'little', 'middle', 'cripple', but 'triple'

A friend once quipped, "A really good speller should be able to spell any word at least three different ways." I happen to agree with the sentiment, but when publishing or creating written communication you want taken seriously, or with a level of professionalism - spelling counts. The problem is that the English language is so doggone broken! Why do I have to memorize innumerable exceptions to the rules? Wouldn't it just be easier to make the correct spelling "tripple"? Will it ever be acceptable to acknowledge that there are erroneous issues in the English language and finally fix it? And, who's in charge, anyway? Who do you contact to say, "Hey, can we correct the spelling of the word triple to be more consistent with other spelling rules?" Seriously, folks, when you make a mistake, acknowledge it, fix it, and move on!

Comments

  • Will it ever be acceptable to acknowledge that there are erroneous issues in the English language and finally fix it?

    No, never. Erroneous English occurs when speakers tired are drunk or if they're infants (or foreigners) learning to speak the language.

    What sober, alert, mature English-speakers say— that's English. OK there are dialects other than the Standard, but they're not erroneous — just different. And some expressions may be stylistically inappropriate: wrong for the context, or wrong for the audience/readership.

    And when we're not paying attention, we can all make mistakes. If the audience/readers don't mind, then there's no need to fix it. If it interferes with communication, we should just collaborate to sort out what was meant — which need not necessarily involve 'fixing' the mistake.

    Wouldn't it just be easier to make the correct spelling "tripple"?

    I see no merit. It's just consistency for consistency's sake. The two consonant letters -PL- in triple are quite enough to suggest a KIT vowel. Do you want triptych and triplicate to become tripptych and tripplicate? Must script and scripture become scrippt and scrippture? And even if there were some merit, there is no mechanism for changing a spelling which everybody uses.

    And, who's in charge, anyway?

    Nobody. It's like democracy; everybody has a say. What everybody agrees on is what we continue to use.

    Why do I have to memorize innumerable exceptions to the rules?

    Presumably because 'the rules' are oversimplified.

    The 'rule' that letter-I represents a KIT vowel before a double consonant and nowhere else contains some truth but is far, far too general. It works for tripping and shipping, but not for trip and ship. And not for script, film, sister and countless others. You might find some schoolchildren who welcomed spellings like tripp and shipp and tripple. They might even welcome scrippt, fillm, sisster. But the overwhelming majority of speakers are no longer schoolchildren. Having learned trip, ship and triple, likewise script, film and sister, they don't want to change. And the publishing industry won't entertain for a moment the idea of changing all the spellings.

  • OK, on reflection it is possible to formulate a generalisation that covers little, middle and cripple. It involves making a distinction between letter-L when it represents a purely consonant sound and letter-L (usually followed by letter E) the it represents a syllable.

    This generalisation is a 'rule' only in the sense that it describes what happens 'as a rule'. It echoes a effort centuries ago by educators and printers to lay down the law. By some of these prescriptions, we should double consonants all the time to signal the KIT vowel — thus shipp, hitt, skinn, tipp etc. Somebody laid down the law, and the rest of the world said 'No thank you! That looks silly!'

    The overarching principle is that regular spelling exists to serve the reader. Moves to strict consistency are often rejected because they don't give any extra help to a reader when recognising a word. Very often they're rejected because they disguise similarities between words.

    Triple is a case in point.

    There are few if any words (I can't think of any) where the PRICE vowel is filled by a P-sound and a syllabic L-sound. This contrasts with some consonant sound:

    • With an F-sound both KIT and PRICE vowels occur,so the the double consonant device allows the reader to recognise skiffle versus rifle.

    • Similarly with the B-sound, the double consonant device allows the reader to recognise scribble versus bible.

    • With a T-sound, it allows the reader to recognise little versus title.

    The fact that a double consonant doesn't help much with a P-sound isn't an argument against using it. However, there is a principle which can make it a bad idea.

    It should be as easy as possible for the reader to recognise related words despite differences in sound. The usual example is electric, electricity, electrician. In this instance the related words include triple and triplicate.

  • And, who's in charge, anyway? Who do you contact to say, "Hey, can we correct the spelling of the word triple to be more consistent with other spelling rules?"

    A book just out
    https://amazon.co.uk/Prodigal-Tongue-Love-Hate-Relationship-American/dp/1786072696
    The Prodigal Tongue by Lynne Murphy tells the story of the man who thought he was in charge.

    President Theodore Roosevelt was 'contacted' by the Simplified Spelling Board. He immediately ordered the Government Printing Office to use the Board's spelling for all government publications. Those who didn't protest were too busy laughing at the idiocy of it all. Congress reversed the decision and the Simplified Spelling Board died out after a few years.

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