Minute Minuet

I was reading some amateur fiction the other day. It doesn’t matter which specific story it was or where I was reading it, though. I’ve seen this error show up with increasing frequency. Note that I’m referring to amateur fiction that has not been professionally edited. I would be horrified if a professional editor let this error through. This error has made my pet peeves list as a result of at least one author systematically getting it wrong.

So what is this error? Put plainly, it is writing “minuet” instead of “minute”. We all know that a minute is a unit of time consisting of sixty seconds and that there are sixty of them in an hour. It is also used figuratively to refer to a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, a minuet is a ballroom dance. The two really are not interchangeable, though if you squint at things correctly, you could make “I’ll be with you in a couple of minuets” make sense. However, unless the context is dancing, writing “minuet” is almost certainly wrong.

I do have to admit that writing “minuet” instead of “minute” is easy enough to do. The difference is a simple transposition of the last two letters. I could easily put this down to a simple typo if it occurs once. However, when it occurs systematically in a particular text, I have no choice but to conclude that the author is doing it intentionally and, thus, has no idea that they are making an error. I do wonder if this isn’t due to some idiotic preference for the much more rare “minuet” over the common “minute” in the autocompletion gimmick in some device or other.

In this case, “minuet” isn’t even pronounced the same as “minute” so it’s particularly jarring. I’m not going to confuse you with IPA representations of the words since I never could get my head around all the IPA symbols. However, “minuet” is pronounced something like “min-you-ette” while “minute” goes something like “min-utt” or “min-it” depending on your local dialect and/or accent.

Because “minuet” is a valid word, a spell checker will not catch it. Basic grammar checkers won’t either since both are nouns. This is the sort of thing that only actual proofreading will catch. If you are one that often writes “minuet” instead of “minute” (and don’t assume you aren’t – you could be doing it without realizing it), make sure you look specifically for this sort of error when proofreading. And if you don’t proofread, start doing so.


Lost Wizard’s Musings 2015-6

I’ve uploaded the sixth installment of Lost Wizard’s Musings. Head on over to Lost Wizard Enterprises Incorporated’s channel to see it and the previous five.

For anyone wondering why I don’t just write blog entries for them, I’m using them as a means to learn more about video production. This one is an experiment with the good old fashioned chroma key type effect, otherwise known as blue or green screen. So far, my conclusion is that to do a really good green screen effect, I need a much better quality camera – something that doesn’t introduce nearly so much noise into the image. Still, since I can’t afford to buy one, I’ll have to make do with what I have and put up with that funky fringe effect around my hair, though I expect I could reduce that with some hair spray or something.

I think I need to start writing scripts ahead of time, too. I might even want to consider some sort of teleprompter. This winging it business leaves way to much editing and fixup in post production.

Lost Wizard’s Musings

I have just launched a new video series over on YouTube called Lost Wizard’s Musings. It is essentially a video blog (vlog?). Any topic if fair game so you may find me talking about anything.

This series is being produced and published by Lost Wizard Enterprises Incorporated. Be sure to subscribe to their channel to ensure you don’t miss any episodes.

Without further ado, here’s the first episode:


On rôles and roles

I have been seeing an increasing incidence of diacritical marks in English writing. This is probably largely due to the fact that more and more people writing English are coming from languages that use diacriticals as a matter of course. However, it seems to me that there is also an influence from the fact that it is much easier these days to arrange to type the diacritical marks than it has been in the past. With the advent of unicode and the near ubiquity of UTF-8, it has become increasingly trivial to share text using said diacritical marks.

Anyone who has followed my rants over the years knows that I am generally in favour of diacritical marks where they make sense. For instance, the diaeresis that appears in naïve is useful to indicate that the “ai” sequence is not to be pronounced as the typical diphthong. A similar argument can be made for “coöperation”, though “co-operation” works equally well there. Admittedly, the hyphenated form is slightly awkward.

