Written by kerry michael wood

Saturday, 13 February 2010

A Modest Proposal: to Regulate the Different Spellings of the same Words by American and English Writers, to Save Energy both Mechanical and Human, to Reduce Consumption of Ink, Paper and Trees.

There is a troublesome dichotomy among users of the English language as to the spelling of certain words. Also, certain spelling rules taught to grade school children in America run counter to orthographical precepts drilled into the minds of their British counterparts.

Having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, I now deign to suggest a rectification of certain spelling rules. Should it appear that I favor American habits and customs at the expense of habits and customs of the people dwelling in the land where our language was conceived and brought to its preeminent position among languages of the world, I plead guilty. However, if the English language were a holding company, Americans would possess over seventy percent of the shares.

My recommendations are based on a desire to go with the shorter form of words spelled differently in Britain and America. To start with, I propose the removal of the unnecessary letter u from the British form of words such as colour, favour, and honour. Think how much time, ink, and paper could be saved if those seven-letter words were reduced to their six-letter American forms. Think also of the many words formed from those roots: colorful, favorite, and honorable, to name just a few in their American rendering.

A two-letter saving could be made if we eliminated the concluding ue from all of the words ending in -logue in contemporary British spelling. Imagine the page space (or mind the gap) saved by having millions of writers/typists/keyboarders writing analog, catalog, dialog, monolog rather than the longer British spellings. And while those unpronounced ue letter combinations are in consideration, why not stick with the Yankee bank, check, and checker instead of banque, cheque, and chequer?

Let the word develop never terminate with an e, and envelope be exclusively a noun referring to a mailer. Drop that terminal e to form the verb envelop. After all, "lop," meaning to cut or sever, has a short vowel; "lope," meaning a runner's or horse's gait swifter than a walk, smoother than a canter, and slower than a gallop, has a long vowel caused by the concluding silent e. Compare rat/rate, met/mete, pop/pope. This would extend also to dropping the silent e in acknowledge, judge and argue when suffixing to produce noun forms acknowledgment judgment and argument.

I suggest that we inter jewellery, draught, and programme in favor of jewelry, draft, and program, and let plough be plowed under also. This leads to the absurd diphthongs or ligatures of encyclopaedia, mediaeval, and manoeuver, which should henceforth be shortened and simplified to encyclopedia, medieval, and maneuver. And let mathematics be shortened to the American math instead of the tongue-spraining maths of British usage.

American spelling also economizes by doubling the final consonant of a verb before a vowel suffix only when the final syllable of the verb in its uninflected form is to be accented. Thus, there will be no more doubled l's in counselling, quarrelling, equalling, signalling and travelling; but they will remain in excelling, propelling, interred and conferred.

There are miles and miles of ocean separating Britain and the United States. It has been nearly two and a quarter centuries since America fought for independence from the Mother Country. Today there are differences between BBC pronunciation and that of its American broadcasting counterparts. Respecting and maintaining such differences on the printed page without disturbing my mission to shorten words and conserve space and energy, I recommend that Britishers continue to travel on tyres rather than American manufactured tires, and use an s rather than a z in civilisation and memorisation. Remembering the closeness of England to France, let the borrowed Gallicness of centre, theatre and metre also survive in British texts.

Moving from mere spelling differences of cognate words to synonymys, I suggest that Americans should henceforth forswear (not foreswear) the polysyllabic elevator in favor of the British lift, despite that noun's ambiguities. We shall also leave the British steering wheels where they are and allow driving on the wrong side of the road, but let those roads be two-lane instead of dual carriageway. British windscreens should replace windshields, automobile trunks will be booted in favor of boots, but the oddly chosen feminine term bonnet should be doffed and replaced by hood. Intercontinental travelers (not travellers) will depart from airports rather than aeroports.

Anticipating objections from people who fear for the survival of the priceless treasure that is early English literature, I suggest that no revisions in spelling and typography be executed on writings from the Anglo-Saxon period, the Medieval Period, the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, the Romantics, Victorians, up to the literature of one hundred years ago. Let it be left unaltered as a monumental verbal artifact of literary creativity extending from the fifth century to the early 1900s.

An arbitrary starting point for the spelling revisions I recommend is the commencement of World War I. Literary works, including newspapers and magazines, published subsequent to the second decade of the reign of George V should be destroyed or republished in observation of revised spelling protocols so that today's readers and writers can shake off any impulse to revert to British spelling excesses of the distant past. Mass incineration of the modern literature sections of libraries and book stores being impractical and polluting to global atmosphere, I recommend that literary works to be excluded should be thoroughly soaked in fresh water, seawater or other easily available and cheaply consumable liquid and then used as a breeding and nourishment material for the raising of earthworms, whose beneficent influences on landscape, agriculture, and fresh and salt water sport angling I need not recount. Shakespeare's Hamlet will be memorialized in the process. "A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm." Let the aforementioned king be replaced by Eliot, Joyce, Beckett, Maugham, Amis, Greene, Tolkein, Rowling or whoever appeals to the individual's taste.

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote spelling conformities and economies, having no other motive than the public good of the world that will come with the subtraction of needless keystrokes and manual effort required to produce unnecessary letters. When one considers the millions of individuals, publications, and other organizations (or organisations) that depend on the printed word to communicate, it is not a great leap to consider a future diminution in the consumption of paper and the trees from which it is made, not to mention the photosynthetic benefits afforded by forests, the conservation of ink, paint, pencil lead, and chalk, and elimination of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, rising oceans, melting glaciers, and polar bear mortality.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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