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Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)


(1) The practice or study of correct spelling according to established usage.

(2) The study of letters and how they are used to express sounds and form words. Adjective: orthographic or orthographical.

See also:


From the Greek, "correct writing"


  • "Some people have an idea that correct spelling can be taught, and taught to anybody. That is a mistake. The spelling faculty is born in man, like poetry, music and art. It is a gift; a talent. People who have this talent in a high degree need only to see a word once in print and it is forever photographed upon their memory. They cannot forget it. People who haven't it must be content to spell more or less like thunder, and expect to splinter the dictionary wherever their orthographic lightning happens to strike."
    (Mark Twain at the opening of a spelling contest in Connecticut in 1875; quoted by Simon Horobin in Does Spelling Matter? Oxford University Press, 2013)

  • Graphology
    "In linguistics, . . . the name for the study of the writing system is graphology, a level of language parallel to phonology. The earlier, prescriptive sense of the term [orthography] continues to be used, but the later, more neutral sense is common among scholars of language."
    (Tom McArthur, Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford Univ. Press, 1992)

  • Spelling Variations
    "Even in orthography, the area that is often said to have become completely standardized by 1800, we find a remarkable amount of variation, as Sidney Greenbaum established in 1986. He carried out a survey to estimate how much spelling variation there was in Modern English. . . . He found an average of three variant forms per page [of a dictionary]--296 entries. . . . As a percentage of all the entries in the dictionary, this was a remarkable 5.6 per cent."
    (David Crystal, The Stories of English. Overlook, 2004)

  • Ben Franklin's Warning
    "[Benjamin] Franklin felt that the ever-widening gap between spelling and pronunciation was leading the language down a denigrating path toward a logographic orthography, in which symbols represent whole words, not a system for producing sound units, as in c-a-t. He considered languages like Mandarin ghastly for their memorization requirements, an 'old manner of Writing' that was less sophisticated than a phonological alphabet. 'If we go on as we have done a few Centuries longer,' Franklin warned, 'our words will gradually cease to express sounds, they will only stand for things.'"
    (David Wolman, Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling. Harper, 2010)

  • Spelling Reform
    "Like such ideological forefathers as George Bernard Shaw, Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie, [Edward Rondthaler] wants to clear up the whims of spelling by adopting a more phonetic version of English, one where words are written as they sound and pronounced as they are written. . . .

    "'The kee to ending English iliterasy is to adopt a speling that's riten as it sounds,' he writes in his fashion."
    (Joseph Berger, "Struggling to Put the 'Ortho' Back in Orthography." The New York Times, Apr. 23, 1994)
Pronunciation: or-THOG-rah-fee
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