The accute accent in words like café and fiancé(e) are also useful to show that not only is the final “e” prounounced, but it is not pronounced at all as expected (in this case it sounds like a long “a” sound). The same can be said for words like “façade” where the cedilla indicates a “soft c” instead of the “hard c” that would arise from typical English spelling rules. A case could be made for respelling the words to avoid the diacriticals but that is likely to encounter stronger resistance than simply using the diacriticals.

There are, however, cases where the diacritical mark is completely pointless. For instance, more and more often I have been seeing “rôle”. If anyone can explain to me just what function the circumflex has in that case, I am willing to listen. However, in no dialect of English I am familiar with is there any oddness to the pronunciation of that particular “o” sound compared to other similarly written ones. That is, it rhymes with “pole”, “bole”, “hole”, and “mole”. So what is the purpose of using the circumflex when writing simply “role” is sufficient?

I have seen it asserted that “role” is of French origin and, thus, the diacritical mark is kept because of that. Why? It serves exactly no purpose to do so given the pronunciation of the word.

There are, in fact, cases where no diacritical is used at all where it would make sense. “Hyperbole” would benefit from some sort of diacritical on the trailing “e” to indicate that it should be pronounced as a long “e” instead of being silent as usual. (The accute accent probably shouldn’t be used given that it typically seems to indicate a long “a” sound. Maybe a macron or something?)

On the whole, though, I am generally pleased to see that the diacritical allergy seems to be passing.

Ruminations on Writing: Narrative Writing

One of the things I see all the time in style guides and writing courses is a focus on formal writing. This does make some sense since most people will be writing formal documents at one time or another. Unfortunately, this focus does not produce a well rounded writer. A style that makes sense for an academic assessment of historical events is uncomfortably stuffy and restrictive for recounting the hijinx from a recent fishing expedition.

Even when writing courses do discuss appropriate styles for the target audience, they tend to simply gloss over what that really means. Often they will have a quick discussion about appropriate word choice. There are cases where writing “It behooves us greatly on this most auspicious occasion…” is appropriate. But there are also cases where writing “Good job we did that, eh?” is more appropriate. (If you’re wondering when one would ever use the first one, think comedy.)

For most formal settings and many informal settings, the rules taught in writing courses do, in fact, make sense. The introduction, body, and conclusion structure of an essay also works well for a speech. Arranging paragraphs with a topic sentence, body sentences, and a possible concluding sentence makes sense in most cases, too. These structures are a good way to keep the text organized and understandable. Rather, where those structures break down is when it comes to narrative writing.

If writing courses focus on anything other than formal prose, they usually focus on poetry. Poetry has its own rules and generally attempts to violate as many rules as it can. Well, that’s not strictly true, but the styles used for poetry have little to do with prose and, as such, it is not helpful for anyone attempting to write narrative prose.

Narrative writing is a completely different thing to writing formal papers or speeches. There are different overall structures though the general introduction, body, and conclusion structure can be used successfully. Usually taught in English classes is the “introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion” structure for a story. That, too, is a useful structure. Where the courses fall down is that they fail to provide any real guidance on how to structure the prose itself. Instead the focus on the structure of the overall work and they only do that so that they can set the students exercises in analyzing what someone else wrote. That is hardly conducing to learning how to actually write a narrative unless the student accidentally learns something from reading.

Most notably, in narrative writing, the formal paragraph structure is useless. It can serve as a guideline, but it generally cannot be strictly adhered to. With a narrative, there are many factors which confuse the situation, not least of which is that fact that a narrative combines many different types of text at the same time. It is quite common to encounter a brief opinion essay, possibly as internal monologue, followed by an extensive set of quotes from various sources, followed by a detailed blow by blow accounting of a fight somewhere. Within the narrative, various sections may adhere to various formal guidlines. Speeches by characters may follow a typical speech format while an infodump discussion the nature of farming in the back of beyond may read like a formal essay.

