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Lies in education [was Re: The "loop and a half"]

On Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 2:22 PM, Steve D'Aprano
<steve+python at pearwood.info> wrote:
> It is, I think, an example of a stupid English language folklore that people
> repeat unthinkingly, even though the counter-examples are obvious and common.
> Like "I before E except after C", which is utter rubbish.

That's because it's only half the rule. I before E except after C,
when the sound is "aye" or the sound is "ee". If the sound isn't one
of those, the rule doesn't apply. So yeah, in that form, it's utter

(There are exceptions even to the longer form of the rule, but only a
handful. English isn't a tidy language.)

> But vowels and constonants represent types of *sounds*, not letters, so we
> shouldn't even be talking about letters being vowels at all. (Nevertheless,
> the practice is probably too ingrained to ever completely stamp out.)
> The A and E in the word "are" are not vowels, since they are silent. The U
> in "unicorn" and "university" are not vowels either, and if you write "an
> unicorn" you are making a mistake.

In explaining how spelling works, it's better to talk in terms of
*phonograms*, not letters. In Turkish, they correspond almost
perfectly - each letter makes a sound on its own - but in English,
there are a good number of two-letter phonograms, and a few longer
ones. I'm sure nobody here will be surprised to think of "th" as a
phonogram, but of course it isn't always so; in the word "courthouse",
the two letters happen to abut, but are in separate syllables. In your
example, "are" has two phonograms: "ar", and a silent "e". That said,
though, none of this matters in contexts like game shows. If you'd
like to buy a vowel, people are going to look VERY strangely at you
when you ask for "w". And you can't choose the letter ? ("thorn") and
expect to get both the "t" and the "h" given to you. No, you work with
the basic 26 ASCII Latin letters in most contexts, and the only
uncertain one is "Y".

> The UK invaded and occupied neutral Iceland in 1940, handing over control to
> the USA in 1941. Despite signing an agreement in 1948 to leave within 6
> months, US military forces actually did not finally leave Iceland, and return
> full sovereignty to the Icelander government, until 2006.

Huh. I didn't know that part.

> In the East, while Japan did take the first overtly military action against
> the US, the US had (in some sense) first engaged in hostile behaviour against
> Japan by unilaterally imposing, and enforcing, sanctions on Japan.
> (I make no comment on whether such sanctions were justified or not, only that
> they can be seen as a form of aggressive economic warfare.)

Economic warfare is different from military action, though. Economic
sanctions may be a precursor to war but they are not the first blow in

However, that's off topic for this list.