Friday, April 29, 2022

Breakfast, Cupboard

There was for many years the idea that we had to preserve letters in spelling so that people would know where the words came from.  That is why the b was put back in to doubt, even though it had vanished from pronunciation already. Fussy pretentious people wanted people to know that it came from a Latin word that had a "b" in it, was more elevated and refined to know such things than not to know them. Or something. 

That is how we got the spellings for breakfast and cupboard that we have now.  The latter was already "cubberd." But it just seemed like something that people should know, that the former was about breaking your fast, and that closet used to have a board, not a shelf, where you held your cups. Because...because...that's what it was, dammit, and you are supposed to remember! You fools, you fools! And we get to look really educated when we point out things which you should have noticed but didn't. Ha ha!

This is related to the rather opposite situation, in which people can also treat you with disdain for pronouncing a word as it looks rather than how it is used in conversation.  What a maroon! Such as a book-obsessed and introverted young woman who says a fashionable dress is "chick" because that's the way it looks. That she spends more time reading than listening to older others about clothing fashions may not be a bad thing. The talkers, the social butterflies, are very good at making everyone else feel bad about Not Being Quite. Pay them no mind.*

I am not in any way an advocate of spelling reform.  Too much effort for too little payback, to my mind. But don't strain to put letters back in that fell out of pronunciation and were artificially reinserted so that people would know. Like Arctic and Antarctic.  The "c" in the middle had gone from pronunciation.  Fussy people thought it should go back so that people would know. So aspirational people in newly-literate groups began to worry "Oh dear!  I must have been saying this wrong! Er, Wrongly!" ArCtic."

*My younger brother will regard you with false gentleness of disdain and correct you with the other pronunciation whichever one you use for "patronising." Fortunately, most people in his circle get the joke.


Grim said...

I have probably commented before that the trick to reading Middle English is learning to just sound everything out. The nonstandard spelling throws us off a ton, but it turns out they were doing more or less what you recommend: spelling it like it sounded to them.

ClovisPolar said...

Erm, everyone I know says "Arctic".

Assistant Village Idiot said...

They do now, yes. I am the Resistance to the Resistance.