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Simpler Spelling
Word of the Day
Archive of Discussions
October-December 2012

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Sunday, September 30, 2012:  "dennim" for "denim"

DE- is a common prefix, ordinarily pronounced with a long-E ("decide", "degrade", "deposit"). That is not the sound here, and it is not, here, a prefix, but an integral part of the word. The word comes to us from French, where it is "short for serge de Nîmes[,] serge of Nîmes" (a city in France). So in French, the "de" is akin to the English prefix in the sense of "of" or "originating from".

In English, the sound of the E is short. To show that, and to indicate that "denim" is not a verb meaning "to derive from nim" or "to take the nim out" (as "dehumidify" means to take humidity out of something), we need merely double the N: "dennim".

Saturday, September 29, 2012:  "crissoberril" for "chrysoberyl"

'Why' are there two Y's in this word (for a type of mineral, such as the cat's-eye gem), when the vowel sounds are short-I and schwa, respectively, not long-I, which would be a legitimate use for a Y midword ("dynamic", "hybrid", "tycoon")? Let's change both Y's to I.

And why is there an H between the initial-C and R? It is silent, in that dropping it, and thus saving ourselves a letter each time we write the word, would not change the word's sound? Let's just drop it, OK?

The third issue is that a single-S and single-R do not make clear the sound of the preceding vowels. Are they long? Are they short? They're both short. To show that, we should double both the S and the R. That would have the added value of showing that those two syllables are stressed. The first syllable takes the primary stress; the third, secondary stress. Alas, we cannot show which takes which, since we don't have a convention such as a triple consonant to show primary stress and a double consonant to show secondary stress ("crisssoberril"). Still, we can narrow down where stresses in this four-syllable word occur, so that no reader is likely to say kris.ó "crissoberril".

Friday, September 28, 2012:  "booteek" for "boutique"

There are three problems with today's word. First, there is an OU that does not represent the OU-sound but a long-U without initial Y-glide, which can also be thought of as the long-OO sound. OO would be a better spelling here than U, since some people might read the U as having an initial Y-glide, which would be wrong. Fortuitously, the frequent word "boot" has a long-OO sound, so that similarity would work to steer the reader away from the short-OO of "foot".

The second problem is the -QUE, which some readers would be tempted to see as representing a syllable to itself, as in "barbeque", the originally erroneous spelling of "barbecue" that has become so common as to be accepted as a variant rather than misspelling. Here, the QUE represents nothing more than a simple K-sound, and we don't need three letters to show a K-sound. At the end of a word, K, alone, will do nicely.

Between those two problems, there is a third, an I that represents neither of I's own sounds, long as in "I", "alibi", and "alkali", and short, as in "it", "alibi", and "tick". Rather, the I in today's word represents a long-E, which is much better written EE.

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

Thursday, September 27, 2012:  "atak" for "attack"

A double-T should mark the prior vowel as short, in this case a short-A, as in "at". That is not the sound here, which is schwa. At the beginning of a word, the letter A by itself suffices to show a schwa ("about", "around", "ajar"). So we can drop one of the T's, and save ourselves a letter. We also save some confusion as to which syllable takes the word's stress. Compare "attic", in which the double-T marks both a short-A and stress on the first syllable.

Once we ditch one of the T's, a second issue then presents itself. "Tack" is a word to itself, which bears no obvious relation to "attack" (tho there are, etymologically, very dilute ties between the two words). If we drop the C, however, no one will be tempted to see the result as having anything to do with "a tack". There are a number of common words ending in AK (e.g., "flak", "yak", and "kayak") so it's hard to argue against dropping a C that is not needed to show pronunciation. We can, thus, save two letters in reforming this word: "atak".

Wensday, September 26, 2012:  "zinkite" for "zincite"

C before I is expected to be pronounced like S, so "zincite" should be pronounced like "incite". Instead, it is pronounced like "zinc" plus -ITE, which is a truly bizarre spelling we must fix. The sound of the C is K, so should be written as K. To cue the connection to "zinc", we could leave the C and add a K, to form "zinckite". But why clutter the word with a needless letter? Let's just write: "zinkite".

Tuesday, September 25, 2012:  "twich" for "twitch"

We don't need a T in "rich", "which", or "ostrich", so don't need one in "twitch" either: "twich".

Munday, September 24, 2012:  "seeyer" for "seer"

EE ordinarily represents a single vowel sound, long-E. Let's keep it that way. Here, the pronunciation almost everyone uses (for a person who sees, or prophesies) has two vowel sounds, long-E followed by the sound of E in the common suffix -ER. To show that, we need to add a YE before the R, as we do with the comparable word "sawyer", for someone who saws: "seeyer".

Sunday, September 23, 2012:  "riggamarole" for "rigamarole" and "rigmarole"

We have today a doublet of what are usually considered alternate versions of the same word. If the two are considered one word, they should have one pronunciation, and a spelling that renders that one pronunciation clearly. The more commonly heard version is "rigamarole", for the good and sufficient reason that it is more indicative of what the word means, "any long complicated procedure", for being long(er) and (more) complicated itself. Unfortunately, as all too often happens when pretentious lexicographers are in charge of dictionaries, that version is called the variant, while the far less common "rigmarole" is regarded as standard or preferred. In either case, the spelling of the member of the pair that has an A after the G needs a second-G to show that the preceding-I is short.

People who don't use that member of the word pair are of course free to use "rigmarole" and spell it that way. The rest of us, however, should write: "riggamarole".

Saturday, September 22, 2012:  "fotojennic" for "photogenic"

(1) PH for a simple F-sound is indefensibly absurd, so has got to go. If the sound is F, let's write F. (2) The sound represented by the G is not G's own, unique sound (as in "get", "gear", and "gecko") but J's sound. We have a letter J. Why would we ever use G for J's sound? (3) The E is short, but the reader cannot know that, because there's only one N after it. We can easily fix all these things, and when we do, we get: "fotojennic".

Friday, September 21, 2012:  "ollid" for "olid"

Let's fix a word almost nobody ever heard of, but which might be good to use to avoid causing unpleasant thoughts that other terms that mean the same thing, like "smelly", "stinky", "foul-smelling", and even the genteel "malodorous" would evoke. "Olid" looks as tho it should have a long-O, because there's only one L after it, but the O is actually short. We can show that by simply doubling the L: "ollid".

