(Revised June 10, 2005)
Controlling the Selection of Words
for the Simpler Spelling Word of the Day Website
here for today's word.
here for earlier days'
here for a list of possible future
Here, in no necessary order, are some principles that we
try to abide by in the Simpler Spelling Word of the Day project ("SSWD").
I have given them numbers to ease referring to one or more in
The SSWD project is about words that people of normal intelligence
but especially new readers, be they children in English-speaking countries
or people learning English as a Second Language really do have problems
with. Moreover, SSWD is concerned with ambiguous or misleading root
words, not possible confusions among multitudinous possible derivative forms
unless the ambiguous derivative is encountered at least as frequently as,
or more fequently than, the root. There are a great many troublesome words
that come readily to mind. We don't have to search with a fine-tooth comb
thru the entire English language nor the entire conjugation of a verb or
comparative forms of an adjective, looking for problems. There are
changes we could make just to streamline things a bit (making a doubled
final consonant single or dropping a needless silent-E in final position)
that might produce a minor saving in writing or typing time and some ink
but which are hardly necessary to people's using the language easily. These
are the kinds of changes that should be addressed only after all the really
ridiculous or confusing spellings have been changed. Such trivial changes
are not the thrust of this project.
New spellings must be clearer than old, not equally unclear or even less
clear than the traditional spelling. The reforms we offer should so
readily accord with commonly understood patterns that no explanation is required.
For instance, we should not have to tell people that adding a silent-E at
the end of a word after a consonant that follows an OO renders the OO long
(e.g., "foole", "foode"). That is not self-evident (compare "Goode"). So
if people who know the way English generally works will not instantly perceive
a change as clarifying things, we won't offer that change.
Moreover, if there is more than one common way of spelling a given sound,.we
will ordinarily opt for the one that people are more likely to guess if they
hear a word whose spelling they don't know. For instance, -ER or -ERRY rather
than -OR or -URRY. But we won't change well-established spellings from one
well-understood pattern to another simply to make it easier for people to
guess how a given word is spelled, but offer a reform only if there
is some other reason to change the word than to conform one customary way
of spelling to another that may or may not be more common and readily
This Project is about (A) reforming irrational spellings that may
cause preventable problems for readers (especially new readers) and (B)
streamlining cumbersome but otherwise sensible spellings of words that have
agreed pronunciations. It is not about (a) indicating
better pronunciations (that is, taking sides in pronunciation disputes)
nor (b) giving more guidance as to syllabic stress (except possibly
where confusion often occurs) nor (c) drawing fine and needless distinctions
between words (as of origin or function) that are not reflected in pronunciation.
Alphabetic writing is fundamentally about conveying speech sounds in situations
where we can't actually convey speech. If we can clearly show the speech
sounds and also show useful distinctions, as English often does
(read/reed, pray/prey), so much the better.
SSWD will not offer arbitrary changes simply to show that words of one
type derive from different roots than words of similar sound (for instance,
rewriting tomato as tamato to distinguish from
words like today and together). There are many
elements, such as -ER as an agent ending (reader), -ER as a suffix
of comparison (better), and -ER as an integral part of a word
(gender) that do not need to be distinguished on that account
If silent letters can be dropped or any other change toward greater
phoneticity can be made with no loss of clarity, we will suggest change.
But we endeavor not to create new homographs (words spelled the same
that have different meanings, tho not always different pronunciations), if
that is at all avoidable. We want to simplify and clarify English, to make
it easier to use, not harder. We also want to minimize resistance
from the educational and publishing Establishments to the idea of simplifying
We will not attempt to "flip" existing words, that is, apply a phonetic
spelling now in use for one word to a different word altogether, and apply
a new spelling to the clear spelling already in use. For instance, we will
not propose that "bred", past tense of "breed", which is perfectly phonetic
as-is, be applied instead to "bread", and a new spelling, "bredd", be applied
to the original word "bred". Nor will we try to institute "fuel" for "fool"
(to make plain that the present OO represents a long vowel as in "food",
not short, as in "good"), because "fuel" is a present word, pronounced
fyuel. We won't try to reform "fuel" to "fule" or "fyuel" to free
up "fuel" for "fool". Readers could not know whether they are dealing with
old spelling or new spelling, and we want to make English clearer and easier
to use, not more confusing and thus harder to use.
