to be seen as long. To show the correct, short pronunciation of both I's, we need to double the C and drop the E: "friccativ".

* Encyclopaedia Britannica:  "a consonant sound, such as English f or v [both of which are in "fricative"], produced by bringing the mouth into position to block the passage of the airstream, but not making complete closure, so that air moving through the mouth generates audible friction."

Wensday, May 19, 2010: "exeed" for "exceed"

The C in the traditional spelling adds nothing but length, so let's just drop it, OK?: "exeed".

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

Tuesday, May 18, 2010: "divvot" for "divot"

A single-V leaves unclear the sound of the I in today's word: ivory, in vivo, survivor, carnivorous (íèe, in vée.vo, ser.víe.ver, kor.nív.a.ras). Here, the I is short, which is often shown by doubling the following consonant, which in this word is V. Tho VV is uncommon, it is certainly not "un-English" (revved, savvy, divvy up): "divvot".

Munday, May 17, 2010: "casheer" for "cashier"

IER is ambiguous. It often represents two syllables, be it long-I plus the ER-sound (hierarchy, amplifier) or long-E plus ER (easier, riskier). In some words, it represents just one syllable, usually long-E plus R (bombardier, premier), but sometimes something else (atelier, collier: ááe, kól.yer). Here, the IER represents just one syllable, long-E plus R. The simplest way to show that is with EER: "casheer".

Sunday, May 16, 2010: "baggij" for "baggage"

The traditional spelling of today's word has three G's, representing two different sounds. The GG represents G's own sound ("hard"-G); the G before the final-E, however, represents J's sound. GE is an inefficient and ambiguous way to show a J-sound (consider renege, collage, and montage, which do not have a J-sound). If the sound is J, let's just write J.

The other problem with "baggage" is that the sound of the second-A is unclear, since the final-E could be seen as the silent-E that marks the prior-A long: age, rage, sage. If we get rid of that final-E in changing the GE to J, we will be left with "baggaj", which some readers will see as having a short-A rather than schwa sound. Since the actual sound is between a schwa and a full short-I, an I would be clearer: "baggij".

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

Saturday, May 15, 2010: "ajjitate" for "agitate"

GI is ambiguous, and more commonly represents a regular ("hard") G-sound (girl, gift,  gibbon) than a J-sound (giant, ginger, gibberish). In "agitate", we are just supposed to know that the G represents a J-sound. Further, we are also just supposed to know that the initial-A takes a full short-A sound, not a schwa sound (again, aghast, ago). A short vowel is usually shown by a doubled consonant immediately after it, or some other consonant cluster. So one G wouldn't do. Two G's, however, could not be read as a J-sound.

If the sound is J, let's just write J, okay? And if the vowel before it is short, let's double the J as we would double any other consonant to show a short vowel preceding: "ajjitate".

Friday, May 14, 2010: "woomin" and "wimmin" for "woman" and "women"

The traditional spellings of these two words, singular and plural, are irrational and impossible to guess. "Woman" has a short-OO in the first syllable, a most unusual sound for a single-O (if not absolutely unique), so let's double the O, as in "wood". The "man" part is not said like the word "man", with a short-A, so needn't be spelled that way. Nor is the "men" part said like the word "men". And some feminists dislike the idea that women have to be compared linguistically to men. So changing the spellings to reflect the pronunciations and coincidentally distinguish women from men seems politic: "woomin" and "wimmin".

My thanks to "Music..." for suggesting reform of this word. and to "Cal..." for reform of derivatives, tho I chose a slitely different solution. In addition, "space..." points out that "wimmin" is a better spelling than the feminist "womyn". That is so twice. First, the vowel sound in the first syllable is not O; not long-O as in "woe", not short-O as in "wok". It's a short-I, so we should spell it with an I. Secondly, Y is a bad way to represent the short-I sound in the second syllable. If the sound is short-I, then I, not Y, is the way to spell it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010: "voyij" for "voyage"

AGE is ambiguous, often being pronounced with a long-A (page, stage, cage); often with a schwa approaching short-I (foliage, postage, and today's word); sometimes something else. In the case of today's word, there is an expression, "bon voyage", in which the AGE is pronounced with a broad-A/short-O (same vowel sound) and ZH consonantal sound. In the ordinary word "voyage", the sound of the AGE is much like IJ (a short-I followed by a J-sound), so let's spell it that way: "voyij".