Thursday, September 20, 2012:  "mattinay" for "matinée" and "matinee"

(1) A single-T leaves unclear the sound of the preceding-A. It is short, so the T should be doubled to show that. (2) English doesn't use accents, so the acute accent in the more formal spelling has to go. (3) EE should always represent a long-E sound, but here it represents a long-A, because it is a French spelling. But the word has been part of English for at least 162 years! It is long past time to anglicize it. We should thus change the EE to AY to make the proper sound clear. Putting this all together, we get: "mattinay".

Wensday, September 19, 2012:  "limmerence" for "limerence"

Today's silly word for a dubiously valid or useful distinction from terms like "in love" and "infatuation" has a foolish spelling. The I is short, but is followed by -ME-, such that the first four letters spell out LIME, which should be pronounced with a long-I. To show that the I is short, we need to double the M: "limmerence".

Tuesday, September 18, 2012:  "ionnosfere" for "ionosphere"

A single-N in today's word leaves the sound of the O before it unclear. It's short, so we should double the N. That also cues the reader that the second syllable of this four-syllable word takes the primary stress.

The other problem with this word is the ridiculous PH for an ordinary F-sound. If the sound is F, we should write F: "ionnosfere".

The adjectival form, "ionospheric", has two pronunciations, one with a short-E, the other with a long-E. People should write whatever they say, be it "ionnosferic" or "ionosferric". One might argue that a single-R will do for either pronunciation, but if a person wants to make clear which they personally use, "ionnosfeeric" would be clearer for the one with a long-E, whereas "ionnosferric" would be clearer for the pronunciation with a short-E.

Munday, September 17, 2012:  "habbit" for "habit"

"Habit" rhymes with "rabbit", and should be spelled like it, since the A is short, so needs a double consonant after it to show that: "habbit".

Sunday, September 16, 2012:  "glif" for "glyph"

Three of the five letters in today's word are wrong. Y midword should be reserved to the long-I sound. Here, the sound is short-I, which is obviously best written with a plain old I. PH is an absurd way to write a simple F-sound, which should be written, simply, with F. Put these two little changes together, and we get the shorter, clearer: "glif".

Satuday, September 15, 2012:  "fybromyalja" for "fibromyalgia"

An I before the two-letter consonant cluster BR should be short. Here, the sound is long-I. Midword, Y can show that clearly ("hybrid", "dynamic", "pyromania").

The next problem today is at the very end of the word, where -GIA is twice unwise. First, the G represents not G's own, unique sound, expressed by no other letter, but J's sound, which can and should be shown by J. The second issue is that the IA could be said as two syllables, whereas it is better said as one. Let's drop the I. Now the spelling makes sense: "fybromyalja".

Friday, September 14, 2012:  "explor" for "explore"

This is simple. The final-E serves no purpose. Let's just drop it, OK?: "explor".

Thursday, September 13, 2012:  "deccapod" for "decapod"

A single-C in this word leaves unclear the sound of the preceding-E. Is it long, as we might expect? Is it short, as we would not expect? It's short, so we need to double the following-C: "deccapod".

Wensday, September 12, 2012:  "clif" for "cliff"

We don't need two F's to express one F-sound. I am reminded of a running bit in the old sitcom, F Troop, in which the two F's in "Banff" are both pronounced. If we don't need two F's in "if", we don't need two F's in "cliff": "clif".

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2012:  "bunggle" for "bungle"

NG is ambiguous, esp. as regards whether it represents only one, nasal sound ("bling", "singer", "rang") or that sound plus a ("hard") G-sound ("finger", "anger", "hungry"). There are two other pronunciations for NG, the first being the two separate sounds N and "hard"-G merely side-by-side ("ingredient", "ungainly", "engulf"), the second being the two separate sounds except that the G takes its "soft" sound, J's ("ingest", "singe", "engender"). Tho native speakers of English might not even consider the last two sounds as possible in "bungle", people studying English as a Second Language will not have enuf information to know whether any of the four sounds NG might take can be ruled out. Nor will they, nor pre-literate children in English-speaking countries, know for sure how to pronounce the NG here without help. Indeed, many native speakers of English don't even know that "English" should have a hard-G sound in it.

In "bungle", the NG represents the combo of the NG-sound and a hard-G. To show that plainly, we need to add a second-G: "bunggle".

Munday, September 10, 2012:  "anoy" for "annoy"

We have here another of the many words with an initial schwa, spelled A, followed by a double consonant, which should mark the A as a full short-A, rather than schwa. In today's word, to show that the vowel is not short-A, we need merely delete one of the N's, and not merely clarify the sound but also save us a letter: "anoy".

Sunday, September 9, 2012:  "rik" for "wrick"

This is a word with a silent-W that I hadn't known until I chanced across it recently. We can't just drop the W, because "rick" and the (nick)name "Rick" are well established. But we don't need a CK to show a simple K-sound, so we can drop either the C or the K. "Ric" looks incomplete; "rik", more like a full word to itself: "rik".

Saturday, September 8, 2012:  "verrisimillitude" for "verisimilitude"

There are a couple of issues here. First, there are only single-consonants, which leave unclear whether the vowel before them is long or short. The U in the last syllable is long, so we can leave the single-D. All the other vowels are short.

To determine which consonants need to be doubled, we have to consider whether the consonant ends the prior syllable or starts the next. There are two that end their syllable, and two that start it. The two that end the syllable, and thus mark a short vowel, are the R and the L. So those are the consonants we should double.

The other problem in this very long word (6 syllables) is knowing which syllables to give stress, be it primary, secondary, or even tertiary. Fortuitously, the two strongest stresses are on the syllables before the consonants we have just doubled, which fits very neatly with one of the functions of doubled consonants, to mark syllabic stress. There is a tertiary stress, on the last syllable, but that doesn't need to be marked, since it is so weak as not to be perceived by many people as taking any stress at all. We cannot indicate whether the VERR or the MILL takes the primary stress, but most native speakers of English will be able to sense the right one by experimenting. (It's the MILL.) And the stress on those two syllables also make it less likely that the other syllables have long vowels, even if they don't have double consonants to indicate that the preceding vowels are short.  

