I have been thinking about it for some time and really wonder.

It is the spelling in the English language. Since English is not spelled as pronounced or vice versa(not pronounced as spelled), I really wonder it.

If I am a scientist and if I have just discovered a new thing(a new matter, a new piece of substance, a new thing etc.) and need to create a name for it, who will decide how should I spell the new word I have just created? Since it is a completeley new word, there is no "previously spelled version" of the newly created word. What they have is only a "heard version" of the newly created word, since they have just heard some new sounds from a person (the man who discovered and named it.)

So, when the new word is to be written or printed for the first time, how will they know how to spell it?

And after they create a spelled version of the word, what if anyone else suggest it should have been spelled differently? Who will decide which spelling will be the correct spelling?

And will someone else's spelling be binding for everyone else?

  • 4
    Since English is not spelled as pronounced or vice versa - A minor correction: yes, English is spelled as pronounced and vice versa, it's just that there are many, many inconsistencies and subtleties. For example, "bam" would never be pronounced "pooz" by any English speaker. Our orthography and spelling are very complicated and not always consistent, but that's not the same as "no rules".
    – stangdon
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 21:35
  • This is quite interesting. In linguistics there’s a debate over whether incorrect terms and phrases that people use should then become official parts of the language. For example the dialect of English I speak(Irish English) probably doesn’t officially cover all of the terms and phrases I’d use on a daily basis. Should those terms and phrases then become official parts of Irish English?
    – Andre
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 16:07
  • Usage in English in all its varieties enters speechdom because people use it or write it. Speech and writing are not the same thing. Linguistics studies what is, not what should be. And that's not a debate, debates are in other fields. Such as education. If an Irish Times editor one day uses a word and it catches on, well, there it is: caught on. (I happen to love one bad word in its Irish form, with an e on the end.) People raise an eyebrow when I use it in my neck of the woods. (NE US) :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 12:46

4 Answers 4


Well, in case it is a scientist who has discovered something, the world will learn about it through an article that this scientist will publish in a journal, not through hearsay or rumors. So the written version will in most cases precede the spoken version.

Second, words that are created by scientists are usually based off of existing words or names. And there are certain morphological conventions that provide a general guide for how various suffixes or prefixes are attached to a word. For example, the chemical element #106 in the periodic table, seaborgium, was named after the American chemist named Seaborg. The usual suffix -ium was attached to his name. So, for example if somebody were now to discover or prove the existence of another element and wanted to name it after the Christian polemicist Eusebius, this element would be called eusebium, and most (educated) people would recognize the reference and write this word this way even if they'd only heard about it, not seen it written. Even terms that contain Greek/Latin roots are usually re-using roots that had already been in use in English for a long time, so well-educated people will usually recognize the re-used component—a spelling for it had already been established.

In case we are not speaking about scientists but about regular Joes who create slang words, nowadays most of those are created on the internet—where people type rather than talk.

Most new words that appear are variations on existing words. From the words that were recently added to the Oxford Dictionary, "mansplaining" comes from "man" and "explaining", so no one who knows how to spell both of these words (and who knows what the word is supposed to mean) would write "mansplane". "Hangry" is a blend of "angry" and "hungry" (and also spelled pretty straightforward). Words that have been taken from other languages (like Korean or Japanese) would probably also first have been used in writing.

If there are two concurrently used variants (both by educated people who just disagree about which morphological principle would apply here), one variant, with time, simply wins. For example, long ago, words "country" and "journey" were both spelled with the ending -ey (so it was "countrey"). In the second half of the 17th century, there was a curious uptick in the usage of "journy" (so it seemed to go the way of the "country"), but then it died out, and the word is still spelled "journey".

This applies not just to spelling but also with respect to opinions about what certain words mean. Sometimes a variant that begins as an error just takes over. E. g., the word "fortuitous" used to mean "accidental". Since it resembles "fortunate", someone at some point erroneously used "fortuitous" when this person should have said "fortunate". As the American Heritage Dictionary's usage notes indicate, in 2005, two thirds of the panel of experts accepted this new use of the word, while in 1967, only 15% supported it. This also shows us that the business of lexicography (writing dictionaries) involves polling competent language specialists about their feeling of what should be right. And with time, these feelings change.

