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Title: Society for Pure English, Tract 02 - On English Homophones
Author: Bridges, Robert Seymour, 1844-1930, Society for Pure English
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Society for Pure English, Tract 02 - On English Homophones" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

  Transcriber's Note: Phonetic characters are represented by the
      following symbols:
  [e] = upside-down "e" = schwa
  [er] = italicized inverted "e" = r-colored schwa
  [a] = lower-case alpha
  [o] = open "o" (appears as upside-down "c") = open-mid back
      rounded vowel
  [ng] = "eng" character = velar nasal
  [n.] = "n" with inferior dot = devoiced "n"
  [=u] = "u" with macron
  [s] = "esh" (or long "s") character = voiceless palatoalveolar
      (or postalveolar) fricative
  [z] = "ezh" (or "yogh") character = voiced palatoalveolar (or
      postalveolar) fricative
  [ts] = t + "esh" = voiceless palatoalveolar (or postalveolar)
  [dz] = d + "ezh" = voiced palatoalveolar (or postalveolar)








       *       *       *       *       *


[Sidenote: Definition of homophone.]

When two or more words different in origin and signification are
pronounced alike, whether they are alike or not in their spelling,
they are said to be homophonous, or homophones of each other. Such
words if spoken without context are of ambiguous signification.
Homophone is strictly a relative term, but it is convenient to use it
absolutely, and to call any word of this kind a homophone.[1]

[Footnote 1: Homophone is a Greek word meaning 'same-sounding', and
before using the relative word in this double way I have preferred
to make what may seem a needless explanation. It is convenient, for
instance, to say that _son_ and _heir_ are both homophones, meaning
that each belongs to that particular class of words which without
context are of ambiguous signification: and it is convenient also to
say that _son_ and _sun_ and _heir_ and _air_ are homophones without
explaining that it is meant that they are mutually homophonous, which
is evident. A physician congratulating a friend on the birth of his
first-born might say, 'Now that you have a son and heir, see that he
gets enough sun and air'.]

Homophony is between words as _significant_ sounds, but it is needful
to state that homophonous words must be _different_ words, else we
should include a whole class of words which are not true homophones.
Such words as _draft_, _train_, _board_, have each of them separate
meanings as various and distinct as some true homophones; for
instance, a draught of air, the miraculous draught of fishes, the
draught of a ship, the draft of a picture, or a draught of medicine,
or the present draft of this essay, though it may ultimately appear
medicinal, are, some of them, quite as distinct objects or notions
as, for instance, _vane_ and _vein_ are: but the ambiguity of _draft_,
however spelt, is due to its being the name of anything that is
_drawn_; and since there are many ways of drawing things, and
different things are drawn in different ways, the _same word_ has come
to carry very discrepant significations.

Though such words as these[2] are often inconveniently and even
distressingly ambiguous, they are not homophones, and are therefore
excluded from my list: they exhibit different meanings of one word,
not the same sound of different words: they are of necessity present,
I suppose, in all languages, and corresponding words in independent
languages will often develop exactly corresponding varieties of
meaning. But since the ultimate origin and derivation of a word is
sometimes uncertain, the scientific distinction cannot be strictly

[Footnote 2: Such words have no technical class-name; they are merely
extreme examples of the ambiguity common to most words, which grows
up naturally from divergence of meaning. True homophones are separate
words which have, or have acquired, an illogical fortuitous identity.]

[Sidenote: False homophones.]

Now, wherever the same derivation of any two same-sounding words is
at all doubtful, such words are practically homophones:--and again in
cases where the derivation is certainly the same, yet, if the ultimate
meanings have so diverged that we cannot easily resolve them into one
idea, as we always can _draft_, these also may be practically reckoned
as homophones.

_Continent_, adjective and substantive, is an example of absolute
divergence of meaning, inherited from the Latin; but as they are
different parts of speech, I allow their plea of identical derivation
and exclude them from my list. On the other hand, the substantive
_beam_ is an example of such a false homophone as I include. _Beam_
may signify a balk of timber, or a ray of light. Milton's address to
light begins

  O first created beam

and Chaucer has

  As thikke as motes in the sonne-beam,

and this is the commonest use of the word in poetry, and probably in
literature: Shelley has

  Then the bright child the plumèd seraph came
  And fixed its blue and beaming eyes on mine.

But in Tyndal's gospel we read

  Why seest thou a mote in thy brother's eye and perceivest not
  the beam that is in thine own eye?

The word beam is especially awkward here,[3] because the beam that
is proper to the eye is not the kind of beam which is intended.
The absurdity is not excused by our familiarity, which Shakespeare
submitted to, though he omits the incriminating eye:

  You found his mote; the king your mote did see,
  But I a beam do find in each of three.

[Footnote 3: It is probable that in Tyndal's time the awkwardness was
not so glaring: for 'beam' as a ray of light seems to have developed
its connexion with the eye since his date, in spite of his proverbial
use of it in the other sense.]

And yet just before he had written

  So sweet a kiss the golden sun gives not
  To those fresh morning drops upon the rose,
  As thy eye-beams when their fresh rays have smote
  The night of dew that on my cheeks down flows.

Let alone the complication that _mote_ is also a homophone, and
that outside Gulliver's travels one might as little expect to find a
house-beam as a castle-moat in a man's eye, the confusion of _beam_
is indefensible, and the example will serve three purposes: first to
show how different significations of the same word may make practical
homophones, secondly the radical mischief of all homophones, and
thirdly our insensibility towards an absurdity which is familiar: but
the absurdity is no less where we are accustomed to it than where it
is unfamiliar and shocks us.

[Sidenote: Tolerance due to habit.]

And we are so accustomed to homophones in English that they do not
much offend us; we do not imagine their non-existence, and most people
are probably unaware of their inconvenience. It might seem that to
be perpetually burdened by an inconvenience must be the surest way of
realizing it, but through habituation our practice is no doubt full
of unconscious devices for avoiding these ambiguities: moreover,
inconveniences to which we are born are very lightly taken: many
persons have grown up to manhood blind of one eye without being aware
of their disability; and others who have no sense of smell or who
cannot hear high sounds do not miss the sense that they lack; and so I
think it may be with us and our homophones.

But since if all words were alike in sound there would be no spoken
language, the differentiation of the sound of words is of the essence
of speech, and it follows that the more homophones there are in
any language, the more faulty is that language as a scientific and
convenient vehicle of speech. This will be illustrated in due course:
the actual condition of English with respect to homophones must be
understood and appreciated before the nature of their growth and the
possible means of their mitigation will seem practical questions.

[Sidenote: Great number.]

The first essential, then, is to know the extent and nature of
the mischief; and this can only be accomplished by setting out the
homophones in a table before the eye. The list below is taken from
a 'pronouncing dictionary' which professes not to deal with obsolete
words, and it gives over 800 ambiguous sounds; so that, since
these must be at least doublets, and many of them are triplets or
quadruplets, we must have something between 1,600 and 2,000 words of
ambiguous meaning in our ordinary vocabulary.[4]

[Footnote 4: In Skeat's _Etymological Dictionary_ there is a list of
_homonyms_, that is words which are ambiguous to the eye by similar
spellings, as homophones are to the ear by similar sounds: and that
list, which includes obsolete words, has 1,600 items. 1,600 is the
number of homophones which our list would show if they were all only

Now it is variously estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 words is about the
limit of an average educated man's talking vocabulary, and since the
1,600 are, the most of them, words which such a speaker will use
(the reader can judge for himself) it follows that he has a foolishly
imperfect and clumsy instrument.

As to what proportion 1,700 (say) may be to the full vocabulary of the
language--it is difficult to estimate this because the dictionaries
vary so much. The word _homophone_ is not recognized by Johnson or
by Richardson: Johnson under _homo-_ has six derivatives of Herbert
Spencer's favourite word _homogeneous_, but beside these only four
other words with this Greek affix. Richardson's dictionary has an even
smaller number of such entries. Jones has 11 entries of _homo-_, and
these of only five words, but the Oxford dictionary, besides 50 words
noted and quoted beginning with _homo-_, has 64 others with special

Dr. Richard Morris estimated the number of words in an English
dictionary as 100,000: Jones has 38,000 words, exclusive of proper
names, and I am told that the Oxford dictionary will have over
300,000. Its 114 _homo-_ words will show how this huge number is
partly supplied.

Before the reader plunges into the list, I should wish to fortify his
spirit against premature despair by telling him that in my tedious
searching of the dictionary for these words I was myself cheered to
find how many words there were which are _not_ homophones.


This list, the object of which is to make the reader easily acquainted
with the actual defect of the language in this particular, does not
pretend to be complete or scientific; and in the identification of
doubtful words the clue was dictated by brevity. _s._, _v._, and _adj._
mean _substantive_, _verb_, and _adjective_. The sections were made to
aid the conspectus.

The main indictment is contained in sections i, ii, and iii. These
three sections contain 505 entries, involving some 1,075 words.

The homophones in the other sections, iv, v, vi, vii, viii and ix,
are _generally_ of such a kind that they would not of themselves
constitute a very peculiar case against the English language; but
their addition to the main list does very much strengthen the case.
One intention in isolating them from the main list was to prevent
their contaminating it with their weaker quality; but their
separate classification crosses and sometimes overrides that more
general distinction. Section iv has some literary interest; vi is
inconsistent; the other sections are more or less scientific. These
six sections contain some 330 entries involving about 700 words, so
that the total of words involved is about 1,775.

The order in this section is that of the phonetic alphabet.