So, we can indicate both the sound of the vowels and the stress pattern of the word by doubling two of this long word's 6 medial consonants: "verrisimillitude".

Friday, September 7, 2012:  "teerameesue" for "tiramisu" and "tiramisù"

This Food Friday, let's fix the name of an Italian desert that has two spellings, neither very clear to speakers of English. The IR is like that in "irritable", which is said with a long-E sound, not long-A as in "tirade".

The MI has another long-E, and sounds like the ordinary English word "me", which is appropriate because in Italian, the desert's name is a phrase shoved together, "tira mi su", literally "pick me up"!

The SU is said just like the English name "Sue", and the more Italian way of saying the desert stresses the last syllable, so putting an -E at the end seems advisable, as a cue to that stress.

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

Thursday, September 6, 2012:  "sianara" for "sayonara"

SAY is a word to itself, with a long-A sound, as in "lay", "paid", and "station". That is not the sound in the first syllable of today's word, which is, rather, a long-I. So let's write I. Immediately after the I, an A would be more indicative of the schwa sound there than the present O: "sianara".

Wensday, September 5, 2012:  "rettina" for "retina"

There are two problems with today's word.

First, RE- is a very common prefix, very often pronounced with a long-E ("reduce, reuse, recycle"). That is not the sound here, which is short-E.

Second, the word's look, overall, suggests it should be pronounced like "pastina", "cantina", and "concertina", with a long-E sound in the next-to-last syllable. It is not. Rather, the I is short. We could show that by doubling the following-N ("rettinna"), but that would be confusing as to syllabic stress. If we double the T to show that the E is short, we simultaneously make it unlikely that a long-E could follow the double-T. A long vowel doesn't usually fall in an unstressed syllable right after a stressed syllable, because part of what makes for a long vowel sound is the actual duration of articulation. Oh, you can have such a pattern ("deviate", "remediate"), but it's uncommon, and few native speakers would try to say a long-E in the second syllable of a word spelled: "rettina".

Tuesday, September 4, 2012:  "fooey" for "phooey"

PH is an absurd way to write the simple F-sound. Some people in the spelling Establishment have actually defended this indefensible absurdity on the basis that it cues words of Greek origin. Oh? "Phooey" isn't from Greek. It's an Americanism that may have come from German thru Yiddish. Neither of those languages uses PH to represent a simple F-sound, so let's replace the PH here with F: "fooey".

Munday, September 3, 2012:  "occulist" for "oculist"

This old-fashioned term for an eye doctor has been replaced in general use by more hifalutin terms like ophthalmologist and optometrist. But since it can still be found in print, we should reform it to make its pronunciation clearer. That is, the O is short, which a single-C after the O does not indicate. So, let's double the C: "occulist".

Sunday, September 2, 2012:  "endooya" for "nduja" and "'nduja"

This term for spreadable pork sausage looks like a word from an African language, but is actually from Calabria, Italy, and from the name of another spreadable sausage product, andouille in France. The pronunciation of the initial N- or 'N- is thus not as you would expect of an African syllabic-N (which would approximate with "in"), but like EN, so should be written EN.

The J is pronounced like Y, so should be written as a Y.

The apostrophe merely indicates the absence of an earlier vowel, be it A as in French andouille or E as in English "end". Since this is English, and the sound is that of short-E, EN is the appropriate spelling.

As for the U, we could leave it ("enduya"), but some people, influenced by British speech, might intrude an initial Y-glide into that sound, whereas it should not have one. So OO is a better spelling: "endooya".

I would ordinarily reserve a food word to Food Friday, but this was the only word remaining in the future-words list that started with N. (I was going to say that this was the only N-word left, but that would suggest something else.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012:  "mannic" for "manic"

"Manic" is the adjectival form of "mania", but "mania" has a long-A sound, whereas "manic" has a short-A. We need to show that, by doubling the N: "mannic".

Friday, August 31, 2012:  "limmerick" for "limerick"

LIME is a word to itself, pronounced with a long-I. That is not the sound here, which is short-I. RICK is a popular informal name, and an uncommon word, also with a short-I. And "lime rickey" is a popular hot-weather drink. "Limerick" is not a short form of "lime rickey", as new readers of English, esp. outside the old-line English-speaking countries, might think, and the first syllable doesn't sound like the name of the fruit "lime". To show the proper sound of the I, we need merely double the following-M: "limmerick".

Thursday, August 30, 2012:  "istlee" for "istle" and "ixtle"

Today's words are perfect examples of the inexcusable addition of words to the English language without regard to how misleading their spelling might be. These two words are not even newly admitted, but date back to 1885, at latest. "Ixtle" is the alternate spelling, with an alternate pronunciation (íkst.lee). "Istle" is the standard spelling, pronounced "íst.lee". Here again, the better spelling, and pronunciation, is the alternate, and the worse, the standard. Why does that happen — at all? so often?

The standard spelling is like "whistle", "gristle", and "thistle", all of which have a silent-T. Who came up with the ridiculously inappropriate spelling "istle", given the well-understood pattern with a silent-T? Sometimes I wish we could go back in time and slap the face of everybody who comes up with ridiculous spellings for words being borrowed into English.

In any case, "istly" wouldn't be clear, for looking like the adjectival form of words like "gristle", still with a silent-T. An -EE ending should, however, be read right: "istlee".

Wensday, August 29, 2012:  "habbitat" and "habbitable" for "habitat" and "habitable"

The single-B in today's words renders unclear the sound of the A before it, which could be long or short. It's short. To make that plain, we should double the B, as in the familiar word "rabbit": "habbitat" and "habbitable".

Naturally, all derivatives and related words take the same change, such as "habbitation", "inhabbitable", etc.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012:  "gravvid" for "gravid"

This technical term for "pregnant" is spelled like "David" but pronounced with a short-A, not long. To show that the A is short, we need merely double the V: "gravvid".

Munday, August 27, 2012:  "f-bom" for "f-bomb"

The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary recently added some words, and the euphemism "f-bomb" is one of them. But there is no justification for a silent-B — or any silent consonant, for that matter. I offered "bom" for "bomb" on January 10, 2005. To be consistent, I urge that we also delete the final-B from this newly legitimized word: "f-bom".

