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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/48

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

words are survivals from a former period in the history of the language when more latitude was allowed in English orthography and there was no hard and fast line drawn, no fixed standard. The proper historical spelling, it is interesting to note, is with one consonant, as in counselor derived ultimately from the Latin consiliarius. While either spelling is considered correct, British usage favors the double consonant (counsellor) and American the single (counselor). Here again as elsewhere American spelling inclines to simplification and would make these words conform to the general rule of English orthography as laid down above. Strange to say, British usage shows one exception in the word paralleled, which it has adopted (and not parallelled). Here we find another instance of the striking inconsistency of British orthography. It may be a shocking thing to say, but investigation will prove it true, that if those British critics who censure our spelling so severely, as offending their esthetic sense, were more familiar with the history of the language, they would, without doubt, have far less comment to make upon the so-called eccentricities of American spelling.

It remains to notice some apparent exceptions to the rule of English orthography stated above. Noteworthy among these are the words handicapped and kidnapped, which are written alike in British and American English. But they can be explained and are only apparent exceptions. A moment's reflection is sufficient to convince one that handicap and kidnap are not simple words, but in reality compounds in which the last element has not completely lost its identity in combination. Because of the consciousness of the independent words cap and nap in these compounds, they conform to the rule as a matter of fact and therefore double the final consonant, on the addition of a suffix beginning with a vowel. Hence, if they are ebe considered exceptions which prove the rule.

The few points we have drawn attention to in this imperfect little sketch are enough to show how unphonetic and illogical is our English spelling. Many of the eccentricities of our orthography, according to Skeat, have resulted from the futile attempts of pedants in the sixteenth century to make English spelling etymological and to make it conform to the classics, from which a vast multitude of words had been introduced into our speech. These conscious attempts at etymological spelling gave rise to endless confusion and disorder. But other causes, such as analogy and mere caprice, also contributed to this end. Thus we are to explain the writing of the word female, for example. This word, coming from the Latin femella through the French femelle into English, was originally written femelle and would probably have retained this form to the present time. But because of a fancied connection with the word male, the spelling was changed to female. In a similar manner is to be explained the spelling of numerous other words in our language which seem perfectly natural and logical on first blush.