-og and -ogue

Rachel Ward aka @FwdTranslations just asked me via Twitter:

Trying to check usage of epilog(ue) and prolog(ue) in US spelling. Seen suggestion that "ue" forms still more widely used. True?
 And I felt the need to blog this immediately, since this is something that niggles me about British understanding of US spelling sometimes. I am often being told that Americans don't write catalogue, they write catalog. The same for dialogue/dialog. But, the thing is, I've always (or at least since I was a grown-up) used the -ue in all of them. Because the shorter forms are only American, from the British perspective, the shorter forms are "the American spelling". But from the American perspective, most wouldn't consider the longer forms to be "the British spelling" in the same way that we'd consider colour or centre as British spellings. They're just alternative spellings, listed in American dictionaries without any dialect marking. Noah Webster is generally credited/blamed for these kinds of 'shortenings' in AmE, but he used dialogue in at least the earliest edition of his Blue-Backed Speller. The move for this change seems to have come later, in the period when Melvil(le) Dewey (he of the Dewey Decimal System) was a leading spelling-reform advocate. In an article in Verbatim on The American Spelling Reform Movement, Richard Whelan writes:

During the 1890s, a few state legislatures passed bills calling for simplified spelling to be taught in public schools, and the prestigious American dictionaries began to acknowledge the call for reform, first by listing simplifications in appendices, and eventually transferring some to the main entries as acceptable alternatives.

The turning point came in February 1897, when the National Education Association (NEA) resolved that all of its official correspondence and publications would thenceforth use simplified spellings for twelve words: catalog, decalog, demagog, pedagog, prolog, program, tho, altho, thoro, thorofare, thru, and thruout. This move brought the issue of spelling reform to wide public attention and forced even many conservatives to take seriously what they had previously dismissed as the folly of cranks

But note that the ue-less forms have pre-American precedent. For instance, the OED notes that from Middle English to the 16th century dialogue was mostly dialoge (as it was in the French of the time), and sometimes dialog. The spelling dialogue is really only seen after this, following a spelling change in French.

So, for fun, here's how some of these spellings fare in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and Noah Webster's namesake, the Merriam-Webster (online) Dictionary. The middle two columns give the raw numbers of how many of each spelling is found for the singular noun form of each of these words. The last column says which spelling is given first by Merriam-Webster.

-ogue-og M-W
catalog(ue)25594955           catalog
dialog(ue)12657               702*dialogue
monolog(ue)         1098 7 monologue
pedagog(ue)560** pedagogue
prolog(ue)890 3 prologue

So THE ONLY ONE that is more frequently used in the shorter form in AmE is catalog(ue), and even then, the longer form is well represented. In other words, the most commercial term is the most likely to use the shorter form. [And, afterthought: also the one that is closest to Dewey's heart, as a library term.] Despite the National Education Association's example, this spelling reform has not been wholly successful.

Some footnotes to the table:

*The case of dialogue is interesting because of dialog box, which is spelled/spelt without the -ue in computer jargon in both countries. This is like the case of program, which is longer (programme) in most senses in BrE, but which uses the shorter (AmE) form for the computer sense. (And color in html and so forth. One could say that America runs computing jargon, or one could say that programmers prefer shorter and consistent forms. Or one could say it's a bit of both.)  Anyhow, 375 (53%) of the 702 cases of dialog here are in the phrase dialog box and its variants (dialog boxes, dialog box-in). (There are also 18 cases of dialogue box[es].) So, this means that outside this two-word compound, dialogue outnumbers dialog in AmE by 38:1.

** There was one case of pedagogs in COCA.  There were 0 cases of demagog or demagogs. So, while M-W lists these as variants, they don't seem to have made deep inroads into the written language.

*** I meant to do analog(ue) too, and was reminded of it when commenters started asking for it, so here it is, several hours later.  This one is noteworthy because M-W says for the adjective that analogue is a 'chiefly British variant' of analog, rather than just listing it as an alternative spelling, but for the noun sense it has analogue as the preferred spelling for the noun--which is in contrast with the numbers from COCA [thanks to @empty in the comments for pointing out my error]. Like catalog and dialog box, its "technological" senses are more common. So we have a general pattern here of literary words keeping the -ue and more techie stuff dropping it.

My to-do list says that I'm (BrE) marking/(AmE) grading this morning. Please don't tell my to-do list that I was here.


  1. There is something of a cliffhanger at the end of this post.

    I'm interested in the other variants - tho, altho etc. My British grandmother quite often used to write thru for through, but she would always add an apostrophe to make it clear that it was an abbreviated form. Do they get any usage in the US at all these days?

  2. Thanks, Ros. Must've accidentally deleted the end of that sentence, but now I've put it back.

    Yes, 'thru' that's another one people tell me is 'the American spelling', but it would never be used in proper writing, unless in the newfangled noun drive-thru. Otherwise, I only see 'thru' in road signs, where I view it as abbreviation, in Scrabble, and in text-messaging. Altho/tho is the same, though one doesn't see it on road signs much, of course!

  3. Of the ones after "program", "thru" is the only one familiar to this American. And, yes, and Lynne says, it's definitely informal, other than being the normal spelling in "drive-thru" (which, actually fits with the informalness of it, I think).

  4. I grew up in the United States and have lived in England for almost seven years. When I visited friends in Seattle recently I saw 'thru' written on something other than a roadsign for the first time that I can ever recall. And a few days later I saw it again. I was surprised and interested: could this spelling be ever so slowly be creeping in to American English? We shall see.

    I've never seen 'tho' or 'altho' written.

  5. As a Brit who codes and creates webpages and teaches others how to, colour/color and dialog/dialogue (in the context of boxes) can be fun.

    I have got written support materials that say things like "use the color tag to set the colour of the materials" and so on. I don't know about everyone else, but I regard the use within coding as a special case. I don't normally write <a and the like to refer to anchors for example, but do writing HTML. Explode has a coding meaning in PHP completely distinct from things going bang and so on.

  6. What about "analogue" and "analog"? My impression is that the short form is only very rarely used in the old noun sense, and that the short form has the new adjectival or attributive sense (opposite of "digital") all to itself. Are there any AmE/BrE difference there?

    (Then there are the people who pronounce "analogous" with a soft g as in "analogy" ...)

  7. Lynne:
    Whenever I see the short form, it always breaks the flow of reading; it looks funny. In both American and British use, "gue" indicates a hard "g," but perhaps that point isn't worth dialogging about.

  8. US: I ALWAYS used the -ue versions on all the words, excepting catalog; in other words, the M-W versions. DIALOG is a database used by librarians and others.

    But I always used analog; then again, I always used it as an adjective (analog watch v. digital).

  9. This American uses "dialog" in working with software and "dialogue" when discussing characters speaking in a novel. The things that come by the dozens around Christmas are "catalogs", but the now-obsolete system for finding books in the library was a card "catalogue". (Interestingly, my computer marks that with a red underling as an incorrect spelling.)

  10. I think these words are just one of many examples where American spellings seem to be a bit random. I think that most Americans would write "cigarette" and "omelette", but I have certainly seen "cigaret" and "omelet" in stories from the 1950s and older. Oddly, my (BrE) spell-checker picks up on "cigaret", but not on "omelet"!

    As you say, in the UK we now use "program" and "disk" to refer to computer programs and hard disks, but a CD is still a compact disc!

    And shortening words for convenience, as in text speak, is not new - I have seen some of the original documents pertaining to my daughter's new house, which was built in the 1880s, and the oldest ones, hand-written, are full of abbreviations like "yr" for "your" (cf the modern "ur") and similar... obviously, convenience will win out over correctness every time!

  11. Ooh, I MEANT to do analog(ue). Going to add it post facto, posthaste.

    And Mrs Redboots: see this 'Difference of the Day' for 'omelet', in two parts:


    I never see 'cigaret' in the wild, though.

