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Spelling reform: not a “lafing” matter

I keep receiving letters explaining to me the futility of all efforts to reform English spelling and even extolling the virtues of the present system. I will spend minimal time while rehashing what has been said many times and come to the point as soon as possible. The seemingly weighty but not serious objections are three. 1) If we reform spelling, we’ll lose a lot of historical information. Quite true, but spelling is not a springboard to an advanced course on etymology.

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Walter W. Skeat (1835-1912) and spelling reform

By Anatoly Liberman
Henry Bradley, while writing his paper (see the previous post), must have looked upon Skeat as his main opponent. This becomes immediately clear from the details. For instance, Skeat lamented the use of the letter c in scissors and Bradley defended it.

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Henry Bradley on spelling reform

By Anatoly Liberman
Last week I wrote about Henry Bradley’s role in making the OED what it is: a mine of information, an incomparable authority on the English language, and a source of inspiration to lexicographers all over the world

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Children’s games and some problematic English spellings

Several years ago, I wrote a series of posts titled “The Oddest English Spellings.” Later, The English Spelling Society began to prepare a new version of the Reform, and I let a team of specialists deal with such problems. Yet an email from one of our regular correspondents suggested to me that perhaps one more […]

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Dispelling myths about EU law

What are the most common myths surrounding the laws of the European Union? We asked two experts, Phil Syrpis and Catherine Seville, to describe and combat some misconceptions. From the Maastricht Treaty to intellectual property law, here are some of the topics they addressed.

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Does spelling matter?

By Simon Horobin
As part of his agenda to improve primary school education, Michael Gove plans to invest more teaching time in driving up standards of spelling; his proposals include a list of 162 words which all eleven-year old children will be expected to spell correctly. As his critics were quick to point out, Gove’s belief in the importance of accurate spelling was somewhat undermined by a number of misspellings in the White Paper itself; Tristram Hunt gleefully suggested that Gove, “of all people,” should be able to spell bureaucracy.

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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.

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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?

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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,

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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.

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Spelling and Swelling: Bosom, Breast, And Others

In today’s English, the letters u and o have the same value in mutter and mother, and we have long since resigned ourselves to the fact that lover, clover, and mover are spelled alike but do not rhyme. (Therefore, every less familiar word, like plover, is a problem even to native speakers.) Those who want to know more about the causes of this madness will find an answer in any introduction to the history of English. I will state only a few essentials. For example, the vowel of mother was once long, as in school, but, unlike what happened in school, it became short and later acquired its modern pronunciation, as happened, for example, in but.

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