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March 19, 2007

A spelling demonology
Posted by Teresa at 09:17 PM * 425 comments

Ten years ago, I stopped believing that the OED understands which English words are and aren’t hard to spell. I’d link to the article that did it to me, but it’s no longer findable online, so there’s the thing in full. It raises all sorts of perennially stupid issues in spelling:

August 29 1997, Britain: Master wordsmiths fail spelling test

DO NOT despair if you cannot spell nil desperandum or if you get into a muddle over imbroglio. You are not alone.

They are among the most fiendishly difficult words to spell in the English language, according to the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Nil desperandum was at the head of a list of lexicographers’ horrors put together by the experts who compile the OED. When The Times tried it out on famous wordsmiths yesterday, the author J.G. Ballard was one who could not get it right. “I must protest,” he said, “that it is not English. It is Latin.”

Finding that famous authors can’t spell a given list of words proves nothing. Spelling and writing are unrelated skills. The ability to spell is as variable in authors as it is in the general population. For example, Steve is dyslexic, Chip is severely dyslexic, and Hilbert can’t distinguish homophones. Gene and Mary Jane probably won spelling bees when they were kids. The only typos in Harry’s manuscripts are the kind that are invisible to spellcheckers, which means he can reliably recognize errors in words that are pointed out to him. And so forth.

(Being able to tell whether an indicated word is spelled correctly is the normal sort of spelling ability. Being unable to ignore the existence of a typo that’s within your field of vision, even if you aren’t consciously reading the text in which it occurs, is the kind of spelling ability copyeditors and proofreaders tend to have.)

If J.G. Ballard complained about Latin vocabulary, he’s clearly not the sort of speller who wins spelling bees. Latin spelling is regular, and we pick up the vocabulary from written sources. If you know a Latin word or phrase, you ought to be able to spell it.

Onward.

No excuse, according to the taskmasters in Oxford. A spokeswoman said: “Many words in everyday use are not English in origin. School pupils returning to school shortly are still expected to be able to spell them.” The list was designed to test even the most accomplished linguistic practitioners who, it was thought, might have trouble with obscurities such as poetaster or rehoboam.
Poetaster and rehoboam aren’t inherently hard to spell. They’re seldom-used words which readers are occasionally called upon to recognize, and hardly anyone is called upon to spell—outside of spelling bees and stunt spelling tests.
The idea came from a “back to school” campaign in which the OED publishers put together a list of the most common spelling mistakes. Words such as accommodation or separate are frequently spelt wrongly by children.
Right there, I can tell they don’t know what they’re talking about. Accommodate and separate are misspelled by people of all ages.
Even adults have difficulty remembering the difference between licence and license or recalling those occasions when i does not precede e even after c.
More nonsense. Most adults who can remember ie/ei could do the same when they were in high school. What makes the difference is what kind of speller you are, not how old you are.
The new list is claimed to be even harder because many of the words break the accepted rules of English spelling, …
There are rules?
… mainly because several have foreign origins.
Eeeeek, imported foreign words in English! To quote the worthy James D. Nicoll,
“English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and ri[f]fle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
Foreign-derived words in English are not noteworthy—unless I’ve somehow missed out on all the people who are going around saying “Hwaet! Merry Infangthief to you! I want a brown cow that gives much milk, for cheese and butter to eat with my daily worts.”
Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the OED, said: “These are words which often defy all logic and sometimes seem deliberately designed to cause trouble, not only for children but parents and adults in general.”
Oddly enough, I have long kept just such a list; and mine is far more troublesome than theirs. But first, here’s their puny list:
The words used in the challenge: nil desperandum, imbroglio, hoi polloi, paterfamilias, uxorious, licentious, meretricious, plagiarism, poetaster, counterfeiter, indecipherable. Others in Oxford’s complete list include: shibboleths, fuchsia, psephologist, encephalopathy, jejune, nonpareil, and icthyological.
I am not impressed. Fuchsia is the only genuine spelling demon on that list. Psephologist is difficult for its sheer unfamiliarity, and icthyological is difficult because the h in fourth position makes you want to put in an h following the initial ic.** I suppose you could get indecipherable wrong if you thought it was undecipherable, but that hardly counts. And the eis in counterfeiter and nonpareil aren’t particularly difficult, because if you make them ie they’re obviously wrong. As for the rest, if you’re sufficiently familiar with the words to be using them, you ought to know how to spell them. It’s not as though there were obvious alternate spellings to paterfamilias or hoi polloi or jejune.

