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Friday, December 31, 2010: "torteeya" for "tortilla"
This Food Friday, let's fix the name of a basic element in a lot of Mexican food, which has two L's but no L-sound at all.
A student of English, especially in a place like China, should not have to know what language a loanword has been borrowed from in order to know how to pronounce it. Each English word's pronunciation should be clear from its spelling, in English conventions. Why should villa, from Italian, be pronounced with an L-sound, but "tortilla", which equally has two L's in the spelling, have no L-sound because it is from Mexican Spanish? That makes no sense.
Further, the I in villa has an English short-I sound, but the I in "tortilla" has an English long-E sound. How on Earth are new readers in places distant from both Italy and Mexico supposed to know how to pronounce such words in English?
If the sound is Y, spell it with a Y, not two L's. And if the sound is long-E, spell it in the clearest rendering, EE: "torteeya".
My thanks to "Fireman..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, December 30, 2010: "sie" for "sigh"
Yesterday we dealt with an ambiguous IE that took the long-E sound. Today we have a silent-GH that somehow is supposed to signal that the I before it is long. In this circumstance, at the end of a one-syllable word, IE is actually fairly clear, representing a long-I sound (die, fie, hie, lie, pie, tie, vie). So let's get rid of the ridiculous silent-GH letter combo and replace it with -E: "sie".
My thanks to "Shoe..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, December 29, 2010: "revvery" for "reverie" and "revery"
IE is highly ambiguous (long-I: fie, pie, belie; long-E: cookie, yield, hoagie; two syllables: quiet, diet, matériel). -Y, alas, is also a bit ambiguous, but not as ambiguous (long-I: dry, qualify, the verb multiply; long-E: doozy, academy, truly), and most words of more than one syllable that end in -Y are pronounced with a long-E (or, in "clipped" British accents, a type of short-I). For the sound in "reverie", -Y is the better spelling.
The other issue with today's word is the EVE sequence, which could, obviously, be pronounced with a long-E, as in the word eve itself, evening (nitetime), and event. In "reverie" and its accepted variant spelling "revery", the first-E is short. The way to show that is to double the following consonant. The mere fact that that consonant is V is entirely insufficient to justify not doubling it, even tho VV is fairly uncommon in traditional spelling: "revvery".
Tuesday, December 28, 2010: "paralisis", "parralittic", and "parralize" for "paralysis", "paralytic", "paralyze", and "paralyse"
Why is there a Y in each of today's words? In "paralysis" and "paralytic", the Y represents a short-I sound. In "paralyze" (or "paralyse") the Y represents a long-I. Why not just use I?
In "paralysis", the Y and the following-S are in separate syllables, and the word's stress falls on the second syllable. So it is both unnecessary and inadvisable to double the S to show the preceding vowel short.
"Paralytic" and "paralyze" (or as most Britons prefer, "paralyse") have a full short-A sound in the first syllable. "Paralysis" has a schwa in the first syllable, so a single-R is OK in "paralysis". To show a short-A before an R-sound, doubling the R makes things clearer, since A before a single-R is often pronounced with a "broad"-A or short-O (same sound), as in star, car, and bar. ARR is far more likely to be read right, as in arrow, barren, and arrogant.
In "paralytic", the short-I sound would be clearer if the T were doubled. So let's do that.
Putting this all together, today's trio of proposed reforms is: "paralisis", "parralittic", and "parralize".
Munday, December 27, 2010: "menninjitis" for "meningitis"
There are two problem areas in today's word. First, a single-N makes unclear the sound of the E before it. Is it long? Is it short? It's short. To show that clearly, we should double the N.
The second problem is the G. Does it combine with the N to form the NG-sound, as in sing, thing, and ring? No, it does not. How is the reader to know that?
Also, does the G take G's own, unique sound (as in give, gild, and giddy)? Or does it substitute for J? It substitutes for J, but there's no reason for G to stand in for J. We have a J. Let's use it.
The last issue we might raise is that the single-T suggests that the I before it is long, but since it is long, that's not a problem: "menningjitis".
Sunday, December 26, 2010: "lornyett" for "lorgnette"
This antique word, for a pair of decorative eyeglasses held by a handle on one side, is among the most peculiar in all of English, considering that the device was invented by an Englishman but given a peculiar French name with a bizarre spelling. GN in French represents what is in English commonly spelled NY (canyon, banyan, lanyard) or NI (onion, union, grunion). Since English should be spelled according to English conventions, not French, we should change the GN to NY.
The other thing wrong with today's word is that -ETTE is a slightly inefficient way to show that the last syllable takes the word's stress. We don't need the last -E. Two T's should do nicely. Besides, -ETTE usually attaches to something people recognize as a word to itself, like "kitchen" or "launder". What, however, would a "lorny" or "lorgn" be?: "lornyett".
Saturday, December 25, 2010: "holyness" for "holiness"
Why (Y?) was the Y in "holy" changed to I in "holiness"? The sound hasn't changed. Why would the letter that expresses that sound change?: "holyness".
Friday, December 24, 2010: "grupe" and "gruper" for "group" and "grouper"
This Food Friday, let's reform the name of a fish and a shorter word unrelated to the name of the fish. Both words contain OU, but no OU-sound: "grupe" and "gruper".
Dictionary.com says that "grouper" the fish comes from Portuguese "garupa", of uncertain origin. "Group" comes from French and Italian words of the same meaning as the English.
Thursday, December 23, 2010: "floride" for "fluoride"
UO suggests two vowel sounds side-by-side, when in actuality there is only one, the same sound as would be said if only the O preceded the R. So let's drop the U, which will not only clarify the sound but also save us a letter: "floride".
Wensday, December 22, 2010: "emerj", "emerjency", and "emerjent" for "emerge", "emergency", and "emergent"
GE in these three words is pronounced two different ways. In "emerge", it represents only a J-sound. In the other two, it represents both a J-sound and a vowel sound (schwa). Let's just drop the final-E in "emerge", and replace the G with J in all three words: "emerj", "emerjency", and "emerjent".
My thanks to "Castle..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010: "detectiv" for "detective"
-IVE should be pronounced with a long-I (hive, jive, alive), but in today's word is pronounced with a short-I. To show that clearly, all we need to do is drop the final-E, saving ourselves a letter as well: "detectiv".
Munday, December 20, 2010: "cheeftan" for "chieftain"
There are two problem areas in today's word. First, IE should ideally be pronounced long-I, as in pie, defied, and belie. Unfortunately, IE has other pronunciations, including today's, long-E (field, cookie, and boogie-woogie), and two syllables (diet, quiet, acquiesce). Why do we consent to this insanity? If the sound is long-E, why would we use an I? The simplest way to show a long-E is EE. Let's use it.
The second problem is the AI, which does not represent a long-A sound, as the reader might expect (paid, retain, acclaim), nor even short-A (plaid), short-E (said), or two syllables (archaic). Again, why do we consent to this madness? The sound in "chieftain" is a schwa, which is most commonly shown by A by itself. We already have an A, so let's just drop the I and not only clarify the sound somewhat but also save ourselves a letter: "cheeftan".
