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Oct 24, 2016
This week’s theme
Words formed by dialectal pronunciation

This week’s words

ornery cat
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with Anu Garg

Could thru, a phonetic respelling of the word through, become standard and replace the original some day? It’s possible. But don’t start girding your loins to defend the purity and honor of the English language.

It has happened many times. Let me rephrase that: It happens all the time, though the rate of change is slowing down. Like a flowing river, language often takes the path of least resistance.

Language is a spoken thing. In the beginning, few people knew how to read or write. As long as you could understand what word was meant, spelling didn’t matter. Just take any word, say spelling. We have at least four forms of the word attested: spellynge, spellyng, Spelling, and spelling -- there are likely many other possibilities.

Printing and literacy resulted in the spelling becoming standardized, but we still respell, shorten, and mold words as it suits us. For example, the word donut has replaced doughnut, at least in the US.

This week we’ll see five words that have had their spellings altered over time based on pronunciation, sometimes resulting in a new word with a new sense.



adjective: Having an unpleasant disposition: irritable, stubborn, combative, etc.

An alteration of the word ordinary, from Latin ordo (order, rank). In the beginning the word ornery was just a dialect pronunciation of the word ordinary and meant the same. Over time it acquired negative senses, from commonplace to lazy to mean to cantankerous. Earliest documented use: 1692.

“DI John Rebus is an ornery and often difficult detective who is frequently at odds with his young assistant and his supervisors.”
Tom Budlong; Video; Library Journal (New York); Oct 15, 2016.

See more usage examples of ornery in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

I have no riches but my thoughts, yet these are wealth enough for me. -Sarah Teasdale, poet (1884-1933)

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