Bah. I’ve been saving up that story to stomp on it for a long time now.

Want to see my nasty wordlist? I first started compiling it back when I was Managing Editor at Tor. People would phone me who wanted to get hired as freelance copyeditors or proofreaders. They’d rattle on for a while about their qualifications. I’d wait for a gap, then say, “Spell accommodate.”

Usually there’d be a gulp at the other end of the phone. Then some would spell it incorrectly. Others would start to spell it, stop, and say “But I’d know to look it up.” My favorite response was the guy who spelled it correctly; also supersede and bizarre. “Very good!” I said. He chuckled and said “Pharaoh.” I spelled it and said “I’ll add it to the list.” He proved to be an excellent nonfiction copyeditor.

My wordlist was designed to trip up people who spell for a living. Ideally, it should be administered as an oral spelling test, with the words in the order given below:

Bazaar, bizarre, accede, precede, desiccated, supersede, accessory, necessary, accommodate, harass, artillery, battalion, guerrilla, iridescent, miscellaneous, millennium, vermilion, parallelism, commitment, committed, committee, counselor, calendar, stratagem, sorcerer, restaurateur, prophesy, pharaoh, eulogy, feud, fluorescent, suede, pseudopod, fuchsia, jodhpurs, frieze, receive, sacrilegious, seize, siege, weird.
Notes:

—The principle is that (for instance) artillery, battalion, guerrilla, iridescent and accessory, necessary are easier to spell if they aren’t sitting next to each other.

—In an oral spelling test, the correct response to counselor is a dismayed squeak: it has several alternate spellings.

—Some words are only hard because their pronunciations screw up our ability to remember how to spell them; thus: calander, strategem, sorceror, restauranteur, pharoh, fuschia, sacreligious.

—Two ways to remember how to spell fuchsia: (1.) The botanist was named Fuchs. (2.) If you pronounce it the way it’s spelled, it comes out fucks ya.

And finally, just because I can, a list of all the variant spellings of icicle, icicles in the OED:

hyse-hykylle, icecles, ice-ickel, ice-schokkill, ice-schoklis, ice-seekles, ice-seskel, ice-shackle, ice-shockles, ice-shog, ice-shoggle, ice-shogle, iceshogles, ice-shoglin, ice-shokle, ice-sickel, icesicles, iceycel, iceycle, icicles, icikle, isch schoklis, ische-schokkill, ische-shackle, ische-shockle, ische-shog, ische-shoggle, ische-shogle, ische-shoglin, ische-shokle, isch-schokkill, isch-shackle, isch-shockle, isch-shog, isch-shoggle, isch-shogle, isch-shoglin, isch-shokle, ise3kille, isechele, isecle, ise-sickel(s), ise-sickle, ise-sicklels, ise-yokel, isickles, isicle, isikle, isykle, izekelle, ycicle, yese-ikkle, ysckeles, yse sycles, ysekele, yse-schokkill, yse-shackle, yse-shockle, yse-shog, yse-shoggle, yse-shogle, yse-shoglin, yse-shokle, yse-yckel, ysicles, ysse-ikkles.
I think one of the ways the Time Patrol indexes alternities is by how they spell icicle.
Comments on A spelling demonology:
#1 ::: Nina Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:00 AM:

Wonderful stomping-and yet,I'm an excellent speller,but only on paper-when people ask me to spell words for them-I have to write them down-I can't spell at all really,orally.
If this was some sort od a spelling test to,I don't know,get into Oxford or something,I could see it-otherwise,that list is ridiculous for testing everyday spelling. TNH,your list is good because they are in actual use.

