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The Simpul Spelling Moovment

The following is reprinted from The Best of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.

At the turn of the century, Andrew Carnegie spent more than $200,000 in an attempt to simplify spelling. Here are a few of the details of that forgotten episode in American history.


In 1906, millionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie was approached by Melvin Melvil Dewey, the head of the New York libraries, and Brander Matthews, a Columbia University professor, with a revolutionary plan to simplify spelling. Carnegie was enthusiastic. He believed that easier spelling could lead to world peace. Together, the threesome formed the Simplified Spelling Board; their expressed goal was to convince authorities to begin changing the spelling of 300 words. Among the words targeted were though (tho), confessed (confest), dropped (dropt), through (thru), kissed (kist), fixed (fixt), enough (enuf), prologue (prolog), thoroughfare (thorofare) and depressed (deprest).


President Theodore Roosevelt was an instant convert to the plan. On August 29, 1906, he ordered the U.S. Printer to use the new spelling on all executive branch publications. For a moment, it looked like simplified spelling would be instituted nationwide. Roosevelt’s plan made front-page news, both here and abroad. Unfortunately for TR, most of the publicity was unfavorable. U.S. newspaper mocked the idea, and the London Times ridiculed him with a headline reading “Roosevelt Spelling Makes Britons Laugh.” Congress was outraged by Roosevelt’s decree, too. In late 1906, they started to debate the idea on the floor of the House. Sensing an embarrassing political defeat, Roosevelt quickly withdrew his support for the plan.


Carnegie was deeply disappointed. A practical man, he dropped his financial support for the Simplified Spelling Board, writing, “I think I have been patient long enuf … I have a much better use of $25,000 a year.”

The article above is reprinted with permission from The Best of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

Trouble with "standardised" spelling is it take no account of accent. My son says tooth with a long oo, kids in his school mostly say tuth with a short u like put. He says clothes, they say clowers. He says shoes, they say shoowers. How could you standardise that?
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This was a rage at that time, not only in the US, but also Britain. A bunch of period titles on it are availble free at Enter in (no quotes) [simplified spelling] and you'll find a bunch.

Here's a good one:
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{gasp} *MELVIL* Dewey, not "Melvin". (Librarians everywhere are sobbing). He did to his own name what he was trying to do with words.
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There is a simplified "spelling" system, and you can see it represented on the IPA chart ( Instead of using letters, each individual sound has its own symbol (some of which happen to be just like the letters we usually assign them to). Instead of having to worry about how to pronounce the different "a" sounds in words like "hat" vs. "cape" vs. "mall", each of those sounds has its own symbol. It's also universal, so you could read a word in, say, Chinese, "spelled" using IPA transcription, and you would be able to pronounce it (as opposed to reading something in a language using their symbols and having no clue how to say it out loud). You won't be able to figure out what it means (it is still a foreign language!), but you can see how it is meant to be pronounced.
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I think it would have been a great idea. At least I'm very happy with the phonetic writing system finnish has. It makes learning to read much easier and is one of the reasons why finnish school kids do well in international level.

carnegie was wrong thinking that it would be especially useful to foreigners because: "The foreigner has the greatest difficulty in acquiring it because of its spelling."
spelling is easy for foreigners. we learn words from dictionaries and textbooks. pronouncing the words is difficult tho.

phonetic alfabets would probably lessen the differences between accents (or dialects) only problem is that which accent would we choose for the phonetical basis of this great simplified spelling.
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Welsh allegedly has phontic spelling, but since the accent differs from North Wales to South Wales - the spelling differs too! Hardly an ideal situation.
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Thanks for the fix, Corrine!

The idea of simple spellings may have died off, but that doesn't mean the English language won't change. The next big change will come from texting and web-speak.
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as a non english language person, i find english very illogical. i would welcome a more phonetic and logical spellings and pronounciation, hindi language of india is much more, totally logical with no exceptions.

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