Fortunately, there are reasonable guidelines that can be followed for narrative writing in English. These are, however, just that. For every recommendation, it is fairly trivial to construct an example in which the recommendation is less than ideal.

Foremost, understand formal writing. There will be many cases in the course of writing narratives where the formal structure recommendations will make perfect sense. In those cases, it is perfectly acceptable to follow them. In fact, the rules of punctuation and sentence structure do not change between formal and narrative writing even though a narrative has more freedom to bend those rules as needed. Even the rules for quoting sources in academic literature generally translate to the purpose of representing dialogue in a narrative. After all, dialogue is simply quoting a primary source, in academic parlance. Stick to the rules as much as you can without compromising the flow of the narrative and you will tend to be on the right track. Also, if you do not understand the rules, you cannot understand the impact of breaking them if you choose to do so.

There is one thing that formal writing guidelines like to present as an absolute. That is a proscription of the passive voice. This may be a result of backlash against political doublespeak and various other face saving and ass covering behaviours. Passive voice can often be used to obfuscate just who is doing what and it often weakens a statement’s impact. However, passive voice is often appropriate. It depends just what aspect of the statement is important. For instance, consider the following. I could write “the car was flattened by a falling rock” or I could write “A falling rock flattened the car.”  The former emphasises the flattening of the car while the latter emphasises the fact that a falling rock did it. Neither is incorrect. Use whichever is appropriate in the context.

The most difficult thing writers encounter is deciding how to construct paragraphs. When reading, the choice often feels random, though when the authore gets it wrong, it can be quite jarring. A general rule of thumb is to group related sentences in a single paragraph. For instance, sentences describing the room that the character just entered would make sense as a single paragraph, at least if there is a lot of description. On the other hand, if each item examined by the character is described in excruciating detail, one might reserve a paragraph for each item. Or, if the character only makes a cursory examination of the entire building, that entire examination may be one paragraph. The general goal is to prevent paragraphs from becoming too bulky without having every sentence become its own paragraph. For this reason alone, paragraph breaks are something of an art form in narrative writing.

There are, however, a few guidelines for paragraph structure that should be followed unless there is a very good reason to break them. First among them is that each time the speaker changes in a dialogue, begin a new paragraph. It is rare that quotes from multiple speakers make sense appearing in a single paragraph, though it does happen on occasion. The practice of ending a paragraph each time the speaker changes has become such a common practice that readers tend to expect it and will be thrown if the expectation is not met.

Another well established tradition is to break the paragraph whenever the point of view character changes, or whenever the narrator’s attention switches to a new character. Mixing point of view characters in the same paragraph tends to be confusing. It is worth spending a few extra words or a few extra lines to avoid this confusion.

Finally, paragraphs should not span multiple pages, and, if avoidable, should not take up the majority of a single page. The longer a paragraph, the longer a reader has to wait to find a convenient breaking point to stop reading. Even if the reader is not intending to take a break, reaching the end of a longish paragraph affords a convenient place to pause and regroup mentally. Even if the paragraph reads comfortably and does not seem to drag on, paragraph breaks also serve as a means to keep one’s eyes in synch with the text. The longer a paragraph goes on, the harder it is to reset to the correct line at the left margin. Paragraph breaks give visual cues along the left margin that make aligining on the next line easier. Remember, the system that controls our eyes is imprecise and only locks in on particular locations through a feedback system. The more information that feedback system has to work with, the less effort it takes to synchronize. Of course, how this works out depends a great deal on the typesetting and format of the end product. Also, if a paragraph really does need to be massive, as sometimes happens, there is no reason to artificially break it.

There are other things that should be considered when writing a narrative, but most of those are the same as any writing. Make sure you use words correctly. Spell words correctly. Use punctuation correctly. Keep your writing as clear as it can be. And most of all, proof read your work (something you will likely discover I failed to do on most things on this blog).

