11/10/2006

When I am King: Mno nmore mnemonics

When I am King...

Words with silly silent letters will have their spelling changed.

Doesn't our education system have enough work to do teaching our kids not to kill each other without also having to teach how to spell words in completely ridiculous ways?

One of the first things I will do when I ascend to my throne will be to fix various egregious oversights in our spelling system. For example, I will change the spelling of “mnemonics” to remove the silent “m” at the beginning. The new word will have the more reasonable spelling “nemonics”.

Silent m? Who came up with that one? Was someone trying to fill out a crossword puzzle with a word that didn't quite fit so they added a letter? Or maybe a loved one had a speech impediment and they were trying to level the playing field. Or maybe they just really liked m's.

In its current spelling, the word typically takes about 30 keystrokes to type in, including all of the backspaces and re-types until it's right. My new version of the word will make it possible to type the word as it sounds and actually get it right the first time.

I will also mandate changes for various “silent p” words: pteradactyl, pneumonia, and ptarmigan, to name a few. Again, I fail to see how someone came up with these words; p has a very clear sound and it's not silent. Nor are we encouraged to simply throw the letter in wherever we like because we think a p would look pnice pthere.

My kids are learning how to write and, hence, they end up with some inventive spelling as they sound out the words in their sentences. But even they know not to simply throw in an m or a p in a place where there is no such sound. “thar” for “there”, sure. “bin” for “been”, well done. But “pdog” for “dog”? I think not.

While I'm at it, I'm going to strike all words of Welsh origin from the language; I think these words breed exactly the kind of confusion that I'm talking about. Double-l's simply don't belong at the beginning of a sentence. We have the l sound already; why add another one? To bulk it up a bit, make it appear more important?

Some readers may feel that this is hardly an important task, given some of the other priorities that will face the kingdom, such as parades and fancy dress balls; after all, the words cited above are hardly commonplace (except for ptarmigan, of course). But I would argue that their disuse comes directly from their impossible spelling; noone wants to go anywhere near these words because they know for a fact that they'll get them wrong. Just think of the vocabulary that would be accessible to us if we just had more words available.

Of course I do find many of these words quaint and attractive in a Olde Englishe kind of way, and I will miss them when they are gone. But to force words like this on a society that has a hard time graduating students that can manage to spell “cat” (without a silent p) is asking a bit much.
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