Friday, September 12, 2008

Ghoughpteighbteau tchoghce

No. That's not a typo. I'm referring, of course, to that quintessential American snack food once made famous by the phrase, "Bet you can't eat just one!"

Remember? I believe it was Lay's that advertised its ghoughpteighbteau tchoghce.

Oh. You can't read those words? Why, isn't it obvious? That's ...

Gh -- as in hiccough (otherwise known as hiccup)

ough -- as in though

pt -- as in pterodactyl

eigh -- as in eight

bt -- as in debt

eau -- as in bureau

tch -- as in itch

o -- as in women

gh -- hiccough (again)


ce -- as in nice

. . . --potato chips by more common orthography.

And why do I mention this matter of orthography? Because of an article in the August 16th The Economist magazine:
English spelling
You write potato, I write ghoughpteighbteau
The rules need updating, not scrapping

GHOTI and tchoghs may not immediately strike readers as staples of the British diet; and even those most enamoured of written English’s idiosyncrasies may wince at this tendentious rendering of “fish and chips”. Yet the spelling, easily derived from other words*, highlights the shortcomings of English orthography. This has long bamboozled foreigners and natives alike, and may underlie the national test results released on August 12th which revealed that almost a third of English 14-year-olds cannot read properly.

One solution, suggested recently by Ken Smith of the Buckinghamshire New University, is to accept the most common misspellings as variants rather than correct them. Mr Smith is too tolerant, but he is right that something needs to change. Due partly to its mixed Germanic and Latin origins, English spelling is strikingly inconsistent.

Three things have exacerbated this confusion. The Great Vowel Shift in the 15th and 16th centuries altered the pronunciation of many words but left their spelling unchanged; and as Masha Bell, an independent literacy researcher, notes, the 15th-century advent of printing presses initially staffed by non-English speakers helped to magnify the muddle. Second, misguided attempts to align English spelling with (often imagined) Latin roots (debt and debitum; island and insula) led to the introduction of superfluous “silent” letters. Third, despite interest in spelling among figures as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, Prince Philip and the Mormons, English has never, unlike Spanish, Italian and French, had a central regulatory authority capable of overseeing standardisation. . . .
There's more.

It's a fascinating article.
blog comments powered by Disqus