Not all Progressive-era crusades involved the regulation of economic and political practices. One of the oddest early twentieth-century reform movements was the effort to simplify the way words were spelled. Seemingly peripheral, spelling reform, with its emphasis on “order” and “rationality,” actually typified the Progressive era. The lack of standardization in American spelling was viewed as chaotic, inefficient, and irrational. This quest for order and efficiency helped foster a growing faith in the technical expert and the professional, while equally fostering a distrust of political parties. Like spelling reform, many Progressive reforms took place outside the traditional channels of the political party. In this 1907 article (titled “Simplified Language of Socialism”) from the radical newspaper Appeal to Reason, author Jack London and fellow socialist Arthur George took aim at the “simplified spelling” movement—and at the inequalities of early twentieth-century industrial capitalism—with a humorous list of suggested deletions from the English language.
TO BE ABOLISHED.
We, the Simplified Language Committee of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, recommend, after careful deliberation, that the following three hundred words, with their roots, derivatives and related forms, be as rapidly as possible retired to academic obscurity, or entirely abolished. In order that this may be accomplished, we recommend that all habits, customs and practices that have caused their introduction in the language be, by every possible means, done away with, and that new laws, standards and methods be sought, that shall, by their logical operations, render the use of these words obsolete:
Adulteration, adultery, agitator, alien, alms, alimony, anarchy, animalism, aristocracy, army, arsenal, arson, artillery, assassin, avarice.
Bagnio, bankrupt, barbarian, bargain, bawdy, beastly, beggar, bestial, bet, bibulous, bigamy, blacklist, blackmail, bloodshed, bondage, boor, brandy, bribe, broker, brothel, brutality, burglar.
Cant, capitalist, charity (alms), cheat, contraband, convict (n), counterfeit, covet, crime, criminal, curse.
Damn, debauchery, debt, decadence, degeneracy, demagogue, detective, depravity, despair, despotism, destitution, devil, dictator, divorce, domestic (n), drudge, drunkard, dude, dupe, duplicity.
Effeminate, embezzler, employer, employee, ennui, envy, extravagance.
Faction, fake, fanatic, fiend, firm (n), foreigner, forger, fornication, fraud.
Garrison, gossip, graft (unlawful profit).
Haggle, handcuff, heathen, hell, heresy, homicide, hypocrisy.
Idiocy, idler, illicit, imbecile, immodesty, immorality, incest, indigence, indolence, inebriate, inhuman, iniquity, insanity, insolvency, insurance, insurrection, insurgent, intemperance, interest (usury), internecine, intrigue.
Lackey, landlord, larceny, lawyer, laziness, lechery, lewd, liaison, liar, libel, libertine, libidinous, licentious, lickspittle, livery, loafer, luck, lunacy, lust, lynch.
Machination, malcontent, malefactor, malevolence, malice, maniac, massacre, matricide, mayhem, meanness, melancholy, meretricious, military, minion, misanthrope, miscreant, miser, mob, monarch, monomania, monotony, morbid, mortgage, mutiny, murder.
Nefarious, nepotism, niggard.
Obscenity, oligarchy, oppression, ostentation, outcast, outlaw, outrage, overload.
Pander, paramour, parricide, partisan, paternalism, pauper, pawnshop, pawnbroker, peculate, peddler, penal, penitentiary, penury, perjury, perquisite, persecution, philanthropist, pimp, plutocrat, poacher, poll tax, polygamy, poorhouse, pornography, poverty, prejudice, prison, procurer, profanity, proletariat, prolicide, prostitute, prude.
Quack (a pretender in medicine).
Rake (libertine), rant, rape (criminal assault), rebel, regiment, revenge, renegade, ringleader, riot, robber, roue, ruffian, rum.
Sabre, saloon (a poison shop), sanguinary, satan, savage (n), scandal, scoundrel, sedition, seduce, selfish, sensual, serf, servant, servile, shiftless, shirk, shoddy, shoplifter, sin, sinecure, slander, slave, slum, smuggler, snob, soldier, spurious, squalor, starvation, strike (a labor mutiny), strumpet, suicide, superstition, sycophant, syphilis.