  arc, ark.
  arm (_limb_), arm (_weapon_).
  alms, arms.
  aunt, ant, arn't.
  arch (_s._), arch (_adj._).
  eye, ay, I.
  idol, idle, idyll.
  aisle, isle, I'll.
  eyelet, islet.
  our, hour.
  bark (_dog_), bark (_tree_), bark (_boat_).
  balm, barm.
  bite, bight.
  buy, by, bye.
  bough, bow, bow (_of ship_).
  bound (_leap_), bound (_limit_), bound (fr. _bind_).
  bank (_ground_), bank (_money_).
  barren, baron.
  barrow (_hill_), barrow (_wheel-b._).
  bat (_club_), bat (_vespertilio_).
  batter (_s._), batter (_v._).
  buck (_various roots and senses_).
  bustle (_hurry_), bustle (_dress_).
  but, butt (_tub_), butt (_v._).
  bale (ill), bale (_pack_), bail (_bis_).
  base, bass.
  bate, bait.
  beck (_and nod_), beck (_a brook_).
  bell, belle.
  bury, berry.
  bear (_s._), bare (_adj._), bear, bare (_v._).
  berth, birth.
  bee, be.
  beat, beet.
  beetle (_insect_), beetle (_hammer_).
  beach, beech.
  bier, beer.
  blow (_a stroke_), blow (_of wind_).
  bow, beau.
  bogy, bogie.
  bole, bowl.
  bolt (_a weapon_), bolt (_sift_), bolt (_run_).
  bore (_perforate_), bore (_tidal_), bore (fr. _bear_), boar.
  board, bawd, bored.
  ball, bawl.
  born, borne.
  boy, buoy.
  boil (_s._), boil (_v._).
  box (_tree_), box (_receptacle_), box (_v._).
  bridal, bridle.
  bray (_of donkey_), bray (_to pound_), brae.
  break, brake (_fern_), brake (_of carriages, bis_).
  braze (_to solder_), braze (_to brazen_), braise (_to stew_), braes.
  breach, breech.
  breeze (_the wind_), breeze (_a fly_), breeze (_cinders_).
  broach, brooch.
  hue, hew.
  die (_v._), dye, die (_cast_).
  down (_dune_), down (_fluff_), down (_adv._).
  doubt, dout.
  dam (_mother_), dam (_obstruct_), damn.
  duck (_bird_), duck (_dear_), duck (_stuff_), duck (_v._).
  dun (_colour_), dun (_importune_), done.
  date (_fruit_), date (_datum_).
  dean, dene.
  deer, dear.
  desert, dessert.
  due, dew.
  doe, dough.
  dock (_plant_), dock (_basin_), dock (_shear_).
  drill (_sow_), drill (_bore_), drill (_training_).
  drupe, droop.
  jar (_vase_), jar (_discord_).
  jamb, jam.
  jet (_mineral_), jet (_squirt_).
  gin (_drink_), gin (_snare_), jinn.
  there, their.
  the, thee.
  eh! aye (_ever_).
  ale, ail.
  eight, ait or eyot, ate (fr. _eat_).
  egg, egg (_to incite_).
  elder (_tree_), elder (_senior_).
  air, heir, ere, e'er.
  airship, heirship.
  aery, airy.
  earn, urn, erne (_eagle_).
  alight (_adj._), alight (_v._).
  ascent, assent.
  foul, fowl.
  fallow (_untilled_), fallow (_colour_).
  fane, feign, fain.
  faint, feint.
  fast (_eccl._), fast (_adj. various_).
  fate, fête.
  fell (_fierce_), fell (_skin_), fell (_hill_), fell (fr. _fall_).
  fellow, felloe.
  ferule, ferrule.
  fair, fare [_doublet_], phare.
  fir, fur.
  feet, feat (_s._), feat (_adj. obs._).
  filter, philtre.
  fit (_befit_), fit (_conflict_), fytte [_obs._].
  flag (_v._), flag (_ensign_), flag (_plant_), flag (_-stone_).
  flee, flea.
  flow, floe.
  flock (_herd_), flock (_of wool_).
  flue (_chimney_), flue (_velu_), flew (fr. _fly_).
  fluke (_fish_), fluke (_of anchor_), fluke (_slang word_).
  fold (_wrap_), fold (_of sheep_), foaled.
  four, fore, for.
  forego, forgo, and other compounds.
  fourth, forth.
  foil (_s._), foil (_v._), foil (_fencer's_).
  fray (_ravel_), fray (_combat_).
  fret (_eat away_), fret (_adorn_), fret (_on lute_).
  freeze, frieze (_archt._), frieze (_cloth_), frees (fr. _free_).
  gamble, gambol,
  gum (_resin_), gum (_teeth_).
  gage, gauge,
  gate, gait.
  gird (_encircle_), gird (_revile_).
  guild, gild.
  guilt, gilt.
  glare, glair (_white of egg_), + glary, glairy.
  gore (_pierce_), gore (_triangle_), gore (_blood_).
  groin, groyne (_breakwater_).
  great, grate (_s._), grate (_v._).
  heart, hart.
  high, hie.
  hide (_v._), hide (_skin_), hied.
  hack (_hew_), hack (_hackney_).
  hamper (_impede_), hamper (_hanaper_).
  hail! hail (_snow_), hale (_adj._), hale (_haul_).
  helm (_of ship_), helm (_helmet_).
  hair, hare.
  heel, heal, he'll.
  here, hear.
  hymn, him.
  hole, whole, + holy, wholly, holey.
  home, holm.
  hoar, whore, haw.
  hoard, horde,
  hawk (_bird_), hawk (_v. of hawker_), hawk (_hoquet_).
  hall, haul.
  halt (_v._), halt (_adj._).
  horse, hoarse.
  hock (_of horse_), hock (_wine_).
  hop (_jump_), hop (_plant_).
  hue, hew.
  humorous, humerus.
  even (_s._), even (_adj._).
  ear, ear (_plough_), ear (_of corn_).
  yoke, yolk.
  yew, ewe, you.
  ure, ewer, your.
  card (_s._), card (_v._).
  cask, casque.
  cast, caste.
  cart, carte, quart (_cards and fencing_).
  count (_s._), count (_v._).
  counter (_opp._), counter (_of shop_), counter (_in games_), &c.
  couch (_coucher_), couch (_grass_).
  caddy (_lad_), caddy (_box_).
  can (_s._), can (_v._).
  cannon, canon _bis._
  currant, current.
  curry (_food_), curry (_comb_).
  colonel, kernel.
  cape (_dress_), cape (_headland_).
  caper (_skip_), caper (_plant_).
  case (_event_), case (_receptacle_).
  cashier (_s._), cashier (_v._).
  key, quay.
  keen (_adj._), keen (_v._).
  cue, queue.
  climb, clime.
  cleek, clique.
  coal, cole.
  cope (_v._), cope (_s._).
  coat, cote.
  core, corps, caw.
  cork, caulk.
  call, caul.
  corn (_grain_), corn (_horny growth_).
  course, coarse, corse.
  cobble (_to patch_), cobble (_boat_), cobble (_-stones_).
  cock (s. and _v._), cock (_of hay_).
  cockle (_v._), cockle (_s. var._).
  creak, creek.
  cricket (_insect_), cricket (_game_).
  cruel, crewel.
  cruise, cruse, crews.
  coombe (_valley_), coom (_dry measure_).
  choir, quire (_of paper_).
  quiver (_v._), quiver (_s._).
  queen, quean [_obs._].
  last (_adj._, _verb_), last (_s._)
  lye (_s._), lie (_v._), lie (_s. and n._).
  lyre, liar.
  lichen, liken.
  light (_s._), light (_not heavy_), and hence lighten, lighten.
  lack, lac, lakh.
  lap (_lick up_), lap (_fold_), lap (_knees_).
  lay (_s., bis_), lay (_v._).
  lake (_pond_), lake (_colour_).
  let (_allow_), let (_lease, v._), let (_hinder, obs._).
  lee, lea.
  leaf, lief.
  league (_s._), league (_v. and s._)
  leak, leek.
  lean (_v._), lean (_adj._).
  leech (_sucker and doctor_), leech (_of sail_).
  leave (quit), leave (permit).
  limp (adj.), limp (v.).
  link (chain), link (torch), also golf-links,
  list (listen), list (heel over), list (of flannel).
  liver (organ), liver (who lives).
  lo! low (adj.), low (of cow's voice).
  load, lode, lowed,
  lone, loan.
  lock (of door), lock (of hair), loch.
  long (adj.), long (v.).
  lorn, lawn,
  lute, loot.
  mast (_of ship_), mast (_beech-m._).
  march (_step_), march (_boundary_), March (_month_).
  mine (_s._), mine (_poss. pron._).
  mite, might (_s._), might  (_v._), [_and adj. -y_].
  mitre (_headdress_), mitre (_carpentry, &c._).
  mass (_quantity_), mass (_office_).
  match (_equal_), match (_mèche_).
  muff (_dress_), muff (_a stupid_).
  may (_month_), may (_maid, obs._), may (_v._).
  male, mail (_coat of_), mail (_post_).
  mane, main.
  mace (_staff_), mace (_spice_).
  maze, maize, Mays (_pl. of month_).
  mare, mayor.
  meed, mead (_meadow_), mead (_drink_).
  mean (_intend_), mean (_intermediate_), mean (_poor_), mien
  meet, meat, mete (_adj. and v._).
  mere (_pool_), mere (_adj._).
  mint (_herb_), mint (_coining_).
  miss (_fail_), Miss.
  mew (_cage_), mew (_bird_), mew (_of cat_).
  mute (_adj._), mute (_of birds_).
  muse (_think_), Muse, mews (_stable_), mews (fr. _mew_).
  mote, moat.
  mow  (_various senses_), mot (_French_).
  mole (_animal_), mole (_of skin_), mole (_breakwater_).
  mould (_to model_), mould (_earth_), mould (_rust_).
  maul (_disfigure_), Mall (_place_), mahl (_-stick_).
  morn, mourn, and morning.
  moor (_country_), Moor (_race_)
  night, knight.
  none, nun.
  need, knead, knee'd.
  neat (_s._), neat (_adj._).
  no, know.
  not, knot.
  oar, ore, or, o'er, awe.
  augur, auger.
  all, awl, orle (_heraldry_).
  altar, alter.
  oral, aural.
  ought (_zero_), ought (_pp. of owe_), ort [_obs._].
  par, pas (_faus_).
  pie (_pica_), pie (_dish_).
  pale (_pole_), pale (_pallid_), pail.
  pile (_heap_), pile (_stake_), pile (_hair_).
  pine (_v._), pine (_tree_).
  pound (_weight_), pound (_enclosure_), pound (_to bruise_).
  pounce (_v._), pounce (=_pumice_).
  pallet, palette, palate.
  paten, patten, pattern.
  pulse (_beat_), pulse (_pease_).
  punch (_strike_), punch (_drink_), Punch (_and Judy_).
  page (_of bk._), page (_boy_).
  pane, pain.
  peck (_measure_), peck (_v._).
  pelt (_to throw_), pelt (_skin_).
  pen (_writing_), pen (_inclose_).
  pair, pear, pare.
  pearl, purl (_flow_), purl (_knitting_).
  pique, peak.
  peal, peel.
  peep (_to look_), peep (_chirp_).
  piece, peace.
  peach (_fruit_), peach (_impeach_).
  peer (_to look_), peer (_s._), pier.
  pill (_ball_), pill (_to pillage_).
  pink (_a flower_), pink (_a colour_), pink (_to pierce_).
  pip (_a seed_), pip (_a disease_), pip (_on cards_).
  pitch (_s._), pitch (_to fall, &c._).
  plight (_pledge_), plight or plite (_to plait_), and 'sad plight'.
  plat (_of ground_), plait.
  plum, plumb.
  plump (_adj._), plump (_to fall heavily_).
  plane (_tree_), plain [_both various_].
  plot (_of ground_), plot (_stratagem_), + verbs.
  pole, poll.
  poach, (_eggs_), poach (_steal game_).
  pore (_of skin_), pore (_top. over_), paw.
  potter (_v._), potter (_s._).
  pall (_v._), pall (_cloak_), pawl (_mechanics_).
  pry (_inquisitive_), pry (_to prise open_).
  prise, prize.
  pray, prey.
  prune (_fruit_), prune (_s._).
  rye, wry.
  rime, rhyme.
  right, write, wright, rite.
  rabbit, rabbet (_carpentry_).
  rack [_various_], wrack.
  racket, racquet.
  rally (_assemble_), rally (=_raillery_).
  rank (_s._), rank (_rancid_).
  rap, wrap.
  rash (_s._), rash (_adj._).
  ruff, rough.
  rum (_queer_), rum (_drink_), rhumb (_naut._).
  rung (_s._), and past pp. rung, wrung.
  rush (_s._), rush (_v._).
  rape (_seed_), rape (_ravish_), rape (_divn. of county, obs._).
  race (_family_), race (_root_), race (_that is run_).
  rate (_proportion_), rate (_to chide_).
  rut (_furrow_), rut (_of animals_).
  rake (_tool_), rake (_a prodigal_), rake (_of a ship_).
  rail (_fence_), rail (_bird_).
  rain, reign, rein.
  raise, raze.
  reck, wreck.
  rent (_paymt._), rent (_s., tear_), rent (fr. _rend_).
  rest (_repose_), rest (_remainder_), wrest.
  reed, read.
  reef (_of rocks_), reef (_of sails_).
  reek, wreak.
  reel (_highland-_), reel (_cotton-_).
  reach, retch.
  reave, reeve (_naut._), reeve (_bailiff, obs._).
  rifle (_ransack_), rifle (_s.v., groove_).
  rear (_raise_), rear (_arrière_).
  rig (_of ship_), rig (_prank, riggish_), rig (_-s of barley_).
  rick (_of corn_), rick wrick (_strain_).
  ring, wring.
  repair (_mend_), repair (_resort, v._).
  row (_oaring_), row (_s. of things in line_), roe (_of fish_),
      roe (_fem. deer_).
  roll [_various_], rôle.
  rock (_stone_), rock (_v._), roc.
  rocket (_plant_), rocket (_firework_).
  rue (_plant_), rue (_v. of ruth_).
  rude (_adj._), rood (_s._), rued (fr. _rue_).
  room, rheum.
  root, route.
  rout, route (_military_).
  sign, sine (_trigonom._).
  site, sight, cite.
  size (_magnitude_), size (_glue_).
  sough, sow.
  sound (_noise_), sound (_to fathom_), sound (_adj._), sound
      (_strait of sea_), sound (_fish bladder_).
  sack (_bag_), sack (_to plunder_), sack (_wine_).
  swallow (_a willow_), sallow (_pale colour_).
  sap (_of trees_), sap (_mine_).
  sum, some.
  sun, son + sunny, sonnie.
  sage (_plant_), sage (_adj._).
  sale, sail.
  sell, cell.
  sense, cense.
  censual, sensual.
  surge, serge.
  surf, serf.
  scent, cent, sent (fr. _send_).
  session, cession.
  sea, see.
  seed, cede.
  seal (_animal_), ciel or ceil, seal (_sign_).
  seam, seem.
  sear, sere, cere, seer.
  serial, cereal.
  signet, cygnet.
  cist (_box_), cyst (_tumour, Gr._).
  scar (_of wound_), scar (_a rock_).
  skull, scull.
  scale (_shell_), scale (_of balance_), scale (_of stairs_).
  scald (_burn_), skald (_poet, Norse_).
  scrub (_of shrubs_), scrub (_v._).
  sledge (_vehicle_), sledge (_-hammer_).
  slight, sleight.
  slay, sleigh (_sledge_).
  slate (_s._), slate (_v., abuse_).
  sloe, slow.
  slop (_puddle_), slop (_loose garment_).
  slot (_track_), slot (_bar_).
  sole (_adj._), soul, sole (_a fish_).
  sow, sew.
  saw (_tool_), soar, sore, saw (_maxim_), saw (fr. _see_).
  soil (_ground_), soil (_defile_), soil (_v., of horses_).
  spar (_beam_), spar (_mineral_), spar (_to box_).
  salter (_who salts_), psalter.
  source, sauce.
  spell (_incantation_), spell (_letters_), spell (_turn of work_).
  spill (_upset_), spill (_match_).
  spit (_v._), spit (_roasting_), spit (_of land_).
  spray (_drizzle_), spray (_= sprig_).
  spruce (_tree_), spruce (_adj._)
  style, stile.
  stud (_nail_), stud (_of horses_).
  stake (_post_), steak, stake (_deposit_).
  step, steppe.
  stair, stare.
  stern (_adj._), stern (_of ship_).
  steal, steel, stele.
  steep (_adj._), steep (_v._).
  steer (_direct_), steer (_young ox_).
  still (_tranquil_), still (_distil_).
  stalk (_stem_), stalk (_v._), stork.
  story, storey.
  strand (_shore_), strand (_fibre_).
  strain (_v. and s._), strain (_a breed_).
  strait (_narrow_), straight (_upright_).
  stroke (_a blow_), stroke (_fondle_).
  stoup, stoop.
  shed (_scatter_), shed (_shelter_).
  tart (_adj._), tart (_a pie_).
  tyre (_of wheel_), tire (_fatigue_), tire (_attire_), + tier (_who
  time, thyme.
  tap (_to strike_), tap (_short pipe_).
  tale, tail, tail (_estate in t._).
  tender (_adj._), tender (_s., attender_).
  tent (_pavilion_), tent (_plug of lint, s. and v._), tent (_wine_).
  tare, tear (_v._).
  teem, team.
  tear (_eye_), tier.
  tick (_bedding_), tick (_sheep_), tick (_clock_), tic (_spasm_),
      tick (_credit_).
  till (_cash drawer_), till (_until_).
  tilt (_v., to make aslant_), tilt (_tourney_), tilt (_of caravan_).
  tip (_top_), tip (_make to slant_), tip (_a gift_).
  toe, tow (_hemp_), tow (_draw a boat_).
  two, too, to.
  toll (_lax_), toll (_of bells_).
  taut, taught, tort.
  toil (_labour_), toil (_a snare_).
  top (_summit_), top (_a toy_).
  truck (_vehicle_), truck (_naut._), truck (_barter_).
  trump (_trumpet_), trump (_at cards_).
  trunk (_box_), trunk (_of tree_), trunk (_of elephant_).
  tray, trait.
  trace (_track_), trace (_strap_).
  chair, chare.
  chap (_crack_), chap (_chapman_), chap (_cheek_).
  char (_burn_), char (_fish_), char (_-woman_).
  chop (_with hatchet_), chop (_and change_).
  chuck (_chick_), chuck (_strike gently_).
  chase (_hunt_), chase (_enchase_), chase (_printer's case_),
      chase (_groove_).
  vice (_depravity_), vice (_clench_), vice (_deputy_).
  valley, valet.
  van (_front of army_), van (_fan_), van (_caravan_).
  vale, vail, veil.
  vain, vein, vane.
  won, one.
  wake (_awake_), wake (_watch_), wake (_of ship_).
  wain, wane.
  waste, waist.
  wait, weight.
  wave, waive.
  well (_good_), well (_spring_).
  wee, we.
  weak, week.
  ween, wean.
  war, wore.
  would, wood.


