Heir in the air


The Linguaphile's Almanac

Pronunciation is irregular in English, but so to is spelling.

English is particularly hit or miss. We have some forty sounds in English, but more than 200 ways of spelling them.

Bill Bryson says in Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language.

The word in English with the most varied spellings is air with a remarkable thirty-eight: Aire, Ayr, heir, e’er, ere, and so on.

Part of the reason for this is that English adopts a lot of words from other languages, but doesn’t always Anglicize them, meaning that they often keep pronunciation or spelling, even if that isn’t standard English pronunciation. Think bureau. Pronounced the Anglo-Saxon way would be BER-YOW.

The consonants are fairly regular in their pronunciation, the language is blessedly free of the diacritical marks that complicate other languages—the umlauts, cedillas, circumflexes, and so on—and, above all, English preserves the spelling of borrowed words, so…

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