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

Wensday, May 12, 2010: "tomorro" for "tomorrow"

I got a query earlier this week from someone in Britain who wanted to know how Americans pronounce the word "row" in the sense of argument, rou or roe. (Rou, in all countries.) It was not a silly question, because "row" can be pronounced either way, and it ends today's word. To show that this word is pronounced with a long-O rather than an OU-sound, we need merely drop the W: "tomorro".

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

Tuesday, May 11, 2010: "shreek" for "shriek"

IE is a preposterous spelling for the long-E sound. Within a word, EE is the clearest spelling of that sound. So let's write EE here: "shreek".

Munday, May 10, 2010: "reccompense" for "recompense"

RE- is ambiguous, most commonly being pronounced with a long-E. Where the E is not to be pronounced long, we need to mark it short, which is customarily done by doubling the consonant that follows. That's easy: "reccompense".

Sunday, May 9, 2010: "piaty" for "piety"

"Piety" starts with the familiar word "pie", one syllable, but in the longer word, the IE has the sound of IA in defiant, reliance, and dial (dee.fíe.yant, ree.líe.yans, díe.yal) — two syllables, not one. Since that is the sound, let's make it the spelling too: "piaty".

Saturday, May 8, 2010: "mezmerize" for "mesmerize"

There are two Z-sounds in today's word, one spelled with a Z but the other with an S. That makes no sense. In Britain, both Z-sounds are spelled S,* which makes even less sense. What plainly makes the best sense is to spell both Z-sounds with Z: "mezmerize".

* The Cambridge Dictionaries Online now have double-recorded pronunciations, British ("UK") first and U.S. (actually, "US", no dots) second. See "mesmerize" (which is listed with -IZE first, then -ISE). This is a most welcome development, for people who don't know how the two major language communities within English differ or agree. The (North) American speech community is, of course, 5.5× the size of the British, so people outside the English-speaking world who want to know which pronunciation will make them most easily understood around the world should always opt for the American pronunciation.

Friday, May 7, 2010: "lonjevvity" for "longevity"

The base word within today's longer word is long. When things are added to it, the NG is treated differently in different words. In longer, the comparative form of the adjective, as used above, a (hard-)G-sound is added before the ER. In the rare instance of an agent noun formed from the verb long ('he was a habitual longer after times past'), the ER-sound is just added to the base word without any change to the sound of the base word. In "longevity", the NG-sound changes to two separate sounds, an N and a J. We need to show that, by changing the NG to NJ.

In the ending, a single-V leaves unclear whether the preceding E is, um, long or short. It is short, and the way we usually show that is by doubling the following consonant, which in this instance is V. Let's do that too, which will also help pin down for the reader where in this four-syllable word the stress falls (before the double-V): "lonjevvity".

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

Thursday, May 6, 2010: "innocculate" for "inoculate"

Today's word has unexpected single consonants, both N and C, which make the sound of the vowels before them ambiguous. They could be long; they could be short. They're both short, and the way we often show that is by doubling the following consonant. Let's do that: "innocculate".

Wensday, May 5, 2010: "huje" for "huge"

GE is ambiguous, even in final position: renege, college, collage. The sound here is J, so let's just write J: "huje".

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

Tuesday, May 4, 2010: "grotesk/ery" for "grotesque", "grotesquery", and "grotesquerie"

QU is not just an inefficient spelling here, where it represents a simple K-sound, but it is also ambiguous, more commonly pronounced as tho KW than just K.

In any case, in today's little family of words, the sound of the QUE in the base word is just that of K. In the other two, there is an E-sound too, but the sound of the QU is still only K: "grotesk" and "groteskery".

Munday, May 3, 2010: "floo" for "flew"

Today's word is one of those that is drastically different in one verb form from another. "Flew" is the past tense of "fly".

In addition to being very different from the base word, "flew" is also unphonetic. The E is followed by a consonant, so should be pronounced short, followed by that consonant's sound. E-W said in sequence, sounds much like long-O (as in the archaic spelling "shew" for "show"). That is not the sound here.

