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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.

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The Oddest English Spellings,
Or, the Unhealing Wounds of Tradition (Part 1)

by Anatoly Liberman Once out of school, we stop noticing the vagaries of English spelling and resign ourselves to the fact that rite, right, Wright (or wright in playwright), and write are homophones without being homographs. In most cases such words sounded different in the past, then changed their pronunciation, but retained their spelling. Such […]

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Kneading bread for the needy

By Anatoly Liberman
In those rare cases in which people ask my advice about good writing, I tell them not to begin (to not begin?) their works with epigraphs from Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde, for the rest will look like an insipid anticlimax, and, disdainful of ground-to-dust buzzwords and familiar quotations, I also suggest that people avoid (naturally, like the plague) such titles as “A Tale of Two Friendships/ Losses/ Wars,” etc. and resist the temptation to

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Monthly Gleanings

by Anatoly Liberman Martin Chuzzlewit spent some time in America and, following the lead of his creator, Charles Dickens, formed a most unfavorable impression of the country. Soon after his arrival, he met the editors of the Watertoast Gazette, who were sure that Queen Victoria “[would] shake in her royal shoes” when she opened the […]

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Monthly etymology gleanings for June 2012, part 2

By Anatoly Liberman
Spelling. I am grateful for the generous comments on my post in the heartbreak series “The Oddest English Spellings.” Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Masha Bell at a congress in Coventry, and around that time I corresponded with Valerie Yule. A positive comment from Peter Demaere (Canada) reinforced my message. The situation is as odd as English spelling. Spelling reform had famous supporters from the start. Great linguists, including Walter W. Skeat and Otto Jespersen, and outstanding authors and public figures agreed that we should no longer spell the way we do.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly gleanings for December 2014, Part 2

Although I am still in 2014, as the title of this post indicates, in the early January one succumbs to the desire to say something memorable that will set the tone to the rest of the year. So I would like to remind everybody that in 1915 James Murray, the first and greatest editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) or New English Dictionary (NED), died.

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