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

Sunday, August 26, 2012:  "enceffaloppathy" for "encephalopathy"

There are two problem areas in today's word. First is the ridiculous spelling PH for a simple F-sound. PH is inefficient, in requiring two letters where one will do to convey that sound; and ambiguous, because some PH's actually are said as the two sounds P and H in sequence ("uphold", "uphill"), and in some places the PH is taken as a P by some readers ("diphthong", "naphtha"). So we should replace the PH with F.

The second problem is syllabic stress. This six-syllable word has a primary stress on the fourth syllable and a strong secondary stress on the second. We should show both, since it would be easy for people to see the second syllable taking the primary stress and the fifth taking the secondary stress: en.séf.a.loe.pà We can show stresses easily thru the standard convention of doubling the consonant at the end of each stressed syllable, here, the F and P. The reader will be able to figure out* from trying both pronunciations, which syllable takes the primary and which the secondary stress: "enceffaloppathy".

* As you can see from the pronunciation key within the discussion above, that it is possible to show degrees of syllabic stress thru accents, but traditional English spelling does not employ accents for any such purpose: "encèffalóppathy" (or, in the present spelling, "encèphalópathy". We could perfectly well do that, but don't.

Saturday, August 25, 2012:  "dencher/s" for "denture/s"

T does not spell the CH-sound (as in "church"). CH spells the CH-sound. We could write "denchur/s", but ER is the most common way of writing the vowel sound in the second syllable, so we should write that, for the benefit of people trying to guess how to spell the word on hearing it: "dencher/s".

Friday, August 24, 2012:  "carrob" and "algoroba" for "carob", "algorroba", and "algoroba"

It's Food Friday again, and this time we have three spellings that refer to the same thing.

AR is ambiguous, usually being pronounced with a "broad-A" (or short-O, the same sound), as in "car", "carnage", and "carnauba", but also being pronounced, less frequently, as short-A ("caracul", "caramel" (as most people say it), and "carapace"), or the AI-sound ("caring", "scary", and "caries"). Here, the sound is short-A, which before an R-sound is often wisely marked by a double-R ("carry", "carriage", and "carrion"). Let's double the R here too.

In the synonym for "carob", "algorroba", we have a double-R that is misleading, because it suggests that the second syllable bears the word's stress, whereas the third syllable does that. The alternate spelling, with a single-R, is better — so of course (this being English, the stupidest major language on Earth as regards spelling)* the better spelling is the alternate, and the worse spelling is the standard! Let's make the better spelling the standard.

And so we end up with: "carrob" and "algoroba".

* The spelling of French is arguably even more bizarre than that of English, except that you almost always know how to pronounce cumbersome French spellings, whereas you cannot know how to pronounce English unless you have memorized the words at issue.

Thursday, August 23, 2012:  "bezzel" for "bezel"

A single-Z leaves unclear the sound of the prior-E. It could be long; it could be short. It's short. To show that clearly, we need only double the Z.

We could move the second-E to after the L ("bezzle"), but that seems inadvisable, in suggesting that "bezel" is somehow related to "embezzle". It's not: "bezzel".

Wensday, August 22, 2012:  "acumulate" for "accumulate"

ACC should be pronounced with a short-A, because doubling the following consonant is a very frequently employed way to show that a vowel takes its short sound. In the case of A, the short sound is as in "at", "fashion", and "sabotage". That is not the sound here, which is a schwa.

At the beginning of a word, the simplest way to show a schwa sound is with A, and nothing more ("about", "ajar", "amazing"). We certainly don't need two C's, so let's drop one, and save a letter: "acumulate".

Tuesday, August 21, 2012:  "zoapraxiscope" for "zoopraxiscope"

The device that bears this name no longer exists, but to the extent that its name might be encountered in the future, and confuse readers in the future, it should nonetheless be reformed. ZOO is a word to itself, pronounced zue. That is not the sound here. Rather, the ZOO here is said as two syllables, zóe.wa. To show the actual sound, we need to replace the second-O of the traditional spelling with an A: "zoapraxiscope".

Munday, August 20, 2012:  "vybrissa" and "vybrissee" for "vibrissa" and "vibrissae"

The two-letter consonant BR should mark the preceding-I as short, as it does in "vibrato", but in today's word, the I is actually long. To show that, midword, we should write Y: "vybrissa" and "vybrissee".

* We might also want to change the plural from the irregular -AE ending to a regular -AS.

Sunday, August 19, 2012:  "oomommy" for "umami"

I recently came across this word* that was brought in from Japanese less than 40 years ago. It is a perfect example of the stupidity that is working to make English ever more chaotic.

Japanese is not written in the roman alphabet. Indeed, it's not written in ANY alphabet, but in ideograms and syllabic characters that bear absolutely no resemblance to an alphabet. When transliterating from ideograms to alphabetic writing, each language should employ its OWN conventions for showing sounds, which is what alphabetic writing is supposed to do.

Japanese is not a "Continental" European language. So there is absolutely no reason to write a word borrowed into ENGLISH from the nonalphabetic writing of the language of an INSULAR country off the east coast of Asia with "Continental" European values in the roman alphabet. Rather, the sounds of that word should be expressed, for readers of English, in ENGLISH conventions: "oomommy".

*  "a strong meaty taste imparted by glutamate and certain other amino acids: often considered to be one of the basic taste sensations along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty."

Saturday, August 18, 2012:  "tanock" for "tanakh"

English does not have the sound KH, so there's no point in writing it, because it won't be pronounced any differently than an ordinary-K by the great preponderance of all speakers of English. At the end of a word, CK is far more common than K-alone.

The second-A in this word takes its "Continental" value, a "broad"-A or short-O (the same sound). But English is not a "Continental" language, and the vowel A is seen by readers of English as having two usual sounds, long as in "caning" and short as in "canning". To show the sound intended here, it is much better to use an O: "tanock".

Friday, August 17, 2012:  "serloin" for "sirloin"

For this Food Friday, let's make clearer the sound of a premium cut of beef.

