Back to Index

Cut out the guff, or rather the guf

     Ron Bracewell is an orthographical Bourbon (or rather Boorbon). Daniel Webster just moved one or two chairs. I want a complete housecleaning. He writes:

     Daniel Webster simplified English spelling. Did you know that his spelling manual was the most printed book in America, possibly behind the Bible, though this not known for sure.
     As a result we have two spellings for many words. He argued that -ize was better than -ise, on the grounds that the Greek had zeta not sigma. Il voulait peut-etre antagoniser les francais. In England we may sympathise with the French (seeing that we got the word from France, not Greece), but in the United States we must sympathize. So, a good intention did not lead to simplification. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says: -ise, vb suffix, chiefly Brit: -ize . The demise of -ise is a bit of a surprise, seeing that so many words are still spelt -ise in the U.S.
     Travellers to England left New York as travelers, thanks to Webster; here again intention to reform led to complication. We should be combating the divisive effects of spelling reformers, or as they write in England, combatting. You can write that in the U.S. too. It is a pity that the intention to simplify just led to more options.
     Fortunately many of Webster's suggestions did not catch on, but some did show survival value. Thru is not taught in school, I gather, and you won't see it in the NYT. A good thing, too. But it is alive in places where brevity is valued and -ough is scorned. The idealism is not worth the progressive splintering.
     I am agin spelin reform. Who will do it? As the country with the largest population of native English speakers, India is a candidate. If a spelin reform movement develops there (maybe it already has, as suggested by the revison of Poonah to Pune) then the result will be three ways of spelling many words. Don't count on the United Nations to adjudicate. Maybe Brussells.
     Did you notice that French is only half as bad as English? If you see a French word you can usually pronounce it (unlike English) but if you hear it you can't necessarily spell it (tan, tant, t'en, taon, temps are pronounced identically). In Italian there is no verb 'to spell,' BUT they have a marvelous way of sending unpronounceable Polish names over the telephone.
     The only rational response to spelling reform is to ignore it.

Yaws emfaticly,

     My comment: Ron is worse than a Boorbon; he is a Francophile (or rather francofile). He completely ignores Spanish, which greatly simplified spelling, hence "francófilo". The Daniel Webster of Spanish was Chilean Andrés Bello, who wished to remove the few remaining anomalies in Spanish. He failed. Another Ron Bracewell is Chilean (!) Carlos López, who ridicules Bello's changes. I hestitate to disagree with two eminent WAISers, but I am fighting for a gud cawse.

Ronald Hilton - 09/11/99