Eyes Before Ease: The Unsolved Mysteries and Secret Histories of Spelling


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To err is human, but to spell correctly is better In the age of automatic spell-checking, abbreviated text messaging, and on-the-fly Internet chatting is spelling still important? In this spirited and compelling book, award-winning English professor Larry Beason answers with a resounding yes. In our electronic age, spelling is more important than ever. It’s what makes us human, allowing us to communicate and come together in social groups. Even the smartest gorilla can’t spell “orthographobia.” True, neither can some of the smartest humans. But to err is human and the English language is notoriously difficult. Why do we use the silent “e”? Why can’t we spell “fish” g-h-o-t-i? Why does English have to be so complicated and chaotic? As Beason reveals, there is a method to the madness–and understanding it can help you go on to be a better speller. In school, business, and daily life, people who spell better are more successful across the board. But they don’t bother studying the dictionary because spelling is not about memorization. It’s about grasping the underlying meaning of words. Such knowledge not only expands vocabulary, it also expands the mind, leading to fresh ideas, creativity, and new opportunities. Yet even some of our brightest thinkers have railed against the vagaries of English. From Noah Webster’s campaign to spell “thumb” without the “b” to Teddy Roosevelt’s assault on “envelope” to the proposed reforms of today’s Simplified Spelling Society, people have long tried to make spelling easier. Most of their attempts have failed. In “Eyes Before Ease,” Larry Beason makes spelling accessible and understandable–without simplification. Using intelligence, humor, and a little good-natured prodding, Beason untwists the complicated story of the English language, showing you the secrets behind prefixes and suffixes, the cryptic logic of silent letters, and the embedded prejudices that lurk inside some of our most common words. Eschewing the traditional textbook rules of grammar school, he offers ten “conventions,” easy-to-follow guidelines to improve your spelling by differentiating between the endings “-ible “and “-able,” knowing when to double consonants, understanding a handful of Greek and Latin morphemes, and more. When you finish reading this entertaining book, you’ll not only be able to spell “orthographobia,” you’ll understand what it means–and you may even overcome your fear of spelling. “To reap the full fruits that life offers, you’ll want to read Larry Beason’s insightful and passionate case for spelling wisely and well.”
–Richard Lederer, coauthor of “Comma Sense: A Fun-damental Guide to Punctuation” No matter how much money is thrown at the problem, the Spelling Revolution will not occur in our lifetime nor in that of our children’s children. We might as well initiate a fund drive to change the way the sun rises. Our imperfect system of spelling is so entrenched within our history, culture, and economy that it will not be seriously altered except through the normal channels of slow linguistic change–the ongoing, unpredictable development of language, which is just as likely to lead to greater complexity as to greater simplicity.–from “Eyes Before Ease”




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