Robin Camille Davis
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Basic English word wheels

November 13, 2009
Tags: bizarre, books, history, words

In 1930, the linguist Charles Kay Ogden published a book called Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar. In it, he proposed a structured, simplified version of English to be used as an international language. He came up with a list of 850 core words that were enough to get by with in daily life. Basic English didn't catch on, but parts of it survive in methods of teaching English as a second language.

In the Rock library, I found a Handbook of Basic English, by Tom Burns Haber, from 1945. Here are some scans of interest:


This word wheel might look like the spokes go outward to improve your vocabulary, but actually, Haber wants you to go inward. Instead of ascending, you should go up. Instead of infiltrating, you should go among. This mix-and-match system of 18 basic verbs and however many prepositions is supposed to suffice in Basic English.

Basic English wants to be really basic. So instead of fatten, we have make fat. Instead of fill, we have make full.

word-wheel-make-detail_4099294898_oFill in the adjectives!

Actually, I first picked up the book because the cover was so great:

handbook-of-basic-english-cover_4095745431_oBut it turned out to be pretty and pretty interesting, if unsuccessful. I understand what Ogden was trying to do with Basic English, but the writer in me just can't bring herself to say "make black" in lieu of "blacken" or "go across" instead of "interlace." Language learners construct their own basic vocabulary, anyway, which gradually expands with time.

Those word wheels are quite beautiful, ugly language notwithstanding.