The recent question on Why are English words are so hard to spell? was initially closed as being opinion based, which is a little strange.

Perhaps people seeing that it could not be answered simply chose a random close-reason before it degenerated into too many wild shots in the dark? I don’t know.

For now I have switched the close reason to something that seems to fit better. It still really isn't something that can be answered in its current state.

So let’s fix that.

How can we help the asker improve his question so that it becomes something that can be answered?

  • 3
    Questions (and rants) about English spellings are all too present on the site, but they are limited to a phonological feature or focused on a single word.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 9:43
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    Could we make it a meta question and use it to collect a list of relevant main site questions? Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 10:30
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    No one feels confident enough to edit the question? I mean the topic is about as on-topic as could be so it is kinda weird that there's no omnibus question/answer. Or maybe the answers exist in multiple places but no one single question that would elicit the sought after answer.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 13:56
  • @Mitch You wanna write an encyclopedic explanation of English spelling? Go right ahead. No one would live that long. Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 20:19
  • @JohnLawler ELU is not a place for an encyclopedia. But it is certainly a place where one can give a short abstract of a situation that is multifaceted. Maybe Wikipedia is the place for a more comprehensive treatment, but here we could give a handful of patterns with a couple examples each. Silent letters, Great vowel shift, etymological spelling 'fixes', foreign borrowings, stress patterns, general phonological history (for splits and mergers). Probably others categories even more widespread. Some kind of explanatory essay, somewhere between Sven Yargs and Barrie England.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 20:44

1 Answer 1


As no one else has both­ered to do so, I have rewrit­ten the ques­tion to more clearly re­flect what I be­lieve the asker was re­ally ask­ing.

Be­cause I be­lieve a suc­cinct an­swer to this ques­tion 𝒄𝒂𝒏 be made with­out wax­ing so en­cy­clo­pe­di­cally pro­lix that it would ex­ceed SE’s length lim­its on posts, I have both reöpened and 𝒃𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒆𝒅 the ques­tion.

My hope is that this new at­ten­tion will draw a high-qual­ity, canon­i­cal an­swer that we can use when­ever the same ques­tion comes again later.

It really should­n’t not be too ter­ri­bly hard to an­swer: merely enu­mer­ate per­haps 8–12 con­tribut­ing fac­tors, each with as much or as lit­tle de­tail as you please.

  • As I pointed out in a comment on the original post, the real problem is the insistence on there being a "correct" spelling. It is neither necessary nor useful, and as we can see, is as elusive as "correct" grammar, a myth we have already discounted. Commented Nov 28, 2021 at 20:30
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    @JohnLawler Maybe. For my part I'm not yet ᴄᴏᴍᴘʟᴇᴛᴇʟʏ convinced that English is hard to spell simply because we sanction and sanctify only one or maybe two approved spellings for a given word yet withhold said blessing from all other possibilities. I ᴅᴏ realize that this blessing from the academy’s sanctioning committee is a weird new hurdle wholly unknown before Caxton and then Johnson had their ways with us, and that we still managed to get by without it before the troublemakers barged in and ruined it all by condemning future generations of children and other learners to eternal vexation.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Nov 28, 2021 at 22:12

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