Heckles

Illustration by Brennan Bova

Even though it’s my native tongue, I’ll be the first one to admit the English language is full of chaotic spelling choices and nonsensical pronunciations that make you want to pull your hair out. Not only are these words maddening because of their odd construction, they’re also surprisingly common in everyday conversation.

For example, I’ve learned over the years that I can’t turn on my favourite TV game show without being reminded that the word jeopardy is cursed with what looks like re-arranged letters in the middle of its body. Every time a cashier confirms my latest purchase at the comic book store I cannot escape the fact that receipt is endowed with an obtrusive, silent p. Furthermore, whenever I get one of my much-maligned fried chicken cravings, I am painfully aware that you are not allowed to pronounce nearly half of the letters in colonel.

But by far the most infuriating of these examples is the reality that we are supposed to accept the spelling of bologna even though it’s pronounced baloney, which haunts me every time I scroll down the cheap meat section of my local grocery store.

Where does this disconnect between spelling and pronunciation originate from, and more importantly, why do we put up with it?

The answer to both questions is actually a lot more sinister than you’d think.

For instance, the spelling and pronunciation of receipt can be chalked up to the Latin revival craze of the 16th and 17th centuries, when the insertion of foreign letters (like a silent p) in English words was used to make documents look more fancy and intelligent. When colonel was brought into the English language in the 1500s, its pronunciation was the subject of much debate between speakers of French and Italian, until they eventually settled on a confusing compromise. As for the etymology of words like jeopardy and bologna, that comes down to the simple case of English translators being lazy and not wanting to convert these words from their original French and Italian respectively.

The common denominator between all these confusingly spelled words is that they are hopelessly stuck in the past, and their continued survival largely depends on the fact that no one has risen to challenge of modernizing these words. Instead, most people remain apathetic to these issues and proclaim that, “Well, that’s just the way it is, I guess.” That’s a pretty disheartening sentiment, especially since these kinds of attitudes have held back the non-white, non-straight, non-male population of this planet for far too long.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that the need to clarify English spelling and pronunciation is as important as women’s liberation or the civil rights movement. Instead, I just want to reiterate the idea that we, as a progressive society, should actively look to eliminate idle traditions that don’t make sense and are no longer relevant in this modern world.

In this light, I think we should start this trend by lobbying to changing the word bologna to baloney and impart this grammatical tweak with the same expediency that inspired people to get rid of barbaric practices like animal sacrifices, witch burnings, and Chinese foot binding.

That’s right — baloney is going to lead us into a brighter, more progressive future.