We wisht for simpl spellin

FILLERS

BY JOHN CULLEN

When I started out as a cub reporter 48 years ago, the editor I worked for, John B. Anderson, insisted we follow the Chicago Tribune stylebook of simplified spelling.

That meant that we should use “altho” instead of “although,” “thru” instead of “through”and “hi” instead of “high,” to name a few examples.

I’m not sure why the Chicago Tribune promoted this style, but its publisher, Colonel Robert McCormick, was quite a character and promoter. One of the great press barons of the early 1900s, his Tribune’s front page nameplate proclaimed it to be the “World’s Greatest Newspaper.” The first letters of those three words — WGN — also were the call letters of his radio and TV stations.

Newspapers may have been looking for a simplified spelling system to ease their typesetting work. In the early days of publishing, before typesetting machines became common, type was set by hand. Letter by letter. Compositors would pick tiny letters of type by hand and arrange the words in trays, which would then be locked into a frame known as a chase. If you had words that used too many of the same letters, such as Es and Ts, you might run out of them, forcing you to forego using that word and come up with a synonym. Or write shorter stories.

After the newspaper was printed, each letter on the page had to be removed by hand and replaced in the appropriate drawer in the type cabinet. So any method to reduce the number of letters would reduce the typesetting workload. The introduction of the Linotype machine in 1886 greatly speeded up the newspaper typesetting process and eliminated the worry of running short of common letters. Linotypes quickly took over typesetting for the next 70 years until they were replaced by phototypesetting and most recently computer-driven digital printing.

About the same time, simplified spelling got its start with the formation of the Simplified Spelling Board in 1906. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie bankrolled the operation, which was endorsed by The New York Times and three major dictionaries.

The board initially introduced 300 words for replacement. Most words ending in ed were changed to end in t. Missed became mist, wished became wisht, etc. Silent letters such as words ending in e were also dropped. Catalogue became catalog, thorough became thoro,

President Theodore Roosevelt endorsed the plan in 1906, signing an executive order mandating its use in all his official correspondence and messages to Congress and all public documents published by the government printing office.

But the Supreme Court and Congress refused to go along and after much ridicule by English speakers and grammarians on both sides of the Atlantic, the movement fell out of favor.

Carnegie lost interest — and a lot of money ($283,000 over 14 years) — and the organization disbanded in 1920.

But it was still fighting a losing battle in Storm Lake in the 1970s until Anderson retired. Newspapers still occasionally use the simplified spellings, particularly the New York tabloids, in headlines where it’s a lot easier to fit “tho” in a narrow column of type instead of “although.”

I hope this has been a thoro explanation of simplified spelling.

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