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English is the widest spoken language in the world (more people speak Chinese, but they are nearly all in China). How did this come to pass? Partly, of course, because of the British Empire, the largest empire there has ever been, but that only explains part of he answer.

As a spoken language, English is remarkably easy to learn. At a beginner's level, it has very little grammar - masculine and feminine words, obscure variations in nouns and verbs, and it is very forgiving - words can be arranged in a number of ways in sentences and still be considered to be correct.

The problem with English is when you want to write it down. What a mess!

From the very beginning of English as we know it, there were no real standard spellings for words. Using the alphabet, it was acceptable to spell words in a way that made sense to you personally. Eventually, with the compilation of the first dictionaries, spelling became formalised. The problem was this formalisation process took part at a time when it was fashionable notion to write in what was considered to be an educated way, using deliberately complicated spellings.

So insted of nite we have night, instead of coff we have cough. And all the rest of the crazy difficulties.

Probably the worst abomination is the syllable -ough. Look at this list, all seven words have the same ending, all are pronounced differently:
  • cough
  • tough
  • though
  • through
  • thorough
  • bough
  • ought
It's pretty awful the other way round as well, with 10 different ways of spelling the sound ee:
  • paediatric
  • me
  • seat
  • seem
  • ceiling
  • people
  • chimney
  • machine
  • siege
  • phoenix
When Mr Webster compiled his American English dictionary he tried to correct some of the worst excesses, giving our American cousins nite, program, and the like (although he could not shift cough and tough). However, the emphisis of fashion had moved on and he tried to introduce a more genteel language. For example, he did not like the idea of ladies saying or hearing the word cock, so introcuced sunstitute words such as rooster for cockerel and roach for cockroach.

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