#2 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:12 AM:

Nope, this isn't precisely on topic, but somehow seemed related.

Q: How many art directors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Does it have to be a light bulb?
Q: How many copyeditors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: The last time this question was asked it involved art directors. Is the difference intentional? Should one or the other instance be changed? It seems inconsistent.

You're right. A stronger prescription would be a good idea.

#3 ::: Cairsten ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:16 AM:

I'd get "supersede" wrong according to you; my West Indian upbringing refuses to be entirely superceded by the influence of the American high school system. ;) Great list though.

#4 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:19 AM:

Sign me up for "liaison". I always want to leave out the second "i".

#5 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:32 AM:

Weird is most often correctly correctly spelled in this manner: wierd^H^H^H^Heird (at least on my keyboard).

#6 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:47 AM:

Is the word dislexic above a test to find the copyeditors among the people who comment on Making Light, or does it describe a person with a little-known learning disability that isn't dyslexia?

(It might also be a legal but uncommon variant spelling of dyslexic, I suppose.)

#7 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:50 AM:

Wow. I was going to get all snarky and note the typo in "restaurateur", leaving out the N before the -teur, but I figured I ought to ask the internet first.

I did not know that that word was spelled that way.

#8 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:52 AM:

privately pronouncing things wrong was always my spelling secret weapon. so i do say fuchhh (velar fricative) see ah, in my head.

that & my visual memory make me a pretty good speller. my knowledge of how a word is spelled affects my pronunciation ever so slightly, because i often see the word when i say it, like people were saying about "grey/gray". i don't misspell millenium as millinium, cause i can hear the difference between e & i when i say it.

the everyday word that gives me the most problems is separate. i think of lepers to remember it, but then i forget whether it is like leper, or not like leper.

#9 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:00 AM:

Miriam, #8: Here's the trick for "separate"--remember that it's got "a rat" in the middle of it. (Courtesy of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, I think--it's been a while.)

#11 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:11 AM:

Anecdote alert!

When I was in first grade I had a spelling test where one of the words was "emperor." I spelled it "emperer," and my doddering old bat of a teacher marked it right by accident. The mistake was corrected soon enough, but apparently the damage was done, because when I was in fourth grade I made it to the citywide spelling bee--and got out on the word emperor. Guess how I spelled it?

And goddammit, I knew every single word after that.

#12 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:19 AM:

Great stomping!

I love the spelling reference very much, but one thing confuses me: I honestly can't imagine how anyone misspells Asimov. Can anyone enlighten me with a plausible wrong spelling of that name? To my eye, it's written exactly as it sounds.

I'm generally good at spelling (which claim probably guarantees there's a typo in this comment!) The types of spelling challenges exemplified by the bad OED list I always do well on. I have a decent vocabulary, and enough Latin and Greek and general sense of etymology to guess most deliberately obscure words. There are a few relatively common words that always trip me up though: fulfil (in its various parts) and focused I think are the worst.

#13 ::: Therese Norén ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:20 AM:

Like Nina, I wouldn't be able to spell out words orally if my paycheck depended on it. I've never heard of a spelling bee in Swedish.

Many of the words on your list is on my "always look it up on dictionary.com" list.

#14 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:28 AM:

A foreign word that would appear to be hard to spell...

Isn't it somewhat of a rule, that, in natural languages, the most commonly used words are the exceptions to the most rules of that language?

So, for example, to be and to have are irregular verbs in French and English.

#15 ::: Greta Christina ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:41 AM:

Excellent, excellent list. Way better than dumb old Oxford's. I was especially struck by how many of the words on your list have double letters, with easy mistakes to make about how many pairs of double letters there should be. I'm generally a good speller, but that's absolutely my nemesis. I used to joke about how it was a sign of my crappy relationship skills that I couldn't spell "commitment"... until I realized that I couldn't spell "professor" either.

There's just one more I'd add to the list -- "cemetery." Everyone wants to put in an "a."

