I got two great questions from clients around the world today. I'm going to share the questions on my Facebook page and here, but my responses – my study, and the glorious revelations about the writing system – are only here, on Shameless Spelling.
Here's the first question: "Why is it pianist and not pianoist?" I mean, we have guitarist and violinist, so why not *pianoist? This question comes from a kid whose teachers had decided she was unteachable and incapable of learning, until she lucked out and met my kickass client – someone willing not only to invest in this kiddo, but also in her own continuing professional development.
The second question a little longer, paraphrased, and has an anecdote in it: Denise Eide, in her book, Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy, claims that the doubling suffix addition pattern has what she calls "True Exceptions."
Now remember, kids, "Exception" is just what people say when they haven't worked hard enough to figure out what's actually going on.
I once met Denise Eide, I think in 2011, as my LEX Grapheme Deck was new, in its 1st edition. We were both exhibiting at a conference. She saw a crowd at my table and came to investigate. She looked at my LEX Deck, and the bought one and went back to her table. About an hour later, she came back to my table when no one else was there and said, "I really wish I had found you before I published my book."
As it turns out, I was a logic minor in college – I could've made it into a second major had I done the paperwork. My undergraduate research in logic is featured in this textbook, which was penned by my two logic professors, the late philosopher Tom Tymoczko and the Einsteinian mathematician Jim Henle. Logic is an intersection of higher maths and philosophy, and formal logic has no exceptions.
So yeah, there's not much "Logic" to what she has to say after a point; it's just glorified phonics.
Now, the doubling suffix addition pattern, which we see in words like tripped, babysitting, robber, repellent, and committee, is triggered by a confluence of factors: you need to add (1) a vowel suffix to something that ends in one consonant letter (2) preceded by one vowel letter (3). So, thinner but thicker and greener. When I was trained in Orton-Gillingham, we called this the 1-1-1 rule, for a 1-syllable base word that ended in 1 vowel and 1 consonant, but that's silly, because it also happens with polysyllabic stems, as in committee or compelling. The key is that the syllable immediately preceding the suffix has to be stressed, so equipped but opened, and a monosyllable is definitionally stressed. Everyone knows that who knows this pattern.
But that's not all there is to it.
I also figured something else out about that doubling pattern that no one else has. I've written about it before, but I can't recall where, and I teach it in my classes. I will record it in my response below, too, and that alone is worth the subscription.
Here's what Denise Eide claims:
Excellent and excellence — She says these words are "exceptions" because the stress is not on the syllable -cel, the consonant is doubled in both ex' cel lent and ex' cel lence. [She actually says 'accent' but that's phonicky; the linguistic term is 'stress.']
She also claims that when adding the vowel suffixes <-ic>, <-ify>, and <-ity> to multisyllable words the consonant is not doubled, even if the accent is on the syllable before the suffix. A few examples of words in this category include:
magnetic, acidify, humidify, normality, brutality, electricity, and credibility.
These are both excellent questions, the short one and the long one, and I plan to answer them not with brutality, but with the electricity that an understanding based in linguistic fact can generate.