Sunday, December 19, 2010: "bandij" for "bandage"
As with yesterday's word ("aged" to "aijid"), we have today a word with an ambiguous GE that could be pronounced as an additional syllable, with either a J-sound or a G-sound ("hard-G"). The sound here is that of J, in the same syllable as the A that precedes it, so we should write J.
The second syllable of today's word is, indeed, the same as the first syllable of yesterday's: "age". But it's not said like "age", with a long-A. Rather, the vowel sound is short-I. So let's write an I: "bandij".
My thanks to "Red..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Saturday, December 18, 2010: "aijid" for "aged" (elderly)
In that I turn 66 on Monday, this seems a good time to offer this word, which is pronounced in two syllables when used to refer to (us) old folks. A long-A at the end of a word is easy: -AY. Anywhere else, we have a problem. AI is a common rendering (aid, praise, acclaim), so let's use that.
GE is ambiguous, sometimes having G's own distinctive sound, expressed by no other letter (get, gear, gecko), but other times taking J's sound. We don't need G to do J's job. We have J. Let's use it.
The other issue today is whether the GE represents one sound (caged, staged, raged) or the start of a new syllable. In "aged", it does both, depending on the sense. As the past and past participle of the verb "to age", the GE represents only a J-sound, within a one-syllable word. But when the past of "to age" is used as an adjective or noun, the GE forms the start of a second syllable. To show that, we need to replace the E with I: "aijid".
My thanks to "Doghouse..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Friday, December 17, 2010: "waterwerks" for "waterworks"
I offered "work" as "werk" on September 20, 2004, in the first few months of this project. But compound words involving "work" are fair game, especially when we're running out of words that start with the letter of the day, as we are with W: "waterwerks".
My thanks to "GreenD..." for this suggestion.
Thursday, December 16, 2010: "tranzmit" and "tranzmition" for "transmit" and "transmission"
Today's words both have an S where there should be a Z. So let's replace the S with Z.
-SSION is a needless and bizarre alteration of the familiar -TION ending, especially given that "transmit" ends in T, so -TION would make far better sense: "tranzmit" and "tranzmition".
Wensday, December 15, 2010: "sherocco" and "serocco" for "scirocco" and "sirocco"
We have today two spellings and the two resulting pronunciations of one word, for a hot wind. The longer form is the older, from Arabic thru Italian. SCI represents an SH-sound in Italian, but not generally in English (scissors and science, but conscience and fascism). If people prefer the pronunciation with an SH-sound, they should write an SH.
The shorter form drops both the C and the SH-sound.
The IR represents, here, the sound most commonly spelled, in English, ER, not the long-E sound in irritable and irritation. Let's use ER.
So, if you prefer the Italianized pronunciation, use the longer spelling. If not, use the shorter spelling. Whatever you say, you should write: "sherocco" or "serocco".
Tuesday, December 14, 2010: "resspit" for "respite"
There are two things wrong with today's word. First, it starts with the common prefix RE-, but it is pronounced with a short-E, rather than the regular long-E (repeat, restate, respell). To show that the E is short, we need to double the following consonant, the S.
The second issue is the same as that with yesterday's word, "passive" to "passiv", a misleading consonant-vowel-E letter sequence for a short vowel rather than long, as one is accustomed to expect (despite, satellite, appetite). With today's word, we need to make plain to the bulk of readers that "respite" does NOT rhyme with "despite", and the second syllable is NOT said with a long-I as the great bulk of native speakers say it. Alas, some people in Britain say rés.piet, with a long-I but with the stress on the first syllable, and a full short-E there rather than the schwa of "despite".
This is going to have to be one of those cases in which the dialectal pronunciation is not permitted to hold back the entire language. The Oxford Dictionaries Online are just going to have to accept that their pretentious "World English" distinction from "US English" is just that: pretentious. No, what Oxford noxiously calls "World English" is only the dialectal speech of SOME people in Britain and allied dialects in minor countries (perhaps Australia and New Zealand, but definitely not Canada). "US English" is "World English",* the standard speech of 3/4 of all native speakers on the planet, and the speech that a minimum of 9/10 of all students of English outside historic English-speaking countries want to learn. If Brits wish to say "respite" with a long-I, they can keep the present spelling, tho they would be well advised to double the S to show that the RE- is said with a short-E. The rest of us, who say a short-I in the second syllable, should drop the final-E: "resspit".
* As for the Oxford Dictionaries Online, they should reform their categories to "World English" for standard, North American speech and "British English" for Britain's dialectal speech. If they are not willing to concede that British speech is dialectal and (North) American is now, and has been for most of a century, standard English, then let them revise their categories to "US [or U.S.] English" and "British English". "U.S." here also covers Canada; so it's of no importance if "British" also covers Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and parts of the West Indies. Ireland, which generally pronounces R's, is as close to U.S. as to British speech.
Munday, December 13, 2010: "passiv" for "passive"
-IVE is misleading, in that it looks as tho it should be pronounced with a long-I, but the I is actually short. Fortunately, there's a very quick fix for this, and it saves a letter. Just drop the -E: "passiv".
Sunday, December 12, 2010: "mahoggany" for "mahogany"
Single consonants make all the vowels ambiguous, and also leave unclear where in this four-syllable word the stress falls (compare miscellany). If we double the G, we at once show that the O is short, and also indicate that the word's stress falls on the second syllable, which makes all the rest fall into place: "mahoggany".
Saturday, December 11, 2010: "likur" for "liqueur"
This is one of only three weird words in English with a UEU sequence. (The others are queue and the second word in the phrase de rigueur.) In none of them are there three vowel sounds in a row. In queue, the only vowel sound is long-U with an initial Y-glide. In rigueur and liqueur, the sound many people say is that which is most commonly written ER. In rigueur, that is the only pronounciation, but in liqueur, there is a second pronunciation, the long-U with initial Y-glide of queue.
UR is another way of writing the sound more frequently written ER (but also sometimes OR, AR, IR, and even YR: actor, beggar, bird, myrrh). So that would do for liqueur, and save us two letters. But would it also serve as a long-U for people who prefer that pronunciation? Why not? It's a U, so if people want to see it as a long-U, they perfectly well can.
The other problem with today's word is the Q, which is why there is a U before the EU anyway, because of the silly rule that Q must always be followed by U. But the sound in this word is not KW, as in quick, quiet, or quest. No, it's just a K-sound, without more. So why not just use K, without more?
Putting these changes together, we get: "likur".
Friday, December 10, 2010: "hyste" for "heist"
EI is hugely ambiguous, sometimes taking a long-I sound (height, eiderdown, Pleistocene); sometimes long-E (weird, seize, caffein); sometimes both, as different people see it (either, neither); sometimes long-A (beige, freight, apartheid); and sometimes even as two syllables (albeit, deity, atheism) or short-E (peignoir, as some people say it).