SSWD in general does not tell people who use one common pronunciation
(e.g., capsuel for "capsule", edyookaet for "educate") that
what they're saying is wrong. That breeds offense, and resistance to spelling
reform. We don't need to accommodate rare deviations from a speech
norm, and can in a very few cases indicate that some pronunciations are
illiterate (e.g., ev-er-y for "every"), but aside from egregious cases,
SSWD is about reforms that show standard pronunciations clearly and efficiently,
as by dropping needless letters.
Reformed spellings for the SSWD page must accommodate all major alternative
pronunciations, of all major dialects/speech communities. For
instance, "atmosferic" allows both common pronunciations -feeric and
(mainly British) -feric. British and British-influenced dialects account
for some 30% of the world's native speakers of English, and we want to bring
them along in spelling reform, not antagonize them into thinking this is
some kind of arrogant, American linguistic imperialism. Only if the (North)
American great majority of all native speakers of "English" declare total
independence from "English" and tell Brits that we will no longer accommodate
them to any degree could we disregard their sensibilities. Such a separation
is perhaps implied by the suggestion from some spelling reformers that we
reform the very name of the language to "Inglish" -- tho SSWD does not generally
direct itself to proper nouns -- and proclaim that the I in
that respelling represents "international" (world language), distinct from
the "E" of the traditional spelling of the language's name, which implicitly
ties the language to "England". But snapping the English-speaking
world in two is not the purpose of the SSWD project, which strives
to draw the attention of people across the entire English-speaking
world to commonsense reforms we could all make to our mutual
The SSWD project favors smaller changes rather than larger, on
the supposition that more people will be more inclined to object the further
we go from a traditional spelling while achieving no greater clarity. For
instance, SSWD favors atmosfere over atmasfere. (See principle
#11, below, as to this particular choice.) Let's get rid of the really
objectionable spellings first and worry about relatively petty matters later,
or reserve them to a systematic, radical reform that insists on a single
way of spelling each phoneme.
If the current spelling doesn't cause confusion or waste memory on needless
deviations from the norm, we might eventually propose a change that would
make it more consistent with other words or spelling conventions for similar
sounds, but not as a priority. In this class fall many words that might be
clearer if a consonant were doubled (e.g., ellement, ennemy) but which
are not generally perceived to cause problems. We will not, however, attempt
to eliminate well-established patterns that do not cause problems,
for instance, changing all EA's that sound like long-E, to EE, nor all -OR
endings to -ER, nor change "rain" to "rane".
Since any vowel can be schwaed (that is, reduced in duration and revised
in quality to a neutral vowel sound, like the second-E in telephone,
A in about, and U in circus), we will not propose substituting
one vowel for another to represent schwa. An O in atmosfere is fine;
changing it to A is neither necessary nor advisable, because each change
you make to any given word provides opponents of spelling reform a further
chance to object.
SSWD will avoid exchanging one odd spelling for another (e.g., "llokh"
for "loch"). Especially is that the case if, as with a change from "loch"
to "lokh", it would create a new homograph in some large English-speaking
community ("Lokh Sabha" is the name of the lower house of India's national
parliament). Sometimes it's a close call. For instance, tho one could
make a case that woodd is better than would, there is not a
single word in the entire English language that ends in oodd. A Google
search reveals a relatively small number of hits for "Woodd" as a surname
(9,370 as against, for instance, 939,000 100 times as many
for "redd", our proposed reform for the past and past participle of
"read"). We're not convinced that people in general will regard "woodd" as
so much better a spelling than "would" as to make a change, especially inasmuch
as there is no other word with which "would" can be confused, and any
spelling change will be perceived as walling off, in some degree, one generation
from those that went before.
Shorter spellings will be easier for most people to accept than
longer, so we choose words that add letters only if that will achieve a
significant gain in clarity.
The changes we propose must work with grammatical endings, according to
regular rules. Changing "buzz" to "buz" wouldn't be worth doing, because
it loses its second-Z only in the singular and root verb form. If you pluralize
it (buzzes), add an agent ending (buzzer), or create the
third-person singular (buzzes), past (buzzed), or progressive
(buzzing), you're right back where you started. So there's no point
to changing the root to begin with.
We will not alter grammatical endings: no Z for S in the
plural or possessive; no -D or -T for -ED endings; no -EE for -AE plurals
from Latin (antennae, larvae). It might eventually be wise to do so,
but nothing is more certain to rouse the fury of educators than screwing
around with grammatical endings. We hope to win educators and publishers
to the cause of making English easier for the entire world, English-speaking
and non-English-speaking countries alike. We're not out to antagonize them
Nor will we propose reforms that would needlessly break related words
apart (verb from noun, noun from adjective, inflected form from root). For
instance, we will not suggest "purrfect" for the adjectival and noun form
of "perfect" just to show that syllabic stress falls on the first syllable,
tho "perrfect" might be accepted, since the tie to "perfect" remains plain.
