full transcript
"From the Ted Talk by Gina Cooke: Why is there a "b" in doubt?"

Unscramble the Blue Letters

People often think the word "doubt" spelling is a little crazy because of the letter "b". Since it doesn't spell a sound, most floks can't figure out what it's doing there. But in spite of what most of us learn in school, sound is never the most important ascept of spelling an English word. A word's meaning and history need to come first. To doubt means to queiston, to waver, to hesitate. As a noun, it means uncertainty or confusion. The present-day English word "doubt" started as a Latin word, "dubitare". It first moved from Latin into French where it lost both its "buh" sound and its ltteer "b". And then it came into English in the 13th century. About 100 years later, scribes who wrote English but also knew Latin, started to reinsert the "b" into the word's snllpieg, even though no one pronounced it that way. But why would they do this? Why would anyone in their right mind reinsert a silent letter into a spelling? Well, because they knew Latin, the scribes understood that the root of "doubt" had a "b" in it. Over time, even as fewer literate people knew Latin, the "b" was kept because it mkaerd important, muganeifnl cntonocines to other related wdros, like "dubious" and "indubitalbly," which were subsequently borrowed into egsinlh from the same liatn root, "dubitare". Understanding these historical connections not only helped us to spell "doubt," but also to understand the meaning of these more stsicotipaehd words. But the story doesn't end there. If we look even depeer, we can see beyond the shadow of a doubt, just how revealing that "b" can be. There are only two base words in all of English that have the letters "d-o-u-b": one is doubt, and the other is dulboe. We can build lots of other words on each of these bases, like doubtful and doubtless, or doublet, and redouble, and doubloon. It turns out that if we look into their history, we can see that they both derive from the same Latin forms. The meaning of double, two, is reflected in a deep unrdtdnasieng of doubt. See, when we doubt, when we hesitate, we second gseus ourselves. When we have doubts about something, when we have questions or confusion, we are of two minds. Historically, before English began to borrow words from French, it already had a word for doubt. That Old English word was "tweogan," a word whose rltaheniiosp to "two" is clear in its spelling as well. So the next time you are in dbuot about why English spelling works the way it does, take a second look. What you find just might make you do a double-take.

Open Cloze

People often think the word "doubt" spelling is a little crazy because of the letter "b". Since it doesn't spell a sound, most _____ can't figure out what it's doing there. But in spite of what most of us learn in school, sound is never the most important ______ of spelling an English word. A word's meaning and history need to come first. To doubt means to ________, to waver, to hesitate. As a noun, it means uncertainty or confusion. The present-day English word "doubt" started as a Latin word, "dubitare". It first moved from Latin into French where it lost both its "buh" sound and its ______ "b". And then it came into English in the 13th century. About 100 years later, scribes who wrote English but also knew Latin, started to reinsert the "b" into the word's ________, even though no one pronounced it that way. But why would they do this? Why would anyone in their right mind reinsert a silent letter into a spelling? Well, because they knew Latin, the scribes understood that the root of "doubt" had a "b" in it. Over time, even as fewer literate people knew Latin, the "b" was kept because it ______ important, __________ ___________ to other related _____, like "dubious" and "indubitalbly," which were subsequently borrowed into _______ from the same _____ root, "dubitare". Understanding these historical connections not only helped us to spell "doubt," but also to understand the meaning of these more _____________ words. But the story doesn't end there. If we look even ______, we can see beyond the shadow of a doubt, just how revealing that "b" can be. There are only two base words in all of English that have the letters "d-o-u-b": one is doubt, and the other is ______. We can build lots of other words on each of these bases, like doubtful and doubtless, or doublet, and redouble, and doubloon. It turns out that if we look into their history, we can see that they both derive from the same Latin forms. The meaning of double, two, is reflected in a deep _____________ of doubt. See, when we doubt, when we hesitate, we second _____ ourselves. When we have doubts about something, when we have questions or confusion, we are of two minds. Historically, before English began to borrow words from French, it already had a word for doubt. That Old English word was "tweogan," a word whose ____________ to "two" is clear in its spelling as well. So the next time you are in _____ about why English spelling works the way it does, take a second look. What you find just might make you do a double-take.

