Dabbling in Diphthongs.
Selected writings of A. Jackson Howe.
The Rooseveltian method of reform spelling had been attempted several times before the illustrious ex-President undertook to make it popular and failed. There are some reasons why reform spelling is not wholly feasible, and Dr. Howe notes some of them in this article, written a year before his death.—Ed. Gleaner.
DABBLING IN DIPHTHONGS.—There is a disposition in restricted circles to tamper with the orthography of certain medical terms which embrace double vowels, the alleged object being to simplify the spelling of words containing ae, oe, ai, and oi, the diphthongs to be represented by the single vowel e. While this is seemingly an improvement, it is not so much of a gain as might be supposed. To illustrate: Haemorrhage comes from aima, the Greek for blood, ae, with the aspirate is rendered by hae, which is to be transformed into he. Now, why not go on with the simplifying process and eliminate an r, making "hemorhage?" Why retain a superfluous consonant? To enter upon modifications in orthography is to depart from rules which hitherto have enforced restraint. We may as well change consonants as vowels. Take the word phthisis, for instance, which the illiterate physician spells "tisis" when he makes out the certificate of death for the burial of a consumptive patient. How markedly more simple is the orthography of the ignoramus!
The vulgar belief is that the author or compiler of a dictionary has an unquestioned right to introduce such modifications in orthography as he pleases, when, in fact, he is restricted to what is denominated "reputable use." What editors, journalists, authors, and scholars in general adopt and approve becomes reputable in language, and the lexicographer may copy, borrowing or utilizing the stamp of authority. But he has no business to make a change in our language; he can merely note a change which has occurred by literary consent or approval. If every scribbler could modify words his fancy might suggest, we should soon be in a jungle of confusion.
Let it not be understood that I am opposed to making rational modifications in orthography, for I am really in favor of reasonable changes; but would warn the unthinking against the adoption of novelties—there is danger in the scheme.
If ae could be changed to e in all cases, the argument in favor of eliminating the diphthong would have more strength. As it is, and ever will be, ardor urinae will remain as it ever has been; so with os tincae, cervix scapulae, and in all cases where the terminal diphthong indicates the genitive singular—as neck of the scapula. But we may cease to use the Latin expressions and employ only English. Well, why not? Simply because we have no English words to represent all anatomical parts. Then again we have ae and oe entering words similarly constructed, yet of variable meanings. We have caecum, ilio-caecal valve, etc., and caeliac axis, etc., caelia signifying a hollow or cavity, and not a blind pouch as does caecum. Now to make the single vowel e represent both diphthongs is not admissible. Edema is perhaps as significant as oedema, but not so classical. However, I have known a scholarly pathologist to pronounce a limb edematous. Anemia and edema will do, yet we may need a modified esophagus to swallow the terms. Such distortions expand the alae nasi, and make twinge the columnae camae as well as the chordae tendineae of sensitive hearts.
In conclusion I would say that orthoepy depends somewhat on orthography. For instance, perinaeum spelled with a diphthong must have the accent placed on the penult, but with the double vowel reduced, to e the accent is apt to fall on the antepenult.— HOWE Eclectic Medical Journal, 1891.
The Biographies of King, Howe, and Scudder, 1912, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M. D.