IR is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced with a long-E ("irritable"), other times with a short-I ("irradiate"), yet others being pronounced with an ER-sound ("bird" and today's word). The ER-sound can also be written UR ("purge"), and, indeed, the Middle English spelling was "surloyn", and the Old French word from which it derived was written "surloigne" (a "variant of surlonge"). So, one could make a powerful case for writing "surloin".

Only one thing stands against that, which is that a person (esp. a person in a non-English-speaking country who is learning English) who hears that pronunciation would be far more likely to guess ER, because ER vastly outnumbers UR in representations of that sound. Is that a good enuf reason to write ER, when the history of the word urges UR? I think so.

There are already far more people who use English as a second language or international auxiliary language than speak it as their native language, and that number keeps growing, by millions and millions a year. So we must always bear in mind how these new users of English think, and what they need to be able to use English for its practical utility. They don't care about the history of the language or traditional spellings. All they care about is being able to USE English easily, which means being able to read and write the sounds without too much memorization. Accommodating their need for phoneticity will also help us in the old-line English-speaking countries, esp. kids who are trying to learn how to spell: "serloin".

Thursday, August 16, 2012:  "rebelle" for (the verb) "rebel"

There are two words in one spelling here, one a noun and the other a verb, both of which refer to resisting authority or convention. As so often happens, this noun-verb word pair is distinguished in speech by differential syllabic stress. The noun is stressed on the first syllable; the verb, on the second/last. It is important to show in print which word is intended, by indicating syllabic stress. Otherwise, in some sentences, the reader will say the wrong thing to himself, then have to go back. That is inefficient and annoying.

I have already offered the noun as "rebble", on January 24, 2006. Now it's time to show the verb clearly.

One way that English traditionally shows an otherwise unexpected stress on the last sylable is by doubling the last consonant and adding an E ("gazelle", "comedienne", and various diminutives of the form "kitchenette"). We can do that with "rebel": "rebelle".

Tho we might be tempted to drop the final-E, "rebell" might be taken as meaning "to bell again". "Rebelle", however, would not cause confusion with "belle", because "belle" is a noun only, never a verb.

"Rebelle" is the original, Old French form of the word, and there was really no good reason to shorten it, as made its pronunciation ambiguous.

Spelling simplification is not about the length of the word but about the clarity of the cues to pronunciation, because language is first and foremost speech. The very purpose — indeed, the only purpose — of an alphabet is to convey speech, and if a spelling doesn't do that clearly, it isn't simple to use, but must be memorized rather than merely sounded out. Sounding things out is simple. Having to memorize thousands of nonphonetic spellings is not: "rebelle".

Wensday, August 15, 2012:  "parrashute" for "parachute"

There are two problem areas in today's word. First, AR is commonly pronounced with a "broad-A" (or short-O, the same sound), as in "starve", "carve", and "marvelous". That is not the sound here, which is a plain short-A (as in "fat cat"). To show the combination of short-A followed by an R-sound, traditional spelling tends to use a double-R ("parry", "marriage", "carrion"). Let's double the R here.

The second problem is that there's a CH for an SH-sound. We should change the C to S: "parrashute".

Tuesday, August 14, 2012:  "osselot" for "ocelot"

Today's crappy traditional spelling has given rise to a spelling-(mis)pronunciation with a long-O in the first syllable. The correct pronunciation has two short-O's, one in the first syllable, the other in the third. To show that, and, hopefully,* drive the mispronunciation out of existence, we need merely replace the C with a double-S: "osselot".

* Tho some priggish pedants object to this use of "hopefully", that objection, if ever justified, long ago ceased to be valid.  See the usage note at "hopefully" on

Munday, August 13, 2012:  "nanno-" for "nano-" and "nanno-"

Let's fix a prefix whose spelling has given rise, if rarely, to a mispronunciation with a long-A (in the first syllable). The proper pronunciation has a short-A, which is best shown by doubling the N, which is indeed one acceptable spelling. We need to embrace that spelling, and banish the one with only one N, everywhere: "nanno-".

There is a third version of this prefix, "nan-".  If it falls before a vowel, its N should as well be doubled.

Sunday, August 12, 2012:  "mandeer" for "mandir"

This word for a Hindu temple has an ambiguous pronunciation because IR can be pronounced with a long-E ("irritate"), short-I ("irradiate"), or ER-sound ("bird"). Here, the sound is long-E, which is much better written EE.

There is a second area of possible confusion, in the A, which some people might be tempted to say as "broad"-A, as in "father", but in English it is properly pronounced with a regular short-A (as in "at"). The IR in the present spelling misleadingly points toward "Continental" values, and thus a broad-A. Replacing the IR with EER will nip that temptation in the bud: "mandeer".

Saturday, August 11, 2012:  "lacky" for "lackey" and "lacquey"

EY is ambiguous, sometimes being pronounced as in today's word, as long-E, but other times being pronounced as long-A, as in "hey", "they", and "maguey". To clarify that here, the sound is long-E, we need merely drop the E before the Y, which also saves us a letter: "lacky".

Friday, August 10, 2012:  "hajjy" for "haji", "hajji", and "hadji"

There are three spellings for this word, all of them ambiguous. The un-English spellings lead the reader to think both vowels take Continental values, so the word would be pronounced hó It's actually pronounced with an English short-A in the first syllable, and a Continental-I in the second: há That combination of sounds is better rendered: "hajjy".

Thursday, August 9, 2012:  "gestimit"  (noun) and "gestimate" (verb) for "guesstimate" and "guestimate" (each of which spellings is used for both noun and verb)

On April 5, 2005, I offered "gess" for "guess" (because "guess" should be pronounced like "goose"). Now let's go a step further and fix the noun and verb for a word that means "to estimate without substantial basis in facts or statistics".

There are two spellings at present, neither of them right, because both start with GUE, which should be pronounced like "goo", whereas the U is there only to show that the G takes its own, unique sound rather than J's sound. But we shouldn't ever have to do that. We should never use G to represent J's sound. That's what J is for.

Before T, a single-S is better than a double-S, because it will always be seen as an S-sound. Why use two letters where one will do?

In the noun, the A is pronounced as a schwa that is so close in value to a short-I that we might as well write it as I.

In the verb, the -ATE is absolutely phonetic, so we should leave it, there.