Solution

  1. doubt
  2. meaningful
  3. guess
  4. spelling
  5. double
  6. relationship
  7. aspect
  8. question
  9. marked
  10. english
  11. understanding
  12. connections
  13. words
  14. letter
  15. latin
  16. folks
  17. sophisticated
  18. deeper

Original Text

People often think the word "doubt" spelling is a little crazy because of the letter "b". Since it doesn't spell a sound, most folks can't figure out what it's doing there. But in spite of what most of us learn in school, sound is never the most important aspect of spelling an English word. A word's meaning and history need to come first. To doubt means to question, to waver, to hesitate. As a noun, it means uncertainty or confusion. The present-day English word "doubt" started as a Latin word, "dubitare". It first moved from Latin into French where it lost both its "buh" sound and its letter "b". And then it came into English in the 13th century. About 100 years later, scribes who wrote English but also knew Latin, started to reinsert the "b" into the word's spelling, even though no one pronounced it that way. But why would they do this? Why would anyone in their right mind reinsert a silent letter into a spelling? Well, because they knew Latin, the scribes understood that the root of "doubt" had a "b" in it. Over time, even as fewer literate people knew Latin, the "b" was kept because it marked important, meaningful connections to other related words, like "dubious" and "indubitalbly," which were subsequently borrowed into English from the same Latin root, "dubitare". Understanding these historical connections not only helped us to spell "doubt," but also to understand the meaning of these more sophisticated words. But the story doesn't end there. If we look even deeper, we can see beyond the shadow of a doubt, just how revealing that "b" can be. There are only two base words in all of English that have the letters "d-o-u-b": one is doubt, and the other is double. We can build lots of other words on each of these bases, like doubtful and doubtless, or doublet, and redouble, and doubloon. It turns out that if we look into their history, we can see that they both derive from the same Latin forms. The meaning of double, two, is reflected in a deep understanding of doubt. See, when we doubt, when we hesitate, we second guess ourselves. When we have doubts about something, when we have questions or confusion, we are of two minds. Historically, before English began to borrow words from French, it already had a word for doubt. That Old English word was "tweogan," a word whose relationship to "two" is clear in its spelling as well. So the next time you are in doubt about why English spelling works the way it does, take a second look. What you find just might make you do a double-take.

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
english word 3
knew latin 3

Important Words

  1. aspect
  2. base
  3. bases
  4. began
  5. borrow
  6. borrowed
  7. build
  8. century
  9. clear
  10. confusion
  11. connections
  12. crazy
  13. deep
  14. deeper
  15. derive
  16. double
  17. doublet
  18. doubloon
  19. doubt
  20. doubtful
  21. doubtless
  22. doubts
  23. english
  24. figure
  25. find
  26. folks
  27. forms
  28. french
  29. guess
  30. helped
  31. hesitate
  32. historical
  33. historically
  34. history
  35. important
  36. knew
  37. latin
  38. learn
  39. letter
  40. letters
  41. literate
  42. lost
  43. lots
  44. marked
  45. meaning
  46. meaningful
  47. means
  48. mind
  49. minds
  50. moved
  51. noun
  52. people
  53. pronounced
  54. question
  55. questions
  56. redouble
  57. reflected
  58. reinsert
  59. related
  60. relationship
  61. revealing
  62. root
  63. school
  64. scribes
  65. shadow
  66. silent
  67. sophisticated
  68. sound
  69. spell
  70. spelling
  71. spite
  72. started
  73. story
  74. subsequently
  75. time
  76. turns
  77. uncertainty
  78. understand
  79. understanding
  80. understood
  81. waver
  82. word
  83. words
  84. works
  85. wrote
  86. years