  12. @Marc Leavitt:

    In both American and British use, "gue" indicates a hard "g," but perhaps that point isn't worth dialogging about.

    But not in "Montague" (which I pronounced to rhyme with "Ron Vague" the first time I saw it written as a child!)

  13. There was a (hopefully short, it seems to have gone away again) period when brunet rather than brunette appeared to describe hair colour in American books. That said, my dictionary lists it as a US alternative spelling but I'd never seen it except a brief burst about 4 years ago.

  14. And to extend the computer use of program and dialog, software often makes use of bits of code set to run at start-up and shut-down (of something), and occasionally these functions are referred to as prolog and epilog code. I've never seen them called prologue/epilogue, though I wouldn't consider it wrong if I did -- just out of place. (On the other hand, I would be very surprised to see monolog in any kind of context, and if I saw it in a code review I'd request that the spelling be fixed.)

  15. There is a town (or, as Wikipedia tells me, an unincorporated community) not far from where I live (in New Jersey, US) called "Thorofare". I have no idea about its etymology. How can a town be a thoroughfare? I sometimes think that the two unrelated, but that seems unlikely.

    I have never seen the spelling thorofare elsewhere, and my browser's spellchecker gives it the squiggly line treatment. In fact, a Google search for thorofare -thoroughfare only has the results town in New Jersey on the first few pages at least. Filtering that out returns other proper names, some of which are more plausibly thoroughfares (like roads, rivers and canals).

  16. @Eloise

    Etymologically, "brunet" would be appropriate for a man; "brunette" for a woman. I don't know whether anyone has actually used the words this way.

  17. MWDEU's "chiefly British variant of 'analog'" applies only to the adjective "analogue".

    The noun has its own separate entry, where the spelling "analog" is mentioned only in connection with a chemistry sense of the word.

  18. I prefer catalog, but cataloguing.

    Also, around 1900 or so, the US decided to simplify place names, making all burghs become burg. Pittsburgh (Penn.) was so well known that they were allowed to change back, but you can still find some baseball cards for the Pittsburg Pirates from that era.

  19. Oh, thanks @empty. Was clearly rushing too much. I'm correcting it.

  20. @vp - It's not my area of expertise, but I'd expect brunette to be right from either. My memories of French (admittedly from too many decades ago to admit to) suggest -ette is a common suffix, and it looks like it's added to brun to distinguish that sort of brown that hair is rather than wood say. I can't think of French words that have -et added like that, I suspect because -et is an ending for part of declining a verb if my memory is working properly.

  21. Brunet is well established, though not as frequent, since it's women who tend to be referred to by hair colo(u)r. See, e.g. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/brunet

  22. Hmm - I was always taught brunet (and blond, for that matter) were men, though I've seen more references to blonds than brunets. Proving that blonds have more fun.

  23. My family has letters written by my granddad and his brothers during the second war with abundant usage of things like 'thru' for 'through'. This was definitely a choice, not a spelling error. My granddad was born in Scotland and mostly grew up in Western Canada.

  24. I was stunned to see most of these alternatives (tho, altho, thoro, thorofare, thru, and thruout). As an American, I'm not sure I've ever seen "tho", "altho", "thoro", or "thorofare", though as a copywriter I'd be willing to use "thru" in commercial writing whenever space is tight -- especially in a tweet, for instance. Lately I've been veering toward omitting the "-ue" from words like "dialog" and "analog", though I'd be hardpressed to explain why. Can't help thinking it's much like the vogue (vog?) for "cigaret" and "omelet" in the '50s Mrs Redboots cites above -- zeitgeist always plays an inexplicable role in these matters. In the late '70s in the U.S. there was a brief surge of interest in going metric, and I remember hearing weather reports on the radio with temperatures announced in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. Not to mention seeing a couple of road signs on interstate highways with distances indicated in miles and kilometers. Looking back on it I find myself thinking: what was *that* all about?

  25. The OED doesn't agree with Merriam Webster. It has an entry for brunet, but only to signify (a man) 'of dark complexion'.

    They state that the spelling blond has been used in Britain for all meanings ('fair-haired', fair-complexioned, 'type of lace and lace trimmings') especially as a noun a blond. However:

    in Britain the form blonde is now preferred in all senses.

  26. hndscowThat's interesting! Having learned French, I find references to "a blonde man" and the like really jarring.
    Biggerbox - Libraries still have catalogues, it's just that they're online nowadays. I'm a professional cataloguer, but when I log on to the Dewey Decimal Classification website it greets me with "Hello, cataloger". So I, too, had assumed that these spellings were universal in the US.
    Kate (Derby, UK)

  27. This American has precisely the same experience as biggerbox with respect to dialog(ue) and catalog(ue), and the same experience as empty with respect to analog dropping the -ue only in the context of analog/digital.

    I still consider thru to be incorrect, although it is often used commercially. And I have never seen any of the other spellings in any context.

    I grew up in California and now live in New York.

  28. Do you remember the Whole Earth Catalog and the Whole Earth Epilog?

  29. I do not remember learning these words with -ue. I am 34 years old, Lynneguist, could this be an age thing??

  30. As a U.S. newspaper editor for 20 years, I was repeatedly surprised by reporters using "thru" in their stories. These are professional writers, after all. It was as though I could see this shortened, casual form take hold. Maybe this is language evolution happening before our eyes. Regardless, it always looks wrong to me, and I'll probably always change it. :-)

  31. There's Analog Science Fiction and Fact, which adopted Analog in 1960 (previously it had been Astounding - not, sadly, Astoundingue).

  32. Anonymous

    As a U.S. newspaper editor for 20 years, I was repeatedly surprised by reporters using "thru" in their stories.

    I'm really surprised that you were surprised. Writers write, editors edit. Thru is a nonstandard spelling on either side of the Atlantic, but there surely can't be place where it isn't readily understood. I've always considered that it's up to the sub editors — or, failing that, the editor — to translate raw text into the degree of formality appropriate to the publication.

  33. The New York State Thruway is always so spelled, never *Throughway.

  34. With Geoffreys' comments about towns changing their spelling from 'burgh' to 'burg'. how is that usually pronounced in the US? Is it like St Petersburg (the place in Russia) which we'd usually pronounce with a hard 'g' or 'br' as in Peterborough or Edinburgh?

    To UK eyes, one would tend to guess that Pittsburgh is pronounced Pittsbrə and Pittsburg pronounced Pitsberg.

    I can't offhand think of anywhere in the UK that is pronounced *berg. That simply sounds German. Encountering such in a US context, I would read it as a place that was settled by German immigrants.

    'Thru' is more like a precursor of txt speak.

    If the Dewey Decimal Classification website greets its users with "Hello, cataloger", that would imply it pronounces it 'cataloejjer'.

  35. @Dru:

    If the Dewey Decimal Classification website greets its users with "Hello, cataloger", that would imply it pronounces it 'cataloejjer'.

    How do you pronounce eager, lager, and tiger?

  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. vp

    How do you pronounce eager, lager, and tiger?

    With long vowels.

    I suppose the logic of English spelling would be for catalogue~catalogger. And there was a time when we might have written catalogge.

  38. @Dru - As far as I know, US towns ending in "burgh" and "burg" are all pronounced the same way: berg, with a hard g at the end. (Though you can't be too sure when it comes to pronunciation of US place names.) Maybe it is the German influence. At one point there were more German speakers than English speakers in the US.

    @David Crosbie - Lager is really pronounced with a long "a" vowel sound? Again, maybe it's the strong German influence on AmE, but that's not how it's pronounced in the US.

  39. I believe you two are using the term "long a" in different way--DC more phonetically, PW as it's used in American school phonics way. The pronunciation of 'lager' isn't very different in US/UK.

  40. I'm an American living overseas, but just happen to have a library in my home. In a 1968 American version of a Spanish text book, I find the word "dialogue" used to describe a conversation between two people. In a 1988 Webster's New World Dictionary, I find only dialogue listed (in all meanings), with dialog given as an alternate spelling.

    I think some of these words are changing over time, and especially with internet use and fewer correct spellings being emphasized in schools. I also happen to be a teacher. My British friends who have moved back to Britain with their children in the past decade all tell me that in British primary schools, they aren't emphasizing either spelling or punctuation at all now and that children are being told "to just get their thoughts on paper." I work with the Macmillan company and they just announced a few months ago that they will stop publishing physical dictionaries. They expect their stock to last four more years, and after that, they will only be available online. I'm sure all other dictionary companies must have similar plans. Reading the comments here about words such as "thru," I did see that in America while growing up in the 60s and 70s, but only in very casual usage, such as Xmas for Christmas (when marking the outside of a storage box in the home, for example). I'm shocked they would be using such a spelling on signs now in Seattle--it must be that people who were brought up to think spelling isn't important (or that simplified spellings are valid) have now reached their 30s and have the power to decide how signs will be spelled! I'm just guessing, but I think that is a regional thing, because I definitely do not think that would be considered acceptable in most of America.

  41. Half a millennium ago English vowel letters reflected long and short sounds of similar character. All English speakers still reflect this in the names of the letters. In Britain at least, we hung on to terms like long e and short e for sounds which are phonetically very different.

    Before their respective Gs (sound/letters), eager has the vowel sound we call long e and tiger has the long i sound. Double the G spelling and we read egger (over-egger of the pudding) with a short e and Tigger with a short i.

    The use of the term long a is inconsistent. But I think every Brit of my generation would agree on what short a means. Double the G and you get lagger (? unfeasibly specialised plumber), which sounds as different from lager as it does from plague.

    Trawling my memory for examples I came across a justification that the -og camp could use. Vogue and The Pogues have long o. Letter U signals what everybody calls hardening. Letter is what we Brits call (or used to call) silent e and signals long o. Dog, log, snog lack both.

    But it's dogging, logging, snogging so we'd still need catalogging.

  42. I've gradually come to remember that the conventional term for the vowel in lager has been broad a. It's a term I don't think I've heard or read for many years. A little googling confirmed my recollection. Moreover, I was directed to a Wikipedia article with the words:

    broad A (also, in the UK, long A)
    (Phonological history of English short A)

    Whoever contributed that to the article shares my impression that both varieties of A-sound that aren't short a are on occasion called long a in Britain. Inconsistent but understandable

    (Not that I used the term myself. I just said that eager, tiger, lager were pronounced with long vowels.)

  43. But the more relevant point is that they're pronounced with hard 'g'!

  44. Returning to Dru's 'cataloejjer'.

    Although the sequence long o + soft g is not common like the sequence in wager, nevertheless, I've found a couple: loge 'a theatre box' and the place name Stoke Poges. There's a third if you allow Doge.

  45. Lynne

    But the more relevant point is that they're pronounced with hard 'g'!

    Yes, but they were offered as analogies to cataloger which is anomalous in two ways.

    Behind the jokiness there's a fairly serious point. Eager, tiger and, to almost the same extent, lager are very familiar words with very familiar spellings. If we didn't know those words and came across the spellings for the first time, we would assume that they were pronounced with soft g.

    So Dru was quite right to suggest that if we came across the spelling cataloger for the first time without recognising it as an agent noun derived from catalog(ue), then we would assume a long o and a soft g.

    There's no such problem with the spelling catalog for two reasons
    • It's the expected spelling-to-sound, like dog etc
    • As a noun, catalog(ue) is pretty familiar.

    As a verb catalog(ue) is moderately familiar but less so in its -ing form.

  46. Thank you David. You've put my point much better than I did. 'Dog' is a familiar word. It's normally a noun.

    If - perish the thought, and Transatlantic readers might not appreciate why - I were, in polite society, to use it as a participle, it is 'dogging', and the person who perpetrates it is a 'dogger'. 'Doging' would mean 'acting as a Venetian ruler'. So if the Dewey Decimal Classification website isn't content with 'cataloguer', it seems to me, it has to spell it 'catalogger' - and particularly if it is a site for librarians.

  47. Dru - there is a respectable useage of the verb - 'through the dark winter days, she was dogged by depression' - i.e. metaphor of being followed or hounded.

    I do agree with you about the logic of 'catalogger' - but we should be wary of aligning with bloggers and loggers (lumberjacks)

  48. This spelling talk reminds me of a facetious claim I heard many years ago that the American spelling traveler was really the way to spell a word rhyming with dealer. If I heard it now, I might suggest that the British spelling traveller is really the way to spell a word rhyming with teller.

    To represent sounds unambiguously in writing:
    • Anyone can use suggestive quasi-spellings like cataloejjer
    — which are off-putting and not entirely unambiguous
    • People with the right training can use phonetic symbols
    — which the general reader may find obscure and alienating
    • Some of use a set of reference words devised by the phonetician John Wells
    — which are reasonably accessible and unambiguous, and which usually work even when the reader and the writer have different accents

    So we can describe the first vowel of (the) Dogger (Bank) with as of the type LOT, and the first vowel of Doge as of the type GOAT.

    The capital letters signal something less obvious. Whether we speak of long o~short o or GOAT~LOT we're thinking of sounds that are stronger and fuller than the second vowel sounds in Dogger.

    That weaker emptier sound is the second sound in travel(l)er. My understanding of the Webster spelling reform is that consonants need not be doubled after this vowel. From my British point of view, double consonants are the unmarked norm before vowel letters. Marked single letters signal one of two types of vowel
    • US only: that weak empty vowel

    From this perspective, cataloger is not like traveler

    I suspect that you Americans see things differently — that single consonant is the unmarked norm, and that double consonant signals the marked short vowels in their strong and full forms TRAP, DRESS, KIT, LOT, STRUT

    The term I've avoided so far is stress.

    • It seems straight forward to describe the first vowel (and the syllable containing it) in dogger as 'stressed' and the second vowel (and syllable) in travel(l)er as 'unstressed'.
    • However the second vowel/syllable in catalogue is less clear cut. Phoneticians speak of 'secondary stress', but that may not appeal to the general reader.

    I suspect that British readers are more likely to lump the -log- of catalog(ue) together with the fully stressed CLOTH sound. American readers are more likely to notice the reduced stress and lump that log together with the completely unstressed sound of the -vel- in travel(l)er.

    Cataloger looks wrong to us Brits in the same way that traveler — but more so because of the 'secondary stress' of -log(ue). It looks less wrong to some Americans because the main or 'primary' stress of the word is on the sound spelled cat-. Adding -er to the spelling of a less-than-fully-stressed vowel/syllable doesn't seem so unusual as it does to us.

  49. @Dru:

    I can't offhand think of anywhere in the UK that is pronounced *berg.

    After some hard staring at an atlas, I think you may well be right that there none ending with that pronunciation. I can offer Burghead, though, apparently pronounced berg-hed, although that seems to be from the Gaelic word Broch.

  50. Totally a propos of this thread, I was watching a clip of something on YouTube yesterday, and it showed a newspaper cutting from the 1930s which had the word "synagog". I think these things must go in fashions, as I think nowadays it would universally be spelt "synagogue", no?

  51. Hmmm I may be wrong about Burghead. Still, there is Burgh in Suffolk which Wikipedia definitely claims is pronounced "berg" (so it must be true, ahem).

  52. nowadays it would universally be spelt "synagogue", no?

    The Google hit counts are over 18 million against 1/4 of a million, so not entirely universal, but definitely a majority.

