Dictionary.com Word FAQs
How will understanding a little about the sources of English help me become a better speller?
The more you know about a word, the better your chances of learning its spelling. Sometimes when you read an etymology, you will see that words that begin a certain way are related. Find a series of words in the dictionary that start the same way and read the entries to get an idea of how they are related. Try looking at words that start with spec- and spect-. Certainly learning the basic meanings of a number of prefixes and suffixes can help you deduce the meanings of new words you encounter. Reading a word's history when you look it up in a dictionary helps you get familiar with the various routes by which words have entered English. What English has, probably more than any other language, is a hodgepodge of words from various sources: Anglo-Saxon (Old English), Latin and Greek, and other modern languages, especially French. By the beginning of the 15th century, English spelling was a mixture of Old English and French. Then, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a new wave of loan words arrived from French, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. These words brought with them a great number of alien spellings, which greatly complicated the learning of longer words. Since the mid-twentieth century, even more borrowing has taken place, fueled by the emergence of English as a world language and, later on, by its dissemination through our use of computers. The English language has a habit of borrowing words - and their spellings - from anywhere and everywhere. So, though English is strong due to its large and varied lexicon, that strength is countered by an increasingly difficult and diversified orthography. Learning about a word's history sheds light on that particular word, makes it clearer in your memory, and also helps you to recognize other words that are related to it.