Words, words, words
David Holahan defames the English language in his article ``Is there an orthographer in the house who can spell `pterodactyl'?'' [Feb. 13]. As a boy, he was right to blame himself, not the language, for his cacographic snafus. The English alphabet is no more inconsistent than basic arithmetic. It's we who are inconsistent -- often downright lazy. True, many writers tussle with spelling; orthographic genius, like perfect pitch, can't be taught. Yet with motivation, self-discipline, and a good spelling manual, even inveterate bunglers have redeemed themselves. Jeff Mullan Traverse City, Mich.
I recommend that the minuscule word get be inspected in a large and comprehensive dictionary. Notice its multiple uses, and the related couplets and phrases that incorporate the word.
We have condoned diametric word meanings for many words. Oversight is an example in that we may say that the omission of a word was an oversight; and later say that it is the responsibility of the chief clerk to practice ``oversight'' upon all corporation correspondence so as to eliminate errors. We should avoid adding new meanings to old words. Rather we should profit by giving more attention to the manner in which we employ words and phrases with respect to grammar. F. Pierce Sherry San Rafael, Calif.
Most critics of the English language cite the problem of homonyms -- words with similar pronunciations but with different spellings and meanings. In the Japanese language there are 25 words pronounced ``sho,'' each with a different meaning. The only way they can be distinguished is by context or by their particular ideograph or character. This diversity of spellings is one of the very features of English that enable one to obtain more-exact meanings than is possible in other languages.
Suppose that English has been ``simplified'' by uniform spellings of all the homonyms that exist in the language. The following ridiculous examples would be perfectly possible:
``The to-year-old tide a not in his shoolace.''
``He went to the zoo and saw an African new and a Rocky Mountain you.''
Eye rest my case. Bob Gideon Fairfax, Va.
Rather than replace the traditional with a ``simplified'' or a haphazard system of spelling, let's change pronunciation. First-graders will be taught to pronounce words exactly as they are spelled. True, for the rest of their lives, older folks will notice that it is even harder than usual to make out what the kids are saying, but that situation will solve itself by natural attrition. K. M. Dickie Bloomsburg, Pa.