Ruminations on Writing: Terminology

Recently, I’ve seen quite a few instances of “fumble rules” and other things discussing writing style. This got me thinking about some of the “rules” that are bandied about for style and grammar. I’m going to pick on a few of those rules over the next while, I think.

Before I get into the rules, I think it would make sense to establish a vocabulary for doing so. I’m going to use a number of terms in these commentaries that may not be clear to all my readers. They certainly weren’t clear to me when I started this. I should make it clear that my definitions below may vary somewhat from the definitions used by a linguist. I am not a linguist and I find linguists to be singularly unhelpful in understanding any language.

First, we have the “classic” parts of speech which are simply labels to classify the function of words.

noun. This one should be clear and is about the most obvious definition for a part of speech ever. A noun is a word representing a specific thing, tangible or otherwise. Nouns are thinks like “cat” or “love” or “group”. They also include names (or “proper nouns”) such as “Fred” or “Edmonton” or “Earth”.

pronoun. A pronoun is really just a word that takes the place of a noun which has possibly been inflected in some way. Thus, an pronoun may behave like a noun but it might also behave as an adjective. For instance, “he” would behave like a noun, but the possessive form “his” would behave like an adjective, just like any noun inflected to be possessive.

verb. This is the other obvious part of speech. A verb is a word representing an action. While that action is normally something like running or thinking or eating or hating, it may be somewhat more abstract as represented by verbs like “be” or “become” which represent a “state of being” or associate a description with a noun of some kind.  This particular dichotomy arises from the general structure of English; there is no reason that a verb construction need be used to do the linkage. That just happens to be how English does it.

adjective. An adjective is simply a word or phrase that adds description to a noun. For instance, “fat cat”, “slow car”, “green leaf” and so on all have adjectives before the nouns.

adverb. This is something more confusing. An adverb (or adverbial phrase) modifies the action in some way. That is, it describes when or where or how the action occurs. To further confuse the issue, adverbs can also modify adjectives though if you squint at it carefully, you can realize that adjectives are really describing an action – the state of being as described by the adjective.

conjunction. A conjunction is simply a word or phrase used to join different sentences or phrases together.

preposition. A preposition introduces a phrase describing position or manner. It serves much the same purpose as a conjunction but at a lower level. Words such as “to”, “under”, “beside”, and so on often serve as prepositions.

article. An article is really just an adjective when you get down to it. In English, you have “the” which is the “definite” article and “a” or “an” which is the “indefinite” article. These are used so commonly that it makes some sense to label them separately. Other languages have a much larger complement of articles. A definite article indicates that the following noun phrase is a specific instance of the noun while the indefinite article indicates that the noun phrase is only one instance of a the noun.

interjection. An interjection is simply an emotional outburst that usually stands on its own. It generally ignores any other rules of proper grammar.

Labelling words as a particular part of speech is something of a problem in English. This stems from the fact that much of English is positional rather than inflectional. That is, rather than modifying the word to change its function in a sentence, it can often simply be relocated.  For instance, one could write “a door for a man” in which case it is clear that “man” is a noun. Or, one could use the more common phrase “man door” which means the same thing except that “man” is now serving as an adjective, describing a type of door. To further add confusion, one can “man the pumps” where “man” is now a verb meaning to apply ones own energy to operating the pumps. These are both examples of “zero derivation” in which a word of one type is repurposed to act as another without modifying it in any way. Of course, English also has inflections which are useful in many circumstances. One of the most common is the “-ly” suffix used to convert an adjective into an adverb.

