Melvil Dewey, the American library pioneer who invented the Dewey Decimal system, led one of many 19th century efforts to simplify spelling.

“By evolution, not revolution,” he wrote, “we shal stedily move toward the ideal, when the greatest languaj the world has yet seen wil hav 40 distinct syns for its 40 distinct sounds, and becauz of its manifold advantajes wil becum the common tung of the world.”

In 1876, he founded the Spelling Reform Association, which declared that 11 new spellings should be adopted at once: ar, catalog, definit, gard, giv, hav, infinit, liv, tho, thru and wisht. The effort took hold to some degree in many American publications over the next few decades, and some simplified spellings – catalog, for example – eventually enjoyed broad acceptance. But habits and traditions die hard, and the effort to overhaul the dictionary lost most of its steam by the 1930s.

This Minneapolis Tribune report mentions the Chicago Tribune, whose owner, Joseph Medill, ordered his editors to adopt a few of the simplified spellings in 1879. The paper expanded the list in the 1930s, then quietly dropped most of the unorthodox spellings in the 1950s. It clung to "thru" and "tho" until 1975, when pressure from schoolteachers forced editors to abandon the last remnants of simplification. I’m sure the editors were crusht.


Spelling Reform.

The secretary of the spelling reform association reports that, besides The Chicago Tribune and Home Journal, there are two hundred papers in all parts of the country that have adopted, in whole or in part, the modified spelling, and are trying to prepare the minds of readers for a still further change. The rules at present in force are as follows:

1. Omit a from the digraph ea when pronounst as e short, as in bed, helth, etc. 

2. Omit silent e after a short vowel, as in hav, giv, defnit, infinit, forbad, etc.

3. Write for ph in such words as alfabet, fantom, camfor, filosofy, telegraf, etc.

4. When a word ends with a doubl letter, omit the last, as in shal, wil, clif, eg, etc.

5. Change ed to t where it has the sound of t, as in lasht, imprest, fixt, etc.


This sign on a door near the Star Tribune's north entrance dates to the 1940s.


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