Why don't we simply spell words the way they sound? You're not the first smart person to ask that question. In the year 1200, an Augustinian monk named Orm developed a phonetic spelling system. It didn't catch on, but that didn't stop others from following in his footsteps (in spelling, not monkhood). Among those who tried to overhaul our spelling system were Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, and Upton Sinclair. And look where it got them.
In The Devil's Dictionary, writer and wit Ambrose Bierce defines orthography as “the science of spelling by the eye instead of the ear. Advocated with more heat than light by the outmates of every asylum for the insane.” So why haven't we gotten around to reforming spelling to bridge the chasm between phonology (the way we say words) and orthography (the way we write them)? And while we're at it, why haven't we worked out the kinks with Olestra, fixed the ozone layer, and done something about those Mets?
Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently.
Spelling is important. The word spell itself underscores this importance. It derives from the Middle English word spellen, which means “to read out.” The word spelling is related to an Old English word meaning “to talk.”
Here are some reasons why our spelling remains the way it is:
So now that you know you can run but you can't hide, let's get to work polishing your spelling.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.