Even though words can usually be labelled as one of the above parts of speech in English, there are cases where that just doesn’t work. Notably, in cases where a verb is multiple words. Let’s consider the example of “go” and “go out”. If you remove “out” from “go out”, you actually change the meaning. The difference is sufficient that “go” and “go out” can be considered distinct verbs. “Out” is not describing “go” in any way but, rather, is part of the verb itself. This is much like “to” in the infinitive form of a verb. Most references I have found seem to agree that “out” in “go out” is an adverb, but my contention is that it is nothing of the sort. That leads to another definition:

particle. A particle is simply a word serving a functional purpose. It may or may not actually behave like a part of speech. The “to” in an infinitive would be a particle. So would the “out” in “go out”. Indeed, one can take the definition to extremes and consider every word that serves as part of a larger unitary construction as a particle. Words that form parts of various verb conjugations, such as “will” or “shall”, while often considered to be verbs, are really particles as well.

There are a few other words I’ve tossed around above that could stand definitions, too.

derivation. This is simply the act of forming a new word from previously existing words by adding affixes or compounding words, or, in the case of zero derivation, simply using the old word as the new one.

conjugation. This is the act of modifying a word for its grammatical function. This is usually used in the context of verbs describing the formation of various verb tenses, voices,  and moods from the base verb form. The conjugation may vary depending on the subject, object, or even sentence position. In some languages, other types of words also conjugate, often adjectives.

mood. This is an obscure term used to describe the context of the action. Such things as “interrogative”, “indicative”, and “infinitive” are all moods. Except to linguists, this term is largely meaningless in English and can be folded into the notion of a “verb tense”.

voice. Grammatically, voice describes the releationship between the verb and its subject and object. If the verb is being done by the subject, this is active voice. If the verb is being done to the subject, this is passive voice.

tense. Strictly speaking, this describes the temporal relationship between the action and the doer. In English, that means past, present, or future. Other languages may have other tenses. In practical terms, mood and tense are often conflated or combined mentally.

inflection. Inflection is simply modification of a base word to fit into a particular function. Examples are verb conjugation and pluralization.

affix. An affix is simply an addition to a base word for some purpose. The addition may be at the start (prefix), in the middle (infix), or the end (suffix). It may even include more than one addition.

suffix. An addition to the end of a word. Generally denoted by a leading hyphen, such as “-ly”.

prefix. An addition to the start of the word. Generally denoted by a trailing hyphen, such as “un-“.

infix. An addition to the middle of a word. Generally denoted by both leading and trailing hyphens.

There are a couple other terms which are likely to come up at some point:

first person. This refers to the speaker or writer. In English, “I”, “me”, “we”, and “us” are all first person.

second person. This refers to another person in proximity to the speaker in some way. This is usually the person being spoken to or the reader. “You” would be second person.

third person. A third person is a person distinct from the speaker or the listener and is often not party to the communication. “he”, “it”, “they”, “them”, etc., are all third person.

singular. This means exactly one, as you would expect. Grammatically, it means the word itself is treated as singular even if it is notionally referring to multiple things. Singular forms are often used to refer to zero as well, depending on context.

plural. This means more than one. It may also refer to zero depending on context.

There will likely be other terms that show up. I will attempt to define those as they do. However, now that we have something of a vocabulary, I can safely proceed with my various ruminations next time.

Diacritical Allergy

One of my hobbies is the English language, in all its myriad aspects. One such aspect is orthography, which includes more than just spelling for those wondering why I am using an expensive word.  I’ve touched on the subject of orthography previously but it is a large subject area. One aspect of orthography that has recently caught my attention is that of diacritical marks, to which English seems to be allergic. Continue reading “Diacritical Allergy”

English Spelling Reform

I’m sure almost everyone has encountered some gag related to spelling reform in English. I will not bother to reproduce any of those here as one can simply apply any reasonable search engine to the task and discover many dozens of pages discussing such schemes.

Before I go too far in this commentary on the subject, allow me to mention the wonderful article at Zompist.com that discusses the subject of English spelling. I highly recommend that anyone interested in spelling or other topics linguistic to check out that site.

Now, on to English spelling.

I’ll assume that since you are reading this that you have at least a passing familiarity with written English. If you don’t, how are you reading this? (Yes, I know there are translation gimmicks out there but they will no doubt have made a hash of this.)