    If you can imagine a word being spelt a particular way, I bet you can find someone somewhere who has spelt it that way :-)

  53. David Crosbie - the way I learned it (in american 1st or 2nd grade), you only double the final letter if the word has one syllable, so hop->hopping, but travel->traveling. It doesn't look wrong because it's not wrong (in american spelling.)
    Also, "traveler" only has 2 syllables, trav-(e)-ler. The 1st e is unstressed out of existence.
    You might be overthinking this.

  54. "traveler" only has 2 syllables, trav-(e)-ler. The 1st e is unstressed out of existence.

    Huh? Who says? As an American, I pronounce "traveler" with 3 syllables. And quite frankly it's dangerous to generalize about such things. For me, the word "interesting" has 3 syllables, but there are large swaths of the Midwest where it's pronounced with 4 syllables -- IN-ter-est-ing.

  55. The 'travel(l)er' discussion might better be placed at the post on that topic: http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/2006/07/double-ls.html

  56. Anonymous

    you only double the final letter if the word has one syllable, so hop->hopping, but travel->traveling

    I can see the value as a rule of thumb for children, but won't do as a generalisation. I'm pretty sure you spell (as I do) abet~abetting, and there are probably quite a few more. You need Lynne's generalisation that the vowel is stressed — which, of course, it normally is in monosyllables.

    I've written more — not here but on the other thread, as Lynne suggested.

  57. Re: I've always considered that it's up to the sub editors — or, failing that, the editor — to translate raw text into the degree of formality appropriate to the publication.

    Hi David, at the two big metros and two suburban papers where I spent those 30 years, that would not be considered professional. Sure, on breaking news filed at deadline, no one worries how the raw copy looks, but a reporter/writer who routinely fails to get small stuff right will soon raise questions about how diligent they are on the big stuff. Besides, and especially in today's world of "right-sizing," the more of these spelling fixes editors have to make, the less time they have to work on tougher issues like accuracy, fairness, etc.

  58. you only double the final letter if the word has one syllable, so hop->hopping, but travel->traveling

    This is not the case everywhere. Here in Australia travelling definately has a double L and I suspect it would be the same in Britain.

  59. Oh good. Spam.

    Spam spam spam spam
    Spam spam spam spam
    Spam spam spam spam
    Spam spam spam spam

    And it only took 60 comments.

    Translation service? We don't need no stinkin' translation service.

    *We're* the translation service!

  60. If you think that was the first spam comment on this post, then my valiant efforts to keep them out of your line of sight are mostly working.

  61. I appreciate your efforts on spam, Lynneguist. As I'm sure you know it's the price you pay for a successful website.

    So I can't say I'm surprised that you've (or Blogger's) been working behind the scenes to keep that stuff out of our way.

    And lastly, on the off-topic topic of traveler/traveller (I haven't yet ventured to your post on the subject so can't be sure you don't mention it over there) one of The New Yorker magazine's discreet charms is its insistence on spelling traveler, traveling, and its orthographic kin with two ells. Not to mention using a dieresis in words like cooperation and reenter. Fussy? Not a bit of it, he said anglophilicly, trying to coöperate.

  62. Dru

    I can't offhand think of anywhere in the UK that is pronounced *berg. That simply sounds German.

    Not necessarily, even when it actually is German.

    Because of Queen Victoria's family links, Edinburgh, and no doubt other other towns and cities, have street names traceable to Saxe Coburg Gotha.

    In Edinburgh's case, the link is to Uncle Leopold, husband of George IV's daughter Charlotte, who made an official visit to Edinburgh at a time when the expanding New Town was hungry for Hannoverian names for new streets. Even Leopold's Esher Claremont House was taken up. So we have Coburg Street, Leoplold Place, Saxe Coburg Place, Claremont Park and (former) Coburg Lane.

    (I just happen to have borrowed The Place Names of Edinburgh from the library.)

    Coburg is pronounced as you'd expect (mostly burg or bɜ:g according to accent) and I don't think it's widely recognised as German.

  63. Right you are Richard, I am from the St. Louis area and I pronounce interesting with 4 syllables, but traveling The e is unstressed.

  64. There are a few places in the us pronounced pɪtsbəɹə -- but they are spelled Pittsboro, and the biggest one is in North Carolina.

  65. Count me (an American speller, usually) as another who uses both analog in contrast to digital and analogue for something that is analogous.

  66. Many of our –logue words come from the French, who would use analogique and numerique for the English analog and digital in a technical context, with the word digital being currently resisted as an unwanted Anglicism.

    IMO, since the addition the 'ue' is not necessary to pronunciation, (as g is hard at the end of a word, as in log, dog, bog and slog. No one would think of adding a suffix to 'clarify' the pronunciation), surely much of this is down to preference, and a perceived correctness that is correlated to an impression one seeks to make. One cannot have a correct spelling without an incorrect one (again, revisit dog, log etc).

    What isn't apparent in the blogs is the 'enforcement imperative' stirred up in the English soul that is far greater than its American counterpart when these errors are encountered. For a language that is as non-standard in spelling and pronunciation, surely the assertion of correctness points to a personality type rather than the rectitude of the orthology/orthologuey/orthologey/orthologie in question.

  67. What isn't apparent in the blogs is the 'enforcement imperative' stirred up in the English soul that is far greater than its American counterpart when these errors are encountered. For a language that is as non-standard in spelling and pronunciation, surely the assertion of correctness points to a personality type rather than the rectitude of the orthology/orthologuey/orthologey/orthologie in question

    Isn't that, though, because our language is so non-standard that correct spelling was drilled into us all - well, us older ones, anyway - as children? And perhaps we are not always very good at recognising that different doesn't always mean wrong - when we were learning our spellings, it did!

    Many, if not most, of the variations between British and American spellings (not usage) were introduced by the Americans, specifically by Noah Webster. Although we've had some attempts at spelling reform, it has never caught on the way Webster's usage caught on in the USA - and I suspect we are rather anal about it!

    1. Many, if not most, of the variations between British and American spellings (not usage) were introduced by the Americans, specifically by Noah Webster.

      Just as many derive from innovations in Britain, for example the craze for French-style spellings in the nineteenth century.

  68. Regarding spelling reforms in general, why is it that people who are bothered by discepancies between spelling and pronunciation always want the spelling changed to match the pronunciation - and never the other way round?

  69. Advocates of spelling reform seem to think the purpose of writing is to codify speech, in the same way that musical notation codifies melody.

    But that's not correct.

    Yesterday a waitress asked if we needed soup spoons, but she spoke in the stilted manner currently fashionable among young middle class English women, so what she actually said was aproximately how I would say "seep speens".

    But she wouldn't spell it that way, obviously.

    Writing stands wonderfully above all such vagaries of speech and pronunciation, because it doesn't codify speech - it codifies words, and thus meaning.

    If we constantly change the spelling of words to reflect the latest fads and fashions in pronunciation, then we will compromise the ability of people from other regions or other times or even other social classes to understand those meanings.

    This is why it is important to be dogmatic about correct spelling, and why we must fiercely resist any moves toward further Webster-style vandalism of our written language.

  70. Because the fundamental nature of a language is that it is spoken, not that it is written. Languages had been spoken for generations before anyone thought of writing them down. Writing is a rendering of speech, not the other way round.

    Besides, we mock people who insist on pronouncing words as they are written rather than everyone else says them, as in pronouncing 'breakfast' in full rather than 'brekf'st' (which I have heard but only from one person).

  71. Hullo Dru.

    Thank you for your response. Because nobody replied I thought maybe people assumed my question was intended to be rhetorical, which it wasn't. It is unfortunate that our posts crossed in the ...er ...post. ['crossed in the mail' in AmE?].

