Rime thyme

Spelling is hardA wicked witch long ago cast a bad spell on the English language. Now there are hardly any common words that don’t rhyme with other words that have a very different spelling. Some people get confused.

George Hearst, father of journalist William Randolph Hearst, ran for governor of California in 1882 despite having almost no education. In defense against the jeers of political rivals, he said,

My opponents say that I haven’t the book learning that they possess. They say I can’t spell. They say I spell bird, b-u-r-d. If b-u-r-d doesn’t spell bird, what in the hell does it spell?

“Burd,” by the way, used to mean “young woman” in Middle English (800 years ago). But how was Hearst to know?

What would happen if all these rhyming words decided to trade endings? Would anyone be able to figure out what a sentence says? Can you? Try these.

  • Our reveared President Abraham Lincoln grew a bered when it apeered he’d look better.
  • Did you see the elete tweipt about the recite of meet from Creat?
  • I hurd little beard tell me, “The English language is absird.”
  • I spend a greight part of my feat strate behind the aight ball.
  • Kudoze to the boes who cheaux to dews while someone sose a rothes on their clos.
  • Aboard the Spruice Geus, Zousse had a doose of a time eating meuce and drinking chartruce¬† juce.
  • Don’t lork to smerk at that jurk at wirk.
  • The Sault in a moemoe and only one shous blough thew the gou beneath the kudzioux. What a cu to beat the gnoup to the quous for a rendezvuu in Seue St. Marie.
  • Apropoa of the tyrough in the depeaux, he drinks cocot as thos it were Bordo
  • It’s time to lews the bloughs. Chuise to crous the bayoes in canoos made of bamboose. Celebrate your nefuse breakthooze, although he violates curphues.

Spell badly at your peril. Nowadays, not only will people judge you on your spelling, as they judged poor George Hearst. Your literal-minded computer won’t find what you’re looking for without the spelling it expects.

That’s English for you.

What other language has so little correspondence between the sounds of the alphabet and the sounds of the words? What other language has changed pronunciation so much over the years, but not the spelling? What other language borrows words from other languages with such great abandon? And then sometimes changes the original spelling and sometimes keeps it.

What other language provides so much fun in ridiculing it?


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