Printable Version
Pronunciation: or-thah-grê-fi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Correct spelling.

Notes: This Good Word is a straightforward Greek borrowing with a full and happy family: an adjective orthographic(al) with its accompanying adverb, orthographically (don't forget to add the -al). A specialist in orthography, which would include a spelling bee contestant, is an orthographer. Orthographic also refers to a type of drawing that represents an object as three dimensional on a two-dimensional plane.

In Play: The correct spelling of a written language is its orthography. You will find orthographical dictionaries for the major languages on the desks of the best journalists and editors around the world. The English language is a particular orthographical nightmare resulting from a very poor match between the pronunciation and orthography of English words (see The Chaos).

Word History: Today's word is Greek orthographia after French and English touchups. It came from orthos "right (in all senses), straight, upright" + graphia "drawing, writing". Greek orthos is a cousin of Latin arduus "steep", the source of English arduous. The Greek stem graph- comes from a root meaning "to scratch" which arrived on the doorstep of Modern English as crab, a very scratchy animal. Both these stems appear in many borrowed words in English, including orthodontist, a tooth-straightener, and orthodoxy, the 'correct' belief. Graphia gave us photography, biography, geography, and many more. (Today's Good Word was brought to you by Miss Spelling's Spelling Center, where you will find the answers to all your orthographical questions.)

Dr. Goodword,

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