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The Tongue Between the Teeth,
Or, The Oddest English Spellings (Part 4)

By Anatoly Liberman It is easy to get used to certain conventions. No characters exist for the initial consonants of the English words shin, chin, and thin, and at an early age we learn that two letters are needed to render them in spelling. In Part 3 of the series “The Oddest English Spellings,” I compared shelf, […]

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The Oddest English Spellings (Part 3)

by Anatoly Liberman If we disregard the use of runes, we may say that literacy came to Europe with Christianity. Two exceptions are Greece and Italy. England, like its neighbors, adopted the Roman script, but the sounds of the Germanic languages (and English belongs to the Germanic group of the Indo-European family) were in many […]

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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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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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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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