The actual sound could be spelled phonetically as "flu" or "flue", but those spellings are both taken. "Floo", however, is another phonetic spelling for that sound, and it is available, so let's use it: "floo".

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

Sunday, May 2, 2010: "envizzij"* for "envisage"

Altho today's word contains the familiar words "visa" and "sage", they are not pronounced like them. Rather, the I represents a short-I, and the A represents a schwa that closely approaches a short-I. The S represents a Z-sound. The GE represents a J-sound. In short, this traditional spelling is about as screwy as you can get.

Fortunately, each of the several problems has a quick fix. Change the S to Z, because that's the sound it takes; then double the Z to show the preceding I to be short. Replace the A with I. Change the GE to J. And then we have a sensible spelling: "envizzij".

* "Envisage" means "to visualize". It comes from "visage", a fancy word for "face", "facial expession", or "aspect", and thus means "to put a face to" (an idea). "Visage" was offered here May 3, 2009 as "vizzij".

Saturday, May 1, 2010: "damm" for "damn"

There are two words of the same sound, one spelled "dam" and the other spelled "damn". New readers might think the N is pronounced, especially in that it is pronounced in words like "damnation" and "damnable". But those derivatives do not impose an N-sound upon the base word, any more than "condemnation" and "condemnable", both of which have an N-sound, force the base word "condemn" to be said with an N-sound.

We could just spell the two words the same, as "dam", but that might be confusing. If we can distinguish between them without causing confusion as to pronunciation, we should. "Damm" for today's word would put a second-M in place of the N. Altho MM doesn't end any regular English word, it is found in family names like Hamm and Drumm, so is decidedly not "un-English". MM and M would be said the same, whereas M and MN would not (as pointed out regarding derivatives like "damnable" and "condemnable"). Remembering which spelling means to condemn would be simplified by the existence of the expression "double damn", which would prompt thoughts of "double-M": "damm".

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

Friday, April 30, 2010: "carravan" for "caravan"

AR has a number of different pronunciations: "broad"-A or short-O (the same sound) as in car, barn, and tarmack; short-A as in parallel, parable, and today's word; the AU-sound in war, ward, warmth); the AI-sound (beware, scary, agrarian); the ER sound (afterward, library, bulwark); schwa plus an R-sound (around, aquamarine, arachnid); perhaps even other pronunciations.

It's hard to show unambiguously a short-A before R, but we do sometimes double the R, just as we double any other consonant after a short vowel (arrow, barrel, arrogant), and that is more like clear . It doesn't always work (starry, warrior, arrest), but it works much better than does AR: "carravan".

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

Thursday, April 29, 2010: "bevvel" for "bevel"

EVE is an ambiguous sequence, as can be seen in the very word eve, as well as even and evening, where the first-E is long, and in words like ever, seven, and several, where the first-E is short. The way to cue people as to a short-E in such words is to double the following consonant. The mere fact that that consonant is V is irrelevant. V is no different from any other consonant. We double other consonants to indicate a short vowel; we should double V for the same purpose: "bevvel".

Wensday, April 28, 2010: "alay" for "allay"

The letter sequence ALL (as in ball, tall, and stall) is generally pronounced with an AU-sound (as in haul, caustic, and taught). So why is a word that is pronounced a.láe spelled with ALL? Makes no sense: "alay".

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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010: "willo" and "willoey" for "willow" and "willowy"

OW is ambiguous, having two pronunciations, the OU-sound and a plain long-O. Plainly, a long-O sound does not need a W, altho the English long-O is diphthongized, with a W-glide at the end. Still, we don't need to show that in words like no, go, and hello, so we don't need it in "willow". Quite the contrary, the addition of a W confuses new readers, who are led to think it might be pronounced with an OU-sound (as in how, now, brown, and, yes, cow). So let's just drop it, OK?

The adjectival form, "willowy", doesn't need a W after the O either. Compare echoey and the nickname Joey: "willo" and "willoey".

My thanks to "space..." for "willoey".

