Monday, May 6, 2013

Fire Breathing Toaster: Vote for Spellophones

by Bill Adler

Last week I wrote about how homophones are evil, Homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings, make English harder for Americans and foreigners to use. They add an unnecessary layer of difficulty to writing, and confound spellcheckers to no end. Replacing homophones with new, unique words would also add many more opportunities for scoring points in Words With Friends and Scrabble.

My wish is unlikely to be granted. That being the case, how about this: We allow the same word to have multiple spellings. We can all recognize handle and handel, mispell, misspell, and mispsell, atheist and athiest, and conscientious and contientious. These are just variations on a theme. It's like Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- we know the song instantly, whether we hear it in the original form, in an elevator, or on a television commercial. Our brains don't work any harder to decipher dumbbell and dumbell or twelfth or twelth. We're just as happy to read until or untill.

But it does take more time to remember the right way to spell a word. Is that supersede or supercede? By the time you remember how to spell supersede, that really great idea you were going to write about using the word has vanished from your mind. You write, "The great vacuum of ideas that is the US Congress..." but you've forgotten how you want to end the sentence because it took too damn long to puzzle out, vacuum or vaccum. Why should I have to remember privilege? Privilige is just as clear. A sunrise over the ocean is a wonderful beginning or begining to the day regardless of how it's spelled.

And pity people who are learning English as a second language. They have to spend even more time figuring out how to spell, thumbing through dictionary apps and even pocket, paper ones. Grateful versus greatful. What's wrong with both? With all of English's spelling rules, pronunciation rules, exceptions to those rules, it's surprising that anybody wants to learn English, and even more surprising when anyone accomplishes it. (Or is it acomplishes?)  I'd like to cancel the rule that there's only one way to spell a word correctly.

Look, canceled and cancelled are both okay, and the universe hasn't ended. So why not do this for every hard to spell word?

It wastes time to go through your document and deal with all the red, squiggly lines. Why not just make multiple spellings correct? Also, the red lines that highlight misspellings make me feel like I'm back in eighth (eigth) grade. From a purely aesthetic point of view, a thumbs up on multiple-accepted spellings which leads to fewer red marks on a page, would be welcome. There's a certain minimalist beauty to black print on a white screen. Maybe if the Governing Body of American English (aka middle school teachers) permits this change, we won't need spell checking software at all.

Then there are teh mistakes we make just because of the way our fingers interact with the keyboard. The and teh? Have you ever done that? Sure you have, and when you make that typing mistake, you may not even notice it. Why not make both the and teh acceptable spellings? The same for that and taht. If we had spellophones, writing would be easier and faster.

My greatest wish is that one day "you" and "your" converge into a single word. Wouldn't that be great?


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," and "Outwitting Squirrels," He tweets at @billadler. Fire Breathing Toaster is published on Mondays.

1 comment:

  1. Call me superannuated, but I think that it would be best if phonics, vocabulary words, spelling tests and grammar studies/drills were required curriculum right up through the 12th grade. Nearly thirteen years of weekly vocabulary word lists to memorize and define, spelling tests and grammar studies/drills did wonders for me and countless other students who went to school back in the days of yore. Oh, and in case anyone wonders about the reference to "nearly thirteen years" of these studies, that's because we learned to read and write in Kindergarten, and we had to take four full years of English in high school, as well. There were no "electives" like so many of the English classes I was assigned to teach when I was a high school English teacher.