#16 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:41 AM:

Spelling hates me, and not in the dyslexic way. I'm just not particularly good at it and I don't fully understand why. My comprehension and use vocabulary is good enough that I can mostly keep up with this crowd, so I know it's way above average. I just tend to not spell well and in unpredictable ways. Not a writing session goes by that I am not grateful for spellcheck.

If there is one word I consistently kill, it's silhouette.

As for English stealing its vocabulary like a big stealing thief person, I was surprised to find out that the word shark does not have old-world linguistic origins. OED says it's first usage was on some sort of shipping expedition in 1550. The book I'm reading on Maya says the word comes from the Mayan word xook (pronounced shok) which means 'a shark'. I'm guessing it's ultimately onomatopoetic. It's easy to imagine frantically screaming the word while being eaten by one.

#17 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:46 AM:

Teresa, I'd say your list (and your very entertaining jeremiad against the OED) give some strong evidence that there are several different skills involved in spelling: visual recognition of a word by its spelling, ability to detect a misspelling visually, and ability to spell a word (with subflavors involving whether your memory of spelling is primarily visual or auditory). Maybe all that means maybe you're a wee bit hard on the OED, since they clearly don't realize there's more than one skill, although it's also clear they're rather fuzzy on what that is (and a resounding "for shame" for that).

#18 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:47 AM:

Individ-ewe-al @ #12:

"Azimov" is reportedly common (by some accounts, that's how Asimov came to write his classic story "Spell My Name With An 'S'").

Also, famously, the magazine Planet Stories once published correspondence from a certain "Isaac Asenion". (Hint: cursive handwriting.) That one made it into his fiction, too: in one of his robot stories, "Asenion" is the name of the guy credited with developing the Three Laws.

(There's also a story, set far in the future, in which one of the characters reiterates a vaguely-recalled factoid about a twentieth-century chemist named Azimuth; but I think he just made that one up.)

#19 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:51 AM:

The single most misspelled word in most of my recent (last several years' worth) reading is "definitely." It drives me nuts, because many otherwise decent spellers simply cannot seem to get this word correct.

#20 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:56 AM:

Add to "cemetary" and "silhouette" this bugaboo: camouflage.

Excellent list.

I have to admit I've got the copyeditor's eye. Worst case is when I'm running a roleplaying game and people hand me character sheets which I hand back copyedited. Accounting errors don't bother me half so much as misspelled words.

#21 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:00 AM:

Bruce, I definitely cannot regularly spell definitely. Don't let the correct spelling here fool you. My copy of Firefox has a spellchecker for all input fields.

I have no doubt whatsoever that this will get me into trouble.

Both the spellchecker and the indefinite definitely.

#22 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:17 AM:

Denizens of this blog may enjoy the "Typo of the Day" blog at http://typooftheday.blogspot.com/. This is compiled by a librarian and catches common errors in library catalogs. (We really did have a book in our catalog -- from another library in our county -- listed under "Untied States". And yes, it *was* about the Civil War.)

On the GOVDOC-L mailing list, for librarians that deal with government documents, we've had long discussions of "supercede" vs. "supersede." The Federal Depository Library Program prefers the latter, of course, and their Superseded List is what we who are in charge of FDLP collections at our libraries are required to go by when weeding our collections, because the collections are, legally (U.S. Code Title 44), government property and therefore there are regulations to be followed.

(And sure enough, I had "regulatiosn" there, but caught it just in time.)

#23 ::: AzureLunatic ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:20 AM:

My mnemonic for the word "weird" is "wired weird". I can remember the spelling of "wired" with no problems, and if I remember that "weird" has the i/e order switched from "wired", I'm all good to go.

"weird" is weird in that it violates "i before e except after c", anyway.

#24 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:05 AM:

ah yes. I'm one of the lucky ones as far as spelling goes - unless I'm asked "is [word] spelled [alternative one] or [alternative two]?" and then I have to write it down to see which spelling it is (sometimes it'll be a third). If I'm not given a choice, I'm fine. Used to be the tech pubs department's walking, talking dictionary...

two that it took me a long time to not be confused about:

satellite
dilettante*

*The Dilettante makes excellent chocolate delights here in Seattle, and that's where I finally got "one l, two t's" into my head

#25 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:06 AM:

Darnit, I've sat here a good five minutes trying to recall which words I habitually misspell, because none of them apart from miscellaneous are on your list, but can I?