Today's proposed reforms are thus: "gestimit" for the noun and "gestimate" for the verb.

Wensday, August 8, 2012:  "fillament" for "filament"

A single-L leaves unclear the sound of the preceding vowel. Is the I long? Is it short? It's short, so we should show that plainly, by doubling the L: "fillament".

Tuesday, August 7, 2012:  "efishent" for "efficient"

The spelling "efficient", isn't efficient and isn't clear. A double consonant ordinarily marks the prior vowel short, but here, most people say a long-E. (Some lexicographers tell people to say short-I there, but that is affected nonsense. Unaffected people say a long-E, and dictionaries should show that.) In any case, the F-sound goes with the second syllable, so we can get rid of one of the F's, and save a letter.

CI does not express the SH-sound. SH does. So we should substitute SH there.

And so we get: "efishent".

Munday, August 6, 2012:  "diastolee" and "diastollic" for "diastole" and "diastolic"

"Diastole" is one of those 100+ words in English in which a final single-E is pronounced long (others include "anemone", "psyche", and "tamale"). There is no way the reader can know that this final-E is not silent, as are almost all single-E's in final position. To show the correct pronunciation clearly, we could use -Y, -IE, or -EE. -EE seems clearest to me, and least likely to cause this ordinary noun to be misperceived as an adjective or diminutive.

As regards the adjective formed from "diastole", "diastolic", we need a second-L to show that the preceding-O is short ("pollen", "follow", "rollicking").

So the suggested reforms for today's two related words are: "diastolee" and "diastollic".

Sunday, August 5, 2012:  "charrity" for "charity"

AR is most commonly pronounced with a "broad-A" (or short-O, the same sound), as in "bar", "starling", and "carbonation". Here, however, the sound is short-A, which is commonly written with two R's, as in "arrow", "barrel", and "carriage". Let's double the R here too: "charrity".

Saturday, August 4, 2012:  "bouw" for "bough"

OUGH is a preposterous spelling that is phonetically valid for no word it appears in. "Plough", "cough", "enough", "thought", and "hiccough", for instance, are pronounced plou, kauf, ee.núf, tthaut, and hík.up, respectively. The sound in "bough" is a simple OU-sound, but since it falls at the end of a word, we can't just write OU, because that is ambiguous ("bayou", "thou"). To show that in this word, the sound is OU, not long-U, we need to add a W: "bouw".

Friday, August 3, 2012:  "ax" and "axees" for "ax", "axe", and "axes"

There are, in today's traditional spellings, two main words that look the same but have very different meanings and pronunciations. The first, and more obvious, word is the plural of "ax", pronounced áak.saz. "Ax" has an alternate spelling, "axe", but should not. Let's get rid of the needless -E.

The second word spelled "axes" is the plural of "axis", which is pronounced áak.seez. We need to show that, which is easy to do, simply by adding an E to show the long-E sound: "axees".

Thursday, August 2, 2012:  "zoatoxin" for "zootoxin"

ZOO is a word to itself, pronounced zue. That is not the sound here, which has two syllables in the ZOO portion of the word (zòe.wa.tók.sin). The way to show that is by changing the second-O to A: "zoatoxin".

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

Wensday, August 1, 2012:  "tulee" for "tule"

Today's botanical word is one of over a hundred English words in which a single final-E is pronounced as a long-E. We need to show that more clearly. We could use -Y ("tuly"), but that might be seen as an adverb (like "truly" and "duly"), whereas the word is actually a noun. I think -EE is a better choice, even tho some people might be tempted to put stress on the last syllable (despite words like "coffee", "committee", and "filigree"): "tulee".

Tuesday, July 31, 2012: "skue" and "askue" for "skew" and "askew"

EW does not spell the sound long-U with initial Y-glide. If you sound it out, the E has to be short, because it is closed by the W, and short-E plus a W-glide actually makes a sort of long-O sound.

The clearest representation of the actual sound might be "skyue", but that would likely be resisted, esp. in that some people might argue that the Y could be seen by some people as having a vowel sound of its own, either long-I or long-E.

We could write "skeu", intending EU as in "euphemism" and "eulogy". But, again, some people might see an extra vowel sound, in the E. So we are left with either "sku" or "skue". "Sku" might be thought not to have a Y-glide but be said as tho written "skoo" (even tho the inventory term "SKU" is pronounced with a Y-glide). But UE is likely to be seen as in "revue", "ague", and "barbecue", which is the sound we mean: "skue" and "askue".

My thanks to "Multi..." for "skue".

Munday, July 30, 2012: "rinitis" for "rhinitis"

Why is there an H in this word? The H is silent, so shouldn't be there. Alphabetic writing is supposed to show the sounds of language. No sound, no written representation. How do you show silence? By omission: "rinitis".

Sunday, July 29, 2012: "parra/meddic" for "para/medic"

There are two words here that take the same change, doubling a D to show that the preceding-E is short. In the longer word, we also need to double the R to show that the preceding-A takes its short sound, not its "broad" sound, which is the same as short-O: "parrameddic" and "meddic".

Saturday, July 28, 2012: "nemmesis" and "nemmesees" for "nemesis" and "nemeses"

It's hard to know when an E after a consonant is sounded, merely silent, or a "magical" silent-E — that is, that it marks the vowel before the consonant as long. "Nemesis" could perfectly well be pronounced as two syllables, néem.sis. But it's not. It's pronounced in three syllables, ném.a.sìs. To show that, we need merely double the M.

For the plural, "nemeses", there is no way the reader can know, just from the spelling, that the -ES is pronounced with a long-E. To show that, we need to double that E. Of course, the double-M is still needed to show that the first-E is short. So these words should be written: "nemmesis" and "nemmesees".

Friday, July 27, 2012: "mascarpony" for "mascarpone"

This Food Friday, let's fix the name of a type of soft Italian cream cheese that has a spelling that might lead people to think that the last sound is a long-A, whereas in English it is actually long-E. To show that, we need merely substitute a Y for the E: "mascarpony".

Thursday, July 26, 2012: "limfaddenoppathy" for "lymphadenopathy"

There are three problems, in four places, with today's long medical word. First, there is a Y for a short-I sound, a very bad choice. A vocalic-Y midword should generally be used only for a long-I sound.