Munday, April 26, 2010: "voalt/ij" for "volt/age"

Ordinarily, a vowel followed by two consonants would be short, but here, the O is long. To show it to be long, we should add either an A (goal, goat, oak) or E (toe, doe, hoe) to the O. An E might be seen as starting a second syllable (poet, onamatopoetic, aloetic), so A is the better choice.

As for the -AGE ending, it is ambiguous, and could be read with a long-A (rage, sage, cage), whereas the sound here is actually a schwa that approaches a full short-I. So I is a better choice than A.

GE is both an inefficient way to show a J-sound and ambiguous, since not every GE, even in final position, is said like J (renege, collage, montage). The sound is J, so we should write a J.

Putting this all together, we get: "voalt"and "voaltij".

Sunday, April 25, 2010: "therd" for "third"

IR is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a long-E (irritate, Iroquois, hirsute (as some people say it), sometimes an actual short-I (iridescent, irascible, irradiate), and sometimes as the sound most commonly written ER. Here, the sound is the one usually written ER. So let's just write ER and eliminate any possibility of confusion: "therd".

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

Saturday, April 24, 2010: "sevven" for "seven"

As should be clear from comparison to "even", "seven" should be pronounced with a long-E in the first syllable, because it is followed by both a single consonant and a silent-E. It is actually said with a short-E, so we need to double the V to show that: "sevven".

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

Friday, April 23, 2010: "ressipy" for "recipe"

This Food Friday, let's fix an oddly spelled word for instructions on how to prepare food. "Recipe" is one of over a hundred common English words that end in an E that is pronounced long-E. Among others are abalone, calliope, psyche, and terpsichore. But there are thousands of words that end with a silent-E, so new learners of English will read "recipe" as being pronounced ree.síep, as rhymes with recite.

Even if we were to replace the final-E with Y, "recipy" would still present problems of interpretation, in that RE- is a very common prefix often pronounced with a long-E (reform, revise, reconsider), and an I followed by a single consonant could be given its long sound: ree.síe.pee.

To show that the E is short, we need to follow it with a double consonant, but that consonant cannot be the present C, because "reccipy" would be read with a KS-sound as in accent, accident, or occidental. We need to replace the C with SS. Then everyone will be able to read the word without ambiguity: "ressipy".

Thursday, April 22, 2010: "patrole" for "patrol"

OL is hard to pin down. In many words, it takes a long-O (cold, control, revolt). Even when the L is doubled, the O remains long in some words (roll, boll, controlled), but is short in others (hollow, follow, collar). At the end of a word, OL can also be pronounced with a short-O or AU-sound (alcohol, aerosol, cholesterol). In yet other words the O is pronounced as a schwa (gambol, idol, and a word very like today's, the British express petrol for "gasoline"). So we should try to clarify that, in today's word, the O is long. We can do that simply by adding a "silent-E": "patrole".

My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion. Naturally, the current, irrational spelling of the past tense and past participle ("patrolled") would drop one of the E's: "patroled".

Wensday, April 21, 2010: "minggle" for "mingle"

As discussed yesterday, NG is ambiguous. When it represents not just an NG-sound (as in sing, sang, and song) but also a ("hard") G-sound, we should show that clearly, by writing a second-G: "minggle".

Tuesday, April 20, 2010: "linggo" for "lingo"

NG has several different pronunciations, and it is not readily apparent to new learners of English, or even some old hands, which applies to which word. Singer, finger, ginger, ingredient, and ingénue each has an NG, and it is pronounced differently in each:, fíng.ger, jín.jer, in.grée.dee.ant, ón.zha.nue (or áan.zha.nue).

In "lingo", the NG actually represents two distinct sounds, the NG-sound itself, one of the three nasals in standard English,* plus a G-sound (or "hard"-G). That should be shown clearly: "linggo".

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

* The English nasal sounds are M, N, and NG. In addition, some loanwords, mainly from French, are regarded by some people as not fully naturalized, so are given the nasal sounds of French. "Ingénue" is one such word, in which some people nasalize the I, albeit as tho an A in French (broad-A or short-O in English) more usually than as the I is actually said in French, as a nasalized English short-A.

