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Jack Smith

Speling Is Tuf Enuf, Sum Wil Argyu

August 31, 1987|Jack Smith

Crusaders for Esperanto, the international language, will always be with us; so will those who want to simplify English spelling.

Simplified spelling has been pushed by such unalike champions as George Bernard Shaw, the brilliant British playwright and critic, and Col. Robert R. McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune--"The World's Greatest Newspaper."

John Daly of Canoga Park has sent me an essay by yet another advocate, Edward Rondthaler, co-editor of the Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling, from a recent issue of U.S. News and World Report.

Daly notes that Col. McCormick insisted on simplified spelling in his newspaper, but that the practice expired with his death.

"Any thots on the subject?" Daly asks.

Rondthaler's title is "Old-fashioned spelling is tuf and dum," which at once illustrates and argues his point. (He might have carried it further and written "old-fashund speling.")

Rondthaler deplores the National Spelling Bee, whose 13-year-old winner "has memorized more illogical spellings than most of us master in a lifetime."

He observes that American spelling is an English hodgepodge mandated by Dr. Samuel Johnson in his famous 18th-Century dictionary, and that, more often than not, it fails to match modern American pronunciation.

"Try to explain to a rational child why sane adults spell kum 'come' or dum 'dumb' or blud 'blood' or sed 'said' or tuf 'tough'?"

He argues that spelling ought to be a mirror of speech. "Other countries do it. Why can't ours?"

We who have had to learn that ough is pronounced variously, as in rough, cough, bough, though and through , can shout "Hear! Hear!" Or would that be "Here! Here!?"

It is confusing to learn that the long a sound, as in ate , is also pronounced like the ei in eight or freight. But if we simplified eight to ate , how could we tell it from ate, meaning fed?

Certainly the so-called rules for American spelling are almost impossible to learn, and admit to so many exceptions that there is hardly any point in learning them.

Almost everyone knows the rule that it's i before e except after c or when sounded like a as in neighbor or weigh . What about the e before i in seize and seismic? What is the rule for words ending in able or ible? Is the fact that expendable is spelled with an a and incredible is spelled with an i compatible with any rule?

Another ible word is incomprehensible, which is what most rules of spelling are. The sainted H. W. Fowler, for example, instructs as follows in Modern English Usage:

"Words ending in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel (which excludes such combinations as ee, ai, ea ), when they have added to them a suffix beginning with a vowel (e.g.- ed , - er of the agent or of comparison, - able , - y , of adjectives), double the final consonant if they either are monosyllables or bear their accent on the last syllable; they keep it single if they have their last syllable unaccented; but a final l is doubled irrespective of accent, and with a final s usage varies."

Have u got that?

Rondthaler says the National Spelling Bee and its friends are sending us the wrong message. "They're telling us to love that crippled old spelling--to love all its aches, pains and rattles, rather than to trade it in for a modern compact with a truble-free enjin."

Rondthaler is worried that as we grow increasingly illiterate, a minority of literate elite will gain control of government, education, business "and everything else."

Somehow, he feels, this can be avoided if spelling is simplified and made accessible to all.

I'm not sure it will be that simple. Plough is simplified as plow . But could bough be bow ? Doesn't bow mean something else?

Of course most of those ough words would be rendered more simply: Rough as ruf, through as thru, enough as enuf and dough as doh.

But I wonder if Rondthaler could think of a simpler way to spell incontrovertibility or recondite or intercontinental or interrelationships ?

Once you learn that tion is pronounced shun, and ough is pronounced owe, aw, off, uf, ow, or oo, English is spelled pretty much the way it sounds. I doubt, in any case, that being a good speller is going to get you into a powerful elite. I wonder how well Ronald Reagan would do in a spelling bee.

Gosh, Rondthaler, lerning how to spel is alredy tuf enuf.

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