SPELLING IS THE ART of putting letters together to make words. Words as spoken
are composed of sounds. In writing and printing we represent those sounds by letters.
A person who does not know how to read, write, and spell is called an unlettered
person. One who puts letters together to make words by guesswork is said to be
spelling phonetically; that is, by sound alone.
But there are other elements reflected in the conventional system of spelling.
These are etymological, historical. Our English words come from many sources,
and their origin and development are frequently reflected in the modern orthography
or system of spelling. Its is largely due to these elements that spelling is difficult and
causes so much confusion among those who will not study the art.
Consider the word rain. The actual sound of it would be correctly represented
by the letters r, long a, n: ran. But here our guess-speller is in trouble. We have no
eral quite different sounds, as in fat, fate, far, fare, sofa. The three letters r, a, and n,
formed as a word, gives us ran, past tense of the verb run and pronounced with
short sound of a.
As a next step, our speller may just happen to know that -ane is pronounced
with the long sound of the vowel; therefore, he might write rain as rane.
The amazing fact about unlettered people is that they frequently do differentiate,
but almost always in reverse. Thus our rule-ignorant speller would be quite likely
to write: "The rane fell on the window pain."
What he would do with rein and reign is impossible to foretell.
The passion for spelling reform is of long standing and uncomfortably wide dis-
tribution. President Theodore Roosevelt gave some encouragement to its evangelists.
One of our great dictionaries recognized the reformed system boldly but not with
the hoped-for results in popular adoption of the so-labeled "simplified" style.
The simple truth about extreme "simplified" spelling is that it is actually not as
simple as the conventional form.
The editor has before him a pamphlet devoted to propagation of "a refrmeishn
v dh Ixglish laexgwidzh az wel az a nuli djvaizd speling" (a reformation of the
English language as well as a newly devised spelling). Imagine trying to teach such
a system to boys and girls in "the grades"! This reformer spells "typewriter"
"taipraitr." "Resides" becomes "rjzaidz." "Exposure," in this system, is "ikspozhr."
And the inventor says: "In faekt, it kaen bj lrnt bai eni wan in a faivminit stadi."
Such wildly theoretic reform has never gained favor with the multitudes; it is
impossible to believe it ever can. But many "reforms" have worked themselves
out in the course of time and by natural processes. Such processes must ever super-
sede in effective influence all private reform enterprise and even (could it be gained)
legislative decree. An example of this "natural" reform may be sen in the dropping
of the k from the early English form musick.
Such changes as program for programme, catalog for catalogue, come about naturally
and not through propaganda of theorists. The American tendency, in spelling as in
compounding, is for true simplicity. Its operation is accelerated, in our times, by
such influences as the saving of space in headlines, the constant pressure for con-
densation and speed, the desire for STREAMLINING.
Many specious arguments have been advanced in favor of this miscalled simplifi-
cation. The fundamental plea, that it SIMPLIFIES, is false. It does not diminish the
difficulties; it increases them. It would not effect a material saving of space in
printing; actual typographical demonstration is easy. The "simplified" spellings
would cut linage very slightly, if at all; they would simply result in more open
spacing of lines.
Conventionalized spelling is an inescapable necessity. It makes for the common
good. It assures the reader's understanding of the writer's work. It is not a matter
of taste and judgement, like choice of necktie; it is a matter of practical effectiveness,
like the two-and-twoness of four. True and desirable reform will come about through
natural operations, the prevalence of a common will over the idiosyncrasies of restless
seekers after change for change's sake.
Sir Thomas Smith of Queen Elizabeth's cabinet was an early advocate of other
than go-as-you-please spelling. An example of the difficulties encountered is in the
doubling of final consonants before terminations. Even today there are some per-
the second p in kidnaper. To them the shortened form seems really to "say," to sug-
gest to the reader's mind, a long sound of a: kidnāping. A kidnaper, they say, would
be one who napes; one who naps is a napper. And this is based upon good old-
established usage. For one who taps is a tapper; one who naps is a napper.
Here we run into the matter of accent. Shall we write benefitted or benefited?
Fidgetty, or fidgety? Everybody writes fitted, without a misgiving; the stem is ac-
cented. Fidgety is better than fidgetty, because the final syllable is not accented.
But modern usage--due largely to newspaper practice, where mechanical considera-
tions prevail and the cutting of space is a major desideratum--is decisively influ-
ential, and the people are writing kidnaper, kidnaping.
Meanwhile, we have certain commonly accepted standards, and our purpose is to
present those rulings of common usage in the simplest and most helpful manner.
That is one of prime functions of a dictionary.