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To be or not 2b, or is a donut holesome?

By jardinier ·
While the author of this article appears to be enraptured by his own verbosity, I find it quite amusing and food for an entertaining or even meaningful discussion.

The Guardian, November 7, 2006

A million fingers tapping out text messages might have started a revolution, writes Simon Jenkins.

THANK you, Scotland. First John Knox, then the Enlightenment and now the Scottish Qualifications Authority. In a direct challenge to the English at their most reactionary, the authority has declared that it will accept text-messaging short forms in school examinations.

The dark riders of archaism will protest and the backwoods will howl. No spell is cast as dire as spellcheck. But the champions of reason are massing.

It is silly to regard doughnut as "better" than donut. The same goes for alternatives to night, through, colour and wholesome.

When Noah Webster invented American spelling, he left British English immured in bigotry. He chided "even well-bred people and scholars for surrendering their right of private judgement to literary governors". To Americans, spelling reform was the sovereignty of common sense. For that reason the British treated it as foreign, vulgar and, worst of all, American.

I have no quarrel with grammatical authoritarianism. Grammar is a vehicle that needs a highway code of human communication. To parse is to prosper. Grammar evolves to reflect the new uses that language requires of it, as dictionaries include new words. Adverbs and adjectives fight the good fight against poverty-stricken nouns and verbs. Prepositions and conjunctions are hurled into the fray. A controversial time is had by all.

In contrast, spelling has become a no-go area, an intellectual tundra. While plain writing is considered a stylistic virtue, plain spelling is a vice. English orthography is an edifice of unreason. Word endings are the last gasp of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions, embedded in the cultural DNA of literary Brahmins.

Not to spell properly is a sign of being common, as once was ignorance of Latin. Knowing your "ie" from "ei" or "-ible" from "-able" does not affect a word's meaning one jot. It is a caste mark, its distinction deriving from its very obscurity.

Students of English are driven to distraction by its spelling. Britons ridicule the French for their rule-based language, but at least they have a scholarly academy to discuss and approve (or resist) reform. While English adapts its vocabulary to circumstance, it has no way of adapting its spelling. Every time I write "cough", "bough", "through" and "thorough "(not to mention "write"), I think of the teeming millions of students who ask their teachers: why? There is no answer.

The dogmatism of English orthography is a bond of lexicological freemasonry a conspiracy against the laity. Orwell rightly associated such dogma with totalitarianism. Wrong is right, as in war is peace. In Shakespeare's day authors conveyed the clearest of messages with random spelling, even of Shakespeare's own name.
As David Crystal points out in The Fight for English, not until the 18th century was Chesterfield able to chastise his son on his poor spelling, warning that: "I know a man of quality who never recovered the ridicule of having spelled wholesome without the W."

Orthographical purity is perpetually under strain. Crystal estimates that the Oxford Dictionary gives alternate spellings for some 25 per cent of words at some time in history. "Hence the notion of standard spelling needs to be taken with a huge pinch of salt." Yet propose that "colour" be spelt "color" and it is like burning the flag.

When George Bernard Shaw, leading champion of a simplified alphabet (or alfabet) was censored for writing "shant", he asked why "shan't" and not the more accurate "sha'n't". He said of most apostrophes: "There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli."

He was right in claiming that archaic spellings were maintained to keep the poor illiterate, but wrong to think that they would impede the spread of English as a world language.

Spelling is the last fig leaf of empire, the last bastion of nanny (or Lynne Truss) knows best. It is stuck in the tramlines of the past, and nobody thinks straight on the subject.

Reform has seen many false dawns. Some hoped for a breakthrough with the telegram. But by charging for words, not characters, the Post Office dropped this pass. Isaac Pitman created a new English script with shorthand, but its boycott by teachers and restriction to a servile class of secretaries and journalists stamped it as a manual skill.

The same applied to stenography.

Another opportunity came with the qwerty keyboard. Designed to avoid the jamming of mechanical arms, it was a golden opportunity for simplified spelling. Yet even when electronic keyboards ended the jamming problem, nobody thought to reform the qwerty layout or spelling with it.

Most English words are twice as long as they need to be, staggering under a weight of unvoiced vowels and consonants surplus to requirements. Computer users may be hard-wired to qwerty, but millions still plod across the keyboard searching with single-finger typing. Thousands are disabled by repetitive stress injuries.

Can texting finally spur revolution? Young people have evolved both a new script and a cost-effective reason for using it. They are breaking free of spelling dogma and expanding the alphabet with emoticons. Texting is the shorthand of the computer age. It is concise, cutting through the verbal jargon by which the professional classes seek to exclude the less educated.

The Txtr's A-Z, a dictionary compiled by Andrew John, points out that mobile texting literally puts a price on waffle, while "ingenious abbreviations have been contrived to capture a vaguely philosophical thought, a loving sentiment or a beautifully crafted obscenity". He describes what is a chaotic literary pidgin.

The Scottish examiners are adamant that they are not rewarding text spelling, since there will be no marks for it, only for accuracy of meaning. Pupils will be credited for quoting "2b or not 2b" but will get higher marks if they spell it conventionally. That they should be penalised for an offence that Shakespeare himself committed is strange. Surely pupils are saving paper and helping examiners by their brevity. But all change must start somewhere.

Already a million fingers are tapping out a revolution. The Scots are showing the way.

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holesome donut?

by jardinier In reply to Hmmmmm. Thoughts of a ped ...

Consider the following:

holesome donut: a donut (whatever that is) with some holes in it.

holesome doughnut: A doughnut (comprising a product of dough) with one or more holes in it. Well who ever heard of a doughnut WITHOUT a hole in it?

wholesome doughnut: a healthy item comprising a product of dough.

So the full traditional spelling is required to accurately describe the item.

Many -- perhaps all -- of the ough endings are required to differentiate between certain meanings.

Try bow v. bough as one example.

The Yanks can get away with their colorful harbors, but there is a definite limit to how many words can be thusly abbreviated without losing the meaning altogether.

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another pedant...

by john.a.wills In reply to Hmmmmm. Thoughts of a ped ...

might say that color is good Latin while colour is mixed-up French, so color is etymologically preferable.

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I agree....but

by neilb@uk In reply to another pedant...

Colour is how we have spelt it for the past few hundred years and I see no real reason to change now. (You Yanks would say 'spelled', I suppose).

In addition, we pronounce the final vowel sound differently somewhat in line with our different spelling. 'Culler' would be a closer English English spelling if we're going to spell it how we say it. 'Color' would just be yet another lazy cop-out to US hegemonisation and that is always just plain BAD.

(In the friendliest possible sense)...

Neil

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Reminds me of the old telegram

by TonytheTiger In reply to To be or not 2b, or is a ...

to minimize the per-word cost

bruises hurt erased afford erected analysis
hurt infectious dead

(Bruce is hurt. He raced a Ford. He wrecked it. Aunt Alice is hurt. In fact, she's dead.)

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Yet another excuse for teachers to avoid teaching

by drowningnotwaving In reply to To be or not 2b, or is a ...

freakin lefties.

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The dogmatism of English orthography is a bond of lexicological freemasonry

by drowningnotwaving In reply to To be or not 2b, or is a ...

Can't argue with that.

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