flay / flea (and other "ea" words)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Jun 19 20:51:30 UTC 2009

At 12:36 AM +0800 6/20/09, Randy Alexander wrote:
>On Fri, Jun 19, 2009 at 11:43 PM, Charles Doyle <cdoyle at uga.edu> wrote:
>>  In my Shakespeare class this morning, discussing _King Lear_, I got to
>>  wondering out loud why the _Riverside Shakespeare_ , which professes to show
>>  modernized spellings, gives the verb "flay" as "flea"--thereby ensuring that
>>  most students will mispronounce and therefore misunderstand the word: "With
>>  her nails / She'll flea thy wolvish visage" (1.4.307-08).
>>  I took the occasion (a "teachable moment," in the current cliche) to ask
>>  the old favorite history-of-the-language "trivia" question:  What four
>>  common current English words have that "ea" vowel spelling and preserve the
>>  pronunciation /e/?
>I've also never heard of shea butter

There's also Shea Stadium, although it's now defunct and I suppose
proper names may not count as words.


>, but up here in the near-Siberian
>wastelands there are several classes of elementary school aged Chinese
>students (mine) who would instantly rattle off "break steak great yea", as
>well as their rhoticized companions "bear pear tear wear swear".
>Randy Alexander
>Jilin City, China
>My Manchu studies blog:
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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