Saturday, February 6, 2016

spelling rules

There's a fight in France over French. The language authorities have adopted some minor spelling changes, especially elimination of the circumflex -- ^ -- over some vowels.

There is no similar body for English, where spelling was not standardized until late in the 18th century -- and still is split between British and American styles.

Exactly 110 years ago, that radical Republican Theodore Roosevelt tried to change spelling in US government documents. He drew on suggestions by a board of notables funded by Andrew Carnegie. Here's the story.
The Board wanted to make written English phonetic again, as it was long ago, before silent letters such as "e" (as in "axe"), "h" (as in "ghost"), "w" (as in "answer"), and "b" (as in "debt") crept in. However, silent letters were not the only aspect of spelling that bothered these gentlemen.
There were other commonly used words that were just more complex than they needed to be. For instance, the word "bureau" could much more easily be spelled if it was written as "buro." The word "enough" would be spelled more phonetically as "enuf," just as "though" could be simplified to "tho." And, of course, why have a "ph" combination in "phantasy" when it could much more easily be spelled "fantasy."
Unbeknownst to the Simplified Spelling Board, President Theodore Roosevelt sent a letter to the United States Government Printing Office on August 27, 1906. In this letter, Roosevelt ordered the Government Printing Office to use the new spellings of the 300 words detailed in the Simplified Spelling Board's circular in all documents emanating from the executive department.
President Roosevelt's public acceptance of simplified spelling caused a wave of reaction. Although there was public support in a few quarters, most of it was negative. Many newspapers began to ridicule the movement and lambasted the President in political cartoons. Congress was especially offended at the change, most likely because they had not been consulted. On December 13, 1906, the House of Representatives passed a resolution stating that it would use the spelling found in most dictionaries and not the new, simplified spelling in all official documents. With public sentiment against him, Roosevelt decided to rescind his order to the Government Printing Office.
Think how much money could have been saved by using shorter, phonetic words. Enuf sed.

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