Most of us at some time or other have likely been frustrated by the inconsistencies of the English language, though perhaps not so much as to dedicate our lives to reforming it. Some people, however, have (and, indeed, still do). Enter the "Simplified Speling Soesiety", a group of passionate spelling reformists active in early 20th-century Britain, who boasted George Bernard Shaw among their members. If language can be likened to an ancient city, as Wittgenstein suggested, then the "Simplfied Speling Sosiety" came armed with a fleet of bulldozers and a set of fairly radical architectural plans. Their ideas were laid out in the 1911 treatise Simplified Spelling: An Appeal to Common Sense (see below), and given a regular outlet in the form of their journal The Pioneer, the inaugural edition of which is featured above. The journal, which ran into excess of thirty issues and was written entirely in the new spelling system, featured a regular "Esai Competishun", a "Noets and Nyuez" section, as well as a roundup of "Praiz and Prejoodis" in which they detailed both their positive and negative press.
Founded in 1908, the "Simplfied Speling Soesiety" were certainly not the first such group (despite the title of their journal). The desire to whip the oddities of English spelling into some kind of more logical order can be traced back to the 16th and 17th centuries, and gathered particular pace in the late 19th century with the efforts, for example, of the American Philological Society who, in 1876, recommended the adoption of eleven reformed spellings for immediate use — are→ar, give→giv, have→hav, live→liv, though→tho, through→thru, guard→gard, catalogue→catalog, (in)definite→(in)definit, wished→wisht. One major American newspaper, the Chicago Tribune — whose editor and owner, Joseph Medill, sat on the Council of the Spelling Reform Association — actually began to use these new spellings. In 1906, the Simplified Spelling Board was established, Andrew Carnegie being a founding member and substantial donor. In April that year they published a list of 300 "simplified" words which caught the attention and approval of Theodore Roosevelt, who ordered the Government Printing Office to start using them immediately. Sadly for the reformists, later that year Congress intervened and the old spellings were reintroduced, though some of the new suggestions did survive and are used today, such as anaemia/anæmia→anemia and mould→mold.
January 31, 2017