E, by Gummey

One of the things that most irritates me about people who want to standardise English spelling is the fact that it is clearly changing all the time.  No sooner would it be standardised than it would start to morph into something else.

Over the past few years the spellings of words such as ‘pricy’, ‘spicy’, ‘chancy’ and ‘flaky’ have wobbled like Mr. Blobby in a high wind.  I was re-reading John Le Carré’s ‘The Russia House’ the other day, and came across the spelling ‘flakey’, which I don’t think would be the norm now.  ‘Spicy’ is always spelt without an E, but ‘pricy’ is now more often spelt with an E.  I have noticed this repeatedly in what used to be called the broadsheet press, so it is being done by top journalists.

Without going back and doing extensive research, I can’t be sure of this, but it seems to me that ‘pricy’ always used to be spelt without an E, and it is only in recent years that the E spelling has become prevalent.  ‘Chancy’ seems to be spelled both ways with equal frequency.

I’m not going to wade in and say which I think is correct, although I would always tend to use the spellings without an E.  Both are perfectly clear, and I can’t see that either is objectionable.  My spell-checker doesn’t seem to mind most of that time, though it doesn’t like ‘flakey’. (The spell-checker on WordPress doesn’t like ‘pricy’, so perhaps ‘pricey’ is a US spelling.)

In my view, the greatest reason for not standardising English spelling is because it would destroy the etymological clarity of word meanings.  Of course, I do think that people should have some idea of the etymology of words, and I have no idea whether or not this is taught.  I hope it is – it is always been one of my great joys. However, the other great reason is because you simply can’t hold people to standard spelling – it seems to be against human nature.

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Published in: on June 13, 2014 at 10:49  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As a newspaper sub I was told that ‘House Style’ was to write ‘ageing’ rather than ‘aging’. House Styles are clearly (to me) a good idea, but where there is no conflict between spelling and pronunciation I can’t see a reason for major legislation to standardise. We have private pedants, the French have the Académie Française.

    • Ah, and I am pretty sure I would rather not have the equivalent of the Académie!


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