  ware (_earthen-_), ware (_aware_), wear, where, were.
  way, weigh, whey.
  weal (_wealth_), weal (_a swelling_), wheel.
  weald, wield, wheeled.
  while, wile.
  whine, wine,
  white, wight.
  whether, weather.
  whither, wither.
  whig, wig.
  whit, wit.
  what, wot.
  whet, wet.
  whirr, were = wer'.
  whin, win.
  whist, wist.
  which, witch, wych (_elm_).


  ion, iron.
  father, farther.
  lava, larva.
  halm, harm.
  calve, carve.
  talk, torque.
  daw, door.
  flaw, floor.
  yaw, yore.
  law, lore.
  laud, lord.
  maw, more,
  gnaw, nor.
  raw, roar.
  shaw, shore.


  bleak (_fish_), bleak (_adj._).
  dace, dais.
  gull (_bird_), gull (_s. and v._).
  carp, carp (_v._).
  cod, cod (_husk_).
  codling, coddling (fr. _coddle_).
  flounder (_fish_), flounder (_v._).
  quail (_bird_), quail (_v._).
  lark (_bird_), lark (_fun_).
  ling (_fish_), ling (_heather_).
  mussel, muscle.
  nit, knit.
  awk, orc.
  oriole, aureole.
  pike (_fish_), pike (_weapon_).
  pout (_fish_), pout (_v._).
  perch (_fish_), perch (_alight_).
  plaice, place.
  ray (_fish_), ray (_of light_).
  rook (_bird_), rook (_v._).
  skua, skewer.
  skate (_fish_), skate (_on ice_).
  smelt (_fish_), smelt (fr. _smell_).
  swift (_bird_), swift (_adj._).
  swallow (_bird_), swallow (_throat_).
  tapir, taper.
  tern, turn.
  teal (_fish_), teil (_tree_).
  thrush (_bird_), thrush (_disease_).

[Footnote 5: The following words in List 1 involve _wr_ > _w_, write,
wrach, wrap, wring, wrung, wreck, wrest, wreak, wrick.]

[Footnote 6: Other similar words occurring in other sections are--awe,
awl, ought, bawd, fought, gaud, gauze, haw, caw, cause, caught,
lawn, paw, saw, sauce, sought, taut, caulk, stalk, alms, balm;--their
correspondents being, oar, orle, ort (_obs._), board, fort, gored,
gores, hoar, core, cores, court, lorn, pore, sore, source, sort, tort,
cork, stork, arms, barm.]

[Footnote 7: Other similar proper names of species, &c., which occur
in some one of the other sections of the list: ant, bat, bear, bee,
beet, beetle, beech, box, breeze, date, dock, daw, duck, deer, elder,
erne, fir, flea, flag, fluke, hare, horse, hawk, hop, caper, carrot,
couch, cricket, currant, leech, lichen, mace, maize, mint, mole, pear,
peach, pink, pie, pine, plum, plane, pulse, rabbit, rye, rush, rape,
rail, reed, roe, roc, rue, sage, seal, sloe, sole, spruce, stork,
thyme, char, whale, whin, yew. Also cockle.]


  byre, buyer (_who buys_).
  butter (_s._), butter (_who butts_).
  better (_adj._), better (_who bets_).
  border, boarder.
  dire, dyer.
  founder (_v._), founder (_who founds_).
  geyser, gazer.
  greater, grater (_nutmeg_).
  canter (_pace_), canter (_who cants_).
  medlar, meddler.
  moulder (_v._), moulder (_who moulds_).
  pitcher (_vessel_), pitcher (_who pitches_).
  pillar, piller.
  platter, plaiter.
  plumper (_adj._), plumper (_s._).
  sounder (_adj._), sounder (_who sounds_).
  cellar, seller, &c.


  actor, acta (_sanctorum_).
  brute, bruit.
  direst, diarist.
  descent, dissent.
  deviser, divisor.
  dual, duel.
  goffer, golfer.
  carrot, carat.
  caudle, caudal.
  choler, collar.
  compliment, complement.
  lumber, lumbar.
  lesson, lessen.
  literal, littoral.
  marshal, martial.
  minor, miner.
  manor, manner.
  medal, meddle.
  metal, mettle.
  missal, missel (_thrush_).
  orphan, often.
  putty, puttee.
  pedal, peddle.
  police, pelisse.
  principal, principle.
  profit, prophet.
  rigour, rigger.
  rancour, ranker.
  succour, sucker.
  sailor, sailer.
  cellar, seller.
  censor, censer.
  surplus, surplice.
  symbol, cymbal.
  skip, skep.
  tuber, tuba.
  whirl, whorl.
  wert, wort (_herb, obs._).
  vial, viol.
  verdure, verger (_in Jones_).


  adze, adds.
  art (_s._), art (_v._).
  bard, barred.
  band, banned.
  battels, battles (_bis_).
  baste, based.
  baize, bays (_bis_).
  bent, bent (_pp. bend_).
  bean, been.
  blue, blew.
  bode, bowed.
  bold, bowled, bolled (_obs._).
  bald, bawled.
  braid, brayed.
  bread, bred.
  brood, brewed.
  bruise, brews.
  depose, dépôts.
  divers (_adj._), divers (_plu._).
  dug (_teat_), dug (fr. _dig_).
  duct, ducked.
  dust, dost.
  daze, days.
  daisies, dazes (_both inflected_).
  doze, does (_plu. of doe_).
  aloud, allowed.
  fort, fought.
  found (_v._), found (fr. _find_)
  phase, fays (_pl. of fay_).
  felt (_stuff_), felt (fr. _feel_)
  furze, firs, and furs.
  feed (_s. and v._), fee'd.
  flatter (_v._), flatter (_adj._).
  phlox, flocks.
  phrase, frays.
  guise, guys (_plu._).
  gaud, gored.
  gauze, gores.
  guest, guessed.
  glose, glows.
  ground (_s._), ground (fr. _grind_).
  graze, greys.
  greaves, grieves.
  groan, grown.
  grocer, grosser.
  hire, higher.
  herd, heard.
  hist, hissed.
  hose, hoes.
  hawse (_naut._), haws, &c.
  eaves, eves.
  use (_v._), ewes, yews.
  candid, candied.
  clove (_s._), clove (fr. _cleave_).
  clause, claws.
  cold, coaled.
  courser, coarser.
  court, caught.
  cause, cores, caws.
  coir, coyer (fr. _coy_).
  crew (_s._), crew (fr. _crow_).
  quartz, quarts.
  lighter (_s._), lighter (fr. _light, adj._).
  lax, lacks, &c.
  lapse, laps, &c.
  lade (_v._), laid.
  lane, lain.
  lead (_mineral_), led.
  left (_adj._), left (fr. _leave_).
  Lent, leant, lent (fr. _lend_).
  least, leased.
  lees (_of wine_), leas, &c.
  lynx, links.
  mind, mined.
  madder (_plant_), madder (fr. _mad_).
  mustard, mustered.
  maid, made.
  mist, missed.
  mode, mowed.
  moan, mown.
  new, knew, &c.
  nose, knows, noes.
  aught (_a whit_), ought (fr. _owe_).
  pact, packed.
  paste, paced.
  pervade, purveyed.
  pyx, picks.
  please, pleas.
  pause, paws, pores.
  pride, pried [_bis_].
  prize, pries.
  praise, prays, preys.
  rouse, rows.
  rasher (_bacon_), rasher (fr. _rash_).
  raid, rayed.
  red, read (_p. of to read_).
  rex, wrecks, recks.
  road, rode, rowed.
  rote, wrote.
  rove (_v. of rover_), rove (fr. _reeve_).
  rose, rows (_var._), roes (_var._), rose (_v._).
  ruse, rues (fr. _rue_).
  side, sighed.
  size, sighs.
  scene, seen.
  seize, seas, sees.
  sold, soled (_both inflected_).
  sword, soared.
  sort, sought.
  span (_length_), span (fr. _spin_).
  spoke (_of wheel_), spoke (fr. _speak_).
  stole (_s._), stole (fr. _steal_).
  stove (_s._), stove (fr. _stave_).
  tide, tied.
  tax, tacks (_various_).
  tact, tacked.
  tease, teas, tees.
  toad, towed, toed.
  told, tolled.
  tract, tracked.
  trust, trussed.
  chaste, chased (_various_).
  choose, chews.
  throne, thrown.
  through, threw.
  wild, wiled.
  wind (_roll_), whined.
  wax, whacks.
  wade, weighed.
  weld, welled.
  word, whirred.
  wilt (_wither_), wilt (fr. _will_).
  ward, warred.
  wont, won't.
  warn, worn.


  beam, beam (_of light_).
  bit (_horse_), bit (_piece_), bit (fr. _bite_).
  brace, brace.
  diet, diet.
  deck (_cover_), deck (_adorn_).
  deal (_various_).
  dram (_drink_), drachm.
  drone (_insect_), drone (_sound_).
  jest, gest (_romance, and obs. senses_).
  jib (_sail_), jib (_of horses_).
  fine (_adj., v. senses_), fine (_mulct_).
  flower, flour.
  fleet (_s._), fleet (_adj._), Fleet (_stream_).
  grain (_corn_), grain (_fibre_).
  indite, indict.
  incense (_v. =cense_), incense (_incite_).
  kind (_adj._), kind (_s._).
  canvas, canvass.
  cuff (_sleeve_), cuff (_strife_).
  cousin, cozen.
  cord, chord (_music_).
  coin, coign.
  cotton (_s._), cotton (_v._).
  crank (_s._), crank (_adj._).
  quaver (_v._), quaver (_music_).
  levy, levee.
  litter (_brood_), litter (_straw_).
  mantle (_cloak_), mantle (_shelf_).
  mess (_confusion_), mess (_table_).
  mussel, muscle.
  nail (_unguis_), nail (_clavus_).
  patent (_open_), patent (_monopoly_).
  pommel (_s._), pummel (_v._).
  refrain (_v._), refrain (_s., in verse_).
  retort (_reply_), retort (_chemical vessel_).
  second (_number_), second (_of time_).
  squall (_v._), squall (_a gale_).
  slab (_s._), slab (_adj._).
  smart (_s. and v., sting_), smart (_adj._).
  stave (_of barrel_), stave (_of music_), [_stave in (v.)_].
  stick (_s._), stick (_v._).
  stock (_stone_), stock (_in trade_), &c.
  strut (_a support_), strut (_to walk_).
  share (_division_), share (_plough_).
  sheet (_sail and clew_), sheet (_-anchor_).
  shear (_clip_), sheer (_clear_), sheer off (_deviate_).
  tack (_various_), tack (_naut._).
  ton, tun.
  wage (_earnings_), wage (_of war_).


  ah! are.
  arse, ass.
  ask, aske (_newt_)
  ayah, ire.
  bah! bar, baa.
  barb, barb (_horse_).
  bask, basque.
  barn, barne = bairn.
  budge, budge (_stuff_).
  buff, buff.
  buffer, buffer.
  berg, burgh (_suffixes_).
  bin, bin = been.
  broke (_v._ of _broke_), broke (fr. _break_).
  broom, brume (_fog_).
  darn, darn.
  fizz, phiz.
  few, feu.
  forty, forte.
  hay, heigh!
  hem (_sew_), hem (_v._, _haw_).
  hollow, hollo (_v._).
  inn, in.
  yawl (_boat_), yawl (_howl_).
  coup, coo.
  lamb, lam (_bang_).
  loaf, loaf (_v. laufen_).
  marry! marry (_v._).
  nag (_pony_), nag (_to gnaw_), knag.
  nap (_of cloth_), nap (_sleep_).
  nay, neigh.
  oh! owe.
  ode, owed.
  oxide, ox-eyed.
  pax, packs.
  pants, pants (fr. _pant_).
  prose, pros (_and cons_).
  sink (_var._), cinque.
  swayed, suede (_kid_).
  ternary, turnery.
  tea, tee (_starting point_).
  taw (_to dress skins_), taw (_game, marbles_), tore (fr. _tear_).
  cheap, cheep.
  tool, tulle,
  we! woe.
  ho! hoe.

