Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Orthography

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is orthography. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Orthography refers to “correct spelling,” or “the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage.”

// As the winner of several spelling bees, she impressed her teachers with her exceptional grasp of orthography.


“What makes [poet John] Ashbery difficult … is nonetheless different from what makes his ‘modernist precursors’ like Pound and Eliot difficult. It requires no supplemental linguistic, historical, philosophical, or literary knowledge to appreciate. … His verse rarely relies on outright violations of the norms of syntaxorthography, or page layout to achieve its effects. Rather, it tends to be composed of grammatically well-formed units combined in such a way as to produce semantically nonsensical wholes.” — Ryan Ruby, The Nation, 27 Jan. 2022

Did You Know?

The concept of orthography (a term that comes from the Greek words orthos, meaning “right or true,” and graphein, meaning “to write”) was not something that really concerned English speakers until the introduction of the printing press in England in the second half of the 15th century. From that point on, English spelling became progressively more uniform. Our orthography has been relatively stable since the 1755 publication of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, with the notable exception of certain spelling reforms, such as the change of musick to music. Incidentally, many of these reforms were championed by Merriam-Webster’s own Noah Webster.

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