Munday, April 19, 2010: "immij" for "image"

-AGE- is ambiguous, often being pronounced with a long-A (rage, page, stage), but sometimes with a schwa or short-I (as here and in disadvantage and percentage), sometimes in two syllables (agent, ageratum, and the aged (the elderly), and sometimes in more exotic ways (such as in sabotage, fuselage, and triage, where it has a broad-A/short-O (same pronunciation) plus ZH-sound).

Here, the sound of the A is short-I. So let's write an I.

The GE is pronounced as a J, which it need not be, even in final position: renege, garage. So let's write a J.

The last issue with today's word is its first syllable. Does it end with the I or the M? If it ends with the I, the sound of the I could be long. If it ends with the M, the I would be short. It happens to end with the M, but the fact that the I is short would be a lot clearer if we would simply double the M.

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

Sunday, April 18, 2010: "hae" for "hey"

Today, let's reform another -EY word (with a different sound from yesterday's word). This one has a long-A sound, and the further complication that the simplest reformed spelling, "hay", is already taken. AI would show a long-A midword (paid, rain, acclaim).  But at the end of a word, AI is usually pronounced long-I (bonsai, samurai, Thai). AE, however, is available, at least for words plainly not of Latin origin (in which it is generally pronounced long-E (larvae, algae, nebulae, but sometimes surprises, as in vertebrae, where more people say a long-A). With "hey", which is from Old English, AE should work, as it does with nae (Scottish), reggae (Jamaican English), and sundae (American English): "hae".

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

Saturday, April 17, 2010: "gurny" for "gurney"

EY is ambiguous, being pronounced long-A (hey, they, convey) or long-E (key, abbey, baloney). There is absolutely no way (whey?) to know which sound -EY takes, so that spelling should be phased out. In "gurney", the sound is long-E, which is better shown by -Y, altho even that is not 100% clear (dry, deny, qualify). Still, it's more like clear, and sometimes that's the best we can do: "gurny".

Friday, April 16, 2010: "frij" for "fridge"

This Food Friday, let's talk about one of the things that keep First World people healthy but cause Third World people to live badly: refrigeration of food, or the lack thereof.

"Fridge" is an altered, short form of "refrigerator". "Frige" was presumably regarded as misleading, for leading readers to think that the I is long, whereas it is actually short.

Why "re-"? That implies that whatever is placed into a fridge was at one time colder than it came to be, and is now being restored to its natural cold condition. That is not what we think of food placed into a "refrigerator".

Therefor, we need not be the slitest respectful of the origins of "fridge", but should spell the sounds of "fridge" as will be read clearly, with the shortest and most efficient spelling possible, "frij". The plural should probably be spelled with two J's, to show clearly that the I is short (compare "busses" as a plural for "bus"):  "frij" and "frijjes".

Thursday, April 15, 2010: "euforbea" for "euphorbia"*

There are two problem areas in this word. First, the idiotic PH for an F-sound has got to go. Second, IA is an odd and ambiguous way to write the combination of a long-E and schwa. Compare dial, diabetes, alliance. If the sound is E, let's write an E: "euforbea".

* Euphorbia is a type of plant that has flowers and medicinal uses.

Wensday, April 14, 2010: "demmagog", "demmagoggery", "demmagojy" and either "demmagojjic" or "demmagoggic" for "demagogue", "demagog", "demagoguery", "demagogy", and "demagogic"

Today's family of words has a number of problems. "Demagogue" has a needless and misleading -UE. That is fixed with the alternative spelling "demagog". But the sound of the E is unclear because a single-M permits a long-E: demon, demand, demarcate. In all of today's words, the E is short, so the M should be doubled.

In "demagoguery", the U introduces ambiguity. Is it pronounced? If so, how? No, it's not pronounced, but is just there to show that the G does not combine with the following-E to form a J-sound. GG is a better solution: mugger, bagger, bigger. It also shows the preceding-O to be short, which is all to the good.

"Demagogy" has one G (before the Y) that is pronounced like J. Let's write J.

"Demagogic" is so ambiguous that different dictionaries offer different preferred pronunciations online. prefers dèm.a.gój.ik; Merriam-Webster prefers dèm.a.góg.ik. Since different people will also prefer different pronunciations, they should have a way of showing which they prefer. They can do that easily by writing either GG for a ("hard") G-sound or JJ for a J-sound. (Either G or J would have to be doubled to show that the O before is short.) A great many words have more than one spelling (as even in this little group: demagog and demagogue), and most of those alternate spellings do not show useful distinctions (siphon/syphon, curb/kerb, minuscule/miniscule). How can sensible people object to different spellings for different pronunciations?

