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On behalf of English

I like the Wall Street Journal, and don't want Rupert Murdoch to buy it and change it, as I know he would. He is clearly a brilliant and ruthless man, but he doesn't evidence much interest in the quirky or thoughtful, and sometimes the WSJ has both, often on Saturdays when covering Leisure & Arts. Saturday is a day I like to make a cup of tea, lounge in bed, and spend a few extra minutes revelling in L&A like a hippopotamus in a waterhole.

There is always something with a British connection, though I often disagree with the reviewer, as I did today. Barbara Wallraff looks with an acerbic eye at James Essinger's Spellbound, The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling.

She blames the difficulties of English spelling on Dr. Johnson's "enormously influential dictionary". Johnson reviewed English writers to determine spelling, and found many unique contributions that Wallraff thinks have made for worldwide confusions about spelling English. She would prefer – o hideous! – a phonetically spelled English.

What Johnson did, as poets are glad to affirm, is to preserve the history and personality, the uniqueness and creativity of English. Yes, yes, Barbara, we don't pronounce night as Chaucer did, but if we want to convey the dreamy starry depths we spell it night with its mysterious unpronounced g like the silence after midnight, and if we want to give the word a Broadway musical feel, we spell it nite.

I am pretty sure that the billions of people who speak and spell English don't feel handicapped by having to learn a relatively few words whose peculiarities add to their charm. It makes them feel English is worth knowing, and it preserves the linguistic contributions made to English by people as different as Indians, Arabs, Latins, and Native Americans.

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