Dear Lifehacker, I find your Mind Your Language column fascinating. I’m not a native English speaker and am often annoyed by how bad grammar is on the internet. I have a question though. As I learnt English, when a verb that ends in a consonant preceded by a vowel (such as skip, hop, step, permit) is converted to present/past tense, you repeat the consonant (skipped, hopped, stepping, permitting). Yet why does ‘edit’ become ‘edited’ and not ‘editted’? Thanks, Spellingbound
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Thank you for the kind words. I could attempt to produce partial reasons for this exception. The truth, however, is simpler and more annoying. In living languages, very few rules are absolutely consistent. With spelling, what counts is what we all agree upon, and those agreements are not always completely rule-based.
Take one of the most commonly-quoted English spelling rules: I before E except after C. That ensures that you can spell ‘believe’ and ‘receive’ correctly. But it won’t help you spell ‘veil’ correctly. The rule will help you learn the spelling of many verbs, but you still have to learn the exceptions. That’s true of all languages. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and learn a spelling that seems in no way logical.
‘Edited’ falls into this category. There are some evident historical reasons for this spelling (the verb partly derives from the word ‘editor’). But knowing that isn’t of much practical help. Ultimately, ‘edited’ (and ‘credited’ and ‘debited’) form a separate sequence which you simply have to memorise, independently of the broadly useful rule that verbs ending in a single voiced consonant generally double that consonant in the past and present tense.
Created languages such as Esperanto often tout consistency of spelling as a virtue. Yet none of these languages have ever been massively adopted. Languages that survive are rarely entirely consistent; learning their spellings involves learning both rules and exceptions. As our French brethren would have it: c’est la vie.