    Yes, of course speech pre-dates writing - by many thousands of years - but it doesn't follow from that that writing is no more than a rendering of speech. In fact speech and writing are two different systems for rendering language. There are others. Signing, as used by deaf people, has been around a very long time too, and it is essentially unrelated to either speech or writing. I'm not sure how you would shoe-horn that into your proposed hierarchy of 'renderings'.

    If we were Chinese, we wouldn't be having this discussion, because, as I understand it, their writing became entirely divorced from speech centuries ago. And they are now reaping the rewards of that. Ancient documents are still readily comprehensible, and all Chinese people use the same characters for the same things, even though their speech has evolved to such an extent that in effect they now speak many mutually incomprehensible languages, just like Europeans.

    As for your last point, if you have the true courage of your convictions you can withstand any mockery. And anyway, people who can't spell are also mocked and looked down on, equally unfairly.

    I hope Lynne doesn't think this is all straying bit too far from the specific -ogue/-og subject, but I haven't found a post that deals with this broader question.

  72. Grhm

    Yes, of course speech pre-dates writing - by many thousands of years - but it doesn't follow from that that writing is no more than a rendering of speech.

    It's not the thousands of years that matter. It's the fact that speech predates writing in the early life history of every individual language-user — apart from the deaf and other individuals marginalised by some impediment to speaking. Besides, we must surely recognise the right of illiterate speakers to have a vocabulary.

    • Most of the words in our individual vocabularies we learned first as spoken words.

    • And most of the words we learned first as written words were first learned by other speakers as spoken words.

    • Of the remainder, most words first encountered as written words actually incorporate elements that we already know. In short, we base the pronunciation of neologisms and unfamiliar technical terms on analogy to known words — using knowledge ultimately derived from our spoken word-store.

    • That leaves extremely rare cases like the word quark. For years after its invention, almost everybody encountered it first in writing. Some were aware of Three quarks for Muster Mark!. Some decided it should sound like anglicised German diary product quvark. Other just guessed, so that many physicists rhyme it with walk.

  73. First, I think that the numbers for analog are backwards. When I run analog* on the COCA, I get 1,969 for analog and 408 for analogue.

    We can see that in AmE, dialog has taken the lead since the early nineties (Google Ngram): http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=dialog%2C+dialogue&year_start=1980&year_end=2008&corpus=17&smoothing=3&share=

    As for spelling, I'm all for reform. I'v been writing altho, tho, thru, thoro, stedfast, and so forth since high school ... That's thru a master's degree, the military and being a cop (both where tho and thru were preferr'd), and the corporate world.

    The -ue on -log words isn't needed at all. That's from the French influence.

    Spelling of words has never been static so it's silly to think that we can or even should hold it static. Having said that, we also know that many changes were mistakenly made by 'academia' such as adding the 's' to iland thinking that iland had a Latin root ... it doesn't. Same for the 'c' in scithe.

    There's way too much to go into here but the short of is that English spelling is NOT a token of intelligence or literacy but only a token of a willingness to waste time that could be better spent learning something or doing something more useful.



    A interesting slip. the Herman word Quark is spelled with a U and pronounced with a V.

  75. AnWulf wrote: There's way too much to go into here but the short of is that English spelling is NOT a token of intelligence or literacy but only a token of a willingness to waste time that could be better spent learning something or doing something more useful.

    Unless, of course, you happen to be English, as many readers of, and contributors to, this blog are, in which case it is a matter of using what is, for us, the correct spelling. That is why this blog has the title it does - to celebrate and rejoice in the differences, rather than to denigrate them.

    Meanwhile, on a lighter note, David Crosbie wrote: A interesting slip. the Herman word Quark is spelled with a U and pronounced with a V
    Herman the German, perhaps??? ;)

  76. Notwithstanding the offensive American habit of using the word 'dumb' to mean 'stupid', some of the brightest people on the planet have severe communication disabilities of various kinds, such as speech impediments or dyslexia.

    There is obviously no correlation between intelligence and the facility to communicate clearly using speech, writing, or any other language-rendering system you choose to mention.

    And since nobody on this blog has implied that there is, I don't understand why AnWulf felt the need to bring it up.

    That said, I don't really see what Mrs Redboots's gripe is, either.

    'Separated by a common language' doesn't imply celebration or rejoicing. In fact I'm not sure it implies anything at all. Typically of Bernard Shaw's wit, it gives a superficial impression of cleverness but doesn't really bear close examination.

    And in any case, AnWulf's interesting (if misconceived) points didn't seem to me to be remotely anti-British, and I don't see how anybody could interpret them in that way.

    We are all just talking about language here, aren't we?

  77. [The latest post when I submitted this was Mrs Redboot's, stamped 16 April, 2013 10:55]

    My contention, with which nobody has agreed, was that spelling reform is bad because it interferes with intelligibility by people who pronounce words differently from the people who devised the new spellings.

    The examples of such people I gave were:
    1. people from different regions
    2. English speakers in the future, and
    3. people from different social classes. I'd like to add
    4. deaf people - to whom spelling reform obviously makes no sense whatever.

    A further point to make is that future generations would be denied first-hand appreciation of the painstakingly wrought detail in all the poetry and artistic prose of the last few centuries. All the great works of English literature would be effectively destroyed at a stroke - instantly transformed into barely-readable curiosities, like Chaucer or Spenser.

    It is surely indisputable that these things would occur, and yet everybody commenting here seems to think spelling reform is a good idea. Why?

    Their argument, which I haven't grasped and therefore am having trouble countering, seems to hinge on the fact that people talked before they wrote. This is undoubtedly true of humanity as a whole, and also of most individuals growing up. But so what?

    Is David Crosbie really implying that he thinks people can only learn and use a written word if they have previously (either directly or by proxy) heard that word spoken?

    I don't think that can really be what he meant, because it's such a bizarre thing to believe, especially in view of the fact that we have already touched on several specific counterexamples:

    (1) Chinese people, who can't possibly have heard their ideograms pronounced before they learned them, because ideograms don't represent speech. (I'm no expert on this [or indeed anything very much], but as I understand it ideograms encode concepts directly rather than encoding the sounds made when the words used to express those concepts are spoken. So when Chinese people read aloud they are not translating the characters into sounds, but into a series of concepts, which they convey using spoken words and sentences according to the conventions of their particular spoken dialect. The point is that people from different regions make completely different sounds with their mouths to convey concepts encoded by the same written characters.)

    (2) ...and deaf people, who are as capable of literacy as any of us. And incidentally I'm not keen on Professor Crosbie's turn of phrase there. If they are marginalised, deaf people (and indeed disabled people in general) are not marginalised by their impediments, but by other people's attitudes to those impediments. And on a related point, signing is a not second-rate makeshift thing born out of desperation as many people suppose. It's a form of communication as sophisticated, nuanced, culturally rich and diverse as speech or writing. Becoming fluent in a sign language is as big a challenge for an adult as becoming a fluent speaker of a foreign language, or learning to write well from a position of complete illiteracy. But children pick it up easily, just like speech and writing. Which is why it is reprehensible that many deaf children are deliberately prevented from signing and are made to lip read instead. Lip reading really is a second-rate means of communication. There's an eye-opening chapter in Steven Pinker's 'The Language Instinct' about this kind of stuff.

    (3) I've thought of a third counterexample: people who are fascinated by languages and enjoy learning them from books, but have little or no interest in speaking them or hearing them spoken. Not as unusual as you might suppose. Not round here, anyway. I don't have a wide social circle - rather the reverse, as it goes - but I have two good friends who fall into this category. (Real, live, beer-drinking, furniture-moving friends; not pretend, tap-tap-tap, internet friends.)

    to be continued...


  78. AnWulf said "Spelling of words has never been static so it's silly to think that we can or even should hold it static".

