Run That by Me Again


A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling

Do you spell it with a "V" or a "W"?' inquired the judge.
"That depends upon the taste and fancy of the speller, my Lord"...

- Charles Dickens

by Mark Twain

bulletIn Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased by either "k" or "s" and likewise "x" would no longer be a part of the alphabet.  The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later.
bulletYear 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that which and one would take the same konsanant, wile
bulletYear 3 might well abolish "y", replacing it with "i".
bulletIear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.  Jenerally. then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear.
bulletIear 5 would do awai with uselass double konsonants.
bulletIears 6-12 or so wil be modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.
bulletBai iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl to meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c" "y" and "x" - bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez - tu riplais "ch", "sh" and "th" rispektivli.

Fainali, xen, after sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewaat xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

Shortly after I posted the above, I discovered the following:

Psycholinguistics to the Resku

Having chosen English as the preferred language in the EEC, the European Parliament has commissioned a feasibility study in ways of improving efficiency in communications between Government departments.

"European officials have often pointed out that English spelling is unnecessarily difficult, for example: cough, plough, rough, through and thorough.  What is clearly needed is a phased programme of changes to iron out these anomalies.  The programme would, of course, be administered by a committee staff at top level by participating nations.

In the first year, for example, the committee would suggest using "s" instead of the soft "c". ' Sertainly sivil servants in all sities would resieve this news with job.  Then the hard "c" could be replaced by "k" sinse both letters are pronounsed alike.  Not only would this klear up konfusion in the minds of klerikal workers, but typewriters kould be made with one less letter.

There would be growing enthusiasm when in the sekond year, it was announsed that the troublesome "ph" would henseforth be written "f".  This would make words like fotograf 20% shorter in print.

In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reash the stage where more komplikated shanges are possible.  Governments would enkourage the removal of double leters whish have always been a deterent to akurate speling.

We would al agre that the horible mes of silent "e"s in the languag is disgrasful.  Therefor we kould drop them and kontinu to read and writ as though nothing had hapend.  By this tim it would be four years sins the skem began and peopl would be reseptive to steps sutsh as replasing "th" by "z".  Perhaps zen ze funktion of "w" kould be taken on by "v", vitsh is, after al, half a "w".  Shortly after zis, ze unesesary "o" kould be dropd from vords kontaining "ou".  Similar arguments vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

Kontinuing zis proses yer after yer, ve vud eventuli hav a reli sensibl riten styl.  After tventi yers zer vud be no mor trubls, difikultis and evrivun vud find it ezi tu understand ech ozer.  Ze drems of the Guvermnt vud finali hav kum tru."


Similar Sentiments

I take it you already know
Others may stumble, but not you,
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of HEARD, a dreadful word
That looks like BEARD and sounds like BIRD.
And DEAD - it's said like BED, not BEAD.
For goodness sake, don't call it DEED!
Watch out for MEAT and GREAT and THREAT.
They rhyme with SUITE and STRAIGHT and DEBT.

A MOTH is not a MOTH in MOTHER,
And HERE is not a match for THERE,
Nor DEAR and FEAR for PEAR and BEAR.
And then there's DOSE and ROSE and LOSE -
Just look them up - and GOOSE and CHOOSE.
And CORK and WORK and CARD and WARD.
And FONT and FRONT and WORD and SWORD.
And DO and GO, then THWART and CART.
Come, come I've hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five!


When the English tongue we speak, why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it's true we say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse, cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard, cord is different from word...
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose, and lose and think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb and bomb
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say, why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good.  Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone - is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me, sound and letters don't agree.

by Lord Cromer, published in the Spectator 9 August 1902

Source: © The Simplified Spelling Society updated 24 October 2004

To Be Read Aloud...

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!


Playwright George Bernard Shaw was fond of pointing out that the word "ghoti" could just as well be pronounced "fish" if you followed common pronunciation: "gh" as in "tough," "o" as in "women" and "ti" as in "nation."

When I was in elementary school, I was runner-up in the regional spelling bee.  Spelling was thereafter something I took pride in because I felt I was good at it.  If I noticed a misspelling in the company president's memo, I felt a bit of intellectual snobbery - despite the fact that his salary was probably 10 times mine, I felt a little superior.  Two things have caused me to feel differently.  The first is, of course, spell checkers.  No one need misspell a word - or, if they do, they can always blame it on the automatic correction feature of their spell checker.  (Come to think of it, the president's misspelled word years ago was possibly due to his secretary.)

The other, more important thing is that we moved from the US to New Zealand.  There, many of the words I thought I knew how to spell I found were spelled differently.  Further, some of those words, I learned, were spelled like the Australians spelled them, some were spelled like the British spelled them and some were unique to the Kiwis.  Some Kiwis preferred the British spelling even when a Kiwi spelling existed.  I could find no New Zealand dictionary.  The New Zealand option on my spell checker didn't seem to match the reality of the words I saw printed in newspaper and magazine articles.  Several words I am very unclear on and just guess about.

You'd think, with all the variation, it wouldn't matter much to anyone.  Not so!  I have been contacted by more than one Kiwi who chastised me for using a US spelling on my website.  There is a certain amount of national pride tied up in the way you spell a word - which country is more important to you, after all?

