Breach vs. Breech

Mind the gap! The famous London Underground announcement can help to remind us when to use breach. Although often confused with breech, breach has an entirely different meaning. It originates from old French and was used in a military sense to denote a gap in fortifications. These days it applies to any gap, break or … Read more

Spelling Reform and the Writer

A reader, responding to Case of the Missing “i”s: foliage, verbiage, miniature , asks reasonably: Can’t we change the spelling? Before the widespread use of dictionaries, the answer to this question would have been “Of course we can!” Not anymore. The free and easy use of personal spellings to convey the pronunciation of the word … Read more

Case of the Missing “i”s: foliage, verbiage, miniature

In the Fall, when television weather persons turn their thoughts to foliage, rhapsodizing about the beautiful orange and red and yellow leaves along the highways and streets, I cringe every time they pronounce the word as if it had only two syllables. The dictionaries I’ve consulted still list only one pronunciation for foliage: /foh lee … Read more

The Six Spellings of “Long E”

Some of you have had the opportunity to attend, but we wanted our members to have a sneak peak at what they have to offer. The above quotation is from a club announcement. The words “sneak peak” certainly seem as if they ought to match, but the word “peak” is a misspelling in this context. … Read more

In Quest of a Standard American Pronunciation

American English has many regional variants, some of them more comprehensible than others. Along with spelling rules, schools once taught a standard pronunciation. The purpose was to maintain a standard speech easily understood by people in every part of the country and by non-native speakers who learn English as a second language. No one doubted … Read more

Learn to Spell by Phonograms, not Letters

In the 1970’s, educational research indicated that less than one per cent of the population suffered what has come to be called “dyslexia” (a disturbance of the ability to read). Now the estimate is “from 5 to 15 per cent.” As early as 1955 Rudolf Flesch pointed out the disconnect between “modern” teaching methods and … Read more

Seen in the Classifieds

Spelling counts, even in the classified section of a newspaper. Since people who place the ads can’t depend upon someone at the paper to correct their spellings, it’s a good idea to be careful. Here are some spellings I’ve noticed in classified ads: Dalmation pups for sale Bluehealer pups for sale Female lab – spaded … Read more

Caesar Sat on the Dais

The words “Caesar” and “dais” are not exactly everyday words, but when they do appear in stories or news items, they are often misspelled. The problem with Caesar is that the English pronunciation is /see zer/ so the English speaker wants to put the “e” directly after the “C.” I learned how to spell it … Read more

How Do I Become a Better Speller?

A college freshman asked me how to spell “valiant” and when I did, he wondered why it was not “-ent”. He asked how I knew that and I had no idea how to respond! All along, I’ve been a terrific speller, even winning some spelling bees in my younger years. But after some thoughtful consideration … Read more

Words with the Suffixes “-ance” and “-ence”

One of our readers asks if there is a rule for knowing when to write –ence and when to write –ance at the ends of words such as: affluence, eloquence, essence, influence, insurgence and ambulance, clairvoyance, finance, ignorance, nuisance In a priority list for English spelling reform, the spellings –ence and –ance, –ent and –ant, … Read more

Stationery, Cemetery, and Shepherd

Stationery Both stationery (n.), meaning writing paper, and stationary (adj.), meaning not moving, go back to the same source that gives us the noun station (a stopping place; a place where someone or something stands). In the Middle Ages a stationer was a tradesman who had a shop, as opposed to one who carried his … Read more

Five Spelling Rules for “Silent Final E”

Many English words end in the letter e. In an earlier stage of the language, many of these final e’s were pronounced. Now, however, unless the word is a foreign borrowing, the final e is silent. Although final e is silent, it usually has a job to do. Here are the five rules for the … Read more