Q: "How to spell ment like i ment to go?"

A: "same as the spelling goes as in govern ment"

A: "(Meant) The more i look at the word spelled correctly the more funny it looks."

-- A conversation from Yahoo! Answers

Ment is an extremely common misspelling of the word 'meant'. Google searches indicate that well over a million people have uploaded this error. I, for one, don't blame them; phonetically we expect the sound   ɛ   to be represented by only the symbol e. Meant is in direct contradiction of the When two vowels go walking rule.

There is a historical reason to spell the word this way, of course. In Middle English the word 'mean' was pronounced more like 'men' than 'meen'. When the Great Vowel Shift came, most words with the 'ea' vowel set changed their pronunciation to a long 'ee' sound.

But some words didn't change correctly. We have oddballs like 'great', 'break', 'steak', 'swear' and 'bear' that went for the 'ay' sound. It so happens that Middle English often used the -t ending to indicate past tense. These -t words often did not change, leaving us with dreamt, learnt, leapt, dealt, and yes, meant. All spelled with the vowel combo that should give us a long e ('ee') sound, but are perversely pronounced with a short e ('e').

But we knew the English language was a nasty mess. Here's the weird thing: ment is stuck. While it's becoming perfectly acceptable to say 'dreamed', 'learned', and 'leaped', 'meaned' is verboten (as is 'dealed', for that matter). As a general rule the more common the word, the less likely it is to change, no matter how archaic it may be. (Which does not explain dealt, but that's another node.)

Fortunately, the laziness of today's youth (and me) are presenting us with a simple answer. Just change the stupid spelling, already. Ment is posed to become one of the newest of the breakthrough words. It may soon be joining the ranks of thru, tho, donut, gage, and TV.

Sum changes wer ment tu bee

Ment (?), p. p.

of Menge.


© Webster 1913.

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