The simplest way to show a long-I midword is the pattern vowel-consonant-E (bite, size, time), but that's not available here, because there are two consonants to deal with, ST. Still, waste, paste, and taste have a long vowel before the ST and silent-E. With I, however, that pattern represents a long-E (artiste, batiste). So we need to try something else.
Y by itself represents a long-I sound in many words (hybrid, hypoglycemia, dynamics). Alas, that too is ambiguous, given the preposterous state of traditional spelling (cyst, hysteria, cataclysm), but it would still be less ambiguous than EI.
-YSTE is not found in any current English word, but it makes good sense and would likely be read right, on the model of haste. So let's use that: "hyste".
Thursday, December 9, 2010: "gurnzy" for "guernsey"
This word presents several problems. First, GUE should be pronounced with a long-U. Before an R, one would expect it to be said in two syllables, gúe.wer. It's actually one syllable, pronounced as tho written GUR. So let's drop the E before the R.
The S represents not an S-sound but a Z-sound. So let's replace it with Z.
The EY is ambiguous. It could be pronounced long-A, as in hey, they, and survey. It is actually pronounced as long-E. To show that fairly clearly, we need merely drop this E too, and save ourselves two letters. -Y isn't completely clear, in that some words ending in -Y are pronounced with a long-I sound (imply, deny, qualify). Still, in a word like today's, -Y is very likely to be perceived as long-E.
Putting this all together, we get: "gurnzy".
Wensday, December 8, 2010: "feug" for "fugue"
The traditional spelling of today's word can easily be seen as two syllables, because the UE could perfectly well be pronounced, not silent, as it is supposed to be. Compare ague, argue, even dengue and merengue.
The first-U is also ambiguous as to sound in the present spelling. In the United States, many, if not even most, long-U's do not include an initial Y-glide. When such a glide is to be said, it should ideally be indicated. We show that sound in spellings like feud, feudal, and euphemism, by means of an EU. Let's use that here.
Adding an E in front of the first-U and dropping the UE at the end of today's word provides a clearer and shorter spelling: "feug".
My thanks to "Music..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010: "effijy" for "effigy"
This is easy. GY is ambiguous, sometimes having G's own distinctive sound (gynecologist) but usually J's sound (biology). Since we have a letter that perfectly represents the sound here, J, let's use it. New learners of English should not have to memorize when G represents a G-sound and when a J-sound. Let's just write G for the G-sound, and J for the J-sound, and have done with confusion: "effijy".
Munday, December 6, 2010: "demmonim" for "demonym"
"Demonym" is a recent and as yet rare word for the name of a resident of a location, like "Bostonian" for a resident of Boston, or "Alabamian" for a resident of Alabama. Tho the term has not yet made it into most dictionaries, it is used regularly in Wikipedia, so is destined eventually to enter the general lexicon. Let's fix its spelling before that happens.
The first part of the word is "demon", which is not related, and thus misleading. It is also not pronounced that way. Demon has a long-E; "demonym", short. To show a short-E, we need to double the following consonant, the M.
Y is ambiguous, and often takes a long-I sound (hybrid, tyke, myopia). The sound here is actually short-I, which is much better shown by I itself: "demmonim".
Sunday, December 5, 2010: "chapple" for "chapel"
"Chapel" rhymes with "apple", a word learned very early, so should be spelled like it. APE, with a single-P, looks as tho it should be pronounced like the word ape itself, and others like cape, drape, and tape. If the A is short, we should mark it short by doubling the following consonant, the P: "chapple".
Saturday, December 4, 2010: "beeday" for "bidet"
This word derives from French, so has a silent-T. If it's silent, there's no reason for it to be there, in English. The sound of the E before the T is long-A, so that has to be reflected in the spelling. The most common way of showing a long-A at the end of a word is -AY, so let's use that.
The I is properly said as a long-E, but people who place the stress on the last syllable may just naturally shorten that to a short-I without our having to write an I. (Britons tend to stress the first syllable that is, more thoroughly anglicize the pronunciation. Americans tend to give more weight to the original French stress pattern, and stress the second syllable.) "Bidet" is, in the New World, a little-known word for a device that is only very rarely found in Anglo-America, but the pronunciation should nonetheless be made clear: "beeday".
Friday, December 3, 2010: "aleejance" for "allegiance"
Why are there two L's in today's word? ALL is ordinarily pronounced with an AU-sound (as in the word all itself, call, and basketball). That is not the sound here.
In general, a double consonant following a vowel marks that vowel short (ally, callow, allegory). But that's not the sound here either.
The actual sound is schwa, which could be rendered by A-alone at the beginning of a word, as in about, ahead, and ajar. We don't write "abbout", "ahhead", and "ajjar". So let's drop the second-L.
The second problem with today's word is that it starts exactly like allege, which has a short-E before the G, but the E here is long. We need to show that, and the simplest way to show a long-E is EE. Let's do that.
GI is ambiguous, sometimes having G's own, distinctive sound that no other letter carries ("hard"-G, as in give, gibbon, and giddy), but other times the "soft-G", which is J's sound. Since it is not possible for the reader to know when to say a hard-G or soft-G in unfamiliar words, it is much better simply to abolish the soft-G and use J every time. So let's use J to replace the ambiguous and inefficient GI. That is especially advisable in that GI can have a long-I sound (giant, gigantic, and slang ginormous).
As if all that weren't bad enuf, GIA can be pronounced in two syllables (apologia, collegia, paraplegia). So we should definitely change the GI to J.
The -ANCE is fine: "aleejance".
Thursday, December 2, 2010: "wheelrite" for "wheelwright"
This somewhat antique term for "a person whose trade it is to make or repair wheels, wheeled carriages, etc." starts out alrite but takes a turn for the worse with 3 silent letters, W, G, and H. If we simply drop all three, we get "wheelrit", which isn't quite rit. But if we add an E at the end, everything's fine: "wheelrite".
Wensday, December 1, 2010: "travvesty" for "travesty"
The pattern vowel-consonant-E is often pronounced with a long vowel (wave, shave, architrave). That is not the sound here, which is short-A. To show that, we need to double the consonant after the A, here, the V. The mere fact that the following consonant is V is no reason not to double it. Today's word is especially ambiguous because of the ending "sty", which is a word in itself, meaning a pen or enclosure, such as a pig sty. "Travesty" might thus, to a new learner of English outside an English-speaking country, seem to be a two-syllable word for an enclosure for "traves", whatever they are. Such a misreading becomes unlikely if the word is shown clearly to be three syllables: "travvesty".
Tuesday, November 30, 2010: "skitsoid" for "schizoid"
There are two major problems with today's word. First, SCH is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced, as here, as SK, but other times being pronounced like SH (schist, schlemiel, schuss). There's even one word, and its derivatives, in which the SCH letter combo sounds like a plain-S (schism, as some people say it). Since there's no way to indicate which sound SCH represents in any given word, it must be eliminated as a letter combination in English, replaced by SK or SH (or just-S), as appropriate.
The second problem with today's word is that the Z represents not Z's usual sound, but a TS-combo. If that's the sound, that's the way it should be written.
Putting these two little changes together, we get: "skitsoid".
