It was a late night. I was working on some Jim Beam over ice. The TV series Bones was on, but I wasn’t really watching. I was writing. Earlier, wind had been howling like a hungry coyote at the window. But now it was quiet. A quiet had set over the neighborhood like the quiet that sets over a neighbourhood at this time of night -- a quiet neighborhood that at this time of night is quiet when the quiet sets in. Not like noisy neighbourhoods at this time of the night that are noisy, but like quiet neighborhoods and this time of night that are quiet.
Like I said, I was writing. I was writing this. I had a dream last night. The dream was about spell checking programs. I have Microsoft Word 2016 and if I misspell a word I get that red squiggly line under the misspelled word. But this one time it was a problem. This time, and this time only, I was right. Microsoft Word 2016 was wrong. I don’t remember the word, but I was strangely optimistic that I would. In the dream, I dreamed/dreamt the line: After a terrifying encounter with Microsoft Word 2016 spell-checker, I was strangely optimistic for the future.
The dream was about a man having a bad experience with the spell check feature in Word 2016. There was a word. I don’t remember the word. But it was a word. It had letters. It had sounds. It was a word. But I don’t remember the word. What that experience was was lost shortly after waking up……something to do with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or so I read. Peptides or enzymes or something.
Nevertheless, spell check can be a handy aspect of writing. I advise my students to be sure their spell check program is turned on. You know, whisper sweet nothings. Spell check will not, however, detect an incorrectly used word if spelled correctly: many homonyms will pass as correct spelled even though they are not the right word. Right/write. Wrung/rung. Taut/taught. Not/naught.
And think about advisor/adviser, or British English and American English. I mean, we do speak English do we not? There are about 175 words spelled differently in English English: for example, Color/Colour. Many spelling variations occurred when the first moveable type printers, those English fellows hunched over their moveable type presses dimly lit by oil lamps, printing their preferred spelling of words. Nedley Smythington spelled it one way. Basil Hickenlooper in the next village spelled it another way. Snodgrass Oyston in the next. And so on. Some spellings caught on, some didn’t. Sometimes both or several caught on. Near to my heart (and palate) is whiskey/whisky. According to an online (on-line) encyclopedia:
Much is made of the word's two spellings: whisky and whiskey. There are two schools of thought on the issue. One is that the spelling difference is simply a matter of regional language convention for the spelling of a word, indicating that the spelling varies depending on the intended audience or the background or personal preferences of the writer (like the difference between color and colour; or recognize and recognise), and the other is that the spelling should depend on the style or origin of the spirit being described. There is general agreement that when quoting the proper name printed on a label, the spelling on the label should not be altered. Some writers[who?] refer to "whisk(e)y" or "whisky/whiskey" to acknowledge the variation.
The spelling whiskey is common in Ireland and the United States, while whisky is used in all other whisky producing countries. In the US, the usage has not always been consistent. From the late eighteenth century to the mid twentieth century, American writers used both spellings interchangeably until the introduction of newspaper style guides. Since the 1960s, American writers have increasingly used whiskey as the accepted spelling for aged grain spirits made in the US and whisky for aged grain spirits made outside the US. However, some prominent American brands, such as George Dickel, Maker's Mark, and Old Forester (all made by different companies), use the whisky spelling on their labels, and the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, the legal regulations for spirit in the US, also use the whisky spelling throughout.
"Scotch" is the internationally recognized term for "Scotch whisky". (Wikipedia)
Ghoti deserves special mention- also from Wikipedia: The first confirmed use of the word is in a letter from Charles Ollier to Leigh Hunt. On the third page of that letter, dated 11 December 1855, Ollier explains, "My Son William has hit upon a new method of spelling 'Fish'." Ollier then demonstrates that "Ghoti is Fish." An early known published reference dates to 1874, citing the above letter. The letter credits ghoti to William Ollier Jr. (born 1824). Ghoti is often cited to support the English spelling reform, and is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, a supporter of this cause. However, the word does not appear in Shaw's writings, and a biography of Shaw attributes it instead to an anonymous spelling reformer. Similar constructed words exist that demonstrate English idiosyncrasies, but ghoti is the most widely recognized. Notable usage: In Finnegans Wake, James Joyce alludes to ghoti: "Gee each owe tea eye smells fish." In the constructed language of Klingon, 'ghoti' is the proper word for "fish". And while I'm the subject of phonetic spelling --- why isn't phonetic spelled with an 'f'?