The facts of the case being now sufficiently supplied by the above
list, I will put my attitude towards those facts in a logical sequence
under separate statements, which thus isolated will, if examined one
by one, avoid the confusion that their interdependence might otherwise
occasion. The sequence is thus:

    1. Homophones are a nuisance.

    2. They are exceptionally frequent in English.

    3. They are self-destructive, and tend to become obsolete.

    4. This loss impoverishes the language.

    5. This impoverishment is now proceeding owing to the
    prevalence of the Southern English standard of speech.

    6. The mischief is being worsened and propagated by the

    7. The Southern English dialect has no claim to exclusive


An objector who should plead that homophones are not a nuisance might
allege the longevity of the Chinese language, composed, I believe,
chiefly of homophones distinguished from each other by an accentuation
which must be delicate difficult and precarious. I remember that Max
Müller [1864] instanced a fictitious sentence

  ba bà bâ bá,

'which (he wrote) is said to mean if properly accented _The three
ladies gave a box on the ear to the favourite of the princess._' This
suggests that the bleating of sheep may have a richer significance
than we are accustomed to suppose; and it may perhaps illustrate the
origin as well as the decay of human speech. The only question that it
raises for us is the possibility of distinguishing our own homophones
by accentuation or by slight differentiation of vowels; and this may
prove to be in some cases the practical solution, but it is not now
the point in discussion, for no one will deny that such delicate
distinctions are both inconvenient and dangerous, and should only
be adopted if forced upon us. I shall assume that common sense and
universal experience exonerate me from wasting words on the proof
that homophones are mischievous, and I will give my one example in a
note[8]; but it is a fit place for some general remarks.

[Footnote 8: The homophones sun = son. There is a Greek epigram on
Homer, wherein, among other fine things, he is styled,

  [Greek: Ellanon biotae deuteron aelion]

which Mackail translates 'a second sun on the life of Greece'. But
_second son_ in English means the second male child of its parents. It
is plain that the Greek is untranslatable into English because of the
homophone. _The thing cannot be said._

Donne would take this bull by the horns, pretending or thinking that
genuine feeling can be worthily carried in a pun. So that in his
impassioned 'hymn to God the Father', deploring his own sinfulness,
his climax is

  But swear by thyself that at my death Thy Sonne
  Shall shine as he shines now,

the only poetic force of which seems to lie in a covert plea of
pitiable imbecility.

Dr. Henry Bradley in 1913 informed the International Historical
Congress that the word _son_ had ceased to be vernacular in the
dialects of many parts of England. 'I would not venture to assert (he
adds) that the identity of sound with _sun_ is the only cause that has
led to the widespread disuse of _son_ in dialect speech, but I think
it has certainly contributed to the result.']

The objections to homophones are of two kinds, either scientific and
utilitarian, or æsthetic. The utilitarian objections are manifest, and
since confusion of words is not confined to homophones, the practical
inconvenience that is sometimes occasioned by slight similarities may
properly be alleged to illustrate and enforce the argument. I will
give only one example.

[Sidenote: Utilitarian objections not confined to homophones.]

The telephone, which seems to lower the value of differentiating
consonants, has revealed unsuspected likenesses. For instance the
ciphers, if written somewhat phonetically as usually pronounced, are

   0     1    2    3      4     5     6    7      8    9
  nawt  wun  too  three  fawr  faiv  six  sev'n  eit  nain

by which it will be seen that the ten names contain eight but only
eight different vowels, 0 and 4 having the same vowel _aw_, while 5
and 9 have _ai_. Both these pairs caused confusion; the first of them
was cured by substituting the name of the letter O for the name of
the zero cipher, which happens to be identical with it in form,[9] and
this introduced a ninth vowel sound _ou_ (= owe), but the other pair
remained such a constant source of error, that persons who had their
house put on the general telephonic system would request the Post
Office to give them a number that did not contain a 9 or a 5; and it
is pretty certain that had not the system of automatic dialling, which
was invented for quite another purpose, got rid of the trouble, one of
these two ciphers would have changed its name at the Post Office.

[Footnote 9: There is a coincidence of accidents--that the Arabic
sign for zero is the same with our letter O, and that the name of our
letter O (= owe) is the same as the present tense of _ought_, which
is the vulgar name (for nought) of the Arabic zero, and that its vowel
does not occur in the name of any cipher.]

[Sidenote: Æsthetic objections.]

In the effect of uniformity it may be said that utilitarian and
æsthetic considerations are generally at one; and this blank statement
must here suffice, for the principle could not be briefly dealt
with: but it follows from it that the proper æsthetic objections to
homophones are never clearly separable from the scientific. I submit
the following considerations. Any one who seriously attempts to write
well-sounding English will be aware how delicately sensitive our ear
is to the repetition of sounds. He will often have found it necessary
to change some unimportant word because its accented vowel recalled
and jarred with another which was perhaps as far as two or three lines
removed from it: nor does there seem to be any rule for this, since
apparently similar repetitions do not always offend, and may even be
agreeable. The relation of the sound to the meaning is indefinable,
but in homophones it is blatant; for instance the common expression
_It is well_ could not be used in a paragraph where the word well (=
well-spring) had occurred. Now, this being so, it is very inconvenient
to find the omnipresent words _no_ and _know_ excluding each other:
and the same is true of _sea_ and _see_; if you are writing of the
_sea_ then the verb _to see_ is forbidden, or at least needs some

  I see the deep's untrampled floor
  With green and purple seaweeds strewn:

here _seaweeds_ is risky, but _I see the sea's untrampled floor_ would
have been impossible: even the familiar

  The sea saw that and fled

is almost comical, especially because 'sea saw' has a most
compromising joint-tenant in the children's rocking game

  See saw Margery daw.

The awkwardness of these English homophones is much increased by the
absence of inflection, and I suppose it was the richness of their
inflections which made the Greeks so indifferent (apparently) to
syllabic recurrences that displease us: moreover, the likeness in
sound between their similar syllables was much obscured by a verbal
accent which respected the inflection and disregarded the stem,
whereas our accent is generally faithful to the root.[10] This
sensitiveness to the sound of syllables is of the essence of our best
English, and where the effect is most magical in our great poets it is
impossible to analyse.

[Footnote 10: Wherever this is not so--as in _rhétoric_, _rhetórical_,
_rhetorícian_, _cómpany_, _compánion_, &c.--we have a greater freedom
in the use of the words. Such words, as Dr. Bradley points out,
giving _Cánada_, _Canádian_ as example, are often phonetic varieties
due to an imported foreign syntax, and their pronunciation implies
familiarity with literature and the written forms: but very often
they are purely the result of our native syllabising, not only in
displacement of accent (as in the first example above) but also by
modification of the accented vowel according to its position in the
word, the general tendency being to make long vowels in monosyllables
and in penultimate accents, but short vowels in antepenultimate
accents. Thus come such differences of sound between _opus_ and
_opera_, _omen_ and _ominous_, _virus_ and _virulent_, _miser_ and
_miserable_, _nation_ and _national_, _patron_ and _patronage_,
_legal_ and _legislate_, _grave_ and _gravity_, _globe_ and
_globular_, _grade_ and _gradual_, _genus_ and _general_, _female_
and _feminine_, _fable_ and _fabulous_, &c. In such disguising of the
root-sound the main effect, as Dr. Bradley says, is the power to free
the derivative from an intense meaning of the root; so that, to take
his very forcible example, the adjective Christian, the derivative of
Christ, has by virtue of its shortened vowel been enabled to carry
a much looser signification than it could have acquired had it been
phonetically indissociable from the intense signification of the
name Christ. This freedom of the derivative from the root varies
indefinitely in different words, and it very much complicates my
present lesser statement of the literary advantage of phonetic variety
in inflexions and derivatives.

The examples above are all Latin words, and since Latin words came
into English through different channels, these particular vowels can
have different histories.]

Once become sensible of such beauty, and of the force of sounds,
a writer will find himself in trouble with _no_ and _know_. These
omnipresent words are each of them essentially weakened by the
existence of the other, while their proximity in a sentence is now
damaging. It is a misfortune that our Southern dialect should have
parted entirely with all the original differentiation between them;
for after the distinctive _k_ of the verb was dropped, the negative
still preserved (as it in some dialects still preserves) its broad
open vowel, more like _law_ than _toe_ or _beau_, and unless that be
restored I should judge that the verb _to know_ is doomed. The third
person singular of its present tense is _nose_, and its past tense
is _new_, and the whole inconvenience is too radical and perpetual
to be received all over the world. We have an occasional escape by
using _nay_ for _no_, since its homophone _neigh_ is an unlikely
_neigh_bour; but that can serve only in one limited use of the word,
and is no solution.

[Sidenote: Punnage.]

In talking with friends the common plea that I have heard for
homophones is their usefulness to the punster. 'Why! would you have
no puns?' I will not answer that question; but there is no fear of
our being insufficiently catered for; whatever accidental benefit
be derivable from homophones, we shall always command it fully and
in excess; look again at the portentous list of them! And since the
essential jocularity of a pun (at least when it makes me laugh) lies
in a humorous incongruity, its farcical gaiety may be heightened by
a queer pronunciation. I cannot pretend to judge a sophisticated
taste; but, to give an example, if, as I should urge, the _o_ of the
word _petrol_ should be preserved, as it is now universally spoken,
not having yet degraded into _petr'l_, a future squire will not be
disqualified from airing his wit to his visitors by saying, as he
points to his old stables, 'that is where I store my petrel', and when
the joke had been illustrated in _Punch_, its folly would sufficiently
distract the patients in a dentist's waiting-room for years to come,
in spite of gentlemen and chauffeurs continuing to say _petrol_, as
they do now; nor would the two _petr'ls_ be more dissimilar than the
two _mys_.

[Sidenote: Play on words.]

Puns must of course be distinguished from such a play on words as John
of Gaunt makes with his own name in Shakespeare's _King Richard II_.

  _K._ What comfort man? How is't with aged Gaunt?

  _G._ O, how that name befits my composition!
      Old Gaunt indeed, and gaunt in being old, &c.

where, as he explains,

  Misery makes sport to mock itself.

This is a humorous indulgence of fancy, led on by the associations
of a word; a pun is led off by the _sound_ of a word in pursuit of
nonsense; though the variety of its ingenuity may refuse so simple a

[Sidenote: An indirect advantage of homophones.]

It is true that a real good may sometimes come indirectly from a word
being a homophone, because its inconvenience in common parlance may
help to drive it into a corner where it can be retained for a special
signification: and since the special significance of any word is its
first merit, and the coinage of new words for special differentiation
is difficult and rare, we may rightly welcome any fortuitous means for
their provision. Examples of words specialized thus from homophones
are _brief_ (a lawyer's brief), _hose_ (water-pipe), _bolt_ (of door),
_mail_ (postal), _poll_ (election), &c.[11]

[Footnote 11: It would follow that, supposing there were any expert
academic control, it might be possible to save some of our perishing
homophones by artificial specialization. Such words are needed, and
if a homophone were thus specialized in some department of life or
thought, then a slight differential pronunciation would be readily
adopted. Both that and its defined meaning might be true to its


This is a reckless assertion; it may be that among the languages
unknown to me there are some that are as much hampered with homophones
as we are. I readily grant that with all our embarrassment of riches,
we cannot compete with the Chinese nor pretend to have outbuilt their
Babel; but I doubt whether the statement can be questioned if confined
to European languages. I must rely on the evidence of my list, and
I would here apologize for its incompleteness. After I had patiently
extracted it from the dictionary a good many common words that were
missing occurred to me now and again, and though I have added these,
there must be still many omissions. Nor must it be forgotten that, had
obsolete words been included, the total would have been far higher.
That must plainly be the case if, as I contend, homophony causes
obsolescence, and reference to the list from Shakespeare in my next
section will provide examples of such words.

