Reading, oh Me!


If you root around on the internet you’ll find more than a few articles that decry the modern educational system and explain that today’s illiteracy is caused by abandoning the phonics method of teaching English.

Now I find these attacks interesting and humorous for a couple of reasons. When I was learning to read, my parents thought that phonics was the source of all the reading problems. They were old school. You memorized spelling, and then you knew the world. If you didn’t know a word, you used a dictionary.

Those attacking modern education like to quote a book named “Why Johnny Can’t Read” published in 1955 by Rudolph Flesch. Yes, a sixty-year-old book about reading is still making waves.

Now Rudolph Flesch has a background that proves his intelligence. Flesch was born and raised in Austria. He finished university there, studying law. He would have learned German as his milk tongue, Latin, and Greek in high school. For law, at that time, a student required a proficiency in German, Italian, Spanish, Romanian and English.

Fleeing the imminent Nazi invasion, Flesch fled to the U.S. There he became a graduate student of Columbia University, where he earned a Ph.D in English. (Pretty sharp guy.)

What started me on this topic? I just found this bit today:

Written by Mr. P. Thomas O’Dea of New Haven, Conn.:

When the English tongue we speak,

Why is “break” not rhymed with “freak”?

And the maker of a verse

Cannot cap his “horse” with “worse”?

“Beard” sounds not the same as “heard.”

“Cord” is different from “word.”

“Cow” is cow, but “low” is low.

“Shoe” is never rhymed with “foe.”

Think of “hose” and “dose” and “lose,”

And of “goose” and yet of “choose.”

Think of “comb” and “tomb” and “bomb,”

“Doll” and “roll” and “home” and “some.”

And since “pay” is rhymed with “say,”

Why not “paid” and “said,” I pray?

We have “blood” and “food” and “good.”

“Mould” is not pronounced like “could.”

Wherefore “done,” but “gone” and “lone”?

Is there any reason known?

And, in short, it seems to me,

Sounds and letters disagree.

It was printed in the Ann Landers column on July 19, 1995. However, the clipping is from sixty years earlier. As for Mr. P. Thomas O’Dea of New Haven, I can’t tell you a blessed thing.

However, for anyone wishing to explore phonetics and English there are a wide variety of sites on the Internet. Some have ten, some have forty-seven, and some have a hundred or more rules. You can even find tee shirts with the rules on the front and the back. (Do you know the thirteen rules for Silent letters? I don’t.)

I just warn you that all rules have exceptions.My favorite is one I saw a couple years ago. It goes as follows: “Dew, few, spew, flew, and stew all follow the same rule. If you think you need a lawyer to sew, then you are a phonetic reader.”


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