    A: Yes it has: English spelling may not have been especially static historically, but other languages have been. Icelanders can read thousand-year-old documents as if they were written yesterday, owing to the fact that Iceland has never been afflicted by this weird craze for spelling reform.

    B: Yes we can: It's really only very marginally more difficult to learn a supposedly 'difficult' spelling than to learn a supposedly 'easy' one. Especially for children, whose brains seem to be spookily capable of soaking up phenomenal amounts of apparently unstructured information very quickly (see Steven Pinker, op. cit.). And anyway, however it's spelled you still have to learn each word once. I suppose you could argue that the tiny marginal difference is a waste of time, but only in the sense that all human activity is waste of time except drinking, eating and procreating.

    C: Yes we should, for all the reasons I gave above! And also, this works both ways. As Dru observed, 'incorrect' pronunciation that accords with 'correct' spelling is stigmatised. But, despite AnWulf's protestations, so is 'incorrect' spelling that accords with 'correct' pronunciation. These two stigmata, acting in opposite directions, lead to a kind of stable equilibrium. Provided we don't muck with the spelling.

    Dru's pal's 'incorrect' pronunciation of break-fast might just catch on in his or her peer group. Some very weird and ugly pronunciations often do, for unfathomable reasons (see 'seep speen', above). And that might well then spread to the mainstream. In which case the pronunciation of that word, having wandered away for a bit of a stroll on the phonetic landscape, will have returned home. But if we change the spelling to 'brekf'st', then nobody's ever going to be tempted to pronounce it 'break fast' ever again. The word will never get back home. Indeed if you keep moving the spelling to follow it around in its random walk, it will no longer have a home to get back to. When applied to many different words, this makes the whole language unstable, with spellings and pronunciations chasing each other at random in pointless, chaotic, rudderless confusion.

    To avoid this, as I said at the beginning, it is important to be dogmatic about correct spelling and to resist spelling reforms.

    Just ask an Icelander. Any Icelander who has lived in the last thousand years.

  79. @Mrs Redboots ... What is likely the strongest spelling reform organization is based in the UK:


    "Correct" spelling is like beauty ... It's in the eye of the beholder. If you could talk to an Old English scribe he'd want to "correct" your spelling of 'acre' to the original way it was spell'd ... acer. (Truthfully, he would 'right' your spelling since correct had yet to slither into Engish). In ME and later still when the colonies in America were first founded, it was aker. He would change your 'odd' spelling of 'ache' back to 'æce' (later ake) ... That was another academic mistake thinking that the word was rooted in Greek and the 'k' was chang'd to 'ch'. He would wonder why you spell 'wundor' so oddly. (That happen'd owing to the spelling rules of the French scribes that first came over with the Normans.) So you see, there hav been many changes in spelling and not all for the good.

  80. @Grhm, while you see American use of dumb to mean 'stupid' to be "offensive", from an American perspective it is offensive to use dumb to mean 'mute'.

    (Breaking my own rule about going off-topic in comments, but thought it worth pointing out. Maybe I'll blog about it someday...)

  81. "Correct" spelling is like beauty ... It's in the eye of the beholder
    I rather think most teachers and university professors would disagree with you there. Correct spelling renders communication far easier - I don't mean, necessarily, the minor differences of spelling that separate us, but, for instance, I have enormous trouble reading French "text speak" and would rather my French Facebook friends used correct French to update their status. The same is probably true of them when they read their English-speaking friends' Facebook statuses - using "txt spk" can be very confusing.

  82. Correct spelling renders communication far easier ...

    Of course, if someone belongs to a social group that follows its own rules on correct spelling -- and they differ from yours -- the opaqueness of what they're writing is sometimes the point.

    Adolescents are notorious for inventing their own linguistic variations to signal their independence from adults. My teenager daughter sometimes indulges in "K" as a reply -- short for OK. "No problem" -- a phrase young people in the US seem to have universally adopted in place of "You're welcome" or "My pleasure" when they've done you a trivial favor -- I now hear shortened to "No probs".

    (This bizarre habit of shortening words goes back a couple of decades, at least here in the US. An office colleague well over 20 years ago introduced me to the wordlet "cazh" -- short for "casual", e.g., "I thought I'd go cazh today."

    So if you're feeling excluded by the texting habits of some of your French Facebook friends, Mrs Redboots, it's entirely possible their response would be, "C'est pour ça que je le fait!"

  83. Grhm

    owing to the fact that Iceland has never been afflicted by this weird craze for spelling reform.

    No, that's not the reason at all. By far the biggest difference between English and Icelandic is that spoken English has changed radically and often, and spoken Icelandic hasn't.

    The most radical change of all started happening just after the advent of printing imposed a more or less standard spelling system. So the same vowel letters came to represent the new sounds in the old words, and also the sounds of words imported from other languages where the sound hadn't changed.

    So, for example, letter A in its most basic uses corresponds to the vowel in three sets of words known as TRAP, FACE and PALM. In the set known as BATH, the value varies with geography. This, and many other anomalies, came about because there was no attempt to reform the spelling. It wasn't any action that did the damage, it was the inaction.

    Not that spelling reform would have succeeded. All the tinkerings done with English spelling by French scribes, Dutch printers and writers who knew Latin...these and many other bright ideas imposed some regularity on a small range of words. But these localised regularities never spread throughout the spelling system, and sometimes extended to very small sets of words. An overlarge number of regularities is of little help — and a positive hindrance when the regularities are in conflict.

    Spelling reform does not merit the energy you put into your hostility. It's almost beneath contempt. It never really succeeded in the past — Webster's reforms being a rare and highly marginal exception. It stands no chance whatsoever in the future. The cost of rewriting everything recently written in English would be prohibitive. The cost of rewriting everything written in the last three or four centuries would be unimaginable, and the effort unfeasible.

  84. To bring this back on thread, In 1876, the American Philological Association adopted 11 new spellings, and began promoting their noting: ar, catalog, definit, gard, giv, hav, infinit, liv, tho, thru, and wisht … By 1886, the list had grown to 3500 words.

    In 1879, the British Spelling Reform Association was founded.

    In 1898, the (American) National Education Association began promoting a list of 12 spellings: tho, altho, thru, thruout, thoro, thoroly, thorofare, program, prolog, catalog, decalog, and pedagog … all of which are still found today. These were in my pocket wordbook so no teacher could take off for noting them.

    As someone who helps a lot of foreigners learn English, I am always writing words out fonetically to help them say the words. I know many folks who hav study'd English for four or five years, but won't speak to me in English because they are so unsure about how to say the word ... others giv up on English altogether unless they hav a need for it.

    And it's not limited to foreigners. Many English speakers hav lots of problems with spelling and there is are costs to inhold financial. It slows down learning and hinders communications.

    I can't speak to French text speak but there is little Spanish text speak since Spanish is already much more fonetic. They do note 'k' for 'que' and a few others. Maybe it's time for the French to reform their spelling as well ... Heck, at least half of English problem words are owing to noting French orthography in English.

    There are more non-nativ speakers of English than nativ speakers. If we don't reform it, they will. If you want to see something that hurts your eyes, here is "reform" from an international vote: http://freespeling.com/new-simpler-spelings/

  85. Grhm

    While writing about what happened to the sounds that letter-A has had to represent, I foolishly neglected yet another important group of words, the so-called commA group. Letter-A often represents this little grunt sound, not because of some spelling reform but because at some point in history the sound changed and the spelling didn't.

    I suppose what I should have written about is the spelling -ogue...

    It's no use saying that the spelling reformers should have left these letters alone. Way back in Old English, the letter G was left representing a bewildering range of sounds. And across the channel letter G represented two sounds in French (and different pairs in italian, Spanish etc).