Otto Jespersen[12] seems to think that the inconvenience of homophones
is so great that a language will naturally evolve some phonetic habit
to guard itself against them, although it would otherwise neglect such
distinction. I wish that this admirable instinct were more evident in
English. He writes thus of the lists of words which he gives 'to show
what pairs of homonyms [homophones] would be created if distinctions
were abolished that are now maintained: they [the lists] thus
demonstrate the force of resistance opposed to some of the
sound-changes which one might imagine as happening in the future. A
language can tolerate only a certain number of ambiguities arising
from words of the same sound having different significations, and
therefore the extent to which a language has utilized some phonetic
distinction to keep words apart, has some influence in determining the
direction of its sound-changes. In French, and still more in English,
it is easy to enumerate long lists of pairs of words differing from
each other only by the presence or absence of voice in the last
sound; therefore final _b_ and _p_, _d_ and _t_, _g_ and _k_, are kept
rigidly apart; in German, on the other hand, there are very few
such pairs, and thus nothing counterbalances the natural tendency to
unvoice final consonants.'

[Footnote 12: _A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles_,
by Otto Jespersen, Heidelberg, 1909. Streitberg's _Germanische
Bibliothek_, vol. i, p. 441.]

3. _That homophones are self-destructive and tend to become obsolete._

For the contrary contention, namely, that homophones do _not_
destroy themselves, there is prima facie evidence in the long list of
survivors, and in the fact that a vast number of words which have not
this disadvantage are equally gone out of use.

[Sidenote: Causes of obsolescence.]

Words fall out of use for other reasons than homophony, therefore one
cannot in any one case assume that ambiguity of meaning was the active
cause: indeed the mere familiarity of the sound might prolong a word's
life; and homophones are themselves frequently made just in this way,
for uneducated speakers will more readily adapt a familiar sound to a
new meaning (as when my gardener called his Pomeranian dog a Panorama)
than take the trouble to observe and preserve the differentiation of a
new sound. There is no rule except that any loss of distinction may be
a first step towards total loss.[13]

[Footnote 13: To give an example of this. In old Greek _we_ and _you_
were [Greek: aemeis] and [Greek: umeis]: and those words became
absolutely homophonous, so that one of them had to go. The first
person naturally held on to its private property, and it invented
_sets_ for outsiders. Now the first step towards this absurdest of
all homophonies, the identity of _meum_ and _tuum_, was no doubt the
modification of the true full _u_ to _ii_. The ultimate convenience
of the result may in itself be applauded; but it is inconceivable
that modern Greek should ever compensate itself for its inevitable
estrangement from its ancient glories.]

It is probable that the working machinery of an average man's brain
sets a practical limit to his convenient workable vocabulary; that is
to say, a man who can easily command the spontaneous use of a certain
number of words cannot much increase it without effort. If that is
so, then, as he learns new words, there will be a tendency, if not a
necessity, for him to lose hold of a corresponding number of his old
words; and the words that will first drop out will be those with which
he had hitherto been uncomfortable; and among those words will be the
words of ambiguous meaning.

[Sidenote: No direct proof]

It is plain that only general considerations can be of value, unless
there should be very special evidence in any special case; and thus
the caution of Dr. Henry Bradley's remarks in note on page 19.

I remember how I first came to recognize this law; it was from hearing
a friend advocating the freer use of certain old words which, though
they were called obsolete and are now rarely heard, yet survive in
local dialects. I was surprised to find how many of them were unfit
for resuscitation because of their homophonic ambiguity, and when
I spoke of my discovery to a philological friend, I found that he
regarded it as a familiar and unquestioned rule.

But to prove this rule is difficult; and as it is an impossible task
to collect all the obsolete words and classify them, I am proposing to
take two independent indications; first to separate out the homophones
from the other obsolete words in a Shakespearian glossary, and
secondly, to put together a few words that seem to be actually going
out of use in the present day, that is, strictly obsolescent words
caught in the act of flitting.

[Sidenote: Obsolescence defined.]

Obsolescence in this connexion must be understood only of common
educated speech, that is, the average speaker's vocabulary.
Obsolescent words are old words which, when heard in talk, will sound
literary or unusual: in literature they can seem at home, and will
often give freshness without affectation; indeed, any word that has an
honourable place in Shakespeare or the Bible can never quite die, and
may perhaps some day recover its old vitality.

[Sidenote: Evidence of obsolescence.]

The best evidence of the obsolescence of any word is that it should
still be frequently heard in some proverb or phrase, but never out
of it. The homophonic condition is like that of _aural_ and _oral_,
of which it is impossible to make practical use.[14] We speak of an
_aural surgeon_ and of _oral teaching_, but out of such combinations
the words have no sense. It happens that oral teaching must be aural
on the pupil's side, but that only adds to the confusion.

[Footnote 14: The words _aural_ and _oral_ are distinguished in
the pronunciation of the North Midlands and in Scotland, and the
difference between the first syllables is shown in the Oxford
dictionary. In Southern English no trace of differentiation remains.]

In deciding whether any obsolete homophone has been lost by its
homophony, I should make much of the consideration whether the word
had supplied a real need, by naming a conception that no other word
so fitly represented; hence its survival in a proverb is of special
value, because the words of proverbs are both apt and popular; so that
for the disuse of such a word there would seem to be no other cause so
likely and sufficient as damage to its signification.

The glossary is relied on to contain, besides its other items, all
the obsolete words: the homophones separated out from these will show
various grades of obsolescence, and very different values as examples
bearing on the question at issue.

_Table of homophones taken from among the obsolete words in Cunliffe's
'A New Shakespearean Dictionary,' Blackie_, 1910.]

    ANCIENT: replaced by ensign.

    BATE = remit.

    BECK = a bow of the head: preserved in 'becks and nods',
    mutual loss with beck = rivulet.

    BOOT = to profit: Sh. puns on it, showing that its absurdity
    was recognized.

    BOTTLE (of hay): preserved in proverb.

    BOURNE = streamlet: preserved in sense of limit by the line of
    Sh. which perhaps destroyed it.

    BREEZE = gadfly.

    BRIEF (_subs._): now only as a lawyer's brief.

    BROOK (_verb_).

    BUCK = to steep (linen) in lye.

    COTE: as in sheepcote.

    DOLE = portion, and dole = sorrow: probably active mutual
    destruction; we still retain 'to dole out'.


    DUN (_adj._): now only in combination as dun-coloured.

    EAR = to plough.

    FAIN and FEIGN: prob. mutual loss due to undefined sense of
    FAIN. n.b. FANE also obsolete.

    FEAT (_adj._) and FEATLY: well lost.


    FIT = section of a poem.

    FLAW: now confined to a flaw in metal, &c.

    FLEET (_verb_) and FLEETING, as in the sun-dial motto, 'Time
    like this shade doth fleet and fade.'

    FOIL: common verb, obsolete.

    GEST: lost in _jest_.

    GIRD = to scoff: an old well-established word.

    GOUT = a drop of liquor.

    GUST = taste (well lost).

    HALE = haul (well lost).

    HIGHT = named.

    HOAR: only kept in combination, hoar-frost, hoar hairs.

    HOSE: lost, though hosier remains, but specialized in
    _garden-hose, &c._

    HUE: not now used of colour.

    IMBRUED (with blood): prob. lost in _brewed_.

    JADE: almost confined to _jaded_(?).

    KEEL = cool.

    LIST: as in 'as you list'.

    MAIL: now only in combination, coat of mail, &c.


    MATED = confused in mind (well lost).

    MEED: lost in _mead_ = meadow (also obs.) _and

    METE and METELY = fitting, also METE in 'mete it out', both
    lost in _meet_ and _meat_.

    MERE (_subs._).

    MOUSE (_verb_): to bite and tear.

    MOW = a grimace.

    MUSE = to wonder: lost in _amuse_ and _Muse_.

    NEAT = ox.

    OUNCE = pard.

    PALL = to fail.

    PEAK: survives only in 'peak and pine' and in _peaky_.

    PELTING = paltry, also PELT = a skin, lost.

    PILL = to plunder.

    PINK = ornamental slashing of dress.

    POKE = pocket.

    POLL = to cut the hair.

    QUARRY (as used in sport).

    QUEAN = a woman.

    RACK (of clouds).

    RAZE (to the ground). The meaning being the very opposite of
    _raise_, the word _raze_ is intolerable.

    REDE = counsel, n.b. change of meaning.

    RHEUM: survives in rheumatic, &c.

    SCALD = scurvy (_adj._).

    SLEAVE = a skein of silk, 'The ravelled sleave of care',
    usually misinterpreted, the equivocal alternative making
    excellent sense.

    SOUSE _(verb):_ of a bird of prey swooping.

    SPEED: as in 'St. Francis be thy speed' = help, aid.

    STALE = bait or decoy (well lost).

    TARRE: to 'tarre a dog on' = incite.

    TICKLE = unstable.

    TIRE = to dress (the hair, &c.).

    VAIL = to let fall.


Besides the above may be noted

    WONT (_sub._): lost in _won't_ = will not.

    FAIR: Though we still speak of 'a fair complexion' the
    word has lost much of its old use: and the verb TO FARE has
    suffered; we still say 'Farewell', but scarcely 'he fares
    ill'; also TO FARE FORTH is obsolete.

    BOLT = to sift, has gone out, also BOLT in the sense of a
    missile weapon; but the weapon may have gone first; we still
    preserve it in 'a bolt from the blue', a thunder-bolt, and 'a
    fool's bolt is soon shot', and we shoot the bolt of a door.

    BARM: this being the name of an object which would be familiar
    only to brewers and bakers, probably suffered from the
    discontinuance of family brewing and baking. It would no
    longer be familiar, and may possibly have felt the blurring
    effect of the ill-defined BALM, which word also seems rarely
    used. In the South of England few persons now know what barm

    ARCH: _adj._, probably obsolescent.

There are also examples of words with the affix a-, or initials
simulating that affix, thus:

    ABY: lost in _abide_, with which it was confused.

    ABODE = bode (? whether ever in common use).

    ACCITE: lost in _excite_.

    ASSAY: quite a common word, lost in _say_ (?)

    ATONE: lost in _tone_.

and thus _attempt_, _attaint_, _attest_, _avail_, all suffered from
_tempt_, _taint_, _test_, _veil_, whereas _attend_ seems to have
destroyed _tend_.

_Table of homophones that may seem to be presently falling out of

  augur (_v._).
  bray (_pound_).
  dun (_colour_).
  fell (_skin_).
  flue (_velu_).
  fray (_sub._).
  fry (_small-_).
  gin (_snare_).
  gird (_abuse_).
  gore (_blood_).
  hue (_colour_).
  let (_hinder_).
  march (_boundary_).
  mute (_of birds_).
  neat (_animal_).
  pale (_enclosure_).
  pall (_v._).
  pen (_enclose_).
  pelt (_skin_).
  pile (_hair_).
  pink (_v._).
  pulse (_pease_).
  rail (_chide_).
  repair (_resort_).
  sack (_v._).
  sage (_adj._).
  sallow (_willow_).
  spray (_sprig_).
  still (_adj._ n.b. _keep still_).
  toil (_snare_).
  van (_fan_).
  vail (_v._).
  wage (_war_).

[Footnote 15: Some of the words in this table are also in the last
list. This list is an attempt to tabulate words falling out of use or
seldom heard now in the conversation of average educated persons who
talk Southern English or what is called P.S.P. (see p. 38); to some
of them the word may be unknown, and if it is known, they avoid using
it because it sounds to them strange or affected. It is difficult to
_prove_ that any particular word is in this condition, and the list
is offered tentatively. It is made from Jones' dictionary, which is
therefore allowed to rule whether the word is obsolescent rather than
obsolete: some of these seem to be truly obsolete. Some will appear
to be convincing examples of obsolescence, others not; but it must be
remembered that the fact of a word being still commonly heard in some
district or trade (though that may seem to show that it is in 'common
use') is no evidence that it is not dying out; it is rather
evidence that it was lately more living, which is the same as being


New words are being added to the dictionary much faster than old words
are passing out of use, but it is not a question of numbers nor of
dictionaries. A chemist told me that if the world were packed all over
with bottles as close as they could stand, he could put a different
substance into each one and label it. And science is active in all her
laboratories and will print her labels. If one should admit that as
many as ninety-nine per cent. of these artificial names are neither
literary nor social words, yet some of them are, since everything that
comes into common use must have a name that is frequently spoken.
Thus _baik_, _sackereen_, and _mahjereen_ are truly new English
word-sounds; and it may be, if we succumb to anarchical communism,
that margarine and saccharine will be lauded by its dissolute mumpers
as enthusiastically as men have hitherto praised and are still
praising butter and honey. 'Bike' certainly would have already won a
decent place in poetry had it been christened more gracefully and not
nicknamed off to live in backyards with cab and bus. The whole subject
of new terms is too vast to be parenthetically handled, and I hope
that some one will deal with it competently in an early publication
of the S.P.E. The question must here remain to be determined by the
evidence of the words in the table of obsoletes, which I think is
convincing; my overruling contention being that, however successful
we may be in the coinage of new words (and we have no reason to boast
of success) and however desirable it is to get rid of some of the bad
useless homophones, yet we cannot afford to part with any old term
that can conveniently be saved.