Munday, November 29, 2010: "rezzolute" and "rezzolution" for "resolute" and "resolution"
RE- is a very common prefix, ordinarily pronounced with a long-E (rerun, revise, recapitulate). That is not the sound here. Rather, the E is short. The way we most simply show a short vowel is by doubling the consonant after it. Here, that would be the S. But S is the wrong letter for this word, because it actually represents a Z-sound. If we double the S, that will definitely signal an S-sound, which is wrong. So we need to change the S to Z before doubling it: "rezzolute" and "rezzolution".
Sunday, November 28, 2010: "som" for "psalm"
"Psalm" is a five-letter word with three absurd spellings. If that's not a world record, it's still pretty impressive.
The P is silent. Let's just drop it, OK?
The L is silent. Ditto.
And the A has neither of A's main sounds, long as in ate and short as in at. Rather, its sound is "broad-A", which is the same as short-O (father and bother exactly rhyme, as most educated people say them).
Once we drop the P and L, and change the A to O, we end up with: "som".
Saturday, November 27, 2010: "macobbra" for "macabre" and "macaber"
Let's take the bull by the horns and fix a silly spelling that has led to an even sillier, affected mispronunciation. "Macabre" is from French, but some people treat it as tho it is still French. Well, yes, it is French if you're speaking French. If you're speaking English, it is English, and has been since, at latest, 1450 A.D.! It's time to anglicize the pronunciation, by anglicizing the spelling. Fix the spelling, and the pronunciation will follow.
Even in French, the Dictionary.com Unabridged says, "the F pron. with mute e is a misreading of the MF forms" (Macabré or macabé). If the pronunciation ma.kób is wrong in French, it is doubly wrong in English.
The alternate spelling "macaber" looks as tho it should be pronounced with a long-A, but it is not. Rather, it is commonly pronounced either ma.kób.er or just as tho it were spelled with -RE rather than -ER. Enuf! If the pronunciation is properly ma.kób.ra, and it is, the way to spell that clearly in English is: "macobbra".
Friday, November 26, 2010: "levven" and "levvening" for "leaven" and "leavening"
This Food Friday, let's fix a word related literally to a fermentation agent used to make dough rise and figuratively to an agent of gradual change and moderation. The current spelling of these related word forms is misleading, since EA is most commonly pronounced long-E. Here, it represents a short-E. If we drop the A and double the following consonant (here, a V), we will show the reader plainly that the E is short. The mere fact that the following consonant is a V is no reason not to double it, and English does in fact have words with a double-V (savvy, revved, skivvies): "levven/ing".
Thursday, November 25, 2010: "hynd" for "hind"
We have here, again (as we had Tuesday), one of those words that should have a short-I sound, inasmuch as its I is not just closed but closed by two consonants (cinder, swindle, indelicate). To show that it has a long-I, we should use a Y (dynamic, antipyretic, hybridize): "hynd".
Wensday, November 24, 2010: "glo" for "glow"
On Monday I offered "endouw" for "endow", to distinguish an -OW that represents an OU-sound from the -OW that represents a long-O sound, as here. But we really do need to write both types of words clearly.
The way to make the long-O words clear is simply to drop the W. We might be tempted to restore a W before adding -ING ("glowing"), but we don't feel a W necessary when we add -ING to go (going), so we can do without a W even for "gloing". In the alternative, we could write "gloeing", and even "gloe" for the base word if "glo/ing" is thought too complicated. Let's try the shorter form ("glo") first, and see if people actually do have a problem. If so, we can shift to "gloe", but that will probably not prove necessary: "glo".
My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010: "fynd" for "find"
IND should be pronounced with a short-I (hinder, dwindle, indicate). To show a long-I sound, Y would be better (hybrid, pyromaniac, gynecologist) : "fynd".
Munday, November 22, 2010: "endouw" for "endow"
-OW is ambiguous, sometimes having a long-O sound (window, stow, glow) but other times having an OU-sound (now, how, powwow). Tho we can drop the W from some words that end in a long-O sound, we still need to make plain the words with an OU-sound. The simplest way to do that would be to replace the W with a U, but that would still be unclear, because of a number of words that end in OU but are pronounced with a long-U (caribou, marabou, kinkajou). But we can keep the W and insert a U before it to show the OU-sound. Retention of the W also makes clearer verb forms with suffixes (endouwing, endouwed rather than endouing, endoued) : "endouw".
My thanks to "Starry..." for suggesting reform of this word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Sunday, November 21, 2010: "dellegit" for the noun "delegate"
ATE is ambiguous and, in the noun sense of today's word, misleading, since it could be pronounced with a long-A (as in the word ate itself, and in late, hate, and legislate). Here, the sound is short-I. So let's replace the A with I, and drop the final-E.
One problem remains, the -ELE- midword, which could have a briefly articulated long-E in the first part (elect, delete, delectable). The sound is actually short-E, and the way we often clarify a short vowel is by doubling the consonant immediately following, here, the L. Let's do that: "dellegit".
Alas, there is no way to show that the G is "hard" that is, that it takes G's own, unique sound rather than "soft" (J's sound). This is why half-measures won't really fix the problems of English spelling. We need radical, absolutely consistent reform.
Saturday, November 20, 2010: "carny" for "carney"
Today, let's banish a needless alternate spelling, and insist that only the clearer and shorter form be used. EY is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced long-E (key, attorney, baloney) but other times long-A (they, hey, convey). -Y is not completely clear (awry, deny, qualify), but is much more commonly pronounced long-E (or, in "clipped" British speech, a type of short-I) than long-I: "carny".
Friday, November 19, 2010: "(brockoly) rahb" for (broccoli) "rabe", "raab", and "rab"
This Food Friday, let's fix the second word in the phrase "broccoli* rabe/raab/rab". All three of the alternate spellings "rabe", "raab", and "rab" are ambiguous and misleading. "Rabe" looks as tho it should rhyme with Abe, babe, and astrolabe. "Rab" plainly looks as tho it should be pronounced with a short-A (blab, nab, taxicab). AA is highly ambiguous, and can be pronounced short-A or like AI (both pronunciations are found in Aaron, as different people say it); "broad-A" or short-O (the same sound), as in bazaar; even long-A (Quaalude). The sound here is broad-A/short-O, but we already have a word rob, so need to write the broad-A clearly. Ah! I know. AH (as in Brahmin, bah, and huzzah): "rahb".
* "Broccoli" by itself was offered here as "brockoly" on February 25, 2005.
Thursday, November 18, 2010: "activ" for "active"
IVE should be pronounced with a long-I (jive, alive, knives). The I in "active" is short. To show that clearly, we need merely drop the final-E. We'll save ourselves a letter at the same time as we make the sound clear: "activ".
