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

Introduction

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

What?

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.

References

“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

Spelling Reform 1: Program(me) #SpellingReform

In the UK we use the spelling programme, whereas in the US they use program. Which is better?

It’s not this straight-forward. The spelling program is used in the UK in the computer sense. Furthermore, program in all senses is becoming more prevalent in Australia, so much so that programme is now marginal and not favoured by the media or official sources. Canada only uses program and New Zealand more-or-less follows British usage: program for computing, programme for everything else.

So proud British and Commonwealth citizens should stand up and fight for our programme? Not quite.

Firstly, nationalist pride has nothing to do with how good the spelling is.

Secondly, programme isn’t that British in any case.

The Greek word γραμμα ‘gramma’ is regularly borrowed into English as gram: anagram, chronogram, cryptogram, diagram, epigram, hexagram, ideogram, kilogram, logogram, monogram, pentagram, telegram. Therefore, programme is irregular and goes against all analogy.

The word was originally borrowed into English, in the UK, as program. It largely kept that spelling in Scotland, even after senses of the word got borrowed from the French form of the word programme. Even in England, the spelling program was dominant up till the early nineteenth century; it wasn’t fully ousted till the late nineteenth century. Such English luminaries as Henry Sweet can be seen using it as late as 1892:

A less ambitious program would further allow of greater thoroughness within its narrower limits.

H. Sweet New Eng. Gram. Pref. 9

Therefore, program is the original and “true” British spelling.

And on phonemic grounds, –am is infinitely more justifiable than –amme. Compare: clam, cram, dram, flim-flam, glam, ham, jam, lam, mam, Pam, pram, sam, slam, tram, and of course, gram.

In conclusion, the case for program is overwhelming, the case against boils down to two things: the first, a sound but hardly convincing argument; the second, a non-argument. First, is there any other way to pronounce the spelling “programme”? Probably not. So why bother respelling it? It would seem a lot of effort for little-to-no gain (However, there is a case that the French -mme ending might imply a syllable final stress). Second, a factually inaccurately-grounded show of support in favour of the UK and British-associated practices is not a sound basis for spelling.

For what it is worth, I am a very homeland-loving kind of fellow, yet no matter how it smarts my British pride, program really is the only justifiable spelling. Therefore, I adopt it.

References:
“programme | program, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 20 December 2016.

Program vs. programme

© 2016-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.thrashermagazine.com/mediaV2/k2/items/cache/2d35c8d2685f6803c5a2fed1fd2d6b0f_L.jpg?t=1448907778

Spelling Reform 2: An Axe to Grind

Introduction

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

What?

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.

References

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

© 2016-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry