Table of contents

  1. Table of contents
  2. Ugh-free Spelling
    1. Why Ugh-free Spelling?
    2. An example of Ugh-free spelling
    3. So how do you do Ugh-free Spelling?
    4. Can I get a list of Ugh-free equivalents for all English words?
    5. Troublesome transformations
      1. "(d)ough" to "...o" or "...oe"
      2. "...igh" to "...ie"
      3. "...ought" to "...aut"
      4. Pragmatic exceptions: "right" and "weight"
    6. Some terminology
    7. Does it cause any reading difficulty in practice?
    8. But it's substandard English
    9. But don't people make fun of you for using Ugh-free Spelling?
    10. So why don't you just switch to Esperanto?
    11. What about other spelling reforms?
    12. A plea to others who would simplify English spelling
    13. What other spelling reforms are there?
    14. Other spelling reform material
    15. Changes since earlier versions
      1. Changes from version 1.2
      2. Changes from version 1.3.1
      3. Changes from version 1.3.2
      4. Changes from version 1.4.0
      5. Changes since 1.4.2
      6. Changes since 1.4.3
      7. Changes since 1.4.4
      8. Changes since 1.5.0
    16. Credits

Ugh-free Spelling

Quick, what sound does "gh" make in English?

Well, it doesn't have a specific sound. It used to, a long time ago. It was a sort of gutteral sound, like German "ch". We still spell English as if that were the case. In my opinion it's hie time we changed that.

Finally, which rimes with "enough",
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of "cup",
My advice is ... give it up!
G.N. Trenite, teacher and linguist

Why Ugh-free Spelling?

Mostly for kids, who shouldn't have to learn the almost arbitrary twists of English spelling when it can be avoided so easily.

Secondly for non-native speakers, for the same reason. The easier it is to learn English, the more there is an economically and culturally beneficial cross-fertilization effect for both native and non-native speakers.

And thirdly, what do "gh"s do for us, that we should perpetuate them indefinitely into the future?

Here's what other people have had to say about The Problem With Spelling.

An example of Ugh-free spelling

Finally, which rimes with "enuff",
tho, thru, plow, coff, huff, or tuff?
Hiccup has the sound of "cup",
My advice is ... give it up!

That's much better than before, isn't it?


So how do you do Ugh-free Spelling?

In most cases, there are similar words that are already ugh-free. For instance, the ugh-words "bight", "night", "light", "blight" etc have "bite", "cite", "kite" etc as ugh-free prototypes.

Sometimes "gh" is clearly a "g" sound, as in "ghost" or "burgher". This is a different sort of hold-over, one that Ugh-free Spelling is not concerned with.

Occasionally the "gh" spelling is already reasonable, as in "boardinghouse" and "stronghold", or is unassimilated into English and therefore less reasonable to change, as in "Afghanistan" and "spaghetti".

Occasionally the "gh" spelling is imitative or done for effect, as in "ugh" or "Ugh-free". In such cases the "ugh" effect is the point.

Table of all transformations

ughish examples ugh-free prototypes
rough, tough buff, cuff
cough, trough off, scoff
though, boroughgo, no; doe, floe
through flu, gnu
plough, bough how, cow
thought, boughttaut, astronaut
caught, aught taut, astronaut
draught draft, raft
laugh staff, chaff
sleigh, weigh bay, day
eight, weight bait, gait
sleight bite, kite
sigh, nigh pie, tie
right, night bite, kite


Can I get a list of Ugh-free equivalents for all English words?

Here is a link to list here that give equivalents for every word in /usr/dict

Troublesome transformations

"(d)ough" to "...o" or "...oe"

This transformation occurs in 4 roots: "boro", "doe", "thoro...", "tho". It would be nice to be consistent here, but "dough" to "do" doesn't work at all. I tried out "boroe" "doenut", "thoroefare" "thoroely", etc, but they were difficult to intuit. Likewise, I found "borow", "dow", "downut" etc to be misleading.

So until a better idea comes along, I'm simply transforming them inconsistently.

"...igh" to "...ie"

This transformation occurs in 4 roots: "hie" "nie" "sie" and "thie".

"hi" is already widely used, not only as "hello" but often as the antonym of "low". It would have been nice to keep that, as it's already ugh-free, but it sacrifices consistency for too small a gain.

This was formerly "...igh" to "...y", but it was changed after users pointed out that "thy" was misleading and other *y words were awkward.

The fact that the root now expand to forms like "hier" "hiest" and "sied" is troublesome. It's consistent with some prototypes like "drier", "unifier", "driest", "allied", "dried", "unified", "verified", but prototypes like "copier", "copied" are much more numerous.

Nevertheless, users have convinced me that the tradeoff is worth it. Perhaps someone else can step up to the plate and manage the ier-to-yer, ied-to-yed, iest-to-yest reform.

"...ought" to "...aut"

In Ugh-Free version 1.2, this transformation was "...ought" to "...ot". Now it is "...ought" to "...aut".

I still feel that "thaut" "braut" "besaut" are unintuitive, but others obviously find them preferable to "thot" "brot" and "besot". That was far and away the most frequent complaint, so I yielded to majority opinion.

The new version also has the advantage that it is consistent with the result of the "aught" to "aut" transformation, because they sound the same.

Pragmatic exceptions: "right" and "weight"

I found that only 2 root words ever caused any reading difficulty in practice: "wait" and "rite". Those were the only 2 words where both the TOS ugh-sense and the TOS ugh-free-sense were both sufficiently common that the reader was mislead.

There is no parallel with less common words with similar spelling. It's strictly a pragmatic concern, caused by interference from TOS. Were Ugh-Free Spelling widely adopted, even these words would be no more a problem than any other polyseme.


Some terminology

Weakly divergent phonetics
Regional phonetic differences which also read letters' sounds differently, so that the different pronunciations are consistent with the same spelling. For example, a Bostonian mite consider "Park the car in Harvard yard" to be reasonably phonetic spelling, even tho they mite not pronounce it the same way as the rest of the country.
Strongly divergent phonetics
Phonetic differences that aren't consistent with the same spelling.
Prototype
An English word not in need of spelling reform that provides a pattern for a given ugh-word

Does it cause any reading difficulty in practice?

I found that only 2 words ever did: "wait" and "rite(s)".

And let me quickly point out, even those words were never actually ambiguous at any time. They just mislead the TOS reader, creating an expectation that one branch of the homophone is used when it's the other.

This is not an ambiguity; in no event did the sense of the text become ambiguous. It is just a miscue, and only so because TOS is in common use. Were Ugh-Free Spelling widely adopted, even these would be no more a problem than any other polyseme.

My experiment with Ugh-Free Spelling is over. Starting in 2001, I'm letting go of those 2 spellings. Call it Mostly Ugh-Free Spelling. My experiment with Ugh-Free Spelling is over. Starting in 2001, I'm letting go of 2 spellings: "wait" and "rites", that are liable to be mistaken for other words. (Call it Mostly Ugh-Free Spelling)


But it's substandard English

No, Ugh-free Spelling is superstandard English. It is cleaner and more regular than standard English.


But don't people make fun of you for using Ugh-free Spelling?

Sure. People have said all sorts of things to me. So what?


So why don't you just switch to Esperanto?

How would that improve English?

There was a time when I believed that switching to an artificial language was a better route. I don't any more. Now I believe that incremental progress from a popular extant language is much more practical.


What about other spelling reforms?

Sure, there are a lot of other ways that English could use fixing. In spirit, I am fully behind many kinds of English language reform.

But for practical purposes, Ugh-free Spelling is the most promising "upgrade", and I believe it's best to focus on that. After Ugh-free Spelling catches on, then it will be time for the next reform.


A plea to others who would simplify English spelling

please do it carefully. Weak simplified spelling schemes do more harm than good. It's easy to say, for instance, "The 'ee' sound shall always be spelled 'y'". It's much harder to make a good proposal.

My advice:


What other spelling reforms are there?

A good number are listed on David Barnsdale's spell-reform page

I'm listing a few of the more promising ones here, but all credit for collecting them goes to David Barnsdale, not me.

Other spelling reform material

The essay SPELLING REFORM And The Real Reason It's Impossible by Justin B Rye addresses common objections to spelling reformers. He concludes that reform is politically impossible, but along the way he gives a deliteful thrashing to the usual anti-reform objections. He also gives some more substantive objections their honest due.

The essay Why not spelling reform? also answers common objections to reformers. I found it very enlitening.

The essay Traditional English Orthography - History gives some history on the subject.

You mite also look in the newsgroup alt.language.english.spelling.reform Let me warn you beforehand, 80% to 90% of the traffic is off-topic, so you'll have to dig to find anything.

Changes since earlier versions

Changes from version 1.2

Changes from version 1.3.1

Changes from version 1.3.2

Changes from version 1.4.0

Changes since 1.4.2

Changes since 1.4.3

Changes since 1.4.4

Changes since 1.5.0


Credits

Valerie Yule suggested I start with an example of Ugh-free spelling, and suggested an appropriate text.

Levi Hoover pointed out that my digression on the genesis of "h" in "ghost" was wrong.

Erik Max Francis pointed out to me that one can't transform words like "caught" into "cot", because many English dialects already pronounce "cot" differently.

Robert Hubert and Shawn Green convinced me to change the "...ought" to "...ot" transformation to "...ought" to "...aut".

JMHNoodles pointed out to me that I am "simple-minded" and should "Suck it [ughish spelling] up like the rest of us"

Tom Breton


This site of the

Spelling Reform Ring

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Tom Breton


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