My thanks to "Fishin..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, November 17, 2010: "wunn" for "won"
There are two words, "one" and "won", that sound the same, and might be written phonetically as "wun". Ideally, we should try to distinguish them, without losing phoneticity. I offered "wun" for the bizarre spelling "one" (the numeral 1) on October 11, 2004. That makes sense, because it occurs much more frequently than "won", the past tense of "win". To write the past of "win", we can double the N, which will maintain phoneticity but add a distinguishing flourish. Compare Dunn & Bradstreet, Finn, and inn. Plainly a final double-N is assuredly not "un-English". And it will be easy to distinguish the two words memorably: "one" has only 1 N (wun). "Won" won a 2nd N: "wunn".
My thanks to "JohnS..." for this suggestion.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010: "tarter" for "tartar"
This word looks like a repeat of the same sounds, like rah-rah, weewee, or mahimahi, but is not. Rather, the first syllable is pronounced exactly like the word tar, but the second syllable is like the end of tatter. So the first syllable should be spelled with AR, but the second, with ER: "tarter".
My thanks to "Clap..." for this suggestion.
Munday, November 15, 2010: "safahry" for "safari"
A final-I is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a long-I (alibi, stimuli) but other times with a long-E (chili, taxi). Here, the sound is long-E (shortened by some Britons to a type of short-I). -Y is a much better spelling for that sound, tho not entirely unambiguous (traditional English spelling being what it is: qualify, deny).
AR is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a "broad-A", the same sound as short-O (as in father or bother: star, bar); other times with an AU-sound (war, warmth); other times with an AI-sound (scary, actuarial); other times with a short-A (caribou, arable); and yet other times with a schwa (burglar, around)! Here, the sound is broad-A, which is much better shown by AH (Brahmin, mahjong): "safahry".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, November 14, 2010: "re/mynd" for "re/mind"
IND is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a long-I (hind, mind, find) even tho it should have a short-I because it is followed by two consonants and in fact it does also take a short-I in some words (hinder, kindle, and the noun wind). To show a long-I in this context, we should use a Y, not I, as in hybrid, psyche, and tyrant: "mynd" and "remynd".
My thanks to "Dogs..." for suggesting reform of "mind", tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Saturday, November 13, 2010: "peddant" and "pedantic" for "pedant" and "pedantic"
PE- is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a long-E (pediatrician, pekoe, penal), sometimes with a short-E (pedal, pelican, penalty), and sometimes with an altered short-E or schwa (pedestrian, peninsula, petite). We may not be able to distinguish between the occurrences in which the E is long and those in which it is a schwa (as in "pedantic"), but we can show plainly when it is short, by the convention of doubling the following consonant: "peddant", "pedantic".
My thanks to "FireW..." for "peddant".
Friday, November 12, 2010: "nojjule" for "nodule"
D does not spell a J-sound. The O in the current spelling is right, but a single-D does not show clearly that the sound is short. We need to double the following consonant to show that, and that consonant should be a J: "nojjule".
Thursday, November 11, 2010: "mettal" for "metal"
A single-T renders unclear the sound of the E. Is it long? is it short? Compare "mettle", which makes plain that the sound of the E before the T-sound is short. The E in "metal" is also short, so should also be shown by a double-T: "mettal".
Wensday, November 10, 2010: "limm" for "limn"
"Limn" has an unexpected and unpredictable silent-N. That has got to go. If we simply drop it, however, we risk confusing it with "limb", which I proposed here on June 6, 2009 be reformed to "lim". Whereas "lim" is very common, but "limn" (to portray in art or words) is very uncommon, most readers would be very puzzled if the two words were not distinguished in some way. MM is a common way of showing an M-sound, tho not at the end of a word. No matter, traditional spelling accommodates a double-consonant at the end of many words (ebb, odd, doff, all the way thru to buzz), so no one can argue that it is "un-English" to use a double-M at the end of a word: "limm".
Tuesday, November 9, 2010: "innsert" for the noun "insert"
Indicating syllabic stress is something that traditional spelling does only occasionally, and most commonly to show stress on the last syllable (kitchenette, largesse, parterre). There's no helpful spelling distinction for some word pairs, for instance permit, content, or combat, tho I suppose we could contrive to spell the two forms differently to distinguish the form with stress on the last syllable, as "permitte", "contente", and "combatte". I don't know that people would go for that, but it's worth thinking about.
In today's word pair, the verb is far more common than the noun, so it is the noun that we would be better advised to distinguish. We can do so by doubling the N. I'm not emphatic about this, but it seems a good thing to do, and it only 'costs' one extra letter: "innsert".
My thanks to "Firewall..." for this suggestion.
Munday, November 8, 2010: "hypoclorite" and "hypoclorus" for "hypochlorite" and "hypochlorous"
The H in each of these words is not just silent but also misleading, since it suggests that there is a CH-sound (as in church), which there is not and which would be very difficult to say before an L. So let's just drop the H, OK?
The second issue in today's words is an OU but no OU-sound. That has an equally simple fix. Just drop that O: "hypoclorite" and "hypoclorus".
Sunday, November 7, 2010: "gronpree/s" for "grand prix", "grands prix", and "grand prixes"
The refined pronunciation of this term from French employs a nasalized short-O (or broad-A) sound, but English doesn't use nasalized vowels; the term has been used in English since 1863; and the syllable in which the nasalized vowel occurs is spelled like the ordinary English word "grand", which does not cue the reader to nasalization anyway. Let's just treat this phrase, which is never separated, as a single English word, and spell it in an English fashion. If particular readers wish to put a nasalized vowel into their pronunciation, that's fine. They do the same with other words spelled in an ordinary English fashion, such as salon (for an art show or soiree).
The plural, no matter how it might be spelled in current use, is pronounced like an ordinary English word pluralized in S, so that's the way we should treat the reformed word, singular and plural spelled in standard conventions: "gronpree" and "gronprees".
My thanks to "Music..." for "gronpree".
Saturday, November 6, 2010: "feusha" for "fuchsia"
The present spelling has a CH, but no CH-sound (as in church). Indeed, the CH is entirely silent, which no one would guess on seeing or hearing the word. IA is ambiguous, and sometimes represents two syllables (analgesia, dyspepsia, symposia). The -SIA ending is indeed twice ambiguous, as the examples show, variously representing an S-sound, Z-sound, or even ZH-sound (amnesia). In "fuchsia", the sound is SH plus schwa.
UCH is ambiguous too, and certainly suggests a short-U rather than long. The sound is actually long-U plus an intial Y-glide, as in feud and euphemism. So the beginning, middle, and end of "fuchsia" all cause problems.
Fortunately, all those problems are easily solved: "feusha".
Friday, November 5, 2010: "ie" for "eye"
"Eye" is one of the oddest words in English, whose spelling seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to its sound. How would you even pronounce that spelling ée.yee? eq.yée?* áe.yae? There is an obvious and much better spelling for a long-I sound that we can use, IE as in pie, belie, and necktie: "ie".
* In Fanetik, the spelling system employed on this website to show pronunciations, Q is silent (the only silent letter in Fanetik) and is used to close a syllable that contains a short vowel that would otherwise be seen as open, and thus long.
Thursday, November 4, 2010: "derivvativ" for "derivative"
There are two things wrong with today's word. For one, the single-V leaves unclear the sound of the first-I. Is it long? Is it short? It's short. Let's double the V to show that. In so doing, we will also cue the reader to place the word's primary stress on the second syllable, where it belongs.
