In a recent comment, John Hardy (of Laputan Logic) pointed me towards an amusing and amazing essay, “Hou tu pranownse Inglish,” in which the indefatigable Mark Rosenfelder makes about as good a case as can be made for the current English spelling system (which “everybody agrees… is horrible”). He gives 56 ordered rules, which combine to produce a 59% rate of accuracy using his impressive-sounding Sound Change Applier—59%, that is, if you insist on perfect outcomes; if you allow “minor errors,” the accuracy rises to 85%. He suggests “a really useful and minimal spelling reform” based on his rules (“I met a traveller from an anteke land hu sed: Tue vast and trunkless legs of stone…”) and ends with a section of unyielding oddities, the last of which is a word that’s been discussed here:
While we’re at it, could we please fix the word ginkgo, which is not only difficult and irregular, but doesn’t reflect any proper Japanese word? The Japanese characters ([i/gin][cho:/nan/kyo:]) can be read two ways: as icho:, they refer to the tree; as ginnan, to the fruit. The second character can be read kyo: in other words, so someone misread the combination as ginkyo:, and someone else mangled this into ginkgo.
Another such word is geoduck, which is pronounced “gooey duck”; a less violently dissonant, but still unpredictable, spelling is distelfink, which according to Merriam-Webster’s is pronounced DISH-tlfink (it’s from Pennsylvania Dutch dischdelfink ‘goldfinch’), although the AHD gives the normalized DIST-lfink.
I urge everyone to investigate Mark’s labor of love, zompist.com, which features (among many other things) a great deal of material on languages and linguistics (check the right-hand column). The one I use most is probably Numbers from 1 to 10 in Over 4500 Languages, but it’s all educational, fun, or both.