    For a time English had (at least) two distinct letters, but the other one (yogh) eventually failed to catch on. Meanwhile, the Norman took over and used G with French values. Just as well, for otherwise catalog might be pronounced KAT-uh-LOY or KAT-uh-LUFF or who knows what. The spelling cataloge would represent a word with a 'long' O (nowadays so-called GOAT vowel) followed by a 'soft' G (i.e. J-sound) and, so that won't do.

    The native English wys of marking a 'short' O would have given catalogge, but that wouldn't show that the G is 'hard'.

    French-style -ogue remained the best spelling available until eventually -og lost its ambiguity. So the change from -ogue to -og was an act of spelling reform — the very thing you were complaining about.

    Even the word dog was spelled doggue in the fifteenth century. Individual writers experimented — that is to say performed individual spelling reforms — for a century or so with doge and dogge and dogg. Somebody hit on dog in the sixteenth century, but it still had to contend with dogue, dogg, doggge and dogg until the early eighteenth century.

    (Information from the OED online.)

    Of course, you can complain that the spelling reform that gave us dog should have been extended to all the words that rhyme with it. But that's an argument for more spelling reform, not less.

    The other obvious analogy is log. This was a latecomer to English in the fifteenth century, from which the only surviving spelling is logge. Later spelling were logg and log. Spelling reform insured that only the latter survived.

  86. AnWulf

    There's a huge difference between the practice of a whole society and the practice of individuals communicating with their peers.

    The insistence that individuals should observe 'correct' spelling hasn't gone away, but it belongs to another age,

    For the first centuries of free public mass education, elementary schools produced the clerks that wrote the documents that were their employers' interface with the public. With this in mind, huge emphasis was placed on teaching children to spell 'correctly'.

    To this day, people are wary of doing business with organisations that don't proof-read their documents. This is true even on the internet. We don't care how individual spell, but alarm bells ring when we see typos on a commercial site.

    Between strangers, if a reader has no strong motivation to stick with a text, he or she is more likely to exaggerate the difficulties posed by irregular spellings. They may not be an objective barrier to communication, but they can be a subjective barrier to acquiescence in communication.

    Some irregularities constitute a tiny, momentary interruption of smooth reading. Others are simple an annoyance. The reader, consciously or unconsciously, feels that the writer is not according due respect — or is simply the sort of person that he or she doesn't care to know about.

    You may counter that this reaction to irregular spelling is unjustified and irrational. But so what? if writers want to get their message across, they just have to accommodate.

    There's also the problem I touched on in my first reply to Grhm. Even if everybody changes a spelling to something more rational from this minute on, there are millions and millions of examples of the old spellings in every home, library, website etc where English is used. So everybody needs to know two spellings — if only for recognition.

    So yes, a society can live with a small number of words with two spellings in public written discourse among strangers. But radical, wholesale, consistent spelling reform is an unachievable dream. The most successful wide scale reform — that of Noah Webster — affected relatively few words and struck a politically attractive chord with what was still a small nation. If it hadn't already succeeded I seriously wonder whether it could succeed today.

    George Bernard Shaw spent much of his life arguing for rational spelling reform, but destroyed his case in a little joke. He insisted that Ireland should be re-spelled Awlint.

  87. Mrs Redboots

    I have enormous trouble reading French "text speak"

    David Crystal in his boot txtng the gr8 db8 includes some pages of French terms and references to French Texting - Les Textos Français and a 2007 book Le language sms published by Presse universitaire de Louvain.

    My favourite is 6né which depends on knowing the French spelling and pronunciation of 6.

    There's even a short section (with example texts) in A Reference Grammar of French by Batchelor & Chebli-Saadi (CUP).

  88. ...people are wary of doing business with organisations that don't proof-read their documents. This is true even on the internet. We don't care how individual spell, but alarm bells ring when we see typos on a commercial site.

    I have no interest in entering this interminable argument, but the claim that proper spelling (and proofreading) are important "even on the internet" is risible.

    Indeed, I run across misspellings (and here I'm not including broken sentences in news stories that illustrate the haste with which they're composed and posted) so often I've long since stopped being shocked by them.

    Back in 2011, when I was more amused than outraged by the problem, I wrote about it on my then-new blog in a piece I entitled "Proofreaders Need Not Apply". (My title plays on the wording of placards that commonly appeared in the windows of 19th-century American businesses at the height of emigration from Ireland: Irish Need Not Apply.)

    Quite seriously: typographical errors are rampant on the Internet (and off it, too).

  89. Dick Hartzell

    the claim that proper spelling (and proofreading) are important "even on the internet" is risible.

    If I were to see clumsy spelling mistakes on a site purporting to belong to my bank, I wouldn't be laughing.

    OK, there aren't many sites where erratic spelling would suggest something fraudulent. But they do exist, and they are important.

  90. I'm working on another long, opinionated post for you all to skim-read and/or ignore, but I was startled by Dick Hartzell's comment and I can't let it pass.

    "the claim that proper spelling (and proofreading) are important "even on the internet" is risible"


    Does "important" mean something subtly different in American English? Or is "risible" not such a strong word?

    Or was the inclusion of that sentence a mistake, which he didn't pick up because he doesn't think proof reading is necessary and he laughs dismissively in the face of those of us who do?

  91. Grhm you said, "My contention, with which nobody has agreed, was that spelling reform is bad because it interferes with intelligibility by people who pronounce words differently from the people who devised the new spellings."

    I thought you were saying that people should be made to pronounce words as they are written, i.e. spelling should prevail over speech and that we should pronounce breakfast 'break-fast'. Incidentally, the person who did had quite a pronounced Yorkshire accent. So I suspect he would not pronounce it the same way as you would anyway.

    AnWulf, bearing in mind that you're arguing that more 'fonetik' spelling would be easier to read, you may be quite surprised if I tell you that there are two idiomatic expressions in your post that may be familiar to you, but are unintelligible to me, another English speaker.

    One I think I can work out by guesswork. The other I remain unable to understand. They are "no teacher could take off for noting them" which I assume means 'tell me off' and the other is "costs to inhold financial" which is completely unintelligible. I can't even work out whether that is just an expression I don't know, or an attempt to render an expression I don't know phonetically.

    So it isn't just having a standard spelling that assists communication between people who speak different dialects of the same language.

  92. Dru, Anwolf

    "no teacher could take off for noting them" which I assume means 'tell me off'

    And I though it meant 'penalise me' (by deducting marks).

  93. Grham

    Some things I missed in your earlier post …

    and yet everybody commenting here seems to think spelling reform is a good idea. Why?

    I'm baffled. Scarcely anybody commenting here is in favour of spelling reform.

    Some people are pleased that Webster's reforms were successful in the US. Some are pleased that regularisations such as catalog have become quite generally accepted — especially in the US.

    Is David Crosbie really implying that he thinks people can only learn and use a written word if they have previously (either directly or by proxy) heard that word spoken?


    Of course, it can be extremely indirectly.

    Just consider the lexical items invented first from a collection of letters as written words. (We recognise them as words because there are solaces before and after them.) We either turn them into words like NAY-TOE or we combine the letter names as in our nation states YOU-ESS-AY and YOU-KAY (sometimes known as JEE-BEE. Sometimes we slip a little sound in to make it easier to say as a word. Sometimes the acronym comes before the term. The term is chosen to have suitable initials for a punchy acronym.

    Yes, spoken forms attached to words are different for different people. I don't see what difference that makes to my argument. You have a point that regularisation according to the accent of one set of speakers may have the unintended consequence of greater irregularity for speakers with another accent. But that doesn't mean that spellings are in any way prior to the spoken substance. The spoken forms are the basic elements. In the cases that you cite, written forms may serve as a sort of glue, uniting disparate spoken forms and camouflaging their diversity.

    Chinese is a very different communication system, which invites a totally different analysis. But even Chinese writing is partly grounded in spoken form. One sub-system of character formation is based on the sounds of Mandarin — an extra learning load for speakers of other varieties of Chinese.

