Words That Illustrate the Irregularities of English Spelling and Pronunciation

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe English language is fascinating for so many reasons. On the one hand, it has many rules for spelling, pronunciation, and grammar; on the other hand, it breaks those rules. For example, let’s focus on the irregularities of spelling and pronunciation. In the English language, due to major linguistic and social events over 1,000 years, spelling is not consistently phonetic: there are letters that are either not pronounced or pronounced. This irregularity in pronunciation affects about 25% of the million words in the English language; however, within that 25% subset are approximately 400 of the most frequently used words, known as sight words, because they cannot be spelled phonetically and thus have to be learned “by sight.” Examples include: been, come, could, does, enough, eyes, have, one, said, some, there, they, though, very, would, and you.

There have been many attempts to reform spelling in the English language, beginning with A Plea for Phenotype and Phonography by Alexander Ellis in 1815. Another notable work was the poem “The Chaos” by Gerard Trenite published in 1920. Writers who love words but are irked by the many irregularities of spelling have developed neologisms to illustrate the irregularities of English spelling and pronunciations. The most famous example is the word “ghoti” attributed to George Bernard Shaw in support of the efforts of the Simplified Spelling Society but actually introduced by Charles Ollier in a private letter, dated December 11, 1855. The word “ghoti” is pronounced “fish” when broken into its distinct sounds (known as phonemes): “f” from “touGH”; “i” from “wOmen”; and “sh” from “naTIOn.” Words like these are known as “absurd spellings” or graphological deviants in the world of lexicography. The most famous use of “ghoti” is by James Joyce in his inventive but inscrutable work, Finnegans Wake, published in 1939.

Another wonderful graphological deviant is the word “iewkngheaurrhpthewempeighghteaps” which is pronounced “unfortunates.” Here is the pronunciation of the word with each phoneme:
u from vIEW
n from KNow
f from touGH
o from bEAU
r from myRRh
t from PTHisis
u from EWE
n from coMPtroller
a from nEIGH
t from liGHT
e from tEA
s from PSalm

So devilishly clever. So the next time you use the word unfortunates in writing, go ahead and use the graphological deviant version to leave the reader scratching their head in bewilderment.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: What Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

For further reading: How to Torture Your Mind by Ralph Woods