We have the best Bible in the world, and in Shakespeare the greatest
poet; we have been suckled on those twin breasts, and our children
must have degenerated if they need asses' milk. Nor is it only because
the old is better than the new that we think thus. If we speak more
proudly of Trafalgar than of Zeebrugge, it is not because Trafalgar
is so far finer a sounding word than Zeebrugge, as indeed it is, nor
because we believe that the men of Nelson's time were better than
our men of to-day, we know they were not, but because the spirit that
lives on ideals will honour its parents; and it is thinking in this
way that makes noble action instinctive and easy. Nelson was present
at Zeebrugge leading our sailors, as Shakespeare is with us leading
our writers, and no one who neglects the rich inheritance to which
Englishmen are born is likely ever to do any credit to himself or his


[Sidenote: Evidence of Jones' dictionary.]

Evidence of the present condition of our ruling educated speech in the
South of England I shall take from Mr. Daniel Jones' dictionary,[16]
the authority of which cannot, I think, be disputed. It is true that
it represents a pronunciation so bad that its slovenliness is likely
to be thought overdone, but there is no more exaggeration than any
economical system of phonetic spelling is bound to show. It is indeed
a strong and proper objection to all such simplifications that they
are unable to exhibit the finer distinctions; but this must not imply
that Mr. Jones' ear is lacking in delicate perception, or that he is
an incompetent observer. If he says, as he does say, that the second
syllable in the words _obloquy_ and _parasite_ are spoken by educated
Londoners with the same vowel-sound (which he denotes by [e], that is
the sound of _er_ in the word _danger_), then it is true that they are
so pronounced, or at least so similarly that a trained ear refuses to
distinguish them [óbl_er_quy, pár_er_site].

[Footnote 16: _A Phonetic Dictionary of the English Language_, by
Hermann Michaelis, Headmaster of the Mittelschule in Berlin, and
Daniel Jones, M.A., Lecturer on Phonetics at University College,
London, 1913. There is a second edition of this book in which the
words are in the accustomed alphabetical order of their literary

To this an objector might fairly reply that Mr. Jones could
distinguish the two sounds very well if it suited him to do so;
but that, as it is impossible for him to note them in his defective
phonetic script, he prefers to confuse them. I shall not lose sight
of this point,[17] but here I will only say that, if there really is a
difference between these two vowels in common talk, then if Mr. Jones
can afford to disregard it it must be practically negligible, and
other phoneticians will equally disregard it, as the Oxford Press has
in its smaller dictionary.

[Footnote 17: I am not likely to forget it or to minimize it, for it
is my own indictment against Mr. Jones' system, and since his practice
strongly supports my contention I shall examine it and expose it
(see p. 43); but the objection here raised is not really subversive
of my argument here, as may be judged from the fact that the Oxford
University Press has adopted or countenanced Mr. Jones' standard in
their small popular edition of the large dictionary.]

[Sidenote: Its trustworthiness.]

I suppose that thirty years ago it would have been almost impossible
to find any German who could speak English so well as to pass for
a native: they spoke as Du Maurier delighted to represent them in
_Punch_. During the late war, however, it has been no uncommon thing
for a German soldier to disguise himself in English uniform and
enter our trenches, relying on his mastery of our tongue to escape
suspicion; and it was generally observed how many German prisoners
spoke English _like a native_. Now this was wholly due to their having
been taught Southern English on Mr. Jones' model and method.

Again, those who would repudiate the facts that I am about to
reveal, and who will not believe that in their own careless talk
they themselves actually pronounce the words very much as Mr. Jones
prints them,[18] should remember that the sounds of speech are now
mechanically recorded and reproduced, and the records can be compared;
so that it would betray incompetence for any one in Mr. Jones'
position to misrepresent the facts, as it would be folly in him to go
to the trouble and expense of making such a bogus book as his would be
were it untrue; nor could he have attained his expert reputation had
he committed such a folly.

[Footnote 18: This is a very common condition. The habitual
pronunciation is associated in the mind with the familiar eye-picture
of the literary printed spelling so closely that it is difficult for
the speaker to believe that he is not uttering the written sounds; but
he is not competent to judge his own speech. For instance, almost all
Englishmen believe that the vowel which we write _u_ in _but_, _ugly_,
_unknown_, &c., is really a _u_, like the _u_ in _full_, and not a
disguised _a_; and because the written _s_ is sometimes voiced they
cannot distinguish between _s_ and _z_, nor without great difficulty
separate among the plural terminations those that are spoken with an
_s_ from those that are spoken with a _z_. I was shocked when I first
discovered my own delusions in such matters, and I still speak the bad
Southern English that I learnt as a child and at school. I can hardly
forgive my teachers and would not myself be condemned in a like

Again, and in support of the trustworthiness of the records, I am
told by those concerned in the business that for some years past no
Englishman could obtain employment in Germany as teacher of English
unless he spoke the English vowels according to the standard of
Mr. Jones' dictionary; and it was a recognized device, when such an
appointment was being considered, to request the applicant to speak
into a machine and send the record by post to the Continent; whereupon
he was approved or not on that head by the agreement of the record
with the standard which I am about to illustrate from the dictionary.

All these considerations make a strong case for the truth of Mr.
Jones' representation of our 'standard English', and his book is the
most trustworthy evidence at my disposal: but before exhibiting it
I would premise that our present fashionable dialect is not to be
considered as the wanton local creator of all the faults that Mr.
Jones can parade before the eye. Its qualities have come together in
various ways, nor are the leading characteristics of recent origin.
I am convinced that our so-called standard English sprang actively
to the fore in Shakespeare's time, that in the Commonwealth years
our speech was in as perilous a condition as it is to-day, and at the
Restoration made a self-conscious recovery, under an impulse very like
that which is moving me at the present moment; for I do not look upon
myself as expressing a personal conviction so much as interpreting
a general feeling, shared I know by almost all who speak our tongue,
Americans, Australians, Canadians, Irish, New Zealanders, and Scotch,
whom I range alphabetically lest I should be thought to show prejudice
or bias in any direction. But this is beyond the present purpose,
which is merely to exhibit the tendency which this so-called
degradation has to create homophones.

[Sidenote: Mauling of words.]

As no one will deny that homophones are to be made by mauling words, I
will begin by a selection of words from Mr. Jones' dictionary showing
what our Southern English is doing with the language. I shall give in
the first column the word with its literary spelling, in the second
Mr. Jones' phonetic representation of it, and in the third column an
attempt to represent that sound to the eye of those who cannot read
the phonetic script, using such makeshift spellings as may be found
in any novel where the pronunciation of the different speakers is

  _Examples from Mr. Jones' Pronouncing Dictionary._[19]

  parsonage.             p[a]:s[n.]i[dz] [-sn-]   pahs'nidge _or_
  picture.               pik[ts][e]               pictsher.
  scriptural.            skrip[ts][er]r[er]l      scriptshererl _or_
  temperature.           tempri[ts][e]            tempritsher.
  interest.              intrist                  intrist.
  senator.               senit[e] _and_           senniter _and_
                           sen[e]tor                sennertor.
  blossoming.            bl[o]s[e]mi[ng]          blosserming.
  natural.               næ[ts]r[er]l             natshrerl _or_
  orator.                [o]r[e]t[e]              orrerter.
  rapturous.             ræp[ts][er]r[e]s         raptsherers _or_
  parasite.              pær[e]sait               parrersite.
  obloquy.               [o]bl[e]kwi              oblerquy.
  syllogise.             sil[e][dz]aiz            sillergize.
  equivocal.             ikwiv[e]k[er]l           ikwívverk'l.
  immaterial.            im[e]ti[e]ri[e]l         immertierierl.
  miniature.             mini[ts][e]              minnitsher.
  extraordinary.         ikstr[o]:dnri            ikstrordnry.
  salute.                s[e]lu:t [-lju:-]        serloot _and_
  solution.              s[e]lu:[s][e]n [-lju:-]  serloosh'n _and_
  subordinate (_adj._).  s[e]b[o]:d[n.]it         serbord'nit.
  sublime.               s[e]blaim                serblime.

[Footnote 19: The dictionary allows mitigated variants of some of
these words.]

In culling these flowers of speech I was not blind to their great
picturesque merits, but they must not be taken for jokes, at least
they must not be thought of as conjuring smiles on the faces of
Messrs. Jones, Michaelis and Rippmann: they are deadly products of
honest study and method, and serious evidence whereby any one should
be convinced that such a standard of English pronunciation is likely
to create homophones: and yet in searching the dictionary I have not
found it guilty of many new ones.[20] For examples of homophones
due to our 'standard' speech one might take first the 20 _wh_- words
(given on page 14) which have lost their aspirate, and with them the
9 _wr_- words: next the 36 words in table iv and note, which have lost
their trilled _R_: and then the 41 words from table vi on page 15; and
that would start us with some 100 words, the confusion of which is
due to our Southern English pronunciation, since the differentiation
of all these words is still preserved in other dialects. The
differentiation of these 100 words would of course liberate their
twins, so the total number of gains should be doubled.

[Footnote 20: A fair list might no doubt be made; the most amusing
item would be--_Ophelia_ = _aphelia_: then _illusion_ = _elusion_,
_paten_ = _pattern_, _seaman_ = _seamen_, _phial_ = _file_, _custody_
= _custardy_, and of course _verdure_ = _verger_ and _fissure_ =
_fisher_. It would also allow _partition_ = _petition_, _proscribe_
= _prescribe_, and _upbraid_ = _abrade_! I take these from the first

[Sidenote: Example of one class.]

But number is not so important as the quality and frequency of the
words involved, so I will instance one class in detail, namely the
words in which _aw_ and _or_ are confused. Here are a dozen of them:

  core = caw.
  door = daw*.
  floor = flaw*.
  hoar* = haw.
  lore* = law.
  more = maw*.
  oar, ore = awe*.
  pore = paw.
  roar = raw.
  soar, sore = saw, saw.
  tore = taw.
  yore* = yaw.

Of these 12 words, 6 exhibit stages or symptoms of obsolescence. I
should think it extremely unlikely that _yore_ has been in any way
incommoded by _yaw_; and _flaw_, which is now more or less cornered
to one of its various meanings, was probably affected more by its own
ambiguities than by _floor_; but others seem to be probable examples:
_shaw_ and _lore_, and I think _maw_, are truly obsoletes, while
_hoar_ and _daw_ are heard only in combination. _Awe_ is heard only in
_awful_, and has there lost its significance. I should guess that this
accident has strengthened its severity in literature, where it asserts
its aloofness sometimes with a full spelling [_aweful_] as in speech
two pronunciations are recognized, _awful_ and _awf'l_.

Now how do these words appear in Jones' dictionary? If there is to be
any difference between the _aw_ and _ore_ sounds either the _R_ must
be trilled as it still is in the north, or some vestige of it must
be indicated, and such indication would be a lengthening of the _o_
(=_aw_) sound by the vestigial voicing of the lost trill, such as is
indicated in the word _o'er_, and might be roughly shown to the eye by
such a spelling as _shawer_ for _shore_ [thus _shaw_ would be [s][o]:
and _shore_ would be [s][o]:[e]] and such distinction is still made
by our more careful Southern English speakers, and is recognized as an
existent variant by Jones.

Since the circumflex accent properly indicates a rise and fall of
voice-pitch on a vowel-sound such as almost makes a disyllable of a
monosyllable (e.g. in Milton's verse the word _power_ may fill either
one or two places in the line) I will adopt it here to denote this
fuller and differentiating pronunciation of _ore_.

Now to all these words, and to the finals of such words as _ad[ore]_,
_impl[ore]_, _ign[ore]_, Jones gives the diphthongal _aw_ as the
normal South English pronunciation, and he allows the longer _[ore]_
sound only as a variant, putting this variant in the second place.

Hence, all these _[ore]_ words are being encouraged to cast off the
last remnant of their differentiation, which it is admitted that they
have not yet quite lost.[21]

[Footnote 21: The two editions of Jones' dictionary do not exactly
correspond, e.g. in the first edition the words _boar_ and _bore_
are under _baw_, and no other pronunciation is mentioned. But in the
second edition _b[ore]_ and _b[oar]_ are allowed as variants. In the
first edition _four_, _fore_ and _for_ are all under _faw_ [f[e]:],
and I find _pour_, _pore_, and _poor_ all under _paw_, though in every
case there are variants, and on p. 404 he records that _shore_ and
_sure_ may be pronounced alike. Again, in the first edition, _yerr_
[j[e]:] is one normal for _year_ and also dialectal for _ear_ (!),
while in the second edition only _y[ear]_ [ji:] is given for _year_,
and _yerr_ is not mentioned at all. As I am sure that this sort
of stuff must be almost more tedious and annoying to read than it
is to write, I desist from further details, but cannot resist the
opportunity of pointing out that in their English pronunciation of
Latin our classical teachers and professors have wantonly introduced
this mischievous homophony of _au_ and _or_ into Latin, although the
proper pronunciation of the 'diphthong' _au_ in Latin is not like our
_awe_, but like the _ou_ of _out_. Thus with them _corda_ and _cauda_
are similar sounds, and the sacred _Sursum corda_ means 'Cock your
tail' just as much as it means 'Lift up your hearts'.]


[Sidenote: The use of phonetics in education.]

