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inverse spelling


inverse spelling

Weeds in the Garden of Words: Further Observations on the Tangled History of the English Language by Kate Burridge (Cambridge University Press, 2005)


An unconventional spelling of a word that results from an etymologically false analogy with another word, such as Shakespeare's spelling of napkin as napking and cushions as cushings.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "[S]o-called 'inverse spellings' or 'back-spellings' . . . are a kind of spelling over-correction, where people transfer letters to words where they are not historically warranted. For example, because in 1400 people started to spell the word write as 'wright,' we know that the guttural consonant originally represented by 'gh' must have been disappearing, at least for certain speakers. Writers were clearly losing the feel for where 'gh' did and didn't belong. (At this time they were also omitting the 'gh' from words such as 'night' that did have this sound; spellings like 'nite' are also clues to when it disappeared!) Another example is the word delight. Again, the 'gh' spelling is not etymologically justified--it was an afterthought, but in this case it stuck. It's interesting that the delite of advertising-speak today is actually an earlier spelling and historically more correct!"
    (Kate Burridge, Weeds in the Garden of Words. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005)

  • "In the case of the form polk we see what is called an inverse spelling, a spelling convention resulting from earlier vocalization of /l/ in words like folk which thus came to rhyme with pouk. Interestingly, among the first group of forms we also had US regional polk, showing a similar generalization of the spelling conventions for rhyming words such as folk or yolk."
    (Philip Durkin, The Oxford Guide to Etymology. Oxford Univ. Press, 2009)
Also Known As: back spelling, inverse graphy
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