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I do know that there isn't only one pronunciation for syllables, and I also know that there isn't only one way to write a phoneme, but this intrigues me a lot.

Lose is spelled with only one O, and it's frequently misspelled with two Os.

Choose is spelled with two Os, and it's frequently misspelled with one O.

One of the forms of the past tense of "to choose" is "chose", which is pronounced very differently from "lose", even though both words share the same vocals and ending syllable.

I'd like to see an explanation for this. Even on origin, or something I'm missing out here.

Note: for me, double Os seems way more logical, as every time I read "lose", it seems a little weird.

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Of course there's also the word loose, which has an /s/ instead of a /z/. If English's spelling weren't pathetically tangled, we might have looz for lose and loos for loose (and chooz for choose). –  mgkrebbs Feb 27 '11 at 3:28
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Why would a double o be more logical? One would think that a u would make a lot more sense, since in every language but English, that's the sound that letter makes. The fact is that English spelling was more or less fixed at a time when the spelling made sense. A double o meant "make an o sound for twice as long as normal". Maybe we should have waited until after the Great Vowel Shift, but we didn't know it was coming. –  bye Feb 27 '11 at 4:06
    
This question seems a peeve. –  kiamlaluno Feb 27 '11 at 5:05
    
My pet peeve is Slough/Cough –  mplungjan Feb 27 '11 at 7:36
    
Related: Written English vowels are odd. –  RegDwigнt Feb 27 '11 at 13:13

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I hope I can answer at least part of your question, and with luck perhaps assuage your frustration to some small degree. You asked about origins:

Lose comes to us from Old English

ORIGIN Old English losian [perish, destroy,] also [become unable to find,] from los [loss.]

Choose comes from the same language:

ORIGIN Old English cēosan, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch kiezen.

In Old English, losian would have sounded something like LOH-zee-ahn, while cēosan would have sounded like CHAY-oh-zahn. Both these words are in infinitive form, and would have different conjugations.

In Middle English, losian became losien and cēosan became chesen or chosen. Now, the double-o construction, seen in words like choose and boot, originally indicated a long vowel sound, which itself originally meant literally a long vowel sound, i.e. one that was held for a longer period of time. There weren't any markings to indicate duration, so an extra letter was added to indicate that a word like boot should actually be pronounced the way we pronounce boat today — exactly analogous to German's pronunciation of das Boot, which does not sound like something one wears on one's feet.

But there was another Middle English word for lose, which was leosen (from OE lēosan), and it's not clear if our current word has a single ancestor. Possibly a merging of the two histories resulted in the pronunciation we have today.

Now, I wish I could draw a clear line for you that brings us from past to present and illustrates why today choose and lose and even whose perfectly rhyme but dose and moose do not, and why we pronounce close (meaning near) differently from close (meaning to shut), but the plain truth is I'm just not that smart. English pronunciation is quirky and peculiar in ways that defy description, much less understanding. If there were anything at all to be done about this, we would have an intolerable situation on our hands; but as there is nothing we can do about it, the situation must be endured. Be comforted by the belief that all these pronunciations will change in time — although to what is not at all clear.

I'll leave you with an old joke, and hope you can put aside your frustration long enough to laugh at the pronunciation and spelling mess we have inherited.

Q. How do you spell fish?

A. Ghoti! Just use the gh from rough, the o from women, and the ti from action (or ration or station or — well, you get the idea).

[Source for the above etymologies: Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, by Eric Partridge]

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It's not so much the pronunciation that is quirky, as the spelling. In spoken English the fact that choose and moose don't happen to rhyme isn't remarkable; it's the fact that they have rhyme-like spellings that causes the problem. English spelling is a mess. There are many causes (many cooks...), but one is that much spelling was frozen when printing appeared, which was a time of changing pronunciation patterns. –  mgkrebbs Feb 27 '11 at 4:06
    
@mgkrebbs: Spelling and pronunciation are two sides of the same coin. Writing's original purpose was to represent words in a visual way; once alphabets evolved, spelling's ostensible purpose was (and is) to signify how words are pronounced (or aren't) in spoken language, and that is how children learn them (or don't) in elementary school. –  Robusto Feb 27 '11 at 13:06
    
Thank you very much, Robusto! I've actually been studying English for some time now, and I know there's no logic for some things in this language. There are some words in Portuguese (my first language) that aren't quite that logical too, and it's awfully frustrating sometimes (mainly with 'diacritics'.. I guess that's how you call it). It was a very instructional reading, and I loved the joke! –  Marcelo Feb 27 '11 at 21:56

Simple: because standardised english spelling was not arrived at by any kind of central authority that took a rational view of how to spell the language. Instead it simply happened (eliding over all the forces that contributed to this event) that spellings started settling down in the Elizabethan era, and continue to evolve.

Basically, all spellings are the result of a stochastic mutation process (massive simplification), which gives rise to these sorts of things.

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