The phoneticians are doing useful work in supplying an educational
need. By the phonetic system any spoken language can now be learned
quickly and easily, just as by the _sol-fa_ system the teaching of
music was made easy and simple. If a clergyman who had no practical
knowledge of music were offered the post of minor canon in a
cathedral, he would find it very difficult to qualify himself
passably, whereas any village schoolboy could learn all the music
necessary for such an office, and learn that solidly too and soundly
and durably, in a few lessons, truly in a few hours, by the _sol-fa_
method. The principle is the same in music and in speech, namely to
have a distinct symbol for every separate sound; in music it is a
name, the idea of which quickly becomes indissociable from the note
of the scale which it indicates; in phonetics it is a written letter,
which differs from the units of our literary alphabet only in this,
that it has but one meaning and interpretation, and really is what all
letters were originally intended to be. When you see it you know what
it means.

[Sidenote: Its general adoption certain.]

The principle is but common sense, and practice confirms its validity.
I am persuaded that as soon as competition has exposed the advantages
which it ensures, not only in the saving of time, but in the rescuing
of English children from the blighting fog through which their tender
minds are now forced to struggle on the first threshold of life,[22]
then all spoken languages will be taught on that method. What now
chiefly hinders its immediate introduction is not so much the real
difficulty of providing a good simple system, as the false fear
that all our literature may take on the phonetic dress; and this
imagination is frightful enough to be a bugbear to reasonable people,
although, so far as one can see, there is no more danger of this
result than there is of all music appearing in sol-fa notation.

[Footnote 22: This is no exaggeration. Let a humane teacher think what
an infant's mind is, the delicate bud of intelligence opening on the
world, eager to adjust its awakening wonder to the realities of life,
absolutely simple, truthful, and receptive, reaching out its tender
faculties like the sensitive antennae of a new-born insect, that
feel forth upon the unknown with the faultless instinct of eternal
mind--one has only to imagine that condition to realize that the
most ingenious malignity could hardly contrive anything to offer it
so perplexing, cramping, and discouraging as the unintelligible and
unreasonable absurdities of English literary spelling. That it somehow
generally wrestles through is only a demonstration of the wrong that
is done to it; and I would say, better leave it alone to find its
own way, better teach it nothing at all, than worry it with the
incomprehensible, indefensible confusion of such nonsense.]

[Sidenote: Demand of the market.]

Now here is a promising field for adventure. Not only is the creation
of a new fount of type an elaborate and expensive process, but the
elaboration of a good system and its public recognition when produced
involve much time; so that any industrial company that is early in
the market with a complete apparatus and a sufficient reputation will
carry all before it, and be in a position to command and secure great
monetary profit.

There is no doubt that the field is now strongly held by the
Anglo-Prussian society which Mr. Jones represents.[23]

[Footnote 23: The peril that we are in of having Mr. Jones' degraded
pronunciation thus sprung upon us in England and taught in all our
schools is really threatening. Indeed, as things are, there is little
prospect of escaping from it, supposing the democracy should once
awake to the commercial and spiritual advantages of teaching language
phonetically: and that would seem to be only a question of time: the
demand may come at any moment, and a complete machinery which has
been skilfully prepared to meet the demand will offer practical
conveniences to outbalance every other consideration.

Even supposing the authorities in the Education Department
sufficiently alive to the situation which it is the purpose of this
section of my essay to bring to the fore, yet even then, were they all
unanimous, they could not give effect to their convictions, because--

They are forbidden to recommend or give preference to any particular
book. They may not order or prohibit the use of any book, however good
or bad they may know it to be, and they probably desire to avoid the
suspicion of favouring the authors of books that have the advantage of
national circulation.

However that may be, it is a lamentable situation that our
high-salaried Board of Education, composed of the best trained
intelligence of the country, should not be allowed to exercise its
discretion efficiently. The people, no doubt, cannot be agreed as to
the principles on which they desire to be educated, whether political,
official, or religious, and they deprecate official control in such
matters. Every one objecting to some principle, they consent in
requiring that the central authority should have no principle at all;
but this lack of principle should not be extended to paralyse action
in questions that demand expert knowledge and judgement, such as
this question of phonetic teaching--and it shows that the public by
grudging authority to their own officers may only fall under a worse
tyranny, which they will suffer just because it has no authority.]

In the preceding section Mr. Jones' dictionary was taken as authority
for the actual condition of Southern English pronunciation. It must
now be considered in its other aspect, namely as the authoritative
phonetic interpretation of our speech; my contention being that it is
a wrong and mischievous interpretation.

It is difficult to keep these two questions quite apart. The first,
which was dealt with in Section 5, was that Southern English
is actively productive of homophones. This present Section 6 is
contending that the mischief is being encouraged and propagated by the
phoneticians, and Mr. Jones' books are taken as an example of their

[Sidenote: Fault of Mr. Jones' method.]

The reason why the work of these phoneticians is so mischievous is
that they have chosen too low a standard of pronunciation.

The defence that they would make would be something like this.

They might argue with some confidence, and not without a good show of
reason, that the actual 'vernacular' talk of the people is the living
language of any country: they would allege that a spoken language is
always changing, and always will change; that the actual condition of
it is the only scientific, and indeed the only possible basis for any
system of tuition; and that it is better to be rather in advance of
change than behind it, since the changes proceed inevitably by laws
which education has no power to resist, nay, so inevitably that
science can in some measure foresee the future.

This would, I suppose, fairly represent Mr. Jones' contention. Indeed,
he plainly asserts that his work is merely a record of existing facts,
and he even says that he chose Southern English because it is most
familiar and observable, and therefore capable of providing him with
sufficient phenomena: and he might say that what I call 'low' in his
standard is only the record of a stage of progression which I happen
to dislike or have not nearly observed. And yet the argument is full
of fallacies: and the very position that he assumes appears to me to
be unsound. It is well enough to record a dialect, nor will any one
grudge him credit for his observation and diligence, but to reduce a
dialect to theoretic laws and then impose those laws upon the speakers
of it is surely a monstrous step. And in this particular instance the
matter is complicated by the fact that Southern English is not truly a
natural dialect; Mr. Jones himself denotes it as P.S.P.=Public School
Pronunciation, and that we know to be very largely a social convention
dependent on fashion and education, and inasmuch as it is a product
of fashion and education it is not bound by the theoretical laws
which Mr. Jones would attribute to it; while for the same reason it is
unfortunately susceptible of being affected by them, if they should be
taught with authority. These phoneticians would abuse a false position
which they have unwarrantably created. This Southern English, this
P.S.P., is a 'fashionable' speech, fashionable that is in two senses;
and Mr. Jones would fashion it.

[Sidenote: judged by practical effects.]

But I wish to put my case practically, and, rather than argue, I would
ask what are the results of learning English on Mr. Jones' system?
What would be the condition of a man who had learnt in this way?

[Sidenote: His three styles.]

I shall assume that the pupil has learnt his pronunciation from the
dictionary, the nature of which is now known to my readers: but they
should also know that Mr. Jones recognizes and teaches three different
styles, which he calls the A, B, and C styles, 'A, the pronunciation
suitable for recitation or reading in public; B, the pronunciation
used in careful conversation, or reading aloud in private; and C, the
pronunciation used in rapid conversation.'

In a polemic against Mr. Jones his adversary has therefore to combat a
dragon with three heads, and the heroic method would be to strike all
three of them off at one blow. To effect this it seems to me that one
has only to remark that a system which is forced to teach a dialect
[a dialect, observe, not a language] in three forms where one is
sufficient, is _ipso facto_ condemned. This objection I will establish
presently; at present I am content to confine my attention to one
head, for I maintain that in practice those who will take the trouble
to learn three forms of one speech must be a negligible number;
the practical pupils will generally be content to master one, and
that will, no doubt, be the highly recommended style B, and its
corresponding dictionary; they will rule out A and C as works
of supererogation; and indeed those would be needless if B were

[Sidenote: In deliberate repititions.]

So, then, we are asking what is the condition of a man who has learned
the dictionary standard?

(1) In common talk if we speak so indistinctly as not to be
understood, we repeat our sentence with a more careful articulation.
As Sweet used to say, the only security against the decay of language
through careless articulation into absolute unintelligibility is the
personal inconvenience of having to repeat your words when you are
indistinctly heard. 'What' leaps out from the dictionary with a shout
to the rescue of all his fellows. And when you have experienced
this warcry 'what? what?' oftener than you like, you will raise the
standard of your pronunciation (just as you would raise your voice to
a deaf listener) merely to save yourself trouble, even though you were
insensible to the shame of the affront.

[Sidenote: In asseveration.]

And this more careful articulation obtains also in all _asseveration_.
A speaker who wishes to provoke attention to any particular statement
or sentiment will speak the words by which he would convey it more
slowly and with more careful articulation than the rest of his

Under both these common conditions the man who has learned only the
vernacular of Mr. Jones' phonetics has no resource but to emphasize
with all their full horrors words like _seprit_, _sin'kerpate_,
_din'ersty_, _ernoin't_, _mis'ernthrope_, _sym'perthy_,
_mel'ernkerly_, _mel'erdy_, _serspe'ct_, _erno'y_, &c.[24], which
when spoken indistinctly in careless talk may pass muster, but when
accurately articulated are not only vulgar and absurd, but often

[Footnote 24: Writing _er_, always unaccented, for [e].]

[Sidenote: In public speaking.]

(2) Again, public speakers use a pronunciation very different from
that in the dictionary, and Mr. Jones admits this and would teach
it _sepritly_ as 'style A'. But it is wrong to suppose that its
characteristics are a mere fashion or a pedantic regard for things
obsolete, or a nice rhetorical grace, though Mr. Jones will have it
to be mostly artificial, 'due to well-established, though perhaps
somewhat arbitrary rules laid down by teachers of elocution'. The
basis of it is the need of being heard and understood, together with
the experience that style B will not answer that purpose. The main
service, no doubt, of a teacher of elocution is to instruct in the
management of the voice (clergyman's sore throat is a recognized
disease of men who use their voice wrongly); but a right pronunciation
is almost equally necessary and important.

Now if public speakers really have to learn something different from
their habitual pronunciation, Mr. Jones is right in making a separate
style of it, and he is also justified in the degraded forms of his
style B, for those are what these speakers have to unlearn; nor is any
fault to be found with his diligent and admirable analysis.

These two practical considerations expose the situation sufficiently:
we may now face the triple-tongued dragon and exhibit how a single
whiff of common sense will tumble all his three heads in the dust.

[Sidenote: The natural right method.]

The insideoutness, topsy-turviness, and preposterousness of Mr. Jones'
method is incredible. In the natural order of things, children would
be taught a careful 'high standard' articulation as a part of their
elemental training, when in their pliant age they are mastering the
co-ordinations which are so difficult to acquire later. Then when they
have been educated to speak correctly, their variation from that full
pronunciation is a natural carelessness, and has the grace of all
natural behaviour, and it naturally obeys whatever laws have been
correctly propounded by phoneticians; since it is itself the phenomena
from which those laws are deduced. This carelessness or ease of speech
will vary naturally _in all degrees_ according to occasion, and being
dependent on mood and temper will never go wrong. It is warm and alive
with expression of character, and may pass quite unselfconsciously
from the grace of negligence to the grace of correctness, for it has
correctness at command, having learned it, and its carelessness has
not been doctored and bandaged; and this ease of unselfconsciousness
is one of the essentials of human intercourse: a man talking fluently
does not consider what words he will use, he does not often remember
exactly what words he has used, nor will he know at all how he
pronounces them; his speech flows from him as his blood flows when his
flesh is wounded.

[Sidenote: What Mr. Jones would substitute.]

What would Mr. Jones' system substitute for this natural grace? In
place of a wide scale of unconscious variation he provides his
pupils with 'three styles', three different fixed grades of
pronunciation,[25] which they must apply consciously as suits the
occasion. At dinner you might be called on to talk to a bishop across
the table in your best style B, or to an archbishop even in your A1,
when you were talking to your neighbours in your best C.--Nature would
no doubt assert herself and secure a fair blend; but none the less,
the three styles are plainly alternatives and to some extent mutually
exclusive, whereas natural varieties are harmoniously interwoven and
essentially one.

[Footnote 25: Of course Mr. Jones knows that these are not and
cannot be fixed. He must often bewail in secret the exigencies of his

Argumentative analogies are commonly chosen because they are specious
rather than just; but there is one here which I cannot forbear. If a
system like Mr. Jones' were adopted in teaching children to write, we
should begin by collecting and comparing all the careless and hasty
handwritings of the middle class and deduce from them the prevalent
forms of the letters in that state of degradation. From this we should
construct in our 'style B' the alphabet which we should contend to
be the genuine natural product of inevitable law, and hallowed by
'general use', and this we should give to our children to copy and
learn, relegating the more carefully formed writing to a 'style A,
taught by writing masters', explaining that its 'peculiarities' were
'modifications produced involuntarily as the result of writing more
slowly or endeavouring to write more distinctly', &c.[26]

[Footnote 26: _Phonetic Transcriptions of English_, by D. Jones, 1907,
Introd., p. v, 'The peculiarities of Style A as compared with Style
B are especially marked. These differences are partly natural, i.e.
modifications produced involuntarily as the result of speaking
more slowly or of endeavouring to speak more distinctly, and partly
artificial, i.e. modifications due to the well-established though
perhaps somewhat arbitrary rules laid down by teachers of elocution,'
&c., and Mr. Jones is quite right in complaining that his pupils make
fools of themselves when they try to speak slower.]

