George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The Early 20th Century Society That Tried to Make English Spelling More Intuitive

George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The English language is notorious for complex spelling rules—and the many words that break them. We all know i comes before e, except, of course, in certain weird words like, well, weird. We pronounce the letter i like eye if the word ends in an e—except in words like give. Unsurprisingly, even native English speakers get fed up with the inanity of the language’s complicated spelling conventions, and there have been several pushes to replace them with something a little more intuitive over the centuries, as The Public Domain Review highlights.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the London-based Simplified Speling Soesiety was one of the groups pushing for a more logical system of English spelling. Its journal, first published in 1912, refers to standard English spelling as "in sum waiz unreezonabl and retrograid.” So the group went about coming up with new ways to spell common words itself, hoping its alternate approach would catch on.

The Pioneer ov Simplified Speling contained a pronunciation guide, but many of its alternative spellings can be deciphered fairly easily. As long as you peruse carefully, that is. Reading through the publication feels like stumbling through an archaic text from hundreds of years ago, rather than something written during the 20th century.

A pronunciation guide from the 'Pioneer of Simplified Speling'
The Pioneer of Simplified Speling

Go ahead and wade into how the group, founded in 1908, explained its mission in the first edition of The Pioneer:

The aim ov the Soesiety nou iz tu plais befor the public cleer staitments ov the cais against the curent speling, tu sho hou seerius ar the consecwensez ov yuezing it, and hou much wood be gaind, if sum such sceem az that ov the Soesiety wer adopted.

Did you get all that?

The debut edition of the quirky journal, which you can read on the Internet Archive, includes not just the group’s mission statement and goals, but birthday congratulations to the Society’s founding president, aggregated updates about spelling in the news (like that in an interview, British chemist Sir William Ramsay mentioned a German child never making a spelling mistake), the announcement of the group’s annual meeting (at which members would submit new simplified spellings for discussion), and other minor spelling-related notes.

The whole thing is truly a treasure.

Fed-up readers and writers have been trying to wrangle English spelling conventions into something more manageable for essentially as long as there have been standardized spellings. Benjamin Franklin was a spelling reformer during his lifetime, as was Theodore Roosevelt. Soesiety member George Bernard Shaw went so far as to leave his estate in a trust dedicated to reforming the English alphabet when he died.

Though the spelling reformers of yore didn't find much mainstream acceptance for their ideas, there are still modern orthography obsessives who want to revamp the English spelling system to make it easier to learn. And they have a point: For English-speaking children, learning to read and write takes years longer than it does for kids learning to read in languages with easier spelling rules, like Finnish. Considering that one study of 7000 different English words found that 60 percent of them had irregularly used letters, it’s a wonder any of us English speakers have learned to read at all. If only the Simplified Speling Soesiety had gotten its way back in the early 1900s, maybe we would have an easier time of it.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
'Embiggen,' a Made-Up Word from The Simpsons, Has Officially Landed in the Dictionary

From d’oh! to dorkus malorkus, the English language owes a lot to The Simpsons, particularly when it comes to made-up neologisms. As io9 reports, the animated series’ latest contribution to everyday chatter was made official earlier this week, when Merriam-Webster announced that the Springfield-originated verb embiggen is one of 850 new words that have just been added to their online dictionary.

Though the word has transcended its animated town origins, being regularly used by online outlets (“click to embiggen this map”) and superhero Kamala Khan in the Ms. Marvel comic book series, its original popular usage dates back more than 20 years, to a seventh-season episode of The Simpsons titled “Lisa the Iconoclast.” In it, the students of Springfield Elementary School are treated to Young Jebediah Springfield, an educational film that depicts the early days of the founder of their great town. His secret? “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”

Though the rarity of the word led even Edna Krabappel to question its authenticity (fellow teacher Ms. Hoover assures her that “it’s a perfectly cromulent word,” a reference to yet another piece of The Simpsons lexicon), writer Dan Greaney actually coined the phrase even before the episode.

Amazingly, it turns out that Jebediah Springfield may have been very hip to the times when he used the phrase after all; the word was also used by author C.A. Ward in his Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc., which was published in 1884.

[h/t: io9]

George Bernard Shaw, a member of the Simplified Spelling Soesiety
18 Words to Welcome Spring

The worst of the winter weather is now (hopefully) behind us, and the days are getting longer and warmer. So unless we have some winnol-weather or lamb-storms on the way, it seems spring is finally coming. With that in mind, here are 18 words you might find useful in the weeks and months to come.


Derived from lagneia, a Greek word meaning "lust," vernalagnia is a more formal name for what’s otherwise known as "spring fever"—a brighter and often more romantic mood brought on by the return of fine weather in the spring. One 1958 medical dictionary described vernalagnia as the “awakening of sexual desire in the spring.” (Spring fever can also mean, as one 19th century dictionary of American English put it, “the listless feeling caused by the first sudden increase of temperature in spring.”)


Borrowed into English in the late 1800s, the word reverdie has a long history in its native French dating back as far as the 14th century at least: Derived from a verb, reverdir, meaning “to become green again,” a reverdie is a song, poem or dance performed in celebration of the return of the spring.


Since the 19th century, the chirruping of birds during the spring mating season is known as valentining. If you want to be even more specific, though …


… the verb chelidonize is a proper word for the chirping of swallows as they fly overhead. It derives from the Greek word for swallow, chelidon—which is also the origin of …


… the 17th century adjective Chelidonian. As well as being used to describe anything the deep red color of a swallow’s throat, Chelidonian winds are warm spring winds, so called because they tended to start blowing around the same time that swallows and martins began to return in the spring.


A word for the re-emerging of plants above the ground in spring, the 17th century adjective erumpent describes anything that bursts forth. The very first appearance of a plant above the ground, incidentally, is called the breard.


On the subject of spring weather, lamb-storms are spring thunderstorms, so-called because they break around the same time that lambs are born. An after-winter, meanwhile, is a period of bad weather when spring should be due, while Winnol-weather is a period of stormy or wintry weather around the feast day of St Winwaloe on March 3.


According to an 18th century dictionary of botanical terms, Frondescentia is “leafing season,” or “the time of the year when plants first unfold their leaves.” Likewise, a plant that is frondescent is just beginning to bud or produce leaves; frondescence is the process of budding or producing leaves; and when a plant frondesces, then it grows or puts forth leaves or buds. All four of these come from the Latin word for “leaf,” frons.


Router is an old Yorkshire dialect word meaning “to rush around noisily,” or, as the English Dialect Dictionary puts it, “to make a search amidst a confusion of things.” Derived from that, a routering-bout is a thorough spring-cleaning of a house.


Coined in the 18th century, floriage is blossom, or the collective flowers of a plant or tree. Likewise, a floriation is a decoration made of flowers (or figuratively a musical flourish), while efflorescence is the development or production of blossoming flowers.