Toadly Agry

Now this is a cause I can get behind.

Seven members of the American Literacy Society picketed the 77th annual spelling bee, which is sponsored every year by Cincinnati-based Scripps Howard.

The protesters' complaint: English spelling is illogical. And the national spelling bee only reinforces the crazy spellings that lead to dyslexia, high illiteracy, and harder lives for immigrants.

"We advocate the modernization of English spelling," said Pete Boardman, 58, of Groton, N.Y. The Cornell University bus driver admitted to being a terrible speller. [...]

Carrying signs reading "I'm thru with through," "Spelling shuud be lojical," and "Spell different difrent," the protesters ? who first protested two years ago, but skipped last year ? drew chuckles from bee contestants.

Fite the power.

[cross-posted at The Agitator]

Share this

You know the Oxford English

You know the Oxford English dictionary was the first dictionary ever created, though I believe Webster may have ultimately finished his before the first OED was completed. That's because it took nearly a century to complete. It was meant to be not a source of "definitions" but a reference of "diction." Literally it listed a word in all the ways that it was spelled that they could find, and all the ways that it was pronounced that they could find. Hence "dictionary."

The purpose of the definitions were to distinguish between what usage of the word they were refering to, not the other way around. The obsession with spelling standardization likely came with websters work, which presented only one spelling of words. The popular rendition, and one pronunciation.

One of the interesting things to note is that many of the spellings do make sense if pronounced with an English accent, or with an accent from a specific part of the UK. "Was" for example is typically prounced "Wuz" over here is often pronouced "Wahs" over there.

I met a guy from England who made fun of UGA students because they pronouced "God" in his opinion just like we pronounced "dog." He pronouced both with a long "o" sound like "Goad" and "Doag" while he said we pronouced them with A's like "Gawd" and "Dawg."

Our spellings aren't quite as nutty as we think. It's actually standardization, and the shift of accents over time that make them what they are. A little more tolerance for divergent spellings, and a willingness to allow spellings to change as pronunciations change would go far, but it may make people harder to understand as well.

I think it went even further

I think it went even further than that, in thatseveral centuries before Webster there was a move to standardize spelling/pronunciations within English. English, of course, is a mongrel tongue with a bizarre mix of Saxon German and Old French, with little bits of Danish, Gaelic, and Latin (from the Romano-British period before the Anglo-Saxon (and jute!) invasion).

The problem at the time was that you had widely divergent pronunciations of words depending on what particular linguistic melange you were in. I think the crown/church wanted to standardize pronunciation to the royal standard- but somehow the old spellings remained.

IIRC, "knight" used to be pronounced as it was spelled- "kuh-niggit", as night was "niggit". But it was prounounced "nite" at court and so -igh became "aye". And so then Knight wouldn't sound right as "kuh-nite" so the weird custom of the silent K came about.

I'm sure things got worse with each iteration of spelling standardizations, such that modern English pronuncuation with regards to spelling is second only to Polish perhaps for the divergence between the two (slavic spellings also don't seem to make much sense either. Whats with the J that sounds like a Y or I? Thats kind of latin, yeah, but why use J when I will do now?).

Its a big switch from English to Japanese (for example), where everything is pretty much said as it is read, and the vowel sounds are limited and set (if you want to do "ay" you have to combine "eh" (e) and "ee" (i), you don't just pronounce "A" a different way).

"ah eh oo ee oh" (a e u i o)
"kah keh koo kee koh" (ka ke ku ki ko)
"sa seh soo shi soh" (sa se su shi so)
(progression of japanese kana syllabary, tho there is no "see" sound; even Japanese has its little irregularities)

G. B. Shaw tried it some

G. B. Shaw tried it some time ago. He actually had a good case, but unfortunately decided on 'Y' for the "sh" sound, instead of the vastly more logical 'X' (as we use in Chinese renderings: 'xian' = "shian".)

I really think he would have prevailed but for that. And if he had, we'd STILL have spelling bees:

Esperanto and metric system

Esperanto and metric system for all!!

Those interested in checking

Those interested in checking out what the protesting simpler-spellers propose "shuud" know that their organizations have web-sites at and

First grade, I was a

First grade, I was a finalist in my State's 'spelling bee'. The first word I was given in the finals was 'angry', and I spelled it a-n-g-e-r-y. . . *sigh*!

I was there at the Bee in

I was there at the Bee in '02 and '04, protesting crazy English spelling and
generally having a gay ol' time. Lots
o' fun, but not for 20% of the pop in
all English-speaking countries who're
functionally illiterate. It's not fun
for them, generation after generation.

While the word diction has

While the word diction has the meaning of how you pronounce words (better known as enunciation), it also refers to a speaker's choice of words and phrasing, of which a dictionary tries to convey the subtleties. So I get the feeling that the folk etymology for "dictionary" in the original post really has no basis in fact.