Second, PH is a preposterous, inefficient, and ambiguous way to write a simple F-sound. A P-sound followed in quick succession by an H-sound does not make an F-sound ("uphill", "uphold"). So let's replace the dopy PH with F.

Third, there are two places where a single consonant leaves unclear both the sound of the preceding vowel and where syllabic stress falls in this six-syllable word.

The D should be doubled to show that the preceding-A is short, and the P should be doubled to show that the O is short. Making those additions will as well make clearer where the primary and secondary stresses fall: "limfaddenoppathy".

Wensday, July 25, 2012: "homollogus" for "homologous"

HOMO is a prefix whose two O's sometimes take a long-O sound, or a long-O in the first syllable and a schwa for the second. Here, however, the first-O is ordinarily pronounced as a schwa and the second is always pronounced with a short-O sound. To show the short-O in the second syllable, we need to double the following-L.

The other problem in today's word is that there is an OU but no OU-sound. Rather, the sound is a schwa, which is much better shown by a U, without more (as in "abacus", "rhesus", and "minus": "homollogus".

Tuesday, July 24, 2012: "jimnast/ics" for "gymnast/ics"

There are two problems with today's related words. First, there is a G for a J-sound. That is ambiguous, since G before Y can take its own sound as well as J's ("gynecology"). We should, in general, try to use G only for its own unique sound, and express the J-sound with J.

The second problem is that the Y is also ambiguous, because as a vowel, it can represent a long-I ("hybrid"), short-I (in "mystical" and today's word), or long-E ("history"). If the sound is short-I, we should write an I: "jimnast" and "jimnastics".

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

Munday, July 23, 2012: "friz" for "frizz" and "friz"

Today, let's take one existing (alternate) spelling — the simpler one — and make it not just the preferred spelling but also the only acceptable spelling: "friz".

Sunday, July 22, 2012: "ayclah" for "éclat" and "eclat"

This French-form word has been in English since, at latest, 1675! Why the heck is it still spelled in preposterous, foreign fashion?

In English , we would expect to pronounce the present spelling ee.klaat, with the stress on either syllable. It is actually said ae.klóq (where a silent-Q ("cue") closes a short vowel, here, short-O as in "on", "odd", and "opposite"). The simplest way to write its proper English pronunciation in English spelling conventions is: "ayclah".

Saturday, July 21, 2012: "demensha" for "dementia"

TI does not spell the SH-sound. SH spells the SH-sound: "demensha".

A four-syllable version of today's word, dee.mén.shee.a, is a spelling-pronunciation we can get rid of thru this reform.

Friday, July 20, 2012: "cannelony" for "cannelloni"

There are two problems in this Food Friday word. The first is that there are two sets of double consonants, which produces confusion as to where the word's stress falls, on the first syllable, or the second. The primary stress actually falls on the third syllable, but there's a secondary stress on the first syllable, so we can leave the double-N, which is also necessary to show that the preceding-A is short. The double-L, however, is neither necessary nor advisable.

The second problem is the final-I, which in English would often be pronounced as a long-I ("cacti", "stimuli", "hippopotami"). Here, the sound is long-E (or, in "clipped" British accents, short-I). At the end of a word, that sound is most commonly written -Y. Let's use that: "cannelony".

Thursday, July 19, 2012: "boohdwahr" for "boudoir"

If you try to "sound out" today's word, you can't do it. So much for "phonics" (which word itself cannot be sounded out, because PH sometimes does not take an F-sound: "uphold", "upholstery", "uphill"). Nor can a reader of standard English "sound out" the OI in today's word as to make it into a W + short-O sound, which is the way it is said. Today's word's spelling makes sense in French. But English is not French, and "boudoir" makes absolutely no sense in English. What would?

The OU represents the long-OO sound ("boost", "pooch", "food"), but since OO also has a short sound ("good", "soot", "wool"), we need to show which OO-sound is meant. Here, it's long-OO, which is easily shown with OOH ("ooh", "pooh-pooh").

The OI here does not represent anything like its sound in ordinary English words ("hoist", "point", "steroid"). Rather, it sounds like W + the AR in words like "car", "bar", and "star". Unfortunately, we can't write WAR here, because the ordinary word "war" has an AU-sound, not a "broad"-A or short-O (the same sound). We need another way to write this so it is clear. AH would be clear. Let's use that: "boohdwahr".

Wensday, July 18, 2012: "air-", "airi-", and "airo-" for "aer-", "aeri-", and "aero-"

These three forms of the same prefix mean nothing but "air", so why are they spelled "aer~"? Let us replace "aer" with "air" everywhere:* "air-", "airi-", and "airo-".

* "Airasol", "airospace", "airanautics", "airomeccannic", etc.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012: "zoasperm" for "zoosperm"

ZOO is a word to itself, pronounced zue. That is not the sound in today's word, which is pronounced zóe.wa.spèrm. The way that would be written in English spelling conventions is the way it should be spelled: "zoasperm".

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

Munday, July 16, 2012: "tule" for "tulle"

A double consonant ordinarily marks the preceding vowel long, but here, the LL has no such effect, and the U is pronounced long. Let's get rid of one of the misleading L's, which will clarify the sound and save us a letter: "tule".

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

Sunday, July 15, 2012: "snif" for "sniff"

If we don't need a second-F in "if", why would we need one in "sniff"? As a noun, it never needs a second-F (singular "snif", plural "snifs"). As a verb, it would need a second-F only upon addition of a grammatical suffix like -ED or -ING, and in that circumstance we double a final consonant automatically when not to do so would leave a short vowel looking long: "snif".

Saturday, July 14, 2012: "rizapus" for "rhizopus"

A "rhizopus" is any member of a class of fungus that includes bread mold. It's sort of fun to say: ríòos. What's not fun is its unguessable silent-H. If the H has no sound, it shouldn't be there. As for the vowel of the second syllable, the sound is schwa, but some readers will likely want to say a long-O if we leave the O. Let's change the O to A: "rizapus".

