Social Question

ETpro's avatar

Who gets to decide how we should misspell a word?

Asked by ETpro (34461points) October 2nd, 2010

Here in Boston, natives have a unique accent. Locals have adopted it to give unique names to their businesses. Just down the street, we have a little variety and curio shop with the creative name, “Whaddya Need”. Walk a few blocks from that and you come to a convenience store called Connah Store. I’m not sure why it isn’t Connah Stoah, but it is what it is.

Damon Runyon was an author with a great gift for phonology. He could concoct phonetic spellings to bring alive for his readers the strong accents common to a protagonist from Brooklyn or Manhattan in New York.

Is any misspelling that gets the idea across OK, or are there rules of phonetics that makes one phonologist’s interpretation better than any other?

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25 Answers

tranquilsea's avatar

Edit: I just realized I was answering a different question.

Jeruba's avatar

Considering the variety of phonetic renditions, plays on words, marketing gimmicks, archaisms, cultural allusions, and manifestations of ignorance we see in both deliberate misspellings and well-intentioned misses, I think it’s safe to say that anyone can assert a misspelled version of a word, and the only real test of its acceptance is whether it’s deciphered or not. There was a time, remember, when nothing came in a “lite” version.

Effectiveness may depend heavily on a frame of reference. Everybody in Boston knows what a connah is. My Californian husband was stymied when the man on duty at the counter of a South Shore motel gave him driving directions that involved the Suthinattery. I had to translate.

morphail's avatar

The only unambiguous way of representing pronunciation is with a system like the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Different writers use the Roman alphabet to represent different pronunciations in different ways. It’s called eye dialect.

crazyivan's avatar

Just to build upon @Jeruba‘s point I can remember when the phonetic “Ketchup” first took over for “Catsup” on the Heinz bottle. I suppose it’s just a matter of time before “Thru” becomes the accepted spelling of through.

One that I’ve been keeping an eye on is the development of “Whole ‘nother” in place of “Whole other”. It seems to be gaining ground and is undeniably easier to say. It still grates my nerves when I hear it, but I have no doubt that it will one day be considered accepted and proper English.

morphail's avatar

@crazyivan catsup/catchup/ketchup have all been around since the early 1700s… They were variant spellings. “thru” Is a standard spelling according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage.

ETpro's avatar

@Jeruba You have to love it when Freudican slips show in misspellings. Consider this very public display in a huge roadside billboard.

@morphai Unambigious only to the select few who are familiar with the international phonetic alphabet. Thanks, for the phrase. I hadn’t heard “eye dialect” but it
s pretty self defining.

@crazyivan Quite right. Occasionally the phonetic version wins out over time. I don’t think Connah Stoah stands much chance, though. :-)

@morphail If that’s true then I’m thru with using through. My spell checker is just going to have to catch up with the times.

morphail's avatar

@ETpro
my point is that the Roman alphabet isn’t very good for representing dialects. I don’t expect authors to start using the IPA, I don’t think it’s necessary. But if you want to accurately represent pronunciation with no room for misunderstanding, then the IPA is the way to go. It’s not hard to learn.

Jeruba's avatar

However—spelling is our only constant across widely varying pronunciations. Right now residents of Alabama, Maine, Glasgow, Delhi, and Hong Kong can understand the same text in written English. Suppose each one spelled it phonetically? Tower of Babel exponentially.

the100thmonkey's avatar

I’d still like to see the LHC renamed.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I don’t know who gets to decide, but when I write the word ‘through’, I usually spell it ‘thru’ because it is simpler & quite understandable.

ETpro's avatar

@Jeruba Point well taken. Standards do have their place.

@the100thmonkey What would you name the LHC?

@Linda_Owl I thought we were thru discussing that. :-)

crazyivan's avatar

If we can do away with the ‘ough’ in through, can we maybe just add a ‘uf’ to words like tough or rough? If not, how about (for the sake of consistency) we spell stuff ‘stough’?

the100thmonkey's avatar

@ETpro – I’d name it as it is in the headline. It would sure attract a lot more attention than it receives now.

I don’t think anyone gets to decide; spellings are altered deliberately and fail to catch on, others do – “thru” being a good example. Other spellings drift and meander to reflect the pronunciation or preferences of those in the position to publish. More recent innovations in orthography and spelling reflect contemporary mass literacy coupled with an input method that renders “accepted” spellings cumbersome. Again, “thru” is a good example – it’s a bastard to write on a phone keypad.

In the end, I suspect that the determiner is the spelling’s fitness for purpose. This includes the social context of the users, the writing method and how easy it is to misinterpret the spelling. Yet again, “thru” is a good example of a mis-spelling that is impossible to misinterpret, but would (to me at least) be utterly inappropriate in the social context of academic discourse. of course, I wouldn’t even write it in a text message, but others clearly do.

ETpro's avatar

@crazyivan Don’t try to make sense of English spellings. You’ll only end up more crazy.

@the100thmonkey Agood example of the slow degradation of spelling is catsup >> catchup >> ketchup. If I catch up with any others, I will let you know.

Jeruba's avatar

@the100thmonkey, I spell things out in text messages too, and I use real punctuation insofar as I can. It bothers me not to have an apostrophe. At first I tried texting in shorthand, but then I found out that my sons considered my idea of txtspeak “quaint” and “cute” and were saving my messages to show to their friends. That’s when I quit.

ETpro's avatar

@Jeruba Quint and Cute is definitely not what we are shooting for when we try to remain hip.

Jeruba's avatar

@ETpro, damn right. Sixties hip doesn’t make it any more <sigh>.

Back when I was first getting the hang of instant messaging, I created an AIM account with a cleverly evasive name and fired off an anonymous greeting of about two lines to my younger son, who was then about 14. Within seconds a message came back that said “Ma??!” Exasperated, I demanded to know how he had yanked my cover so fast. He replied with lolz and explained that nobody writes in complete sentences with caps and full punctuation.

ETpro's avatar

@Jeruba I guess of we must get busted, at least it can be for doing what’s right. :-)

morphail's avatar

@ETpro As I already said, there was no “slow degradation” from catsup >> catchup >> ketchup. All 3 spellings appeared around the same time.

ETpro's avatar

@morphail So it seems . See this.

morphail's avatar

@Jeruba @ETpro It’s a matter of context and register. Complete sentences with caps and full punctuation aren’t appropriate for text messages, just as texting language isn’t appropriate in more formal contexts.

Jeruba's avatar

@morphail, it’s too hard to remember to leave them out, and my efforts are transparently strained, which is why my kids thought my shorthand was hysterical. Now I just do what I do and let ‘em laugh.

Brian1946's avatar

@ETpro

“My spell checker is just going to have to catch up with the times.”

I believe an acceptable alternate spelling of that would be, “My spell checker is just going to have to ketchup with the times.”. ;-)

ETpro's avatar

@Brian1946 Ha! Thanks for the chuckle.

iamthemob's avatar

I think strict adherence to spelling generally doesn’t really matter. When people generally get on the spelling of others, I view it much like sarcasm – it’s the last intellectual resort for critique. So I would applaud your interpretation of non-standard words as equally valuable as any “standardized” form.

Of course, I’ll admit I abhor text-speak spelling, and really appreciate when people use the correct homophone (e.g., they’re, their, there) as it increases clarity. Written statements that seem devoid of concern for spelling also indicate for me fast and loose thought as well as fast and loose writing.

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