Give me an F…

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While we're on the subject of English spelling: the 25 August New Yorker has a cartoon by Ariel Molvig on the subject:

And here's a related Rhymes With Orange cartoon from a while back:

Recently I've been reading Thomas R. Lounsbury's English Spelling and Spelling Reform (1909). Like Lounsbury's The Standard of Usage in English of the preceding year (which Ben Zimmer posted about some time ago), it's a bracing, sharp-tongued book. In comparison to Lounsbury and his elegant rants, Geoff Pullum looks like a kitten. (Eventually I'll post some about the orthography book, in connection with the flap set off by Ken Smith's Times Higher Education piece "Just spell it like it is" earlier this month.)

Lounsbury (1838-1915) was a distinguished scholar of the English language and American literature (his Yale Book of American Verse came out in 1912). He was already an Emeritus Professor of English at Yale when his critique of English orthography and attack on those who defended it came out.

I can't resist giving a quotation (pp. 232-3), one that starts out in a fairly moderate tone and then builds:

In an orthography where so much is lawless, there is no need of become excited over some particular one of its numerous vagaries. What is offensive in the spelling of honor as honour is not the termination itself, but the reasons paraded for its adoption. [Experienced readers of Language Log will recognize this argument-form from its use here in discussions of usage prescriptions.] A man can cling to the form with u because he has been taught so to spell it, because by constant association he has come to prefer it. To this there may be no objection. But there is a distinct objection to his implying, and sometimes asserting, that in so spelling the word he is upholding the purity of the speech. This is to give to his perhaps excusable ignorance the quality of inexcusable impudence. His fancied linguistic virtue is based upon fallacious assumptions which are themselves based upon facts that are false. [Yes, this use of fact to mean 'alleged, purported fact' is venerable; the OED has cites back to the early 18th century.]

One more, in a discussion (p. 245) of the 18th-century spelling reformer Joseph Ritson:

To scholars Ritson is well known as the fiercest of antiquaries, who loved accuracy with the same passion with which other men love persons, and who hated a mistake, whether arising from ignorance or inadvertence, as a saint might hate a deliberate lie. He is equally well known for his devotion to a vegetable diet, and also for the manifestation, noticeable in others so addicted, of a bloodthirstiness in his criticism which the most savage of carnivorous feeders might have contemplated with envy.


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