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May 29, 2020
This week’s theme
What the h...

This week’s words
heterochromatic
homophene
heteroclite
homologate
heterography

heterography
Memorial plaque on the tomb of “Shakspeare”, Stratford-upon-Avon

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

heterography

PRONUNCIATION:
(het-uh-ROG-ruh-fee)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A spelling different from the one in current use.
2. Use of the same letter(s) to convey different sounds, for example, gh in rough and ghost.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Greek hetero- (different) + -graphy (writing). Earliest documented use: 1783.

NOTES:
The idea of heterography is a recent phenomenon, relatively speaking. Earlier, when English was mainly a spoken language, it was a free-for-all, spelling-wise. Any spelling was fine as long as you could make yourself understood. Each writer spelled words in their own way, trying to spell them phonetically. Shakespeare spelled his own name in various ways (Shaxspear, Shakespear, and so on).

If you read old manuscripts, you can find different spellings of a word on the same page, and sometimes even in the same sentence. Spelling wasn’t something sacrosanct: if a line was too long to fit, a typesetter might simply squeeze or expand the word by altering the spelling.

If the idea of to-each-one’s-own spelling for the same word sounds bizarre, consider how we practice it even today, in the only place we can: in our names. Look around you and you might find a Christina and a Cristina and a Kristina and many other permutations and combinations.

With the advent of printing in the 15th century, spelling began to become standardized. By the 19th century, most words had a single “official” spelling, as a consensus, not by the diktat of a committee.

Today if you write “definately” and someone points out that you’ve misspelled the word, just tell them you’re a practitioner of heterography.

USAGE:
“Rather than a note on orthography, this might better be characterized as an explanation of unavoidable heterography. ... Where alternate spellings might be more familiar to some readers, I have listed them in parentheses.”
Carolyn J Dean; A Culture of Stone; Duke University Press; 2010.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people. -John F. Kennedy, 35th US president (29 May 1917-1963)

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