Without a double-V, this word could be read with a long-I (as in derive) or a long-A (derivation).
At the end of the word, there is another IV, this one with an E after it. That should be read with a long-I (five, jive, alive), but it's actually pronounced with a short-I. Since it falls at the end of the word, we don't need to double the V, just drop the E: "derivvativ".
Wensday, November 3, 2010: "cacoffony" and "caccofonnic" for "cacophony" and "cacophonic"
PH is a preposterous, inefficient, and indefensible way to spell a simple F-sound. Aside from the fact that a P-sound and H-sound said in sequence do not produce an F-sound (uphold, uphill), PH is also ambiguous as to whether an F- or P-sound is intended (diphthong, naphtha). So the PH has got to go, in favor of a simple F. Indeed, since in the main word the O before the F-sound is short, there should be a double-F to show that. Happily, that also suggests to the reader that the second syllable, before the doubled consonant, takes the word's primary stress, which it does.
In the derivative adjective, "cacophonic", syllabic stress shifts. The primary stress falls on the third syllable, which also has a short-O that should be marked with a doubled consonant following (here, N), and doubling that N will also, helpfully, suggest that syllabic stress falls there. There is also a secondary stress on the first syllable, and the A that was a schwa in the noun (cacophony) becomes a full short-A in the adjective. We need to show that, by doubling the C after it.
Meanwhile, the O before the F-sound in the adjective is no longer a full short-O, but a schwa, so we shouldn't have a double-F after it because that would mislead the reader into thinking it is still a full short-O.
Thus do we arrive at: "cacoffony" and "caccofonnic".
Tuesday, November 2, 2010: "boal" for "boll"
A double consonant ordinarily marks a vowel short (as in hollow, collagen, folly, and even Bollywood), but the O in "boll" is long. To show a long-O before an L-sound clearly, we need a different spelling. "Bowl" and "bole" are both taken. But OA, as in coal, goal, and shoal, is available: "boal".
Munday, November 1, 2010: "aggit" for "agate"
"Agate" looks as tho it should be pronounced like the phrase "a gate", or like words such as agasp, aghast, and again, in which the initial A- is said as a schwa. In actuality, the A- in "agate" is a full short-A. The way to show that clearly is by doubling the following consonant, here, a G.
-ATE is comparably ambiguous, in that it looks as tho it should be pronounced with a long-A (ate, aggravate, rebate) but is actually pronounced with a schwa that closely approaches a full short-I (as in climate, accurate, and adequate). If the sound is short-I followed by T, let's just write -IT: "aggit".
My thanks to "braeden..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, October 31, 2010: "wynd" for the verb "wind"
The present spelling represents two different words, a noun with a short-I and a verb with a long-I. No one can know which you mean except from context, if then. Sometimes, as in isolation or in grammatical fragments such as headlines, context doesn't help.
We need to show the long-I sound in itself, not in context. Altho there are many words that use Y to represent a short-I, there are enuf occurrences in which it represents a long-I (hybrid, hydrogen, qualify, Wyandotte) to justify using a Y here. People who know the paired words, the noun "wind" and the verb "wind", will understand that the reason there is a Y in one is because that's the one with a long-I sound: "wynd".
My thanks to "Clap..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Saturday, October 30, 2010: "tennebrus" and "tenebbreus" for "tenebrous" and "tenebrious"
Halloween weekend seems a good time to address these two hifalutin terms for "gloomy, shadowy, or dark".* A single-N in the first leaves uncertain the sound of the E before it. Is it long? is it short? It's short, and the way we show that clearly is by doubling the following consonant, the N. That also strongly suggests that the word's stress falls on the first syllable, which it does.
In the second word, the second syllable takes the stress, and the BR consonant cluster does not necessarily indicate that the E before it is short (which it is), since both of the sounds B and R could go with the following syllable, leaving the pronunciation of the preceding-E long (ten.ée.bree.yas). The actual pronunciation is ten.éb.ree.yas. To show that clearly, we need to double the B.
The OU in both words does not take the OU-sound, but just a schwa, which is much better shown by U, without more.
And the I in the longer form represents not an I-sound (long as in I or pie, short as in it or pit, but a long-E. So let's write an E.
Putting this all together, we get: "tennebrus" and "tenebbreus".
* Collins English Dictionary.
Friday, October 29, 2010: "seltser" for "seltzer"
Yesterday, we changed an S to a Z to conform the spelling to the sound. Today, we change a Z to an S for the same reason. I don't know how a Z ever got into this word, since it derives* from German "Selterser named after Selters, a village near Wiesbaden". There's no Z in the word of origin and no Z-sound, so there should be no Z in the spelling: "seltser".
* According to Dictionary.com.
Thursday, October 28, 2010: "rezort" for "resort"
This is simple: the S in the traditional spelling represents not an S-sound at all, but a Z-sound. If the sound is Z, let's just write a Z, shall we?: "rezort".
My thanks to "Staek..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, October 27, 2010: "questchunaire" for "questionnaire"
-TION is a bizarre but well-understood spelling for something that sounds like "shun". Put an S before TION, and you don't get a CH-sound; rather, the S just merges into the SH-sound. If the sound is CH, let's write CH.
Ordinarily, CH would be sufficient, but SCH is ambiguous. Sometimes it does have the right sound (discharge, eschew, mischief). Other times it has other sounds (school, Doberman pinscher; pronounced skuel, Dóe.ber.man pín.sher), and that confuses some people into, for instance, mispronouncing eschew as esh.úe). TCH is a less efficient way of writing the CH-sound (itch, batch, stretch), but if the sound is clearer, it's an efficient way of reading the sound.
The second problem in today's word is the O, which represents a schwa approaching a full short-U. Tho any vowel letter can be shortened to schwa, U is more like the right sound, so let's write a U in place of the O.
The third problem today is the double-N. Words that readers would regard as parallel to "questionnaire", such as millionaire and billionaire, have only one N, so we don't need and shouldn't write two.
The last issue is the silent-E at the end of the word. It isn't needed to alter the sound of the vowel before the R, since AI is invariable (that is, there is no long-AI vs. short-AI difference). It does cue the careful reader to the unexpected stress on the last syllable but is not really needed for that, since indicating syllabic stress is not something spelling ordinarily does (for instance, "permit", "combat", and "content" can all be stressed on either syllable, depending on what part of speech the particular occurrence serves as (noun, verb, or adjective). Still, showing an unusual syllabic-stress pattern is useful, so we can afford to write an extra letter to do that, especially in that we saved a letter in dropping one of the needless N's: "questchunaire".
My thanks to "space..." for suggesting reform of this word, tho I chose a slitely different solution (with a final-E). ("Question" was offered here April 29, 2008 as "questchun".)