I've given up long ago on having perfect spelling, Kiwi, US, British, Australian or otherwise.  I have my own unique blend - not intentionally, but because that's the best I can do under the circumstances.  I hope everyone reading this will understand and be tolerant.  I've learned to be tolerant toward others and no longer judge someone's worth in the slightest by whether or not he/she can spell perfectly.  As long as the message is clear, that's what matters.

Speaking Frankly

My fellow citizens, it is an honour and a pleasure to be here today.  My opponent has openly admitted he feels an affinity toward your city, but I happen to like this area.  It might be a salubrious place to him, but to me it is one of the nation's most delightful garden spots.

When I embarked upon this political campaign, I hoped that it could be conducted on a high level and that my opponent would be willing to stick to the issues.  Unfortunately, he has decided to be tractable instead - to indulge in unequivocal language, to eschew the use of outright lies in his speeches, and even to make repeated veracious statements about me.  At first I tried to ignore these scrupulous, unvarnished fidelities.  Now I will do so no longer.  If my opponent wants a fight, he's going to get one!

It might be instructive to start with his background.  My friends, have you ever accidentally dislodged a rock on the ground and seen what was underneath?  Well, exploring my opponent's background is dissimilar.  All the slime and filth and corruption you can possibly imagine, even in your wildest dreams, are glaringly nonexistent in this man's life.  And even in his childhood!

Let us take a very quick look at that childhood: It is a known fact that, on a number of occasions, he emulated older boys at a certain playground.  It is also known that his parents not only permitted him to masticate in their presence, but even urged him to do so.  Most explicable of all, this man who poses as a paragon of virtue exacerbated his own sister when they were both teenagers!  I ask you, my friends: is this the kind of person we want in public office to set an example for our youth?

Of course, it's not surprising that he should have such a typically pristine background - no, not when you consider the other members of his family:

bulletHis female relatives put on a constant pose of purity and innocence, and claim they are inscrutable, yet every one of them has taken part in hortatory activities.
bulletThe men in the family are likewise completely amenable to moral suasion.
bulletMy opponent's uncle was a flagrant heterosexual.
bulletHis sister, who has always been obsessed by sects, once worked as a proselyte outside a church.
bulletHis father was secretly chagrined at least a dozen times by matters of a pecuniary nature.
bulletHis youngest brother wrote an essay extolling the virtues of being a homo sapien.
bulletHis great-aunt expired from a degenerative disease.
bulletHis nephew subscribes to a phonographic magazine.
bulletHis wife was a thespian before their marriage and even performed the act in front of paying customers.
bulletAnd his own mother had to resign from a women's organisation in her later years because she was an admitted sexagenarian.

Now what shall we say about the man himself?  I can tell you in solemn truth that he is the very antithesis of political radicalism, economic irresponsibility and personal depravity.  His own record proves that he has frequently discountenanced treasonable philosophies and has perpetrated many overt acts as well:

bulletHe perambulated his infant on the street.
bulletHe practiced nepotism with his uncle and first cousin.
bulletHe attempted to interest a 13-year-old girl in philately.
bulletHe participated in a séance at a private residence where, among other odd goings-on, there was incense.
bulletHe has declared himself in favour of more homogeneity on college campuses.
bulletHe has advocated social intercourse in mixed company - and has taken part in such gatherings himself.
bulletHe has been deliberately averse to crime in our city streets.
bulletHe has urged our Protestant and Jewish citizens to develop more catholic tastes.
bulletLast summer he committed a piscatorial act on a boat that was flying our country's flag.

Finally, at a time when we must be on our guard against all foreign -isms, he has coolly announced his belief in altruism - and his fervent hope that some day this entire nation will be altruistic!

I beg you, my friends, to oppose this man whose life and work and ideas are so openly and avowedly compatible with our way of life.  A vote for him would be a vote for the perpetuation of everything we hold dear.


40 Tips for Proper English

  1. Always avoid alliteration.
  2. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  3. Employ the vernacular.
  4. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  5. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  6. Remember to never split an infinitive.
  7. Contractions aren't necessary.
  8. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  9. One should never generalize.
  10. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations.  Tell me what you know."
  11. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  12. Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
  13. Be more or less specific.
  14. Understatement is always best.
  15. One-word sentences?  Eliminate.
  16. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  17. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  18. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  19. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  20. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  21. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  22. Don't never use a double negation.
  23. capitalize every sentence and remember always end it with point
  24. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  25. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
  26. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
  27. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  28. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  29. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
  30. Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
  31. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!
  32. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
  33. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  34. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  35. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
  36. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  37. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  38. Always pick on the correct idiom.
  39. The adverb always follows the verb.
  40. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; They're old hat; seek viable alternatives.

