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  • Dulcie Crowther

Don't be mischievious

Mischievious (with a third <i>), and its correlative pronunciation \mis-ˈchē-vē-əs\, is oft used but nonstandard according to Merriam-Webster. I think it adds flair, as when a deed is mischievous (2 i's) with a touch of devious. Tugging your sister's pigtail every time she turns away is being mischievous (2 i's); cutting it off is downright mischievious (3 i's), with a definite nod to the devious side. Even if I could rationalize it, I wouldn't use mischievious (with a third <i>) with an English teacher. They are particular about these things.

The next challenge when spelling mischievous is the whole "<i> before <e> except after <c> or when it spells Long A as in weigh or neighbor" debacle. It makes my eyes roll up to the ceiling. While the rule works in this situation, please don't count on it to seize upon the correct spelling every time. 

How else can you learn to spell this word besides memorizing a rule that works 50% of the time? Learn about the word's history and related words, then practice spelling it in its word family. "But, Dulcie," you ask me, "Where can I possibly go to learn such things?" Keep reading Young Jedi Spelling Warrior. I will guide you through a Structured Word Inquiry.

The first question in a Structured Word Inquiry is, "What does the word mean?" The first paragraph covered that in a roundabout way. The second and third questions, how is the word built and who are its relatives, can be answered in whatever order fits the word study. Let's start with how the word is built: mischievous → mis + chieve/ + ous. 

A quick trip to answers the "who are its relatives" question. The word <mischievous> descends from the Latin caput, meaning "head." From that root, we get such present-day words as cabbage, cap, captain, head, and behead, along with behead's fancier synonym, decapitate. The English beheaded while the French decapitated. Think Ann Boleyn vs. Marie Antoinette. Leave it to the French to make even their executions more stylized.

A closer relative to <mischievous> is <mischief>. mischief → mis + chief

The <chief> in <mischief> also descends from the Latin caput family. While the meaning "head" may signal the top of something, it could also signal the end of something. <mis-> means wrong or bad. When we put the parts together, <mischief> is literally something that comes out badly in the end. The <chief> in <mischief> is the same <chief> as someone who is at the "head" of something. Guess who else is at the head of something. A chef. <chef> is short for French chef de cuisine, or "the head of the kitchen." To summarize, we have these relatives:





This list reveals three different base elements, each with its own word family: chef, chief, and chieve. Two are free bases: chef and chief. A free base can stand alone as a word. <chieve> is a bound base. It needs an affix or two to make it a word, as in the aforementioned <mischievous> along with its siblings <mischievousness> and <mischievously>. The base <chieve> is also found in the <achieve> family.

Now that questions one, two, and three of this Structured Word Inquiry have been answered, let's move on to question four: What are all the letters doing? In the base, the <ch> spells "ch" and the <v> spells /v/ as expected. The final, silent <e> satisfies the standard that English avoids ending words with a <v>. The <ie> spells the Long <e> sound. The problem is that <ei> does as well, as does <e>, <e_e>, <ee>, and <ea>. So how are you going to remember this? Practice. But, "Dulcie," you implore again, "Wherever can I practice?" You can practice this word family in today's Matrix Mania at as often as you like to help commit the <ie> pattern in <chieve> to memory on your way to achieving your spelling improvement goals. Don't be an April Fool; get straight to it!

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