Rain for a Dry Spell

Middle English is a bit of an orthographic free-for-all, but by the Early Modern Period, say about 1550 or 1600, the present-day spellings of these words had taken root.

It's the monsoon season here in Arizona. It's not that hot where I live because of the elevation, but the monsoon is always so welcome. This is especially true in the midst of a devastating dry spell.

We've had a good monsoon this year. I love the sound of the rain on my skylight in my kitchen while I cook dinner, and the way the clouds variegate the sunset in the western sky outside my office window. Pretty much all I ever post on Instagram are short videos of the monsoon rains. I even love the word monsoon, a word English borrowed from Portuguese, which in turn borrowed it from Arabic, where it just means 'season.'

Living in Arizona, you also hear the word 'drought' a lot, all year long. It's an interesting word, distant cousin to drain, and formed diachronically from the root of dry plus a nominalizing suffix that nowadays surfaces as a <-th> in words like health or growth or birth. The family doesn't have known relatives outside of Germanic, so I can't point you to a bunch of Latin of French relatives.

The <ugh> etymological marker in <drought> marks a relationship to the <y> in dry; they were both spelled with a post-vocalic <g> in Old English. People who study with me understand that relatonship. We see the same relationship in buy~bought, and with the <igh> in fly~flight or may~might.

Now, with the word drought, and also bough, the UK spelling of plough, and the [aʊ] pronunciation of slough, people get pretty confused about that <ugh>. Most phonics programs don't know about a <ugh>, so they call it an *<ough> (which is an analysis that does not hold up). But even when people are aware of the <ugh>, they still get stymied here, and they do all kinds of guessing about the word.

This happened just yesterday in a Facebook group called "Structured Word Inquiry" that I was kicked out of a long time ago, because of my odious personality and the fact that I refuse to find a personality donor and get a transplant. Some people think it's mean for an expert to say true things, and many people value Facebook followers over orthographic fact. People even try to find the answer in my LEX Grapheme Deck, but it's not there. See, when you kick the expert out of your groups, you are left, like it or not, with the blind leading the blind. A lot of guess work.

A drought of orthographic understanding.

There is literally NO ONE out of the thousands of people in the group who could come up with a coherent understanding.

Let me sprinkle the sweet raindrops of coherence on this parched orthographic landscape :

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