Tuesday, October 26, 2010: "parshal" for "partial"
"Partial" rhymes with "marshal", so why isn't it spelled like it? TI does not spell an SH-sound. And the mere fact that the word from which "partial" derives, "part", ends in T is no reason to preserve that T in the derivative. Compare "space" and "spatial" the preferred spelling changes the C to T, "spacial" being relegated to the status of an alternate spelling. CI is used for an SH-sound in other words (racial, spacious, deficient), but TI is preferred for the derivative from "space"! Why use either TI or CI for an SH-sound, when SH itself is available?: "parshal".
My thanks to "Dog..." for this suggestion.
Munday, October 25, 2010: "megga-" for "mega"
Yesterday we dealt with a suffix ("-ism" to "-izm"). Today, let's deal with a prefix that is spelled ambiguously. Compare "omega", which includes the whole of "mega". It has three pronunciations, oe.máe.ga, oe.mée.ga, and oe.még.a. "Mega", with or without the hyphen (some people use it as a word, meaning "extremely good, great, or successful"), is similarly ambiguous, but has only one pronunciation, with a short-E, még.a. To show the E short, we need merely double the following-G: "megga-".
Sunday, October 24, 2010: "lytning" for "lightning"
We have here another of those preposterous IGH spellings to represent a simple long-I sound. Y, by itself, can represent that sound much more economically (hybrid, pyrotechnics, psyche): "lytning".
My thanks to "Monsters..." for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Saturday, October 23, 2010: "-izm" for "-ism"
Let's address a category of extant and ad-hoc words formed with the unphonetic suffix
-ISM,which has an S but no S-sound. Rather, the sound is Z, so should be spelled with a Z.
There is also a brief schwa sound between the S and the M, but since the present spelling doesn't indicate that, yet people know not to try to say this letter sequence without that sound, we don't have to insert any letter for that schwa.
-IZMwill do. Some businesses have indeed used the -IZMspelling in tradenames. Geo Prizm was the name of a car sold by General Motors for several years. Altho "prism" does not use -ISMas a suffix, the same phonetic principle applies, even midword, such as in "prizmatic". So let's use this phonetic form in all existing words that now use -ISM: "-IZM".
Friday, October 22, 2010: "hoky" for "hoki"
This Food Friday, let's reform the name of a fish (also called "blue grenadier") from waters around New Zealand that is used in McDonald's fish-fillet sandwiches. There is some disagreement between online dictionaries about the word's pronunciation. Collins says hók.ee. Oxford says hóe.kee. The present spelling suggests a long-O, so let's go with that.
A final-I is ambiguous, often being pronounced as long-I (alibi, alkali, alumni) but sometimes as long-E (bikini, deli, ski). There is no completely unambiguous way to spell a long-E sound at the end of a word (really/rely, absentee/fiancee), but
-Yon a word like today's is more like clear: "hoky".
Thursday, October 21, 2010: "gravvel" for "gravel"
Today's word starts with the familar word grave, which is pronounced with a long-A. But when you add an L, the A magically becomes short! How is the reader to know that? The way we customarily show a short vowel mid-word is by doubling the consonant after it, and the mere fact that that consonant is V is no reason not to double it: "gravvel".
Wensday, October 20, 2010: "freez" for "freeze"
We surely don't need three E's to show a long-E sound: "freez".
Tuesday, October 19, 2010: "elevven" for "eleven"
We have, in the traditional spelling of today's word, three E's followed by a single consonant. The E before the L is long; the E before the V is short; the E before the N is a schwa. How is a new reader to know that?
A single consonant after a long vowel is fine. A vowel before any consonant in an unstressed syllable at the end of a word would be seen as either short or a schwa. There's no way to make clear which sound should be used, since traditional spelling has no single character for schwa. The one place where the spelling is actively misleading is the E in the middle, before the V, which looks as tho it should be long but is actually short. To show that it is short, we need merely double the V: "elevven".
My thanks to "Bookk..." for this suggestion. ("Seven" was, similarly, offered here as "sevven" on April 25, 2010.)
Munday, October 18, 2010: "dammij" for "damage"
AGE is ambiguous, often being pronounced with a long-A (as in age itself, and in stage, page, and macrophage). Here, the vowel sound represented by the A is not an A-sound at all, not long (as in ate or paid), not short (as in at). Rather, it is a schwa that very closely approaches a full short-I. So let's write I. Since the I is short, we need to double the following-M to show that.
Moreover, GE is also ambiguous (college, collage, renege). Here, the GE merely stands in for J. Why? If the sound is J, let's just write J. Putting this all together, we get: "dammij".
Sunday, October 17, 2010: "carret" for "caret"
A single-R after an A is ambiguous (cared, star, war). A double-R is not wholly unambiguous (barroom, warranty, warrior), but it is more like clear (arrow, barrel, carriage): "carret".
Saturday, October 16, 2010: "behynd" for "behind"
A vowel followed by two consonants is ordinarily short, but the I here is supposed to be long. To show that sound better, we should use Y, as in hydrangea, hybrid, and hydrant: "behynd".
Friday, October 15, 2010: "airial" for "aerial"
AE is an odd and unexpected spelling for the flat-A sound as in air and fair, or dare and scare. Given the -IAL ending, we can't use the -ARE spelling, in that "areal" would be ambiguous because of the familiar words are and real. But AI would work: "airial".
Thursday, October 14, 2010: "whitebord" for "whiteboard"
OA is ambiguous (boar, boa, oat, pronounced baur, bóe.wa, oet). It is the A that causes the problem, so let's just drop it, OK?: "whitebord".
My thanks to "Garage..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, October 13, 2010: "trajjic" and "trajjedy" for "tragic" and "tragedy"
As with yesterday's, today's words both have an ambiguous GE that represents a J-sound. If the sound is J, we should write J. Indeed, since the A is short, we should double the following consonant (the J) to show that: "trajjic" and "trajjedy".
My thanks to "Orange..." shouldn't that be "Oranj"? for suggesting reform of today's word, tho I chose a slitely different solution.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010: "savvij" and "savvijry" for "savage" and "savagery"
AGE is ambiguous, and would ordinarily be pronounced like the word of the same spelling and sage, cage, and rage. That is not the sound here, which is a schwa that very closely approaches short-I. So the vowel should be I.
GE is ambiguous (get, genre, college, collage, renege; pronounced, respectively, get, zhón.ra, kól.aj, ka.lózh/koe.lózh, ri.nég/ri.níg/ri.néeg). Here, the GE merely stands in for a J. If the sound is J, let's write J.
In today's longer word, "savagery", the GER could represent a full syllable (surgery, skullduggery, thuggery). It does not, so we need to eliminate that ambiguity, which replacing the GE with J does handily.
A single-V leaves ambiguous the sound of the preceding-A, which could be read long. It's short, so we should double the following consonant (V) to show that plainly.
Putting this all together, we get: "savvij" and "savvijry".
Munday, October 11, 2010: "rezist" for "resist"
As with yesterday's word ("praze" for "praise"), we have today a word in which an S represents a Z-sound. Worse, there are two S's, only one of which is supposed to be pronounced Z, while the other is supposed to be pronounced S. How on Earth is the reader to know that? If the sound is Z, let's write a Z: "rezist".