Course not.

#26 ::: Steve Zillwood ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:06 AM:

Regarding "supersede" in Teresa's list, I used to use the variant "supercede" due to the similarity in meaning between it and cede, and had to train myself out of that.

Anecdote warning: I used to edit an online magazine years ago, and the owner was setting up a calendar page for the staff regarding due dates and the like. It began as the "Calandar" page, and after I corrected him, he changed it to the "Calander" page. I decided that it wasn't going to work, so as a joke I sent him another memo reminding him that it was spelled "Colander," which he promptly got right, as it were. To my knowledge, the staff at that magazine continued to sift through their assignments to the day it closed.

#27 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:09 AM:

T's list of words sure look like LJ account names. And yes, indeed they are. There are two community names and three deleted accounts. (One of the deleted accounts has not been purged yet, and the user name is moderately funny when inserted into the standard LJ boilerplate.) There is one other name that is not a current LJ user name, but entering it redirects to a different name. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I'm counting it. Of course, most of the words on the OED's list are probably taken too. If you are looking for an internet handle, maybe one of the icecles.

#28 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:11 AM:

The beginning of your list ("bazaar, bizarre") reminds me of the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser story, The Bazaar of the Bizarre, by Fritz Leiber. Reading that at 13 probably got at least those two words burned into my memory with no possibility of confusion.

#29 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:22 AM:

Now that's a list!

Like Miriam, I tend to pronounce words in my head with appropriate vowel values (no matter what comes out of my mouth), so I'm unlikely to be tripped up by pin/pen sort of issues. (And yes, I do pronounce those two words differently.)

Of your list, the ones that would be likely to catch me are:
supersede (although that one is now on my mental Oh-oh! list)
sorcerer (because there are a number of fantasy books in which it is consistently spelled "sorceror") *
restaurateur (yes, I'd add the n)
prophesy wouldn't be a problem if it was pronounced correctly ("prophecy" ends with a long-e sound)
pharaoh would be a problem orally, but not written
fuchsia (your hints have been noted)
jodhpurs (y'know, I probably mispronounce this too)
frieze should also prompt a call for definition, as it's homophonous with "freeze"
sacrilegious (one wants to put "religious" into it)

I used to have problems with putting an extra o in the middle of "pronunciation", but have since broken myself of that.

* It occurs to me that if one has sufficient French to think of Dukas' piece by its French title of L'apprenti Sorcier, that could be a useful mnemonic.

#30 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:36 AM:

"Poetaster"? Why, everyone knows that poets taste like chicken, of course. Yum!

#31 ::: Taelle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:42 AM:

Words ending in -uous or -ious are still a bit hard for me to spell - I must concentrate. But I do not really understand why 'separate' is difficult to spell.

Then again, I am not a native speaker, so I do not count. I still cannot differentiate between 'license' and 'licence' and other pairs of that type, and the English way of double consonants confused my Russian spelling a bit (after writing 'corridor' too often in English it's hard to remember there are no double r's in the Russian version).

#32 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:47 AM:

I nurture ancient bitterness against an elementary-school spelling test that marked "neighbour" as wrong; at the time, I was too bewildered to bring in and brandish the British books I'd been reading. (I think that at that age, I was still convinced that a "lorry" must be some sort of large draft animal similar to oxen, perhaps some sort of weird Scottish yak.)

#33 ::: Sus ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:50 AM:

*de-lurks*

That's a humbling list, that. Meh to accommodation, meh, I say!

You know, I was tempted to gloat a little, thinking that, as a German, I have it a little easier with spelling because we mostly (with exceptions) "pronounce what's there" (there is no GHOTI in German)... and then I got to fuchsia. Proud users of our velar fricative - is it transcribed as [x]? - we go ahead and ignore it. I hadn't noticed before! We say "fook-see-eh" (Fuchsie). I wonder why...

