or·​thog·​ra·​phy | \ ȯr-ˈthä-grə-fē How to pronounce orthography (audio) \

Definition of orthography

1a : the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage the rules of English orthography
b : the representation of the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols
2 : a part of language study that deals with letters and spelling A student of orthography is likely to be a good speller.

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It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word! That quote, ascribed to Andrew Jackson, might have been the motto of early English spelling. The concept of orthography (a term that derives from the Greek words orthos, meaning "right or true," and graphein, meaning "to write") was not something that really concerned people until the introduction of the printing press in England in the second half of the 15th century. From then on, English spelling became progressively more uniform and has remained fairly stable since the 1755 publication of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (with the notable exception of certain spelling reforms, such as changing "musick" to "music," that were championed by Noah Webster).

Examples of orthography in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Jouvert, Jour Ouvert, Jour O’vert, Jouvay—the words revealing a history of empire and its demise in their shifting orthography. M Nourbese Philip, Harper's BAZAAR, 16 Feb. 2021 But English is, of course, a very peculiar language, as Bernard Shaw complains, the orthography and the pronunciation have nothing in common. Gabe Friedman, sun-sentinel.com, 17 Oct. 2019 The governments of Nunavut and of Canada, the newspaper’s biggest advertisers, still want adverts set in syllabics and in the roman orthography now used for Inuinnaqtun, an official language in the territory. The Economist, 3 Oct. 2019 Egyptian Arabic still lacks a standardized orthography, but its use has become more common during the past fifteen years, in part because of the Internet and texting. Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, 7 Apr. 2017 Typically, Tolkien and his language-nerd adherents have developed the tongue’s grammar and orthography to almost headache-inducing levels. John Baichtal, WIRED, 26 Aug. 2009

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'orthography.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of orthography

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for orthography

Middle English ortografie, from Anglo-French, from Latin orthographia, from Greek, from orth- + graphein to write — more at carve

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The first known use of orthography was in the 15th century

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Cite this Entry

“Orthography.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orthography. Accessed 26 Jul. 2021.

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More Definitions for orthography



English Language Learners Definition of orthography

technical : the way in which the words of a language are spelled

More from Merriam-Webster on orthography

Nglish: Translation of orthography for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of orthography for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about orthography


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