Since there are word pairs distinguished by syllabic stress that can confuse
readers, we might propose reforms to clarify such pairs, but not as a general
rule. Even if we do, we will ordinarily propose that the change
be made to the less-common form, not the
SSWD offers reforms that stick to an established pattern of spelling,
when possible. We don't attempt to initiate a new way of spelling,
for instance egzample, lugzhurious, eksit or -shon, -shun,
-shan, -chon, -chan, or -chun for -tion,
-sion, or -ssion endings; nor NN for nasalization of the preceding
vowel ("hunn?" for "huh?", which is ordinarily nasalized). We might,
however, suggest that needless variations be standardized to the most common
way of spelling things: e.g., "emitions" rather than "emissions"
especially in that the root word is "emit", not "emiss").
Words that follow a consistent pattern from which there are few
or no exceptions do not need to be changed even if, absent
such a pattern, their spelling might be ambiguous. The pattern
makes the pronunciation plain. For instance, the family bingo,
dingo, lingo, and flamingo has an NG-sound followed by a hard-G,
so might better be spelled binggo, dinggo, linggo, and
flaminggo. But this is not a priority, because there are no exceptions
to the rule, and people can cope with a consistent pattern. It's exceptions
we target. "Are" does not conform to the pattern bare, care, dare, fare,
stare, etc., so we suggest "ar" instead. We do not attempt to change
the main pattern, as to bair, cair, dair, fair, stair
and especially would we not do so if that would create bunches of needless
new homographs, such as "fair" and "stair" in this example.
To the extent possible, SSWD will avoid reforms that "look funny" or
"un-English", and instead offer spellings that accord with some well-understood
existing pattern. But some people's idea of "looking funny" is other people's
idea of looking right or smart, not stupid, whereas stupid is the way a lot
of current spelling looks to them and to most of us,
for that matter. Especially is this the case for people learning English
as a Second Language. They might prefer "un-English" spellings that
make eminently better sense.
We can't eliminate all ambiguity in English without a systematic reform,
like Fanetik. Sometimes you just have
to leave things as they are,
because there are two common pronunciations (been, either) or
because there's no way to spell them unambiguously in a familiar English
fashion for instance,
there is no way to show the short-OO sound plainly in conventional spelling
some people will always read OO as long-OO, so "boosh", for example,
is not an improvement over "bush";
a lot of words from French, like "croissant", cannot readily be spelled
unambiguously in conventional English, nor can words like "starry", which
looks parallel to "carry" but cannot readily be distinguished from "carry"
because "stary" looks parallel to "scary", and "storry" will be seen as parallel
to "story", and would also break "starry" apart from the noun it derives
from, "star"), or
because a phonetic spelling is already taken by another word ("wander"
cannot be changed to parallel "ponder", because "wonder" is already taken,
by a word pronounced wunder; and conversely, "ponder" cannot be changed
to parallel "wander" because "pander" is already taken).
SSWD is mainly about common words, not rare words, and not about words
regarded as offensive or vulgar, but words that are part of the general
vocabulary used in polite company. This project is directed largely at students,
so will avoid words or subelements that are likely to induce snickers or
embarrassment among kids.
Words that are regarded as "foreign", even if now commonly heard in
English-speaking countries, would probably be better understood in their
original spelling, and many people will see no reason to change them at this
point. Into this category fall many words for foods from Mexican and other
cuisines, such as burrito, quesadilla, fajita and
Scientific terms constitute an entire category of words that we
should change only if they become commonly used (psychology)
and cause trouble in their present spellings
(leucocyte/leukocyte), since science is transnational and translingual,
and much of the International Scientific Vocabulary is intended to be instantly
recognizable across languages. Nor is it always plain when subelements of
enormously long chemical names retain their full speech values as against
when they might be altered to a more informal pronunciation among the in-group
that deals with them regularly. Some scientists are happy to permit 'the
great unwashed' to attempt to understand newly announced findings, but others
feel diminished if just anyone can pronounce the polysyllables
they use to proclaim a new scientific truth. They prefer that those who are
not among 'the ordained' be incapable of pronouncing the magic words of science.
Nonscientists should decide rules for the pronunciation of scientific terms
only if they have entered the realm of words everyone is expected to know.