*re-lurks*

#34 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:55 AM:

Ummm, I thought the "licence" vs. "license" difference was just a Brit vs. Yank thing.

#35 ::: chris bond ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:57 AM:

Bruce Cohen wrote (#17) above on a number of different skills involved in spelling including:
"ability to detect a misspelling visually".

This separation does seem to make some sense to me; in high school I always gave the teachers the impression of good spelling skills, but this was more due to my ability to tell if words were correctly spelled or not. However, sometimes I would look at a word I knew I had spelled wrong, and had no clue how to spell it; I would then usually find some other way of writing what I meant - and thus my teachers would rarely see misspelled words in my work.

#36 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:12 AM:

Kevin Andrew Murphy @ 20

I have to admit I've got the copyeditor's eye. Worst case is when I'm running a roleplaying game and people hand me character sheets which I hand back copyedited. Accounting errors don't bother me half so much as misspelled words.

As an engineer I've had to write and review more technical documents than I like to think about. Because technical writing is very much about the details, reviewing and copyediting can sometimes become inextricably intertwined. So when my wife first started writing, and asked to help out by reviewing early drafts, I'm ashamed to say it took me quite a few go-rounds before I'd broken myself of correcting the spelling and the grammer before I commented on the character development or the plot.

#37 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:19 AM:

I believe I have never actually spelled 'fuchsia' correctly. (So much so that it took me three tries to type it the right way above.) I'll have to try to remember to check that one in the future.

Most of the rest of the words on your list wouldn't give me a problem, but I see a few:

frieze: Unless you pronounce it some way I'm not used to, I'd assume you said 'freeze' (but if you defined it I could spell it)
sorcerer: I would probably spell this with the (incorrect) -or because, darn it, so many roleplaying games do
harass: I often put in an extra r, alas
prophesy: I spell this with a -cy and was under the impression that was correct -- what am I missing with that one? Verb vs noun form?

#38 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:26 AM:

Oh, and how I remember 'separate' is my brain relates it to 'paring down'.

(Darn it, why do I keep doing this thing where I think I've typed everything I want and then remember something else afterwards? Is it the sleep dep? I blame the sleep dep.)

#39 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:48 AM:

I missed marks on a third grade spelling test because the teacher wanted "futile" and I gave her "feudal".

I argued that I had spelled what I heard. She argued that we had had a list to memorise, that "futile" was on it, and that "feudal" was not.

Then I think she heard herself trying to take points off of me for going beyond the assigned coursework and thought better of it. I got the mark back.

#40 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:06 AM:

The word I always have the most trouble spelling is mrfliglipzikzim.
(Fortunately, it's not often I need to discuss Minnesotan winter sports.)

#41 ::: Steve Zillwood ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:08 AM:

Tina@37

Re: Prophesy, you're absolutely right, verb vs. noun. When you tell a prophecy, you prophesy. Not elegant, but there you go.

#42 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:15 AM:

"License/Licence" is a tricky one; in British English you are "licensed" to kill, but you carry a driving "licence". I believe that it is different in American English.

icthyological is difficult because the h in fourth position makes you want to put in an h following the initial ic.

I realise how foolhardy this is, but I think this is wrong; there should be an h after the initial c.
Three reasons;
First, it's pronounced "ich-thee-o-lo-ji-kal", not "ik-thee..." with the voiced ch as in loch, Bruichladdich, Mach, Rachmaninov, Nagorno-Karabakh, etc.
Second, it would make sense given the root in Greek, which starts iota-chi-theta, not iota-kappa-theta.
Third, that's how the dictionary spells it.

#43 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:19 AM:

Individ-ewe-al #12:

Asimov might be misspelled either:

(1) Asimoff or

(2) Assimov/ff or

(3) Asimow.

#44 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:20 AM:

Hey! That list is unfair on dyslexics! (And I mean yours rather than the OED nonsense). There are reasons I'd never make a good copy editor...

But if you want some more ideas, I'm reminded of this horrible poem, the first verse of which I've copied below for a sample.