My thanks to "Multi..." for this suggestion.
Sunday, October 10, 2010: "praze" for "praise"
AI_E is an inefficient way to spell the long-A sound. AI by itself might suffice (paid, brain, acclaim). A_E would also show a long-A (sake, tame, rate). We don't need both. And the sound in today's word is not S at all, but Z. We could sensibly spell this word as either "praiz" or "praze". No common English word ends in -AIZ. A bunch of common words do, however, end in -AZE (faze, graze, raze), so -AZE is surely the better way to go: "praze".
My thanks to "Doghouse..." for this suggestion.
Saturday, October 9, 2010: "medalyon" for "medallion"
LION is a well-known word learned early, and is pronounced líe.yan. So "medallion" looks like a compound word made up of "medal" and "lion", which would puzzle new learners and make them think perhaps it's a reference to someone who is a fierce competitor for medals. In any case, líe.yan is not the sound in today's word, which overall is pronounced ma.dáal.yan or mi.dáal.yan.
Further, -ALL- in the traditional spelling is commonly pronounced like the word of the same spelling and like ball, call, and fall, with an AU-sound. That is also not the sound in today's word, which is, rather, the short-A of Al, pal, and salad. Thus, one L is the better way to go: "medalyon".
Friday, October 8, 2010: "lamminit" for the noun and adjective "laminate"
Today's word is one of a large class of words that differ in pronunciation depending upon what part of speech they serve in the particular context. The verb form of many words ending in -ATE is pronounced with a long-A (legitimate, aggregate, advocate), but the noun or adjective form is pronounced with a schwa that closely approaches short-I, so -IT is the way the last syllable should be spelled.
The other issue with today's word is the short-A in the first syllable, which is unclear because there's only a single consonant after it. Let's make the short pronunciation clear, by doubling the M: "lamminit".
Thursday, October 7, 2010: "industreol" for "industrial"
As with yesterday's word, "hemophilia", we have today a word in which an I represents neither of its own sounds, long (as in trial, a word to itself that is also contained in, and is the last part of, today's word) or short (as in it), but a long-E. Let's change that I to E, but we will also have to change the A to O, since the word would otherwise end in
-REAL, which could be seen as one syllable. O, like every vowel letter, can indeed express a schwa (violin, capitol, idol): "industreol".
My thanks to "fishstick..." for this suggestion.
Wensday, October 6, 2010: "hemofillea" for "hemophilia" and "haemophilia"
There are at least three things wrong with the shorter (standard: North American) form of today's word, and four with the longer form. In both, there is a ridiculous PH for a simple-F sound. Replace if with F. There is one L after a vowel, which renders unclear whether the vowel is long or short. Double the L to show plainly that the vowel is short. And I before the final-A is used not for an I-sound at all but for a long-E sound. Replace it with E.
The longer (dialectal: British) form also has the preposterously antiquated and never phonetic* AE for a simple E-sound. Drop
Putting this all together, we get: "hemofillea".
* In Latin, from a version of which HEMO- derives, AE was pronounced like English long-I. In Old English, AE represented the Modern English short-A sound.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010: "jellignite" and "jellatin" for "gelignite" and "gelatin"
Every now and then I come across a spelling so stupid that I sit in amazement, checking dictionary after dictionary to see if that could really be the way that sound combo is spelled. "Gelignite" is one such spelling. It looks as tho it should be pronounced gel.íg.niet, with a "hard"-G and stress on the middle syllable. It is actually pronounced jél.ig.nìet, with a J-sound and stress on the first syllable. Astounding. What moron came up with that?
I don't want to hear excuses that it is a shortened combined form for "gelatin dynamite" (with the -IGN- taken from Latin "lignis", wood), and since "gelatin" has a G for a J-sound, it is entirely appropriate to use a G in the combined word. No, it's not. Neither word should have a G for a J-sound. If the sound is J, we should simply write J!
Nor is it legitimate to use a single-L in either of these words, since the E is short, so the following consonant should be doubled to show that. In that the words' stress falls on the first syllable in both cases, and seeing a double-L would induce most people, properly, to place the stress there, doubling the L is twice advisable. So today's twofer is: "jellignite" and "jellatin".
On January 29, 2005 I offered reform of "gel" to "jel", and mentioned derivatives like "jellatin" and "jelattinus" only in passing. I have now fixed that discussion, and addressed the double-L for "jellatin", and double-T for "jelattinus", and dropping the O from "gelatinous" since there is no OU-sound in "jelattinus".
Munday, October 4, 2010: "forhed" for "forehead"
This 8-letter word has at least 2, and possibly 3, silent letters. Altho some dictionaries show as preferred a pronunciation with the H silent, my impression from hearing the word said around me and in media, is that the great majority of speakers now pronounce the H, for two reasons. First, people rebel against needlessly silent letters, and various once-silent letters are making a comeback (such as the T in often but not, curiously, in soften, fasten, or any other word and L in palm and almond). This is what we get for leaving irrational spellings in place. People who learn their vocabulary from reading will invariably read some things wrong, and reinstitute letters 'properly' silent. Second, "head" is an intrinsic part of the word, and the H in "head" is pronounced. So pronouncing it in "forehead" is perfectly reasonable.
Thus I won't offer a spelling with the H removed. But I do insist we don't need the E after the R (because OR carries the sound without an extra letter) nor the A (because
-HEDwill be re(a)dclearly, whereas EA is ambiguous): "forhed".
Sunday, October 3, 2010: "emmiserry" for "emissary"
The double-S in the traditional spelling of today's word suggests that the second syllable takes the word's stress, whereas the second syllable actually takes no stress. The first syllable takes the primary stress; the third, secondary stress (ém.i.sèr.ee). The consonants following the short vowels in those syllables should be doubled, and the double-S should be reduced to a single-S.
Further, the vowel sound in the third syllable is not an A not a long-A, short-A, or broad-A. Not an A at all, but the E of berry, cherry, and sherry, so we should use that spelling: "emmiserry".
Saturday, October 2, 2010: "distribbute" for "distribute"
I'm not sure why, but a lot of non-native speakers of English say this word as dís.tri.byùet. Doubling the B will cue them to the fact that the second syllable, not the first, bears the word's stress: "distribbute".
Note: "distribution" is fine as-is, in that no one seems to have trouble knowing that the stress falls on the U.
Friday, October 1, 2010: "condroitin" for "chondroitin"
This Food Friday, let's fix the spelling of a popular food supplement that, with glucosamine, is used by people, such as those suffering from arthritis, who are concerned about the health of their joints, and particularly the cartilage. The spelling has a CH, but the pronunciation has no CH-sound (as in church). Rather, the CH here represents only the K-sound, which would, more conventionally, be shown simply by a "hard"-C. So let's drop the H and save both a letter and some confusion for new readers: "condroitin".
Note: There are two pronunciations for the OI, the usual OI-sound (as in hoist, android, and, yes, joints, for which "chondroitin" is taken) and a two-syllable version, in which the O is pronounced long and the I, short. We need not take sides in that controversy, since the spelling OI covers both.
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