Today's word family thus resolves to: "demmagog", "demmagoggery", "demagojy", and either "demmagojjic" or "demmagoggic".

Tuesday, April 13, 2010: "communicay" for "communiqué" and "communique"

In today's word, -QUE (or, more formally, -QUÉ, which most people in English-speaking countries do not know how to type) takes the unusual sound kae, which in conventional spelling is more commonly spelled either KAY or CAY. In that "communique" is related to "communicate", CAY is the better choice: "communicay".

Munday, April 12, 2010: "blujjon" for "bludgeon"

DGE is a preposterous and absurdly inefficient way to write the J-sound. We can certainly save one letter and be clear as to the sounds, by replacing the GE with J and the D with a second J to show that the U is short. This will also make plain that what might now be read as three syllables (blud-ge-on) is only two: "blujjon".

Sunday, April 11, 2010: "agreev" for "aggrieve"

Everything about today's word is wrong. AGG plainly indicates that the A is short, but it's actually a schwa. IE indicates a long-I (pie, fries, denied), but it's actually a long-E. And -E suggests that the vowel before the V is long, but that is already indicated by the IE alone (albeit the long vowel is not the one you have the right to expect). So let's drop one G, change the IE to EE, and drop the final-E: "agreev".

Saturday, April 10, 2010: "rapp" for "wrap"

Silent-W is preposterous and unguessable on hearing, so requires that we memorize that bizarre spelling. Traditional spelling forces us to memorize THOUSANDS of arbitrary and unreasonable spellings. That is an indefensible imposition upon all users of English, and takes thousands of teaching hours away from substance.

"Rapp" has a second-P that is not necessary in the base word, but that letter sequence already does occur in many forms of "wrap" in traditional spelling, where it is necessary to show that the A is short (wrapped, wrapper, wrapping); so it's a little hard to attack "rapp" as unreasonable.

The spelling with two P's may lose its distinction from the homophonic verb "rap" in some inflected forms, but retains the distinction in its base form and in some verb forms (rapps, did rapp, will rapp, etc.). In that we have many homonyms that are spelled the same in all forms (bow/bow, brogue/brogue, quarry/quarry), the fact that some forms of "rapp" would be spelled the same as those for "rap" is unfortunate but hardly invalidates this proposed reform, given that the senses of the two words are so different that context will pretty much always make plain which is meant:  "rapp".

Friday, April 9, 2010: "vitreol" for "vitriol"

If the sound is long-E, why would we write an I? Let's use E for an E-sound: "vitreol".

Thursday, April 8, 2010: "trakea" and "trakeottomy" for "trachea" and "tracheotomy"

Today's words have a CH but no CH-sound (as in church). Rather, each CH represents a simple K-sound. So let's write K.

In the longer word, the -OTOMY is ambiguous both as to the sound of the O's and as to syllabic stress. The first O is short, which can be easily indicated by doubling the T. That would also suggest that the second-O is said as a schwa.

So today's proposed reforms are: "trakea" and "trakeottomy".

Wensday, April 7, 2010: "sinj" for "singe"

-GE is ambiguous, especially in the present context, given that "sing" and "singer" are very well-known words, learned early. "Singer" is, in fact, a homonym with two pronunciations, one with an NG-sound, that means someone who sings, and the other with a J-sound, that means someone or something that singes. And the present progressive of "singe" is the odd-looking "singeing", which new learners especially find confusing.

-GE in general could be pronounced as J (flange, cringe), G (renege), or ZH (garage, collage). Here, it's pronounced like J, so let's write J: "sinj".

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010: "ressitateev" and "ressitateevo" for "recitative"and "recitativo"

There are two words with the same traditional spelling as the first of today's words. One relates to recitals or recitations, and is pronounced either rès.i.táe.tiv or ri.síet.a.tìv. That's not the one that needs reform, which is a term from music that means "a style of vocal music intermediate between speaking and singing".* The Italian-form "recitativo" especially needs to be spelled in the English fashion, because many readers are tempted to pronounce it in the Italian fashion, even tho it has been in English for over 150 years: "ressitateev" and "ressitateevo".

