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The letter i

As someone who grew up with English English and then came to the US, I have got used to the different spellings, especially the missing u in words like color and favor and honor. In general, American spellings make more sense, so switching to it was easy.

When it comes to the letter i, Americans also sometimes drop it, to say (for example) ‘aluminum’ instead of the English ‘aluminium’. But recently I have heard people drop the i in the word ‘verbiage’ to coin a new word ‘verbage’ which does not currently exist even in America, at least according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

Also, unlike the u, which seems to be always dropped, the policy on i is not so consistent. I have heard people add i to the word mischievous to say ‘mischievious’, a word which also does not currently exist.

I am not one of those people who think that language should be unchanging. English is a rich language precisely because it grows by adding new words. But these are not new words but spelling variations on old ones and I was curious as to whether what I have heard is merely a regional idiosyncrasy or whether others have heard similar usages.

Comments

  1. Jim says

    “Aluminum” is much more than a “regional idiosyncracy”–it is the spelling Humphry Davy (original discoverer of the element) used in publication. It is also the spelling which Charles Hall (first successful volume refining process/commercial use in the U.S.) used for commercial/trade purposes (but not on official patent documentation).

    ‘Verbage’ and ‘mischievious’ are just plain errors.

    [disclaimer: my extensive research on the above conssited entirely of a Wikipedia visit]

  2. says

    Shalom Mano,

    I specially like the way misspellings have intentionally become new words. The adoption of “teh” (the misspelling of “the”) as a word of, often ironic, emphasis — “long live teh Patriarchy!” — is but one good example.

    B’shalom,

    Jeff

  3. peter says

    My first thought about ‘mischievious’ is that it’s the same phenomenon that gives us ‘nucular': Many common words end in something close to ‘-evious’, such as devious and previous. So the brain farts and the resultant word stinks.

    It bothers me and I’ll correct close friends who err in that way, but normally I’d let it pass if I heard it in conversation. Here in New York City, I can’t say that I’ve come across it… yet.

    What I find intolerably aggravating is the use of words that are ill-formed. For instance, ‘prequel’. You can’t take a root, smash it in half, and add a prefix, for cryin’ out loud!!

    [/rant]

  4. says

    Yeah, I think the mischievous issue is a bad pronunciation-turned bad spelling problem.

    It occurs to me however, that my long-time struggle with spelling the word “village” properly may be the fault of the English. Is it “villiage” in England or do I just have wires loose?

  5. Jared A says

    Hmmm. I definitely say both mischievous and mischievious sometimes, with the latter being more common for me. It probably is what peter said that it is generalizing a common suffix to new words which has the effect of making the language more regular. I’ve heard this is a pretty common way for language to evolve, so it’s probably not worth fighting. This is the same thing as verbs transforming from irregular to regular. So chided is now acceptable past-tense for chide, even though it “should” be chode and (have) chidden.

    I’m not sure how regional the mischievious thing is, either. I come from the mountain west, so I don’t know if it is a regional thing. I do know that out there it is a common thing to pronounce a short ‘i’ as a short ‘e’ and dropping middle consonants to produce dipthongs. I’ve heard “pellow” instead of “pillow” and “button” sometimes becomes “buh-en”.

    I think this related to what the verbiage thing is – not so much a dropping a letter as shifting a dipthong into a pure vowel — and then spelling it as you say it. Vowel bending is, after all, another common way for a language to evolve. The so-called Great Vowel shift is why vowels are so different between english and most other related languages. This occurred between 1300-1600 or thereabouts and is what really distinguishes Middle English from Modern English. Since then I think that British English has drifted slightly back towards continental pronunciations. What makes this interesting then is that American English pronunciations are actually closer to 17th century English English. It’s also interesting that in some very rural places that were isolated before the vowel shift was ‘completed’ you get very old pronunciations. So I’ve heard some dialects that say “cut” as if it rhymes with standard “rot” and “rot” as a different vowel that we really don’t have so much anymore.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_vowel_shift

  6. says

    Hi Mano,

    Words rarely just change, they…evolve! And they usually have good reasons for it other than (mere) regional idiosyncrasies. Although regional idiosyncrasies can be a proxy for some very interesting historical developments.

    Mischievious may be a good example of “hyper-correction,” which is an amusing phenomenon that seems to occur mostly in spoken language. In New England, for example, they rarely pronounce “r” in most words. But when trying to speak more correctly, people try to pronounce them. Only they don’t know what words have r in them and so add them randomly. “Mischievious” may be an example of a non-literate person (lots of them, obvously) dressing up the word to look fancier than it is.

  7. says

    I know the English language is hard to learn. Some of my Russian friends find it particularly stressful. As you pointed out the spellings (or misspellings) of words are very inconsistent. Unlike my native tongue Russian, there are many inconsistencies in the spelling, but not the meaning of English words. Ah, the world should have stuck to Latin. One word, one spelling, one meaning. No problems!!

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