    Deaf people are marginalised. This may be a terrible injustice, but it is a fact. One consequence of this marginalisation is that they are not key players in the evolution of a language. They have created a rich alternative to speech, which the rest of generally underestimate. But their written system of communication is the speech-based alphabetic orthography that the mainstream has evolved.

    Yes, some people enjoy reading the literature of a culture without any appreciation of how that culture pronounces or pronounced its language. Nevertheless the writers, readers and listening audiences of those literatures are/were entirely aware of the pronunciation. The sound of words is even more important to literature than to other modes of communication.

  94. If you could talk to an Old English scribe he'd want to "correct" your spelling of 'acre' to the original way it was spell'd ... acer.

    A terrible example.

    Acer was one of many spellings, and not a typical one. In most parts of England, scribes would spell the first vowel as æ. Ae was also used an e was common enough.

    All forms other than the subject form ('nominative singular) were pronounced and therefore spelled with an R-sound following a K sound so many scribes were happy to spell the rest of the word -cer. But that was an anomaly. Normally, the spelling ce would have a completely different value — very often a CH sound.

    [Come to think of it, it might be the other way round. Perhaps the 'nominative' form was pronounced the way the spelling suggests. That pronunciation would have been dropped in favour of the that of the other'cases'.]

    Some scribes avoided the ce spelling by writing cc (the earliest known spelling) or k. [The latter suggests that some scribes at least pronounced the word with a K-sound.]

    The second vowel was spelled with a wide variety of vowels e, y, i, æ, o, u, even a, but only by a Welshman.

    So, no. That Old English scribe would not have 'righted' the spelling acre. He might have conclude that you lived in a different part of England to him. If he was very picky, he might have said it was in the wrong case.

    Consider then what happened when Normans took over the business of writing. Acer would have been a grossly confusing spelling. The simplest solution was to spell it the French way. Alternatives were to use k or ck or else alter the following vowel to acar. The spelling aker was used, but not very often, to judge from surviving documents. Among the specifically American spellings (Colonial and US regional) recorded are accer, acor, achor, ackre, acrre, and acar.

    Some of this variation is due to regional and historical differences in pronunciation. Most of it is due to the fact that the letter sequence CE has always been a problem from the dawn of English spelling.

  95. Anwulf

    He would change your 'odd' spelling of 'ache' back to 'æce' (later ake) ... That was another academic mistake thinking that the word was rooted in Greek and the 'k' was chang'd to 'ch'.

    Another poor example. The spelling is based on the pronunciation. In Old English, this was something like ATCH-eh.

    The first vowel letter was æ or e, never a because of the way the language had developed. The consonant was represented by cc or c — neither of which represented a K sound.

    In Middle English scribes generally adopted the French spelling CH (which did't then have its Modern French value). Later, when the sound changed, some scribes used K, but most just stuck with what was familiar.

    Indeed, some of the weird regional spelling suggest that the sound of the consonant changed in different places at different times. So it was useful to have a conventional spelling which speakers of all dialects could recognise.

    There's no need whatsoever to invent a scholarly confusion with Greek.

  96. AnWulf

    He would wonder why you spell 'wundor' so oddly. (That happen'd owing to the spelling rules of the French scribes that first came over with the Normans.)

    The Norman simply wrote what they heard. Besides, not every native scribe followed all of their Frenchified Middle English spellings, and yet none of them wrote wundor.

    The canon Orm, who was fanatically dedicated to reproducing his pronunciation, spelled the word wunnderr.

    The substitution of o for u was a device to make writing more legible. The shape of the original was V. Different shapes for U and V came much later. And the way that scribes wrote letters like X,V, M, N was alway causing confusion. The sequence WVN was an extreme instance of potential trouble.

  97. Having looked up Middle English spellings for acre etc today and for dog, log last week, I thought i might as well look up Lynne's words in the OP: catalogue, dialogue, epilogue, monologue, pedagogue, prologue, analogue.

    As far as I can tell, it was pretty chaotic with most words showing a preference for oge except for dialogue. But oge is a very unsatisfactory spelling for anything other than OHDGE. So the ogue spelling preferred by dialogue won out.

    Yes, there were odd occasional spellings with og, but they are not the direct source of modern og spellings.

    I'm assuming that the words were all pronounced with a 'hard G'. But maybe they weren't.

  98. This has always confused me! I have European family, but I live in America, so I never know which spelling to use! I still get stuck on color vs. colour sometimes as well...

  99. Enjoying this comment thread immensely.

    Being from Western Pennsylvania originally: Yes, Pittsburgh is pronounced with a hard "g" at the end. But originally, in the 1700s -- because many of the early settlers were of Scottish origin -- it was pronounced and even spelled something like "Pittsborough" (to rhyme with Edinburgh, Scotland). A few other burghs managed to keep or restore their h's too, such as Plattsburgh, NY. But most did not, even historic ones like Gettysburg, which was "Gettysburgh" 150 years ago, at the time of the battle and Lincoln's famous Address.

    During the spelling simplification at the turn of the last century, most towns that had the "borough" ending to their name were changed to "boro", such the town (and college, now university there) of Edinboro, Pa. And all of the class of towns in Pennsylvania called "boroughs" began to use the spelling "boro" in some instances such as referring to themselves as "Trafford Boro" (Trafford is the town near which I grew up).

    As I recall in the 1950s when I was first learning to read, "cigarette" was much more common that "cigaret", and yes, "brunet" was sometimes seen but usually referring to men (like "blond" vs. "blonde").

    And yes, we librarians still cling to "catalog" and "cataloging" and "cataloger", one of the last vestiges of Melvil Dui's spelling reform. Yes, he even reformed his own name! I once read the original simplified-spelling version of his introduction to his Classification system. It was not easy, so I started to read it aloud and suddenly realized I was reading in a New England accent -- he was from Massachusetts and that showed in his simplifications. It was much different from my native Pittburghese. No wonder it didn't catch on nationwide.

  100. This is a very interesting post! I always thought I should use the -og ending since I'm learning American English, but I will stop. :)

  101. This is a great blogue.

  102. I stumbl'd back over this today and see that I hadn't checkt back to see the answers.

    @Daved Crosbe … both acer and æcer are found in OE tho æcer is the more common one. In ME we find both acre and aker: In al this londe On aker lond ther nes yfounde

    You're basing all your pronunciations of OE on the LWS (Late West Saxon) dialect as we think they said the words. But as you likely well know, there were many other dialects. In the end, any way you look at it, the 'c' in OE acer, æcer; æce, ace, ece comes out today as hard. In ME the 'ch' is ambiguous … could be 'ch' like in 'loch' or 'ch' as in church. Indeed, OE circ is the root of both today's church and kirk.

    As for the French influence on spelling such wundor to wonder that was owing to their orthography! There is truly no nay about that. They noted the Carolina script which is described as a more "delicate" script. There could be great confusion with the minims when a 'u' was written next to an 'n', 'm', and 'u' (v). Thus, we now spell words like monk (OE munuc), wonder, love, and so forth with an 'o' rather than 'u'. There are many others like this but slapping French orthography onto Saxon words still haunts us.

    BTW, thru has been noted formally in the US for over 100 years. See http://anwulf.blogspot.com.ar/2014/08/thru-agin-through-warning-simplified.html

  103. BreE, Scot, mid 60s. To me, lager IS pronounced “lagger”. In my dialect, TRAP, PALM and BATH are all the same vowel. However, for me, die and dice are different, and quite distinct, vowel sounds. It’s difficult to describe, but the die vowel is a bit like ah-y said quickly, while the dice vowel is more like ih-y, wher is represents the vowel in BIT.


The book!

View by topic



AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)