Let's Speak English
- Page 21 -
FIFTH TALK - SPELLING
English spelling is often as difficult to understand as English diplomacy. England makes tremendous blunders in her foreign policy. But no foreigner will ever believe that they're mistakes. To him they are all strokes of genius and acts of superhuman wisdom. It's a pity none has yet been able to say the same about English spelling.
In English the same sound can often be represented by several different combinations of letters.
For example, the F in FATHER is pronounced F: but so is the PH in PHOTO and even the GH in TROUGH (T-R-O-U-G-H).
That's very upsetting to begin with.
A young Indian student was asked how to spell FISH. He said, after some thought, "G-H-O-T-I". "How do you make that out? they asked. "Well", he said "G-H as in TROUGH - pronounced like an F: O as in WOMEN, pronounced like an I: T-I as in MOTION, pronounced as SH. So there you are, FISH spelled "GHOTI".
To make matters worse, there are several words in English that have aIternatrve spellings. Both are in use with the same meaning and both are equally correct.
For example, INQUIRY can be spelled with either an I or an E, as can also the word DISPATCH. C ONNEXION can be spelled with an X in the middle or C-T. GREY can be spelled with an E or an A and SHOW with an O or an E.
So you needn't think you're always wrong if you spell words differently from the way other people spell them.
But in ordinary life, if you're not sure which way to spell a word, it's better to use a dictionary. The best small dictionary I know is the 'Concise Oxford Dictionary', costing seven shillings and six pence, about four hundred mils in Palestine.
Or you can do as I do, just leave it to your typist. She knows. In my case, she has to, as I'm notoriously the world's worst speller. If there are two ways of spelling a word I'm sure to get the wrong one. So there's hope for you, too.
By the way, it's no good using a German typewriter if you want to write English. It hasn't got a capital I, only a capital J. In this way 'IODINE' becomes 'JODINE' and 'I AM' become 'JAM', especially if you don't type very well. The best typewriter for bad spellers to use is a patent of my own. It's got one special key which has a queer letter that looks rather like an 'A', or sometimes like an 'E'. Or it might even be an 'O'. You use this key whenever you're not quite sure how to spell a word. It saves such a lot of trouble.
There's one general rule in English spelling that's very useful. It's a little rhyme that every English school-boy learns : - 'I before E except after C'