In any event, it is a common complaint that spelling in English is difficult. Of course, there are basic rules which are helpful to some extent but there are exceptions to many of them and then there are exceptions to the exceptions and so on. This leads to what many have described as a complete mess.

Let’s take an example of some of the commentary that has occurred. It has been suggested at least once that under the current spelling system in English, one could write “ghoti”. Apparently that is a common word. I have to admit, however, that no matter how I squinted at it, I only managed to come up with a pronunciation that sounds like “goatee”. However, “ghoti” is alleged to be a valid spelling of “fish”. This example, however, assumes there is far more chaos to English spelling than there is. For instance, no native English speaker would even begin to think that “gh” at the beginning of a word is anything but a hard “g” sound like in “ghost”. In fact, most will not even associate the “gh” in “cough” with the “f” sound since most will have learned most of the words ending in “ough” by rote since the pronunciation varies. The “ti” runs into the same problem because it only has the “sh” type sound when it appears in specific contexts such as “action”. And even then, depending on your dialect, it may sound like “ch” rather than “sh”. The “o” may have more justification except for the fact that it is allegedly from the “o” in “women” which is something of an aberration rather than something any English speaker will recognize as a rule. Go ahead, find other words where “o” sounds like a short “i”. I can’t think of any off the top of my head. No, when I see an “o” in the middle of a stressed syllable (which it must be if there is only one in the word), it takes one of the various sounds like in “cot” or “caught” or “coat” or what have you. It does not even degenerate into a schwa, stressed or not.

Let’s leave aside the fact that English spelling is considerably more regular than the spelling reform advocates wish it to be. English has a far bigger problem for spelling than the complexity of the current system. This particular problem must be solved by any replacement system. The fact that no replacement system has gained any real traction is suggestive that this particular problem has not been solved. The problem I am referring to is, of course, the insane number of regional dialects that exist.

While these dialects are all clearly English, their pronunciation varies wildly, particularly with respect to vowels and the letter “r”. The “r” business is easily handwaved away as the difference between rhotic and non-rhotic dialects is quite regular and need not cause any substantial trouble for a writing system. Vowel sounds, on the other hand, are critical. Have you ever wondered why “cot” and “caught” are spelled differently? If you haven’t, then your dialect distinguishes between the two vowels. If you have, then your dialect doesn’t. A trivial amount of research and thought reveals many dozens of such examples between varying dialects, and that only counts the major ones. It turns out that the vowel variance between dialects, even within a single country, simply cannot be represented uniformly by any spelling system. There are too many variations. The Zompist link above talks about that problem.

So any reformed spelling system for English must have the following characteristics to be useful:

  • It must be regular and straight forward to learn.
  • It must be applicable to all dialects of English to be useful. After all, if only one region can read the particular spelling, what’s the point of it?

Let us return to the current spelling system. It certainly has irregularities but the vast majority of words do follow known patterns which can be identified by readers with little effort, to the point that even most unfamiliar words can be pronounced with a bit of thought and practice. It does, however, have its warts, particularly with respect to the vowels, but there are also some issues related to consonant sounds.

As discussed above, the vowel problem is not truly solvable. However, since English has such a complex vowel system, it was never really going to be solvable anyway without the addition of letters to the alphabet or the introduction of diacriticals. (Try enumerating all the different vowel sounds you use in common words; ignore how the vowel is written but rather listen to how the word sounds compared to others. You may be surprised how many distinct vowel sounds you find in your own dialect.) I contend that it is not the vowels that cause the trouble anyway, but the irregularities with consonants.