Friday, July 13, 2012: "pennay" for "penne"

This Food Friday, let's clarify the sound of this name of a type of tubular pasta with diagonally-cut ends. Some Britons (probably the same ones who say "pasta" with a short-A rather than "broad"-A in the first syllable) mispronounce it as a match for "penny", only because of the ambiguity in the spelling. Let's eliminate that ambiguity: "pennay".

Thursday, July 12, 2012: "obligotto" and "obligottoes" for "obbligato/s", "obligato/s", "obbligati", and "obligati"

Altho today's word is part of a specialized vocabulary in musical notation, there's still no justification for an unphonetic spelling — much less two unphonetic spellings, and two plurals for each base spelling. Especially is this the case in that the word has been part of English since, at latest, 1725!

Worse, the plurals have no E before the S, which makes them look like words in which the -OS is not plural at all but fully part of the root word, like "pathos", "bathos", and "kudos".

We don't need a double-B, since the two-letter consonant cluster BL will be seen as showing the preceding-O short. We don't need BBL.

The A in all the forms of "ob(b)ligato" represents neither of A's regular sounds, long as in "ate" and short as in "at". Rather, it is a "broad"-A, the same sound as short-O, and O followed by a double-T would be much clearer to readers, esp. new readers outside English-speaking countries. We must always remember that "English" is a world language — the only true world language there has ever been, used by people in every country. It must be as easy to use as possible, for people in every country, no matter the local language. In making it easy for people outside the old-line English-speaking countries, we will as well make it easier for people within the old-line English-speaking countries. Win-win.

For the plural, -OES would be clearer and more easily guessed by people who only hear the word, and do not see it written. The Italian-form plural ending in -I would become entirely unnecessary once the base word is reformed to English conventions: "obligotto" and "obligottoes".

Wensday, July 11, 2012: "nacell" for "nacelle"

We don't need an E at the end of this word, and almost no one who hears the word spoken would guess that there is a silent-E there. A double-L will suffice to show that the stress falls on the second syllable: "nacell".

Tuesday, July 10, 2012: "merth" for "mirth"

IR is ambiguous, and sometimes has the vowel sound long-E ("irritable", "Iroquois"), and other times, short-I ("irrefutable", "irregular"). The sound here, however, is actually what is most commonly spelled ER. Let's use that: "merth".

Munday, July 9, 2012: "lessithin" for "lecithin"

The single-C does not make plain the pronunciation of the E before it, which is short, not long. To mark the E short, we need to double the following consonant, but that consonant cannot be C, because CC is pronounced (everywhere, perhaps, but in "soccer") as KS. So we need to substitute S for the C, then double it: "lecithin".

Sunday, July 8, 2012: "idettic" for "eidetic"

This word for a type of vivid memory starts with a long-I sound, as in "ideal", "identify", and "idolatry". Why would we write it with EI? Further, the word's stress falls on the second syllable, and the vowel (E) in that syllable is short, not long, so we should double the T: "idettic".

Saturday, July 7, 2012: "dicy" for "dicey"

This word is exactly parallel in sound to "icy", but has an unexpected E before the Y. Let's get rid of it: "dicy".

Friday, July 6, 2012: "calory" for "calorie"

There's nothing particularly bad about this Food Friday word, but it could be better. IE is ambiguous ("cookie", "yuppie",  and "birdie" all end with a long-E sound, but "pie", "hogtie", and "underlie" all end with a long-I sound). Why would we write a long-E sound with an I? And how is someone who hears the word supposed to guess an IE for a long-E sound?

In the singular, then, it is better to write -Y. In the plural, the -Y will change to IE before the -S is added, but that follows a regular rule of all nouns that end in Y: "calory".

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

Thursday, July 5, 2012: "boorse" for "bourse"

OU is ambiguous ("out", "bayou", "ought", "tough" are pronounced out, bíe.yue, aut, tuf), and should generally be reserved to the OU-sound. Here, the sound is long-OO ("food"), which is the same sound as long-U without an initial Y-glide ("blue"). Altho asserts a pronunciation with a short-OO, as in "good", that is absurd. Nobody says that, and the French from which the word derives, with the exact same spelling, does not permit such a sound. Still, to accommodate that pronunciation, we can choose to be a little vague as to whether the sound is long-OO or short, by not spelling that sound OOH, which could only be long: "boorse".

Wensday, July 4, 2012: "anyerizm" for "aneurysm" and "aneurism"

There are a number of odd features in the spelling of today's word. The initial A- could be a schwa, as in "about", "among", and "along", but it's not. It's a full short-A. That's not clear in the present spelling, but if we write a double-N, or an N followed by another consonant, that would be clearer.

EU ordinarily represents a long-U with an initial Y-glide, but here, it represents a schwa after a consonantal-Y. In combination with a following R-sound, YER would be a much better formulation.

The ending YSM or ISM has nothing to do with a system of belief, as in "liberalism" or "conservatism", so shouldn't be written like that suffix.

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2012: "zoaparrasite" for "zooparasite"

ZOO is a word to itself, pronounced zue. That is not the sound here, which is, instead, zóe.wa. The way to show that sound sequence in traditional conventions is "zoa", so let's write that.

The other problem with today's word is the AR, which, as I noted yesterday, is ordinarily pronounced with a broad-A or short-O ("par", "parboil", "partner"). That is not the sound here, which is a regular short-A. Before an R-sound, short-A is commonly shown by two R's after it. Let's use that convention here: "zoaparrasite".

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

"Parasite" was offered here as "parrasite" on February 18, 2009.

Munday, July 2, 2012: "tichuler" for "titular"

"T" does not spell the CH-sound, so let us replace the T in the TU  letter sequence in this word with CH.

Further, AR is most commonly said with a "broad"-A or short-O (the same sound, spelled differently): "car", "star", "partnership". That's not the sound here, which is, rather, the sound most commonly written ER. Let's use that spelling here: "tichuler".

Sunday, July 1, 2012: "sollem" for "solemn"

There are two problems with today's word. The more obvious is the silent-N. If the N is silent, why is it there? It shouldn't be, so let's just drop it, OK?

The second problem is that a single-L leaves unclear the sound of the O before it, which could be long. It is short. The way to show that is to double the L: "sollem".

"Solemnity" stays the same, however, because the N is pronounced and the O is a schwa; the L goes with the second syllable.

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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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