We have occasionally invoked Tom Lehrer when discussing how the simple letter "e" can change the meaning of many words, citing his song "Silent 'E.'" That "e" can also magically change a word into another form, such as a noun into a verb. This being illogical English, there are few "rules" as to what it does, though.  Continue reading...
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Last night, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses held its annual Spelling Bee in New York, supporting the work of independent literary publishers, and once again the Visual Thesaurus was proud to play a part. For the sixth consecutive year, the VT supplied the words that challenged the literary contestants. This year, the British novelist Patrick McGrath emerged victorious.  Continue reading...
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These days, one often sees mentions of "vocal chords" and "digestive tracks." These spellings are both logical, both frequently seen, and both incorrectly spelled (for now).  Continue reading...
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In 1913, the National Press Club hosted a spelling bee that pitted members of Congress against members of the press. This week, the club celebrated the centennial of that event by bringing lawmakers and journalists together once again for a spelling battle, and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia emerged as the victor.  Continue reading...
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Celebrating Labor (and Labour) Day

On the first Monday in September, the United States observes Labor Day, while Canadians celebrate Labour Day. If you want to know why labour is the accepted spelling in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries like Canada, while Americans prefer labor (and color, favor, honor, humor, and neighbor), check out this classic Word Routes column by Ben Zimmer.
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Much like the government, the English spelling system is a popular punching bag. People love to kvetch about its inconsistencies and exceptions, lamenting the near-impossible task of learning to spell.  Continue reading...
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The cashier at the fancy foods store was from Bosnia. "I have so much hard time with English," she said. "Why when you add one letter does whole word change?" She had asked the customer if she had a "dim," and the customer was flummoxed.  Continue reading...
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