I am often struck with how strange is french orthography.

As an example "huile" has no reason to have an h now (since u and v are distinct in French), and "femme" having two m is equally absurd.

Is there a list of such "errors" in history where a word was changed from usage in a way that takes it away from etymology?

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    One might argue keeping non phonetic spelling only for etymological reasons is equally absurd. – jlliagre Oct 25 '20 at 9:51

The doubling of m in "femme" is the consequence of a rule generally applied.

From Espace français

Le m se double après a, e et o quand la syllabe est brève, comme dans les mots suivants.

  • grammaire, ammoniac, femme, homme, somme
  • exception flamme (voyelle longue)

In this case there is a rule similar to the rule in English saying that the consonant should be doubled to indicate a short vowel (mat/matted, mate/mated, …); it is true that it is a much more useful rule in English, yet mostly people more or less professionally concerned with English know it and are able to appreciate it.

Therefore, there is little to complain about as regards this doubling of the m.

As concerns the second case, it is different; if it is true that we don't really see a point for this orthography nowadays, yet there are reasons, if not good ones, that have kept people who have a say in the shaping of the language from changing it and they have nothing to do with an absurd process. One of those is the accumulated written language that still has to be read and that cannot be changed; keeping the language as much as possible like this accumulated material facilitates things; another reason is that human nature changes slowly: tradition has much inertia and men go against its grain with difficulty. The situation again is as in English; for instance words like "night", light", and "plight" are written "ght" in the end and that is representative of an old pronunciation that is not used any more. A lot of people sometimes write "nite", lite", and so on because they feel those ancient spellings are not useful; yet these spellings persist as the only standard ones. The last efforts to simplify the English language go back to the 19th century, they were fruitless and since then nothing has really been done. This has a certain advantage: for instance a text from Dickens still looks much like modern English.

Yes, the thing in itself is an absurdity, but the situation that brings it about is not the result of absurdity, it is merely an instance of humans' powerlessness at controlling their environment as well as would be desirable.

There are probably such lists in private ownership but I doubt they'll be called "list of errors"; "anomalies", "particularities" and such terms are probably used but as an error can be imputed to no one this term cannot have occurred in anyone's thinking. I am not aware of any such list, though.

  • @Pas un clue Your correction, as far as I can see for now, changes nothing to the meaning of my sentence; I'm curious to know, though, what defect you remedied to in changing "man" to "human" since the former is just another term used synonymously with the latter (OALD, 2). – LPH Oct 26 '20 at 17:04
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    You're more than welcome to change it back if you disagree. I certainly won't interpret your move personally. Just thought it was a bit more graceful. The "More about" section of the link you provide, for example, states "Man and mankind have traditionally been used to mean ‘all men and women’. Many people now prefer to use humanity, the human race, human beings or people." – Pas un clue Oct 26 '20 at 17:10
  • @Pasunclue I see, I hadn't suspected that point of view…a certain concern with the politically correct then; the two concepts are well dissociated in my mind, but it's true, the fact of a certain small imperfection remains and to do things well in the way of freeing the expression of all undue connotations it is preferable to use another term. – LPH Oct 26 '20 at 17:22

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