Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary: Or Why Can't Anybody Spell

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Overview

"It is a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word." — Andrew Jackson

Weird or wierd? Necessary or neccessary? Recomend or recommend? English spelling is fiendish, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun with it.

Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary is at once a celebration of spelling and a solace to anyone who has ever struggled with the arcane rules of the English language. As amusing as he is informative, Vivian Cook thrills the reader with more than a ...

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Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary: Or Why Can't Anybody Spell?

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Overview

"It is a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word." — Andrew Jackson

Weird or wierd? Necessary or neccessary? Recomend or recommend? English spelling is fiendish, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun with it.

Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary is at once a celebration of spelling and a solace to anyone who has ever struggled with the arcane rules of the English language. As amusing as he is informative, Vivian Cook thrills the reader with more than a hundred entries — from photographs of hilariously misspelled signs to quizzes best taken in private to schadenfreude-rich examples of spelling errors of literary greats — that will tickle the inner spelling geek in every reader.

It all adds up to a gem of a book that takes a wry look at the hodgepodge evolution of spelling and the eccentric way it actually works.

Difficult Words Spelling Test

Circle whichever one is right.

1. dessicate desiccate desicate

2. ecstasy exstacy ecstacy

3. adress adres address

4. dumbel dumbbell dumbell

5. accomodate accommodate acommodate

6. necesary neccesary necessary

7. liaison liaision liason

8. pronounciation pronounceation pronunciation

9. ocurence occurrence occurence

10. embarass embaras embarrass

11. brocolli broccolli broccoli

12. refering referring refferring

13. cemetery semetary cemetary

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It takes a special mind to have this much fun with spelling. Mr. Cook clearly enjoys this subject, and his readers will too."

— Jeffrey Kacirk, author of The Word Museum and Informal English

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743297110
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 10/15/2010
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Vivian Cook is professor of applied linguistics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was inspired to write this book out of frustration with those who, not knowing the crucial gender difference between the British spellings Vivian and Vivien assume from his first name that he is a woman. He lives in Colchester, England.

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Read an Excerpt

Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary

Or Why Can't Anybody Spell
By Vivian Cook

Touchstone

Copyright © 2005 Vivian Cook
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743270991

Chapter: Introduction

Should We Worry About Spelling?

Many people argue that English spelling is terrible. George Bernard Shaw reckoned that the English "spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like." It is easy to find words like their/there/they're with the same sounds but different spellings. Some words have unique spellings all of their own, such as colonel and yacht. Fifteen-year-olds can't write ten lines without making at least one spelling mistake, and adults struggle with words such as accommodate and broccoli all their lives.

By contrast, Noam Chomsky, the greatest linguist of our time, claims the current spelling of English is "a near optimal system." He feels that spelling that departs from the pronunciation sometimes helps us to understand what we are reading. Silent letters like the "g" in sign connect one word to other words in which the letters are not silent, like signature; the fact that the past tense ending "-ed" is said in three different ways, "t" (liked), "d" (played), "id" (waited) but written only as "-ed,"makes clear their common meaning.

The difference between Shaw and Chomsky comes down to how they think spelling works. One of its functions is indeed to show the sounds of words. The word dog links the letters to the sounds one by one -- "d," "o" and "g." Italian and Finnish use such links virtually all the time. But in English the correspondence between letters and sounds is usually far less straightforward. Sometimes one letter corresponds to several sounds; the letter "a," for instance, has three different sounds in brat, bravo and brave. Sometimes two letters link to one sound -- the "th" in thin or the "ng" in wrong. The sequence of letters can be out of step with the sequence of sounds; the "u" in guess shows the pronunciation of the letter "g," which occurs beforeit. Our problems with spelling are often due to not knowing the rules, say the doubling of "c" and "m" in accommodation or the consonants that go before particular vowels -- cemetery ("c" is pronounced "s" before "e") versus camel ("c" is pronounced "k" before "a").

With some written symbols, you either know what they mean or you don't, say "$," "#" or "%." You can't use the spelling to work out how they are said. The second function of spelling is, then, to show what words mean. Common words like the and of connect directly to their meanings in our minds, rather than being converted into sounds letter by letter. Unique words have to be remembered as one-off spellings, such as sapphire or chamois (shammy leather). Some systems of writing, like Chinese, work primarily by linking whole symbols to meanings in this way. To use English spelling, you have not only to connect letters and sounds but also to remember a host of individual words, whether frequent ones like an or unusual ones like supersede. In other words, English uses spelling both for sounds, as assumed by Shaw, and for meaning, as believed by Chomsky.