  • 1
    Words created by scientists are usually based on Greek and Latin roots....and for words created by scientists, their spelling prevails. No editor will spell some newly minted word differently from the scientist who created it.....spelling difficulties in English do not come from words created by scientists.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 14:02
  • 1
    @Lambie Many regular words are based on Greek and Latin roots (I've just answered a Q about "unanimous"). Basically everything in English that hasn't come from the Anglo-Saxon substrate is based on Greek and Latin roots (through Middle French, come through the Norman conquest). But scientists nowadays often create words based on names (e.g., in "Higgs boson", not just the "Higgs" part is a name, but "boson" is also based on a name). Or they borrow words from other languages (like gerade from German), or zeitgeber.
    – user68912
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 14:06
  • @Lambie But yes, spelling problems in English are not usually created by words created by scientists. Anyway, if a person has a spelling problem, they will usually be not extremely educated, and the likelihood of uneducated people using science words is not very high. So this problem kind of takes care of itself. However, the OP specifically asked about the scientists situation. And yes, scientists will first write about it, and their spelling will prevail.
    – user68912
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 14:10
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    Your answer in referring to scientific terms should at the very least refer to Greek and Latin. And it doesn't. Also, it might mention the use of a scientists' names in certain cases. And there is no disagreement among educated people re established scientific names. They sometimes have more than one spelling.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 16:44
  • 1
    We are discussing scientific names in English. Scientific names are not just particle physics and chemistry. I mean that in botany, biology and many other sciences, Latin and Greek have been used to NAME things. The reason they call it NEHONIUM is Japan (Nehon) plus a Latinate ending for the element. But just make sure you drown out what I am saying. I guess that works for you.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 19:11

English spelling is very complicated.

However, names for things and processes that have come from scientists are often based on Greek, Latin words or roots or the scientist's own name or a name a scientist chooses or one she or he invents out of thin air. Often, there is a naming convention in a particular scientific field. (This can clearly be seen in astronomy.)

Though scientific names for things can change, generally speaking, scientific terminology first appears in writing in scientific journals, the more reputable of which are peer reviewed. Different sciences have different traditions for naming things. There are some naming conventions: here is astronomy: naming conventions in astronomy You can check for yourself for other sciences. Here is gene nomenclature: gene nomenclature

Once published, the scientific name then may filter down to general use and the general public via journalists, science writers, and other writers who use those terms.

There is no authority for this other than the individual scientist, her/his knowledge of the naming conventions and perhaps his or her relationship with the editors of the scientific journal in which they term first appears. Who knows what goes on behind "closed doors"?

The general public (you and me, for example) don't usually have access to discussions which might occur pre-publication.


You will write it down, and you may tell people about it so that they will say it the way you say it. But over time it will develop its own way or ways of being pronounced. Consider the word kilometre, which was invented some 200 years ago. Its form, kilo + metre, suggests strongly how it should be pronounced, and that would be consistent with its original pronunciation in French.Nevertheless the most common pronunciation in English today puts the stress on the "o": as in kil + o + metre.

The way the word you have coined is spelled the first time it is written down may stick, because such new words are predominantly learned by reading but spelling can change too over time. No one person decides these things. They just evolve.

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    Tonic stress in borrowings is often different than the original tonic stress. French and English tonics stresses are completely different. If you didn't know that the tonic stress in French is always on the last syllable...what difference would that make to the English?
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 20:30
  • 1
    @Lambie yes, of course. I was not advocating that English pronunciation must or should follow the foreign original. Without thinking for a moment of the French pronunciation, there are some BrE speakers who cannot see why kil- ometre makes sense if we don't say mill-imetre. My point was that the pronunciation has taken on a life of its own since the word entered the language.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 22:33

For technical or scientific words in English, usually the spelling is actually more fixed than the pronunciation. Rather that suggesting alternative spellings, other people are more likely to use alternative pronunciations (possibly without even knowing that their pronunciation is different from the one that the original scientist had in mind).

The spelling might be based on etymology (often Greek and Latin roots, as mentioned by Lambie), or it might be somewhat arbitrary. But whatever its origin, the "correct spelling" is often more clearly established than the "correct pronunciation".

An interesting example of this is the physics term "quark". The OED says that it was coined by Murray Gell-Mann, who first came up with the pronunciation /kwɔrk/ and then decided to write it "quark" as an allusion to a passage in "Finnegans Wake". Gell-Mann intended for the sequence "quar" to be pronounced here as in "quart" or "quartz". However, the word is now commonly pronounced as /kwɑrk/, rhyming with "bark". The spelling is the same for either pronunciation.

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