Washington Post's Mensa Invitational

Readers were asked to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing of one letter, and supply a new definition.  Here are the 2007 winners:

  1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
  2. Ignoranus (n.): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
  3. Intaxication (n.): Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
  4. Reintarnation (n.): Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
  5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  6. Foreploy (n.): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
  7. Giraffiti (n.): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
  8. Sarchasm (n.): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
  9. Inoculatte (v.): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
  10. Hipatitis (n.): Terminal coolness.
  11. Osteopornosis (n.): A degenerate disease.  (This one got extra credit.)
  12. Karmageddon (n.): It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right?  And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
  13. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
  14. Glibido (n.): All talk and no action.
  15. Dopeler effect (n.): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
  16. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

Source: 9 March 2007

Take My Word for It

Aaron Watson

Had an "alphabet weekend" lately?  You know, when you take class A (LSD), B (amphetamines) and C (cannabis) drugs and maybe do a bit of D for drinking.  Cap it off with an E if you want, but that’s really a class B drug.  (I challenge anyone to make it through to P in two days.)  "Alphabet weekend" is one of the new terms derived from the crime world that has been collected by the NZ Dictionary Centre.  A joint venture between Victoria University and Oxford University Press, the centre is devoted to compiling, categorising and researching new words and the development of a New Zealand English dialect.

Dibbly-dobbler (a cricket bowler slightly slower than medium pace - think Chris Harris), poozler (scavenger) and RONZ (Rest Of New Zealand as opposed to JAFA) are Kiwi words that will appear in the first New Zealand Oxford Dictionary which the centre plans to release in November.  Lexicographer Dr Dianne Bardsley, manager of the centre and editor of the annualNZ Words update, says the new dictionary will be a window on society.

Maori and Pacific Island influences on NZ English are evident through the inclusion of words such as waka-jumper, cyber-hui and fa’afine (interestingly, Counties Manukau rugby player Blair Feeney was nicknamed "Fafa").  But the growing Asian presence in New Zealand has yet to be reflected in our language, Bardsley says.  "The irony is that these people come to learn English in New Zealand but we don’t use their language."

Rural terms collected by the centre betray a dry sense of humour.  A thin cow with visible ribs is a "toast rack".  Farmers no longer drench, they "shout for" their animals, as in shout them a drink (of drench).  Lambs are no longer castrated, they are "put into neutral".

The NZOD builds on the pioneering work of Dr Harry Orsman, who compiled the award-winning Dictionary of New Zealand English published in 1997.  Staff at the centre have supplemented Orsman’s dictionary with new words and meanings, but it remains a key resource for the study of the New Zealand dialect.  The team find words through extensive reading and derives meanings from the context in which the words are used.  Alongside its staff, the centre has its own "surgeons of Crowthorne" - volunteers around the country who contribute new words to the database.

When a neologism or unusual meaning might be specifically Kiwi, the word is checked against the main Oxford Online database and against the combined brainpower of the centre to find out if it really is a Kiwi usage.  "Is this a New Zealand word or something that has been used in the 1940s in the US?  Is it a dialect word that came over with settlers?  The Oxford Online is very useful for tracing etymology.  Written citations are very important to us.  A dictionary reflects a population’s use of words now, rather than proscribing how words should be used.  It used to be seen as the other way around."  Capital Times is a useful source of citations, she says.

Nowadays, new words tend to come from three main areas - crime, politics and sport, Bardsley says.  A recent escapee from the world of politics is the phrase to "do a Brash", which means to say something un-PC.  Say something in line with the National Party leader’s Orewa speech and you identify yourself as part of the "Brashpack", she says.  "Brashpack" is an example of the way New Zealanders like to mutate popular phrases, in that case a reworking of bratpack.  Another good local example is the way Wearable Arts competitions have spawned events such Shearable Arts (at A&P shows) and the Scareable Arts (at the Gladstone Scarecrow Festival).

Bardsley says that, contrary to popular expectations, New Zealand English has proved remarkably resistant to the influence of American television.  While new American words find their way into our speech, few Americanisms are strong enough to displace the words we already have - most Kiwis say footpath not sidewalk, jandals not flip-flops, car park not parking lot, and carpet not rug.  "After 50 odd years of television we don’t use elevator for lift, or car trunk for boot.  We have duvets, not comforters.  Language is much more influenced by local culture and the international influence is kept at bay."

However, New Zealand English develops in parallel with the international variety and we share many new words with other English-speaking countries.  New words added to the Oxford English Dictionary Online in September this year include bimbo, bootylicious, home-sitter, threequel, shit-stirrer and latte - words as Kiwi as they are Ocker, Pommy or Yank.  But there is room for No. 8 wire-ish Kiwi innovation in the English language.  Bardsley points out a great phrase that will surely one day make its way into the dictionary - baked potato.  When you park up on the sofa with a few beers to watch the NPC rugby final this weekend, watch out you don’t become a "baked potato" - a delightfully Kiwi phrase for a couch potato who is also very stoned.

Source: 5 May 2005 home page

What comes after once, twice, thrice...?

Nothing.  These three are the only words of their type and no further terms in the series have ever existed.  (The suggestion of "quince" for "five times" is picturesque but no more!)  Presumably the language has not felt the lack of them.


For more on the unusual: events, abilities, means of self-expression, houses, conditions, people, luck, narrow escapes, resemblances, facts, diversions, heroism and more - click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index for this Odds and Oddities section.

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