* Unabridged.

Munday, April 5, 2010: "parkitry" for "parquetry"

QU is ambiguous. At the beginning of a word, it usually sounds like KW (queen, queasy, question), tho in some words, some speakers say a plain K (quoin, quetzal, quarter). In other places, and especially at the end of a word, it can also be said as KW (banquet, inquest, bequeath) but might instead be said like a simple K (racquet, antique, bisque). In at least one word, the alternate spelling "barbeque" for barbecue, the QU is said as K + Y-glide + long-U (bóùe). In today's word, the QU + E sounds like KI. So let's spell it that way: "parkitry".

The related term "parquet" was offered here as "parkay" on October 3, 2007.

Sunday, April 4, 2010: "ment" for "meant"

EA is ambiguous, usually being pronounced as an ordinary long-E (mean, bean, beat) but sometimes as two syllables (rhea, area, meander) or short-E (bread, ahead, breast), or as an AI-sound (tear, yeah, bear), long-A (yea, break, steak), or even "broad"-A (or short-O) (heart, hearth) or AU-sound (Sean). Here, it represents a short-E sound, so the confusing A should simply be dropped. The mere fact that "meant" is the past tense of "mean", um, means nothing. The past tense of "feel" is "felt", because it has a short-E, not "feelt" just because it is the past of "feel": "ment".

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

Saturday, April 3, 2010: "levvitate" and "levvitation" for "levitate" and "levitation"

Here, we have a pair of words for something that doesn't exist, supernatural floating in mid-air. But the words exist, and are spelled ambiguously.

A single consonant between syllables leaves the sound of the preceding vowel (here, E) unclear. Is it long, as in Levi's? Is it short, as in eleven? It's short. We should show that, unambiguously, which we can do easily, by doubling the V: "levvitate" and "levvitation".

Friday, April 2, 2010: "inturstiss" for "interstice"

INTER- is a very common prefix that is pronounced with stress on its first syllable. There are only three common words in which that letter sequence is given stress on the second syllable: inter (to bury), interminable, and interstice. In inter and interminable, that letter sequence is not the prefix. Inter comes from "[put] in terra"; and the "in" in interminable is the negating prefix for the word "terminable" that follows. Only in "interstice" is the "inter" the familiar prefix, but with a nonconforming stress pattern.

Altho English spelling does not generally strive to show syllabic stress, if we can do that without losing clarity in other regards, that's all to the good. So, how do we show that the word's stress falls on the second syllable? One way we show syllabic stress is by doubling the consonant at the end of the stressed syllable, tho that is often a side-effect of trying to show that the vowel is short (syllable, flippancy, beginning). That would give us "interrstice". Would readers understand the doubled-R as a cue to syllabic stress? Would they accept it? Maybe, maybe not.

What if we change the spelling so that INTER- is no longer present? Then maybe readers will not be so readily tempted to put the stress on the first syllable. Let's try INTUR-.

The second problem with today's word is that the -ICE at the end is ambiguous. Plainly, it could be pronounced like the word ice itself, and other words like splice and device, with a long-I. Here, however, as in many other words (service, office, apprentice), it has a short-I. Let's respell the end of the word so it's unambiguous: -ISS, as in hiss, kiss, and bliss.

Put these two changes together, and you get: "inturstiss".

Thursday, April 1, 2010: "herron" for "heron"

"Heron", as the name of a type of wading bird, is pronounced with a short-E in the first syllable and a schwa in the second: hé But there's a name from Greek antiquity, "Heron" (with a capital-H), pronounced with a long-E in the first syllable and a full short-O in the second: héer.on. And "hero" is the same letter sequence but without a final-N, pronounced with a long-E and long-O! We need to clarify the sound of the bird word, which we can do easily, by doubling the R: "herron".

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SSWD is a project of L. Craig Schoonmaker , Newark, New Jersey, United States, creator of Fanetik: Reformed (Phonetic) Spelling — at Least for Teaching. For information about other ways to change irrational spellings, search the Internet for "spelling reform".

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