We are not concerned with imitative sounds that are scarcely regarded
as real words ("eh", "oops" and the like), so we will avoid such proposed
English is uncomfortable with words consisting of vowels only, such as
"oo" for "ooh" and "ae" for eh", so we will likely avoid such
We are not dealing with capitalization in the SSWD project, changing initial
capitals to lower case (e.g., Popsicle, Kleenex, Email). That's not
a spelling reform but a matter of usage, and in some cases, a matter of
We are not, for the most part, concerned with eliminating hyphens (yo-yo,
simple-minded, e-mail), which is more a matter of grammar and punctuation
rather than spelling. Some people regard such hyphens as needless. Others
think a hyphen clarifies things. Ordinarily, people can just drop a hyphen
and leave the words or elements separate or, equally, shove them together
with no space nor punctuation, as they prefer. If that produces ambiguity
(as some people might see "yoyo"(parallel to slang "boyo", for "boy"), it's
probably better simply to leave the hyphen in place rather than revise the
spelling (e.g., yoeyo or yohyo).
Nor is SSWD concerned about changing phrases into compound words, so we
don't have to worry about what to do with phrases like "no one".
Nor are we changing most proper nouns: surnames, personal names, placenames,
There's only so much that spelling can accomplish. People who are say
"avenue" without a Y-glide in the last syllable or "coupon" with a Y-glide
before the U-sound are going to say that no matter how we spell it. There's
no Y in "coupon", nor any reason to see a Y-sound as intrinsic to the word,
but some people sneak one into it anyway. People who say
a.sés.a.re for "accessory" are going to say that even if we
respell it, in un-English fashion, "aksessory". They will simply ignore or
indignantly reject prescriptivist spellings that do not accord with the way
they hear and say a given word, no matter how many cues others, from outside
their group, may give them that the "proper" pronunciation is something else.
Since that is true, there's no reason to adopt un-English ways of spelling
just to provide more guidance to people who will accept no
Derivatives and inflected forms are implied to take the same pattern
as the base word, according to regular rules of affixation. For instance,
if the word "giv" is shown, all forms of that word are implied, and since
the vowel is short, doubling the consonant before adding suffixes is also
implied: giv, givs, giving or givving (not everyone sees -ing
as requiring a doubling of the final consonant), givven, givver (since
an ending that starts with E will ordinarily be seen as implying a long vowel
in the syllable before, absent a doubled consonant), etc. Likewise, a reformed
adjective implies a reformed adverb if -ly can be added (obveus/ly),
SSWD generally addresses only root words and irregular
derivatives. The fact that almost any one-syllable and some longer adjectives
can take comparative (-er) and superlative (-est) forms that
might be confusing even tho the base word is clear, is insufficient reason
to alter the base word. Only if the comparative or superlative form is extremely
common in itself, of the magnitude of, say, "better" and "best" or "more"
and "most", would such an alternate form justify respelling the base. In
the case of these examples, however, the words are already hugely different
from the word they relate to ("good" and either "much" or "many"). In the
rare case when a comparative form really might be confusing (e.g., "truest"
or "freer", it is the grammatically varied form that needs reform, as by
inserting a W- or Y-glide: "truewer", "freeyer". Since such derivatives are
far from ubiquitous, we need not address that issue in this project.
SSWD will not propose respellings solely for "politically correct" purposes,
such as offering "woomun" for the traditional spelling "woman" because
some radical feminists want to break that word away from "man". We
like the English language, for the most part. We do not regard the
language itself, but only its insanely irrational and inconsistent spelling,
as our enemy. And we hope to ameliorate its orthographic madness by the smallest
changes that would make it minimally consistent and thus easy to use.
Spelling simplification isn't simple.
It takes a lot of thought and an electronic dictionary with a wildcard
function so you can look for parallels and conflicts. But it is worth doing,
because English is very hard to use due to its preposterous spelling.
English-speaking countries spend quadrillions of student-hours teaching kids
to read and write, and still end up with a significant portion of people
who are functionally illiterate or only barely literate. Students of English
as a foreign language in non-English-speaking countries have a very hard
time dealing with inconsistencies between words they do not hear every day.
They also generally have a hard time dealing with the fact that English uses
ways of spelling that do not jibe with "Continental" values employed in most
languages spelled in the roman alphabet. But they can adjust to the fact
that we spell long-A with an A, not E, and long-E with an E, not I, as long
as the spelling is consistent!
Absent a systematic reform (like
Fanetik), English will never be
completely consistent, but we can get rid of much of the
inconsistency almost painlessly, in ways the SSWD website shows.
here for today's word.
here for earlier days'
here for a list of possible future