Dictionaries eventually attempted to standardize spelling with some success although there were some issues: the first strictly English dictionary was titled "A Table Alphabeticall" by Cawdrey 1604. Samuel Johnson's dictionary gave way several hundreds years later to The American Heritage dictionary. Cawdrey begat Johnson begat Webster begat American Heritage and centrifugal and centripetal forces continued to work as prescriptivists engaged and gained temporary advantage back and forth with descriptivists to this very day.
Now here’s the thing. Spell check is a modern word and can be spelled spellcheck, spell-check, or spell check.........that is so f***** up. I mean why even bother? Layers of irony live in this spell checking world in which spell check can be spelled three different ways. It's the centrifugal force of the internet v. the centripetal force of print mediums. It’s a metaphor for the variety and spice of English spelling. It’s the beauty of anarchy and chaos, individuality and freedom.
Here’s one for you: “I spelt ‘learnt’ right.” Or “I learnt that ‘spelt’ was a correct spelling of the past tense of spell.” We have no problem saying, “She dealt the cards.” Or “I felt sorry for him.” It does get pretty random. One explanation of alternate past tense endings is the older original English words had those “irregular” endings, while newer words adopted a more “regular” -ed past tense indicator. Young children even apply this principle to new words they learn: the past tense of run becomes “runned.” Or I “drinked” my milk.
One internet study analyzed randomly selected documents and found the same words spelled in different ways in the same documents in the following frequencies:
1 organise / organize 12.4%
2 centre / center 6.5%
3 focussed / focused 3.0%
4 recognise / recognize 3.0%
5 analyse / analyze 1.7%
6 advisor / adviser 1.5%
7 learnt / learned 1.4%
8 finalise / finalize 1.2%
9 emphasise / emphasize 1.1%
10 labour / labor 1.0%
Modern English spelling is largely based on Middle English spelling but pronunciation has changed. Linquists call this The Great Vowel Shift.
In general, the tongue moved higher in the mouth over about 250 years. It’s hard to say quite why this occurred. Tighter pants perhaps? Rancid food? Prominent citizens with speech impediments? Colder weather? Bad oysters? But then came the printing presses. From Wikipedia: “The printing press was introduced to England in the 1470s by William Caxton and later Richard Pynson. The adoption and use of the printing press accelerated the process of standardization of English spelling, which continued into the 16th century. The standard spellings were those of Middle English pronunciation, and spelling conventions continued from Old English. However, the Middle English spellings were retained into Modern English while the Great Vowel Shift was taking place, which caused some of the peculiarities of Modern English spelling in relation to vowels.”
Of course, you need to know the International Phonetic Alphabet to interpret the above chart. So here:
Of course, there was a far earlier “consonant shift” which occurred in Proto-Indo-European which predates written language entirely and analyses/analyzes relationships among cognate language and sounds shifts where d’s become t’s and p’s become f’s and so on…… Pater and father. Fader and father. And thousands of inter-language correspondences. Jacob Grimm of the fairy tale Grimm brothers researched this phenomenon.
English is at the tip end of one of those Germanic/West Germanic strings sandwiched between Danish and Frisian. One of my favorite courses in college was Dr. Richard Lane’s History of the English Language. Another was Dr. Gordon Mundell’s Linguistics. But I digress from my I had a dream essay.
So now you know. So be sure to cheque your spelling………..
And, sweet dreams.