Consonant sounds do tend to be more consistent across dialects and where they vary, they tend vary due to vowel variance and they tend to do so in predictable, and natural ways. The consonants in English are relatively simple and, for the most part, have perfectly simple means of expression. For instance, the “k” sound or the “s” sound or the “z” sound or the “t” sound. However, there are extra ways of writing such sounds which tend to confuse the issue. As a common example, why is “ph” needed as another way to spell “f”? Why does it matter that the “ph” words come from Greek? We are not speaking Greek nor are we using the actual Greek alphabet so why keep an archaic spelling? After all, “fotograf” is as clear as “photograph”. But that one is not a particular problem for reading English, only writing it. Let’s take the letter “c” as a real example. It sounds like “s” sometimes and “k” other times. Why is that needed at all? Simply replace it with “s” or “k” as appropriate! There are many other examples of such irregularities which have crept into the language for various reasons ranging from aesthetics to laziness to spelling standardization going one way in one part of the world and another in another part.

My contention is that if we were to clean up the mess with consonants some, English spelling would become quite a lot easier. It seems to me that a great deal of the variation in spelling for various sounds exists in the consonants rather than the vowels. If there was only one way to write “f” and only one way to write “sh”, then even with vowel confusion, one might be able to at least guess what a “fosh” is. At the very least, “fosh” looks like it could be English where “ghoti” looks foreign.

There is one important further note that I feel I should add. I have to this point completely ignored the issue of foreign words coming into English. Aside from the consonant confusion we inherited from various sources, there is a much bigger issue with loan words. Almost all of the confusion with spelling in English could be eliminated if load words were respelled to follow standard English phonetic rules! Why should I need to know that “gila” is actually pronunced “heela”? It should not matter where “gila” comes from; it should be spelled according to standard English rules when it is being written as an English word. If one must represent it as its original language source, it would be more properly written gila (note that italics to denote a foreign word).  The same thing should apply regardless of which language the word or phrase came from. For instance, “maître d'”. I usually hear it pronounced in English as “maiter dee” so why do we not write it that way?

Since I have, as is usual, blathered on at great length, allow me to summarize what I believe we should do for spelling reform.

  • Keep the current alphabet and basic spelling rules for basic English words
  • Do not mess about with the vowel representations at all because any such effort is doomed fail; there is simply too much vowel variance between dialects
  • Clean up some of the more obvious extra spellings of various consonants. We can replace such things as “ph” with “f” and “c” with “k” or “s”. “x” is another candidate for complete replacement. Also, we can make all hard “g” sounds “g” and all soft “g” sounds “j”. There are other things that could be done to improve consistency among the consonants.
  • Naturalize the spelling of all foreign loan words to follow the standard rules of English spelling and phonetics where possible. The rules of English spelling are sufficiently flexible that a great many foreign sounds can be spelled without overloading existing spellings. Particular attention should be paid to consonent sounds but vowel sounds should be adjusted as well to reflect the fact that English underwent the Great Vowel Shift while other languages did not.
  • Finally, recognize that it is not possible to have a grand unified spelling system that represents all English dialects accurately. Simply accept that each dialect is going to have exceptions that speakers of that dialect will have to learn.

I hope you enjoyed my rant on spelling. As you can see, I am in favour of some reforms but not a wholesale replacement of everything. Even if none of my suggestions are taken except this one, I would be happy. When we mean the “j” sound, let us write “j”; we have the letter so why do we insist on overloading “g”? And no, “historically ‘j’ did not exist as a distinct letter” does not cut it. We have it now. Let’s use it. And no, “j” does NOT sound like “y” in English!

Okay, enough griping. I now return you to your regularly scheduled whatever it is you do.


A quick Google search for “verbing nouns” yields a rather substantial collection of pages discussing the topic of verbing in English. Some are quite insightful while others are merely opinion pieces masquerading as authoritative commentary. There seems to be a substantial corps of people on the “verbing nouns is evil” side of the debate while there are very few soundly on the “verbing nouns is cool” side. It is, however, refreshing to see the number of commentators who are largely ambivalent or who recognize their own personal biases. As you have no doubt guessed, I am about to weigh in on the issue.

Continue reading “Verbing”