August 20, 2020

Spelling is Hard

More musings on the English language. In this second entry on the topic, we focus on the spelling trainwreck that is the English language.

Spelling is Hard

Published August 20, 2020 || Updated August 22, 2020

Note, this is more or less a continuation of another one of my blog posts: The Truth Therein Lies. I wrote this because I still can't get over how crazy the English language is.

The English language is a mess. The language is burdened by so many spelling and rule exceptions that unless someone embeds themselves into the English-speaking world, it is a particularly difficult language to master. Even those who speak English as their primary language, struggle to come to grips with the nuance.

This article came about after two spelling lookups this week. The first was a word I look up so often I really should end my suffering and write the word on a card and hang it up on the wall or maybe even get it tattooed to my arm. The word was occasionally—two Cs; one S—a fact I simply can't seem to remember. I also have trouble remembering how to spell necessary for the same reason—one C; two Ss. I usually get success right though for some reason. But . . . gah!

A second lookup this week was what triggered me to finally write this little article: wrack as in "I wracked my brain." There is a reason it is wracked and not racked, and it is an interesting reason, but that doesn't mean it is a particularly good reason. I kinda wish we, the English-speaking world, had an English Policing Committee who was chartered with slowly nudging the language towards sanity. No, I don't know how that would work, but I do wish for it!

With that theme in mind, let's look at some of the oddities of word construction in our language. There exist loose "rules" (guidelines, really) for how these words are constructed, but there are so many exceptions that those rules are almost meaningless. I won't go into the specific rules here. Instead, I'd just like to admire how crazy our language truly is. Enjoy.

Mysterious silent letters

  • Exhausted and Exhumed
  • Success, Necessary, Occasion (these -almost- make sense)
  • Gnarls and Knots
  • Midge, Smidge, Fridge. And it really should be smidgen, but it is never midgen or fridgen.
  • Often, Fasten, Listen, Glisten. Though you will often hear someone mispronouncing often without dropping the T.
  • Island
  • Dungeon
  • Column. So, why isn't forum forumn?
  • Opossum! And there is a possum but that is a different animal. Gah!

The -sions, -tions, and -cion

  • Vision and Propulsion
  • Mission and Aggression
  • Suspicion and Coercion
  • Station and exception, but not acception, that's not a word.

I don't buy it

  • Bought, Trough, and Cough
  • Rough and Tough
  • Through and Threw. Not to be confused with thought and thorough.
  • Dough
  • Bough.Rhymes with ow or chow. But I bet that dough made your brain pronounce bough as bow as in bowtie.

Makes no sense

  • Rendezvous
  • Wednesday. One of our wackier words.
  • Bureau, Bureaucracy, Beau, and Beautiful. These may be the craziest of the bunch!
  • Zoey and Zoe, but then we have Joey and Joe. What?
  • A fridge is a refrigerator that keeps things frigid, but the rules are rigid, and it is not friged or fridgid.
  • I, Either, Sigh, and Buy . . . Bye Bye!
  • Shiver and not Shivver!
  • Queue
  • Its is not It's
  • Bow. I take a bow, but tie a bow and give it to my beau!

Makes no sense, the liars edition

. . . because Lie and Lay deserve their own section.

  • A liar may be able to play the lyre, but he lies, or lied, and is probably still lying.
  • If you lied about the lye in your eye, I would suggest you lie down or I am going to lay down the law and will be forced to lay you down. Or are you just lying about the whole thing and are just lying there like a layabout . . . Gah!
  • To make yourself prone: I lie down now. Yesterday, I lay down, whereas you laid down. You will find me lying down if I am still there. If not, you will see the mussed-up blankets where I had lain!
  • Someone gently tucked me into bed: You lay me down. But if this were yesterday, you laid me down. If it were mid-process, you were caught laying me down. But if you looked back at me very sweetly, you would see me lying there.
  • Not telling the truth: A liar lies. You lie, are lying, and have lied before.

The same, but not the same

  • Wrack and Rack
  • Effect and affect -almost- sound the same.
  • Except and Accept
  • Profit and Prophet
  • A one and a two, and a won, to, too, . . .
  • Your, You're, and Yore
  • There, Their, and They're
  • Not, Knot, and Naught
  • Through and Threw. Not to be confused with thought and thorough.
  • Scents, Cents, and Sense
  • Patients and Patience
  • Capital and Capitol
  • Dowel and bowel and owl -almost- sound the same as dow, bough, and ow.
  • Bow and Bow. Take a bow and tie a bow—two pronunciations for bow!?!
  • I, Eye, Aye Aye!

Simply stupid and hard for a lot of people

  • Advice and Advise
  • Device and Devise
  • She was quite quiet when she quit!

Accepted Exceptions

  • Honey bee, two words, is the correct spelling, but honeybee, one word, has been in use for so long that it has become acceptable in more informal contexts. Beekeeping, one word, is the only correct spelling. Two words is an error.
  • Archaeology and amoeba, but also archeology and ameba.
  • Smidge is common, but smidgen is more correct.
  • Wacky, but whacky is accepted. Note, that you always whack the ball.

British English vs. American English

  • Brits: Analyse, Defence, Labour, Organise, and Calibre
  • 'Murican: Analyze, Defense, Labor, Organize, and Caliber
  • Both: Acre, Lucre, Massacre, and Mediocre
  • Brits: Archaeology and Amoeba
  • 'Murican: Archeology and Ameba, but also Archaeology and Amoeba
  • Brits: Licence (noun) / License (verb) and Practice (noun) / Practise (verb)
  • 'Murican: License and Practice
  • Read more here:

So, there you have it. A nice little sampling illustrating (again) how the English language is just a little bit insane. I hope you found this interesting.

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