English spelling is far more systematic than most people suspect. The best-known rule, "I before e except after c," applies to only eleven out of the 10,000 most common words of English -- eight forms of receive, plus ceiling, receipt and perceive. Other less familiar rules work far better, for instance the rule that a surname with the same pronunciation as an ordinary word can take a double consonant, Pitt and Carr rather than pit and car, or have an extra "e," Greene and Wilde instead of green and wild.

The great asset of English has always been its flexibility. Starting with a stock of letters borrowed from the Romans, the Irish and German tribes, it has evolved with the English language for 1,500 years. In the Old English spoken by the Anglo-Saxons every letter corresponded to a sound in words such as faeder (father) and riht (right). After 1066 the system had to cope with a deluge of words derived from French and Latin, such as tricherie (treachery) and nice. Over the centuries it has adapted words from many other languages, including coffee from Arabic and Turkish, broccoli from Italian and sushi from Japanese. Whatever the language a word comes from, English spelling can handle it.

At the same time, the pronunciation of English has been changing. Some Old English sounds died out: the "h" (pronounced like Scottish "loch") in riht became the silent "gh" in right. Long vowels changed their pronunciation between Chaucer and Shakespeare: wine was once said as wean, stone as stan. Punctuation marks were introduced and their use gradually stabilized, the apostrophe last and most eccentric of all. Because of the changing pronunciation, the rules linking letters and sounds became more complicated and the number of eccentric individual words people had to remember increased. The sound-based spelling of the past tense in barkt, changd and parted gave way to the uniform meaning-based spelling "ed" in barked, changed and parted.

All this change and outside influence has meant that English spelling now presents a rich set of possibilities for our use and entertainment. Pop musicians call themselves The Beatles, Eminem and Sugababes. Novelists hint at dialects, ax (ask) and tole (told), and think up unusual book titles -- Pet Semetary (Stephen King). Owners invent names for drugs like Zyrtec and for racehorses like Sale the Atlantic.

It is indeed important for the international use of English that it is not too closely tied to speech. People from Houston, Glasgow, Hong Kong or Bristol understand each other's writing but might well not understand each other's speech. Much world business uses written English although the writers are not native speakers. Over three quarters of research papers in biology are written in English, and more than half of all Web pages. Spelling and punctuation seldom betray whether an English-language newspaper comes from Santiago, Kuala Lumpur or Jerusalem, apart from the choice between American and British styles of spelling in words like labor/labour.

So do we need to get excited about the mistakes that people make with spelling? Mistakes don't necessarily prevent our understanding the message. We still know what extasy, Mens Toilets or england mean. Spell checkers can now handle most of these mistakes without any trouble. A mistake that interferes with the meaning of the message is more serious. The writer may need help or the spelling system itself may need modifying. Yet we hardly notice similar problems in speech: people are not sent to speech therapy for mispronouncing odd words. No one suggests that spoken English should be reformed because some people find it hard to say "th" sounds. The most talented writers make spelling mistakes. Keats once spelled fruit as furuit, Walt Whitman wrote depressed as deprest and Hemingway wrote professional as proffessional. Does this detract in any way from their achievements?

Our discussions of spelling often suggest that there is an ideal of perfect spelling that people should strive for. Correct spelling and punctuation are seen as injunctions carved on tablets of stone: to break them is to transgress the tacit commandments for civilized behavior. Spelling and punctuation can become an emotional rather than rational area of dispute. No individual or institution has ever had the right to lay down the rules of English spelling. Nor are public discussions usually based on accounts of how modern spelling actually works, but on the traditional rules handed down from the grammarians of the eighteenth century. Attempts to meddle with the spelling without this kind of factual basis have often been disastrous in the past, landing us with the "b" of debt and the "c" of scissors.

The English writing system is the rich and fertile creation of those who use English. Its rules are the ongoing living response to how people express their ideas in writing in an ever-developing and changing world. Rather than continually carping about the decline of the English language, as people have been doing since at least the sixteenth century, we should try to understand and develop the amazing resource that is available to us.

This book, then, celebrates the richness and resourcefulness of English spelling, taking examples from real-life use. Its contents are not set out in any particular sequence. There are tests on various aspects of spelling with answers at the back. Also at the back is a thematic guide for those who want to follow particular themes such as novel spellings, spelling mistakes or the history of spelling.

& copy 2004 by Vivian Cook & Robert Cook



Continues...


Excerpted from Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary by Vivian Cook Copyright © 2005 by Vivian Cook.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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