Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Search Term: "the oddest english spellings"

Book thumbnail image

The oddest English spellings, part 20: The letter “y”

By Anatoly Liberman
I could have spent a hundred years bemoaning English spelling, but since no one is paying attention, this would have been a wasted life. Not every language can boast of useless letters; fortunately, English is one of them. However, it is in good company, especially if viewed from a historical perspective. Such was Russian, which once overflowed with redundant letters.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

The oddest English spellings, part 21: Phony from top to bottom

By Anatoly Liberman
I have written more than once that the only hope to reform English spelling would be by doing it piecemeal, that is, by nibbling away at a comfortable pace. Unfortunately, reformers used to attack words like have and give and presented hav and giv to the irate public. This was too radical a measure; bushes exist for beating about them. Several chunks of orthographic fat are crying to be cut off.

Read More
Book thumbnail image

The Oddest English Spellings, Part 20

By Anatoly Liberman
Why don’t good and hood rhyme with food and mood? Why are friend and fiend spelled alike but pronounced differently? There is a better way of asking this question, because the reason for such oddities is always the same: English retains the spelling that made sense centuries ago. At one time, the graphic forms we learn one by one made sense. Later the pronunciation changed, while the spelling remained the same. Therefore, the right question is: What has happened to the pronunciation of the words that give us trouble?

Read More
Book thumbnail image

The oddest English spellings, part 17:
The letter H

By Anatoly Liberman
Because of the frequency of the words the, this, that, these, those, them, their, there, then, and with, the letter h probably occurs in our texts more often than any other (for Shakespeare’s epoch thee and thou should have been added). But then of course we have think, three, though, through, thousand, and words with ch, sh,

Read More
Book thumbnail image

The Oddest English Spellings, Part 17

By Anatoly Liberman
Even the staunchest opponents of spelling reform should feel dismayed. How is it possible to sustain such chaos, now that sustainable has become the chief buzzword in our vocabulary? Never mind foreigners—they chose to study English and should pay for their decision, but what have native speakers done to deserve this torture? The answer is clear: they are too loyal to a fickle tradition.

Read More