Spelling Reform 2: An Axe/Ax to Grind #SpellingReform


Fax, lax, max, pax, sax, tax, wax. Furthermore, box, cox, fox, lox, Knox, pox. Additionally, hex, mix, nix, tex, tux. Therefore, ax.


Okay, the slightly less abridged version.

How should we spell ax/axe? The American way (ax) or British (axe) way?

The Bases of Spelling

People often think that spelling is just based on deep principles of phonemicity. However, it is actually (at least in the case of English) based on a combination of phonemicity, etymology, and, significantly, analogy.

On phonemic grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. After all, the word rhymes with tax, not aches.

On etymological grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. After all, the Old English form was æx, and the word has never ended in a “e” sound — or that of any other vowel for that matter.

On analogical grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. You can clearly see this from the list of words I began this article with.

Indeed, axe didn’t even really get popular until the nineteenth century, and then not in America. So it doesn’t even have vintage calibre. In fact, axe is such a mental spelling, that even the Oxford English Dictionary condemns it.

The spelling ax is better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, and analogy, than axe

The Curious Case of the Three Letter Rule

The only reason to keep that e in axe is in order to maintain the curious “three letter” rule, which is in fact more of a tendency than a hard-and-fast rule. This “rules” refers to a word requiring a minimum of three letters unless it is a grammatical word. That is why we write “add” instead of “ad” (compare: bad, not *badd), bye but by, too not to, and so on. The first items of each pair, unlike the second, are non-function words.

However, the <e> is still superfluous if we wish to follow the three letter rule! For the purposes of spelling, “x” is counted as if it were two letters, not one. That’s right. For example, we write taxed, not taxxed, whereas we do write mapped from map; there is no need to double the letter <x> in order to maintain the “short” vowel pronunciation when an affix is added, because <x> functions as if it were two letters. Basically, <x> is what we could call a “compound letter”.

Additionally, as mentioned, this famed Three Letter Rule is more of a tendency. There are many cases where it doesn’t hold. For example, ox. Despite the plural even being oxen(!), we neglect to put the final <e> in the singular.

In Conclusion…

Therefore, as much as it breaks my patriotic heart, axe needs to be binned in favour of ax.

But don’t for one second, dear Americans, sit back smugly and assume that your spellings are superior. Very often, they aren’t. More on that in a later post.


“axe | ax, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 20 December 2016.

© 2015-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-T4eehMjd09w/Th24O1Gr6cI/AAAAAAAAAqo/UOtTwFnT0CA/s1600/ax-grinding-jig.jpg

Neologism: Parchment Contract

So, me and some workmates were talking about older work contracts today and how people on older contracts have much better terms and conditions than people on new contracts. It’s like, it gets progressively worse over the last thirty years. Seems to be common across organisations. Anyway, I said,  ‘Of course so-and-so was entitled to such-and-such a benefit; their contract is so old it’s written on parchment’. And then I was, okay, “parchment contracts”.

So there we are, I offer my nonce word up as a useful new word:

parchment contract n. phr. an older contract with preferential terms and conditions and pay, specifically used in bitter reference to how such contracts are now ancient, long-forgotten, history, and never likely to return.

© 2018 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://cbsnews2.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2012/04/06/6c5f91e8-3598-11e3-8ce8-047d7b15b92e/thumbnail/620×350/cee95ca89a1369962377c13e4c749723/contract_signing_000017511189.jpg

Project Polyglot Parry VIII: Duolingo: English-Spanish Duolingo UN-Accomplished @duolingo #duolingo

As recently as this four posts ago, I posted an update proudly sharing how I had conquered the English-Spanish tree/course in Duolingo. Yet by the very next day, Duolingo had apparently updated the course — something they almost never do. Okay, good news: extra material to learn to take me to the next level. But the bad news: they updated the course with a lot of new material. Just check out the pictures below. I am miles from completing the tree! Waaa. I feel like someone who’s been retroactively stripped of my gold medal through no fault of my own (think: Usain Bolt’s third Olympic gold for the 4x100m relay; yes, that is an exactly analogous situation!)

