Friday, August 04, 2006

Now I Know My A B C's . . .

Q. Did it ever occur to anyone that if you don't know how a word begins, you can't look it up in a dictionary?

A. Yes, but alphabetical order is firmly entrenched in dictionary construction. The problem, as you point out, is that the first letter of a word does not always look like it sounds. The following chart, which matches initial sound and spelling possibilities, appeared in my Handbook for Basic Writers (Prentice Hall, 1991), co-authored with Nancy Sheehan.

Initial Sound / Possible Spelling

• A as in ace: a (able), ae (aerate), ai (AIDS), ei (eight).

• CH as in chips: ce (cello), ch (church).

• E as in even: ae (Aesop), e (eviction), ea (eagle) ee (eel), ei (either).

• F as in fog: f (feeling), ph (photography).

• H as in happy: h (horror), wh (who).

• I as in ice: ai (aisle), ay (ayatollah), ei (Eiffel Tower), i (isolation), is (island).

• J as in job: g (giant), j (justice).

• K as in kitten: c (cowboy), ch (chorus), k (kilogram), qu (queue).

• KW as in quick: cui (cuisine), kw (Kwangtung), qu (question).

• N as in nine: gn (gnat), kn (knee), n (notice), pn (pneumonia).

• O as in over: au (au gratin), o (opening), oa (oak), ow (owner).

• R as in rest: r (reading), rh (rhetoric), wr (writing).

• S as in sister: c (cigar), ps (psalm), s (suspect), sc (science), sz (Szechwan).

• SH as in shut: ch (chef), sch (Schultz), sh (shovel), su (sugar).

• T as in turn: pt (ptomaine), t (tension).

• U as in use: eu (eulogy), ew (ewe), u (usually), yu (Yugoslavia).

• UH as in up: a (about), o (opponent), u (ugly).

• Z as in zero: cz (czar), ts (tsar), x (xenon), z (zebra).

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