Dearest creature in creation,
Studying English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
It will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Pray console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it.

#45 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:22 AM:

verb/noun thing

Same with license/licence, at least in the UK: when you license someone or something, you issue a licence. My mnemonic involves advise/advice.

And as a classicist, I'm with ajay on "ichthyologist". The Greek word has a chi, which should be transliterated with a "ch". Remember that the fish is the Christian sign because the second letter in ichthus was taken to stand for Christ.

Iesus
Christos
Theou
uios
soter

#46 ::: Spike ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:23 AM:

If this is some fiendish plot to look for proofreaders, can I point out that in your notes on the list, you are missing an a in Pharaoh.

#47 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:30 AM:

#46: Spike, if you mean this:

Some words are only hard because their pronunciations screw up our ability to remember how to spell them; thus: calander, strategem, sorceror, restauranteur, pharoh, fuschia, sacreligious.

- they are all (deliberately) misspelt, as examples of how pronunciations can be misleading.

#48 ::: Spike ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:38 AM:

Fair enough. My fault for not reading the rest carefully enough. Apologies all.

#49 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:43 AM:

I remember "fuchsia" using Teresa's first method, with a side-order of the famous British newspaper headline:

SIR VIVIAN FUCHS OFF TO ANTARCTICA.

Supposedly genuine: and he did call his book "Of Ice and Men".

Me, I've never been north of Schenectady. Although I did just have to check if there was a second 'h'.

#50 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:45 AM:

legionnaire is hard.

#51 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:46 AM:

I had a hard time with "weird" for years, until I read Dune. Seeing "weirding" a zillion times made the i-e reversal stick in my head...particularly because my brain decided to pronounce it "weyrding" to give it more of a vibe. My brain does its own thing.

When I was a kid my journalist grandma taught me this helpful version of "I before E:"

"I before E, except after C, and when sounding like A as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh.'"

#52 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:48 AM:

I just had a telephonic conversation with my wife, in which I misheard her say 'combination' as 'commination'. She claimed never to have heard of the latter term, so I just emailed this to her.

#53 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:19 AM:

Re ic[h]thyological:

"Ichthyological" is the more common spelling (e.g., 186,000 Google hits vs 16,300 for "icthyological"), and the only one in the couple of dictionaries I have on hand (including the American Heritage Dictionary, which is one of the better ones). And, as ajay and candle pointed out, it's more faithful to the standard transliteration of ancient Greek.

A little further poking around suggests that many of the Google hits for "icthyo-" really are misspellings of "ichthyo-". E.g., this page for the Ichthyological Society of Japan uses "ichthyological" all over the page, except once where they refer to their journal, "Icthyological Research". But then if you follow the link to the publisher's page, it's clear the journal really is Ichthyological Research.

#54 ::: Shane Stringer ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:20 AM:

There are rules?

Indeed, there are.

#55 ::: Q ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:24 AM:

Not entirely related... but I recently hada talk with my bank, where the helpful woman explained that my debit card was being replaced because the data had been calm-promised.

Yes.

//shudder

#56 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:27 AM:

Miriam Beetle@8: How are you on "millennium"?

(I too have the proofreader's eye. Working in a copy shop, I find this to be occasionally good, occasionally just annoying.)

I once psychically divined the spelling of a word. I was playing in a Quiz Bowl practice round, and a tossup question involved the deciding word in one year's national spelling bee, "kaolinic". Naturally, for ten points you had to spell "kaolinic". I'd never seen or heard the word before, but somehow as soon as the question was finished the spelling popped into my head and I knew it was right. (It was, too.)

#57 ::: Zzedar ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:32 AM:

I can never remember "bureaucracy". My general approach is to just throw a bunch of vowels in, and hope I get lucky.

#58 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:37 AM:

Ajay (42): You're right!

It hadn't occurred to me that the original story wouldn't have spellchecked its own wordlist backward, forward, and sideways, so I decided the word must be on the list because one so naturally wants to spell it ichthyological. Ten out of ten for spelling; naught out of ten for execution.

