I have done more than my share of spreading collapse-related doom and gloom, and to make up for it today I am spreading a bit of cheer, in the form of a pleasant, useful, family-friendly booklet titled
It is a dictionary of English heterographs, heteronyms and contronyms. (If you don't know what they are, read on!) The amazing thing about this book is that up until now it didn't exist. But then, as Nassim Taleb pointed out, how many centuries did it take for people to realize that maybe they should put suitcases on casters(US)/castors(UK)?
If you are reading this, then this book is for you. Maybe you want to avoid making a fool of yourself when speaking or writing English. Or maybe you just want to devise devilishly clever puns. Or maybe you need a thoughtful gift for that special person whose sloppy spelling annoys you. In short, it's a good book to have, provided you either know or would like to know English. It's very reasonably priced, so please buy two, keep one copy as a reference and use the other to slap people with when they make mistakes. Better yet, buy a whole bunch, and give one to every English teacher you know. And if you are an English teacher, have the school buy one for each of your students (at a large quantity discount).
Here is the introduction that lays out the entire rationale for this book:
English is an incredibly handy language. In fact, if you only know one language, but it’s English, you’ll probably manage to get by somehow. It’s almost incomparably easier to learn than Chinese, Arabic or Russian. Even Spanish, which is another incredibly handy language, and also fairly easy to learn, has quite a bit more grammatical machinery to it than English: grammatical gender, inflections and so on.
This is why English is in such widespread use all over the world. If a Chinese, a Russian and an Arab meet and have a conversation, it’s a safe bet that they will be speaking English. There are many reasons why it’s so easy to learn: English grammar is small and simple; English vocabulary is international, much of it borrowed from Latin, Greek, French and other languages; and a bit of English is easy to pick up simply by paying attention, because it has excellent penetration throughout the world via popular music, movies and the Internet.
So far so good. But there is another side to English which makes it rather unnecessarily complicated. While spoken English is easy, written English is so confusing that kids in English-speaking countries spend several more years just learning how to read and write than kids who grow up speaking much more complicated languages, such as the aforementioned Chinese, Russian and Arabic. About half the kids end up having serious difficulties with learning to read and write English.
All the trouble comes from the fact that most English words are still written pretty much the same way they were when they first entered the language—which was often hundreds of years ago, when they sounded very different. For example, when the English first started using the word “nature,” they most likely pronounced it “nah-TOO-reh.” Now they pronounce it “NAY-chuh,” but they still write it as if it were pronounced “nah-TOO-reh.” What this means is that for a great many English words (some 40 percent of them) you have to memorize both how they sound and how they are written, separately. And that, as an English person might put it, is “a bit of a bother.”