Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/46

This page has been validated.
42
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

like honor, thus making the spelling more in keeping with the Latin derivation. We can at least lay claim to simplicity and consistency. If we are provincial, we can not be charged with arbitrariness in our spelling.

As for the writing of center, meter, meager and words of this kind, the American method has as much history and logic in its favor as the British spelling has. Analogy, too, if that may be cited as an argument, supports our spelling, for we all write perimeter, diameter, never otherwise, whether we be American or English. The word center, according to Lowell, who was no mean authority on matters pertaining to our speech, 'is no Americanism; it entered the language in that shape and kept it at least as late as Defoe.' "In the sixteenth and in the first half of the seventeenth century," declares Professor Lounsbury, in reference to the spelling of center and similar words, "while both ways of writing these words existed side by side, the termination er is far more common than re. The first complete edition of Shakespeare's plays was published in 1624. In that work sepulcher occurs thirteen times; it is spelled eleven times with er. Scepter occurs thirty-seven times; it is not once spelled with re, but always with er. Center occurs twelve times, and in nine instances out of the twelve it ends in er." John Bellows, in the preface to his excellent French-English and English-French pocket dictionary, states that "the Act of Parliament legalizing the use of the metric system in this country [England] gives the words meter, liter, gram, etc., spelt on the American plan." It is evident, then, that our way of writing these words is quite as logical and as much warranted by the history of our tongue as the British spelling.

The American orthography is clearly in advance of the British in the word almanac. This word is not rightly entitled to the final k, as the English spell it. This superfluous letter is a mere survival from a former way of writing, no longer in vogue. It has been rejected in music, public, optic and similar words which are written alike on both sides of the Atlantic. In Johnson's dictionary and also in our King James's version of the Scriptures the old spelling generally occurs. Indeed, Johnson appended the excrescent k to well-nigh all words of this class. Strange to say, there is one word of this class which preserves the k even in American English, and that is hammock. This is but an exception which goes to prove that even American English with its revised orthography is still far from being phonetic.

In regard to words ending in ize, usage in Great Britain has established the writing ise, as in civilise. However, new formations even there are usually made to terminate in ize, which is generally adopted in America. Yet American spelling sometimes exhibits ise, after the English fashion. The British writing is derived from the French, whereas the American harks back to the original Greek suffix. The