People who write to the papers about language issues do get awfully confused.
There’s been a good deal of discussion in the media recently about teenagers’ supposed limited vocabulary. People have been saying and writing a lot of nonsense about it, as ably exposed by David Crystal.
Now someone writes to the Sunday Times to defend teenagers… by blaming “captains of industry”.No, Mr Allen, your examples fone, fayre, lite, snax, bitz and center are not “words”, still less words that have just been made up by marketing departments. They are spellings.
Spellings are different from words. You are not complaining about words, and your comments are not relevant to the question of vocabulary size. You’re complaining about spellings.
The words we conventionally spell fair, light, snacks, bits and (BrE) centre have been in English for many centuries. Even the word conventionally written phone is more than a century old, being dated by the OED to 1880 — long before “the mighty supermarkets” existed.
As for the word you would like everyone to write as centre, I think you should bear in mind that well over half the native speakers of English in the world spell it as center, a spelling that has been around since the sixteenth century. The sky has not yet fallen in.
Nor is anything whatsoever threatened by people sometimes spelling naɪt as nite. (According to the OED, they’ve been doing that too since the 16th century.) Supermarkets indeed have to make a commercial judgment about whether using common-sense spellings of this sort will attract more customers than it will repel. But there is no moral issue involved.
And I can’t see how it could affect anyone’s vocabulary size.