A very nice NY Times obit by Margalit Fox of a remarkable man who lived to a remarkable age:

Edward Rondthaler, Foenetic Speler, Dies at 104
Edward Rondthaler was one of the 20th century’s foremost men of letters — actual, physical, audible letters. As an outspoken advocate of spelling reform, he spent decades trying to impose order on his 26 lawless charges. As a noted typographer who first plied his trade 99 years ago, he helped bring the art of typesetting from the age of hot metal into the modern era.
From the early 1960s on, Mr. Rondthaler was known publicly for his energetic campaign to respell English, a cause that over the centuries has been the quixotic mission of an impassioned few. To spell the language as it sounds, he argued, would vanquish orthographic hobgoblins, promote literacy and make accessible to foreign readers English classics like Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” — or, more properly, “Oed to a Nietingael” — whose opening lines appear on this page….

Read the rest of the obit for an explanation of his contributions to phototypesetting and his involvement with simplified spelling; while I think the latter is a pretty silly cause, I admire his willingness to stand up for his views against inevitable derision. Warning: the end of the obit may choke you up a bit if you have a sentimental streak. (Thanks, Eric and Anne!)


  1. I wasn’t prepared for that ending. Choke up I did.

  2. Biggles Jr says

    Ed Rondthaler critiques English spelling:

  3. That’s a great clip. Anybody know how he pronounced his name, by the way?

  4. mollymooly says

    I am troubled to find I lack a sentimental streak. Bah, humbug.

  5. Anybody know how he pronounced his name
    Spoken by his 13 year old neighbor 6:37 into this related video.

  6. make accessible to foreign readers English classics like Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” — or, more properly, “Oed to a Nietingael”
    If that was his goal shouldn’t it be “Oed to a Neitingael”?

  7. Lovely drawings in MMcM’s video. Wonderful man.

  8. I fear I also lack a sentimental streak, as I also managed to read the last bit without needing to search for my handkerchief.
    The obituary refers to Theodore Roosevelt’s plan to decree the official respelling of 300 words. I followed the link, and found it was rather an odd list, especially the dozen respellings that were needed forthwith. Even in 1906, how many people would have cared one way or other how “decalogue” is spelled? Surely the sort of people who need the word don’t have any trouble spelling it? Of the others, “program” has clearly won in the US, and is half-way there in the UK; “catalog” has also won, I think, in the US; “thru” is widely used, but not, I think, generally accepted as correct. As for the others, they seem to have been forgotten.

  9. Lovely drawings in MMcM’s video. Wonderful man.
    Yes indeed, to both. But in case anyone doesn’t want to wait through six and a half minutes of a delightful video about the Croton Dam (the same age as Rondthaler), the nephew says /’randtælər/.

  10. komfo,amonan says

    I’m going to guess that we were more pious in 1906 & that hence “decalogue” was more widely used. Perhaps particular Christian denominations were partial to it. I was familiar with it as a young Catholic in the ’70’s, but haven’t thought of it in years.
    That New York Times list is odd. I don’t know what “acceuter” was meant to respell. And the idea that “mist” is superior to “missed” just makes me laugh.

  11. I thot we alredy had speling reform? Mebe not in da newspaprs tho.

  12. I would been more moved if the final anecdote was better integrated into the narrative; distractingly tacked on, I’m afraid. And what’s with that vocative “Reader” in that final sentence? An allusion to her maiden name “Read”? it was jarring.

  13. You missed the reference.

  14. … Why yes. Yes I did.
    I don’t feel ashamed I did (I didn’t get into the Romantic period when I read literature); but I’m grateful the NYT can still venture literary allusion on occasion, even if I do miss it.

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