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

Project Polyglot Parry VII: Duolingo: English-Spanish Duolingo Accomplished @duolingo #duolingo

I’ve finished my third Duolingo tree! Well done me. This time, I finished the English language for Spanish speakers tree. I clearly already speak English, but having previously completed the Spanish for English speakers course, it seemed like a natural next step. As it happens, I have learnt things and been tested in ways that didn’t happen doing the Spanish for English speakers course. For that reason, I would recommend everyone to do this “reverse tree”.

So, what are the next steps?

  1. Get the Spa-Eng tree golden and keep it golden! And keep my Eng-Spa and English-Swedish trees golden, too!
  2. Spend more time doing the Duolingo Eng-Spa, Spa-Eng, and Eng-Swe courses on Tinycards and on Memrise.
  3. Spend more time doing listening work: Notes in Spanish and 8-Sidor (news site and podcast).

These three steps should last me till the Summer or thereabouts. Upon which I will need to reassess again. Probably (4) do a language exchange, (5) start studying more closely to the DELE and Swedex curriculums, (6) think about enrolling on a course at the Cervantes Institute.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

Next Step in Blogging? #newyearsresolution @resolutions #SMART


Me: I’ve got a blog
Other Person: Ooh! What do you blog about?
Me: Err, y’know, I’unno: stuff I’m interested in. Language, politics, atheism and religion, healthy living, films, err, sport…
Other Person: Err, okay?
Other Person’s eyes glaze over and they look bored and disappointed

I’ve had the above exchange loads of times.* Apparently blogs need one overriding, dominant theme. Yet I’ve always thought of this blog as being like a (admittedly crappy) newspaper or magazine: of course plenty of different topics will be dealt with.

But apparently I’ve misunderstood how blogs are supposed to work. Therefore, I’m guessing this blog needs to focus on one topic. It can bring other random stuff in it, but it’s got to be 90% one thing. After all, my YouTube channel — which I kind of view this blog as the written version thereof — is probably 75% atheism/religion, 25% everything else, and my subscriber base bears that out.

The problem: I’m interested in too many things. I don’t want to limit this blog’s content!

So maybe I need to keep this blog as my kind of “core” or “hub” blog, but spin off various other blogs which solely focus on my topics of choice.

But this approach has a problem, too.

I simply do not have enough time to post, say, four blog entries a week, one for each of my prospective blogs (e.g. the Health and Lifestyle Blog, the Religion & Philosophy blog, the Languages Blog, the Film Review Blog). I’m barely finding time to do one blog entry a week. But that’s the sad and frustrating thing:

I have so much waffle to say and not enough time to say it. Gah!

So one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 has to be to massively increase my time spent blogging. It would help if I could get some residual income from my articles! That would give justification (to my wife!) for me to devote such extravagant amounts of time to the endeavour.

Let’s see if I can crack on with this in the new year.

*I was going to say “cottrels of times”, but apparently “cottrels” is a dialectal word that nobody’s ever heard of. Who woulda thought that an insular and undiscovered dialects existed in West London, eh!

© 2016-2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

Shadow-outline @FiatLingua #conlang


A nonce word is one made up on the spot, for the occasion — a one-off, one-time-use word, as it were. Recently I wanted to say “silhouette”, but the word would not come to mind — so instead, shadow-outline plopped out.

I was immediately struck with how elegant and self-explanatory this nonce word is. Since then I’ve tried slipping it into conversation, but that’s been quite hard — how often do we talk about “silhouettes”, in any case? But when I have used it, it seems to have gone down well. That is, nobody has noticed I’ve smuggled in a made-up word — and I seem to have been clearly understood(!)

So there we are. Shadow-outline. A nonce word worth keeping around, perhaps? (if I do say so myself) And it also does away with remembering how to spell that Frenchy word S-I-L-H-O-U-E-T-T-E.

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

this post originally appeared on my other blog Wrixlings: https://wrixlings.wordpress.com/2015/11/24/shadow-outline/

featured image from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silhouette#/media/