I believe that there has never been in Europe a fluent script so
beautiful and legible as that of our very best English writers of
to-day. But their æsthetic mastery has come from loving study of the
forms that conscious artistry had perfected, and through a constant
practice in their harmonious adaptation.

Finally, it may be worth while to raise the question how it can be
that a man of Mr. Jones' extreme competence in his science should
commit himself to a position that appears so false and mischievous.

[Sidenote: Reason of present discredit of phonetics.]

The unpopularity of phonetics is not wholly undeserved: from its early
elements, the comfortably broad distinctions of convincing importance,
it has progressed to a stage of almost infinite differentiations
and subtleties; and when machinery was called in to dispose of
controversy, a new and unsuspected mass of baffling detail was

The subject cannot be treated parenthetically, nor am I capable of
summarizing it; but it seems clear that the complexity of the science
has driven off public sympathy and dashed the confidence of scholars,
withdrawing thereby some of the wholesome checks that common sense
might else have imposed on its practical exponents. The experts thus
left to themselves in despair of any satisfactory solution, are likely
enough to adopt the simplifications most agreeable to their present
ideas, and measure the utility of such simplifications by the
accidental conveniences of their own science, independently of other

[Sidenote: The practical difficulty.]

The main practical difficulty which they have to meet in providing
a reasonably satisfactory phonetic script or type for the English
language is this, that the symbols of their alphabet must not greatly
exceed in number those of the literary alphabet, whereas the sounds
that they have to indicate do greatly exceed.

This discrepancy might be overcome by the use of what are called
'diacritical' marks, but here the universal prejudice against accents
in English is forbidding, and it is true that even if printers did not
rebel against them, they are yet distasteful and deterrent to readers
out of all proportion to their complexity.

[Sidenote: The result of Mr. Jones' solution.]

[Sidenote: The true condition of modified vowels, &c.]

Mr. Jones no doubt allowed himself as much liberty as he could venture
on, but to what has this paucity and choice of symbols led him? It
has led him to assert and teach that an unaccented vowel in English
retains no trace of its proper quality[27]: that is, that you cannot,
or at least do not, modify an unaccented vowel; you either pronounce
_a_, _e_, _o_, _u_, distinctly, or you must substitute an alien
sound, generally 'er', or in some consonantal positions a short
'i'. Thus we have _parersite_, _oblerquy_, _ikse'pt_, _ikspre'ss_,
_iqua'ter_, _peri'sherner_, _perli'ce_, _spe'sherlize_, _pin'erkl_,
_Mes'esperta'mier_, &c., and one of his examples, which he advances
with the confidence of complete satisfaction, is the name _Margate_,
which he asserts is pronounced _Margit_,[28] that is, with a short
_i_. The vowel is no doubt short, and its shortness is enforced by its
being closed by a _t_: but it is not a short _i_, it is an extremely
hastened and therefore disguised form of the original and proper
diphthong _ei_ (heard in _bait_ and _gate_); and the true way to write
it phonetically would be _ei_, with some diacritical sign to show that
it was obscured. There is no long vowel or diphthong in English which
cannot in some positions be pronounced short; and when hurried over
between accents it is easy to see that there is nothing, except
an obstacle of consonants, which can prevent the shortening of any
syllable; for long and short are relative, and when you are speaking
very slowly 'short' sounds actually occupy as much time as 'long'
sounds do when you are speaking quickly. You have therefore only to
suppose a speed of utterance somewhat out of scale; and this is just
what happens. In the second syllable of _Margate_ the diphthong is
hastened and obscured, but a trace of its quality remains, and will
more distinctly appear as you speak the word slower. And so in the
case of unaccented short vowels that are hurried over between the
accents in talking, they are disguised and lose quality, but in good
speakers a trace of the original sound will remain (as in _parasite_
and _obloquy_), where, on the ground of indistinctness, Mr. Jones
introduces the symbol of an _alien unrelated_ sound, a sound, that is,
which is _distinctly wrong instead of being indistinctly right_: and
this fault vitiates all his books. Economy of symbols has led him to
perversity of pronunciation.[29]

[Footnote 27: I do not deny that he allows some exceptions: and these,
few as they are, concede the principle for which I contend.]

[Footnote 28: His own words are, 'Thus Margate trippers now generally
speak of Ma:geit instead of Ma:git: teachers in London
elementary schools now often say eksept for iksept 'except',
ekstr[e][o]:din[er]ri for ikstr[o]dnri 'extraordinary', often for
[o]:fn 'often'. We feel that such artificialities cannot but impair
the beauty of the language.' Dictionary, 1st edition, Preface, p.v.]

[Footnote 29: In the first edition of the Dictionary [1913] [e] has
only one interpretation, the illustration being the _a_ of _about_.
In the _Phonetic Transcriptions_ [1907] it was the _er_ of _over_,
but in the new Dictionary [1917] [e] has three interpretations with
the following explanation: '[e] varies noticeably according to its
position in the word and in the sentence. In final positions it is
often replaced (_sic_) by "[Greek: L]" [=_u_ of _up_], in other
positions its quality varies considerably according to the nature of
the surrounding sounds; the variations extend from almost "[Greek:
L]" to the half-close mixed position. Three different values may
be heard in the words _china_, _cathedral_: in the latter word the
second "[e]" has a lower and more retracted tongue-position than the
first [e].'

The value of [e] when Mr. Jones first substituted it for a disguised
unaccented vowel, was that the speaker might know what sound he had to
produce. It was wrong, but it was definite. Mr. Jones would now make
it less wrong by making it less definite. That is, in the place of
something distinctly wrong we are offered something which has an
offchance of being nearly right: but as it has entirely ousted and
supplanted the original vowel I do not see how there is any means of
interpreting it correctly. The _er_ of _over_ is a definite sound, and
to print it where it was out of place was a definite error--to give it
three interpretations makes it cover more ground: but its usurpations
are still indefensible.]


On this head certainly I can write nothing worth reading. Whether
there is any one with so wide a knowledge of all the main different
forms of English now spoken, their historic development and
chief characteristics, as to be able to summarize the situation
convincingly, I do not know. I can only put a few of the most evident
phenomena in the relation in which they happen to affect my judgement.

And first of all I put the small local holding which the Southern
English dialect can claim on the map of the British Empire. It is
plain that with such a narrow habitat it must show proof that it
possesses very great relative superiorities before it can expect to be
allowed even a hearing: and such a claim must lie in its superiority
in some practical or ideal quality: further than that it might allege
that it was the legitimate heir of our great literature, and in
possession of the citadel, and in command of an extensive machinery
for its propaganda.

Now, in my opinion it could not establish any one of these claims
except the last, namely its central position and wide machinery.

I do not pretend to foresee the future, nor even to desire it in any
particular form; but it seems to me probable that if the 'P.S.P.'
continues its downward course as indicated by Mr. Jones, then,
unless everything else worsens with it, so that it might maintain
its relative flotation in a general confusion, it must fall to be
disesteemed and repudiated, and give place to one or more other
dialects which, by having better preserved the distinctions
of pronunciation, will be not only more convenient vehicles of
intercourse, but more truthful and intelligible interpreters of our
great literature; and I believe this to be well illustrated by the
conditions of our 'S.E.' homophones: and that something better should
win the first place, I hold to be the most desirable of possible
events. But perhaps our 'S.E.' is not yet so far committed to the
process of decay as to be incapable of reform, and the machinery that
we use for penetration may be used as well for organizing a reform and
for enforcing it. There is as much fashion as inevitable law in our
'P.S.P.' or 'S.E.' talk, and if the fashion for a better, that is a
more distinct and conservative, pronunciation should set in, then at
the cost of a little temporary self-consciousness we might, in one
generation, or at least in two, have things again very much as they
were in Shakespeare's day. It is true that men are slaves to the
naturalness of what is usual with them, and unable to imagine that the
actual living condition of things in their own time is evanescent: nor
do even students and scholars see that in the Elizabethan literature
we have a perdurable gigantic picture which, among all stages
of change, will persistently reassert itself, while any special
characteristics of our own day, which seem so unalterable to us, are
only a movement, which may no doubt be determining the next movement,
but will leave no other trace of itself, at least no more than the
peculiarities of the age of Queen Anne have left to us.

I have been told that the German experts believe that the Cockney form
of English will eventually prevail. This surprising opinion may rest
on scientific grounds, but it seems to me that Cockney speech will be
too universally unintelligible; and, should it actively develop, will
be so out of relation with other and older forms of English as to be
unable to compete.

I wish and hope that the subject of this section may provoke some
expert to deal thoroughly with it. The strong feeling in America, in
Australia, and in New Zealand, to say nothing of the proud dialects of
our own islands, is in support of the common-sense view of the matter
which I have here expressed.


When I consented to write this inaugural paper, I knew that my first
duty would be to set an example of the attitude which the Society had
proposed to take and hopes to maintain.

This Society was called into existence by the widespread interest
in linguistic subjects which is growing on the public, and by the
lamentable lack of any organized means for focussing opinion. It
responds to that interest, and would supply that want.[30] There is no
doubt that public opinion is altogether at sea in these matters, and
its futility is betrayed and encouraged by the amateurish discussions
and _obiter dicta_ that are constantly appearing and reappearing
in the newspapers. Our belief is that if facts and principles were
clearly stated and thoroughly handled by experts, it would then be
possible not only to utilize this impulse and gratify a wholesome
appetite, but even to attract and organize a consensus of sound
opinion which might influence and determine the practice of our best
writers and speakers.

[Footnote 30: Neither the British Academy nor the Academic Committee
of the Royal Society of Literature has shown any tendency to recognize
their duties and responsibilities in this department.]

The Society absolutely repudiates the assumption of any sort of
Academic authority or orthodoxy; it relies merely on statement of
fact and free expression of educated opinion to assure the verdict of
common sense; and it may illustrate this method to recapitulate the
various special questions that have arisen from following it in this
particular discussion concerning English homophones.

The main points are of course

(1) The actual condition of the English language with respect to
homophones. [This is an example of statement of fact.]

(2) The serious nature of their inconvenience.

(3) The evidence that we are unconsciously increasing them.

(4) The consequent impoverishment of the language.

From these considerations the question must arise

(5) Whether it is not our duty to take steps to prevent the
continuance and growth of this evil. [To give an example--the word
_mourn_. If we persist in mispronouncing this word as _morn_, and make
no distinction between _mourning_ and _morning_, then that word will
perish. We cannot afford to lose it: it is a good example of our
best words, as may be seen by looking it up in the concordances to
Shakespeare and the Bible: and what is true of this word is true of
hundreds of others.]

(6) It is pointed out that our fashionable Southern English dialect,
our Public School Pronunciation, is one chief source of this damage.

(7) Attention is called to the low standard of pronunciation adopted
by our professional phoneticians, and to the falsity of their orthodox

(8) The damage to the language which is threatened by their activity
is exposed.

(9) It is questioned how far it is possible to adopt living dialectal
forms to save words that would otherwise perish.

(10) Respect for the traditions of neglected dialects is advocated.

(11) As to what differentiations of words should be insisted on [e.g.
the _lore_ = _law_ class].

(12) The necessity of observing vowel distinctions in unaccented
syllables, [e.g. Every one now pronounces the _o_ in the new word
_petrol_, and yet almost every one thinks it impossible to pronounce
the _o_ in the old word _symbol_; which is absurd.]

(13) The necessity for better phonetic teaching in our schools.

(14) The quality of the new words introduced into the language; and
the distinction between mere scientific labels, and those names of
common new objects which must be constantly spoken.

(15) The claims of the Southern English dialect to general acceptance
is questioned.

(16) The general consideration that the spread of the English language
over the world must accelerate the disuse and loss of the most
inconvenient homophones.

These matters invite expert discussion, and it is our hope that every
such question will receive due treatment from some one whose knowledge
qualifies him to handle it; and that when any principle or detail is
definitely recognized as desirable, then the consensus of good writers
and speakers will adopt it. This implies wide recognition, support,
and co-operation; and though the Society has already gone far to
secure this, it may yet seem that the small aristocracy of letters
will be insufficient to carry through such a wide reform of habit:
but it should be remembered that they are the very same persons whose
example maintains the existing fashions. And, again, when it is urged
against us that the democratic Press is too firmly established in its
traditions to be moved by such an influence, it is overlooked that the
great majority of those who write for the Press, and maintain or even
create the style by which it holds the public ear, are men of good
education, whose minds are thoroughly susceptible to all intellectual
notions, and often highly sensitive to æsthetic excellence. They
are all of them in a sense trained experts, and though working under
tyrannous conditions are no less alive in pride and self respect than
those who command more leisure, and they will readily and eagerly
follow where their circumstances might forbid them to lead. The
conviction too that they are honourably assisting in preserving the
best traditions of our language will add zest to their work; while
the peculiar field of it will provide a wholesome utilitarian test,
which must be of good service to us by checking the affectations and
pedantries into which it may be feared that such a society as the
S.P.E. would conceivably lapse. Their co-operation is altogether
desirable, and we believe attainable if it be not from the first


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