Tenant, tenement, termagent, terrorist, thief, timeserver, tinsel, tip (a bribe), tipsy, toady, toper, tout, traitor, tramp (an outcast), traveler (“drummer”), treachery, treadmill, treason, trespass, trooper, turnkey, turpitude, tyrant.
Unlawful, unmanly, usury, uxoricide.
Vagabond, vagrancy, valet, vandal, venal, vengeance, villain .
Wager, wages, waif, war, whiskey, whore, working-class.
TO BE ENCOURAGED.
In order that the object of the committee may be better understood, we append an additional list of three hundred words, to represent the type of language that we desire to have preserved, and brought into more general usage, reflecting the growth of those laws, standards and methods of social activity which are indifferently known as democratic, republican or Socialist, replacing the anarchistic language and ideals that now prevail:
Ability, abundance, accomplish, accord, accrue, accumulate, achieve, acquire, activity, admiration, adorn, advance, affection, affluence, alacrity, alleviate, ambition, amity, ample, animation, anthropology, anticipation, appreciation, approbation, architecture, ardor, art, aspiration, assurance, astronomy, attainment.
Balance, bath, beauty, belief, beneficence, benevolence, best, better, brave, breeding, brisk, business, busy.
Candid, certain, capable, capital (productive property), cash, celebrity, champion, change, charity (affection, toleration), chastity, cheer, chemistry, chief, chivalry, choice, clever, comfort, commend, comparison, competition, conservatism, constancy, constructive, courtesy, creative, culture.
Decent, decorum, deference, democracy, devotion, dexterity, dignity, diligence, diversity, domestic (adj.), duty.
Earn, earnest, education, eminence, employment, emulation, encourage, endeavor, energy, engineering, enlightenment, equity, erudition, esteem, excellence, exchange, exertion, expert.
Faith, fame, family, federal, fidelity, foreman, freedom, free-will, friendship, fund.
Gain, genius, gentleman, genuine, geography, geology, geometry, graft (horticultural or surgical process), grandeur.
Harmony, health, heroism, home, homely (typical of home), honesty, honor.
Idealism, improvement, incentive, independence, individuality, industry, innovation, integrity, intellect, intelligent, intercourse, interest, invention, income.
Labor, lady, law, leisure, liberty, library, lineage, literature, love, loyalty.
Machinery, manliness, mansion, marriage, mathematics, matrimony, melioration, melody, merchandise, merit, merry, method, ministry, modesty, money, monogamy, morality, music, mutual.
Navigation, navy, neighbor.
Order, organization, originality.
Palace, patriotism, pay, peace, philanthropy, philosophy, poetry, possession, praise, pride, privacy, probity, profit, progress, property, prosperity, protection, provident, pulchritude, purity.
Reason, rectitude, reliance, remuneration, repose, republic, residence, respect, responsibility, riches, right, robust, romance.
Sagacity, sale, saloon (a hall of art or entertainment), sanitation, sanity, sanguine, scholarship, science, sculpture, sedulous, seemly, self-help, self-control, self-interest, self-reliance, sensuous, sentiment, service, sincere, skill, sober, society, sociable, solidarity, song, soul, stately, statesman, statuary, statute, strength, strenuous, success, superb, superintend, superior, supreme, symmetry, sympathy, synarchy, system.
Tact, talent, teach, technology, techtonics, temperate, tenacity, tenderness, thoroughbred, thought, thrift, toll, tourist, trade, traffic, travel, treasure, triumph, truth.
Unity, university, upright, uplift.
Valiant, value, variety, veneration, venture, veriloquent, verve, veteran, vie, vigilance, vigor, virile, virtue, vim, vocation.
Wealth, wedlock, welfare, wholesome, wife, wit, womanly, work, worthy.
Source: Appeal to Reason, 30 March 1907. Reprinted in John Graham, ed., “Yours for the Revolution”: The Appeal to Reason, 1895–1922 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 236–239.