#59 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:39 AM:

It is probably a bad sign that I can't figure out how people can write love letters without being able to spell poetaster.

#60 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:41 AM:

Some words are only hard because their pronunciations screw up our ability to remember how to spell them; thus: calander, strategem, sorceror, restauranteur, pharoh, fuschia, sacreligious.

I'd also suggest that in a couple of cases, we can be misled by the fact that closely related (and more common) words are spelled differently than the words in the list: i.e., strategy vs stratagem, restaurant vs restaurateur.

(I now have to confess that while I have little or no trouble with most of the words on Teresa's list, I had absolutely no idea that "fuchsia" and "restaurateur" were spelled the way they are...)

#61 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:52 AM:

Zzedar #57: I've had students write 'beaurocracy' for 'bureaucracy'. I presume that they mean government by the beautiful people.

#62 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:52 AM:

I don't know if you're familiar with Taylor Mali, but your comments about the fallibility of spellcheck reminded me of one of his poems: The Impotence of Proofreading.

"...I myself was such a bed spiller once upon a term
that my English teacher in my sophomoric year,
Mrs. Myth, said I would never get into a good colleague.
And that's all I wanted, just to get into a good colleague.
Not just anal community colleague..."

#63 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:00 AM:

Francis@44: Thank-you! I went looking for that poem just now, too, but I couldn't find it.

#64 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:17 AM:

I was told by the head of my children's elementary school years ago when despairing of my daughter's spelling that it was an ability one is born with (though some training helps.) Somehow genetically encoded, like being able to wiggle one's ears or roll up one's tongue.

My husband and son Adam can spell. Son Jason can sort of spell. Daughter Heidi and I are hopeless, though she is much worse than I am. Yet the writers in the family are Heidi, Adam, and me.

However, once we bought a house in Scotland and began living there half the year, no one in the family could spell. Has to do with all those s/z combinations. When to put in the ou and when not. And even some actual words or combinations that are Brit-o-centric or wholly American.

So, as I used to tell kids, good write no spell--that's me. (I know lots of terrific copyeditors, though, who need to keep their hands off my prose.)

Jane

#65 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:18 AM:

There's an a cappella band whose third album defeats one of my biggest spelling problems: the Ithacappella album "Two 'p's, Two 'l's" gets me through a cappella, as long as I remember the a space.

#66 ::: Leslie Turek ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:22 AM:

When I was in college, there was a time when people wore buttons with clever sayings (much like they now wear t-shirts). Some friends and I starting making buttons to sell and 4th or 5th one we came up with was "This button supersedes all previous buttons". We'd paid to have 250 made before we realized the error. That was the end of our button project.

As a fan historic note, the company we used to make the buttons, Hodges Badge and Button, has become the major supplier for decorative ribbons for science fiction conventions. We used them for the early Boskones and the news spread. Currently located in Rhode Island, at that time they were near Fresh Pond in Cambridge.

#67 ::: Leslie Turek ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:27 AM:

Oops! The button read "This button supercedes all previous buttons". Aparently I've learned the lesson so thoroughly that I can't spell it wrong now even when I try.

Re bureaucracy: I use the piece of furniture and think bureau-cracy.

And I just noticed your very neat "spelling reference" aid for commenters. I don't think I've seen that elsewhere.

#68 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:31 AM:

Claude (2), why are you quoting my lightbulb jokes?

Cairsten (3), supersede is super + sedere, which I always remember as "to squash something by sitting on top of it." It's the only -sede ending in English. So many people substitute the commoner -cede ending that dictionaries have taken to listing that spelling.

Rymenhild (6), I've never spelled the word dislexic in all my life. I'll blame that one on Titivillus, who in modern times has left the scriptorium, and instead works to insert nonsensical typos into posts and comments about spelling. Who among us hasn't had that happen?

Miriam (8), some people (like Mary Frances) remember separate via "there's a rat in separate"; but IMO, the logical mnemonic is that it shares a root with parity.

Zak (16), it's not your fault; spelling's part of the hardwiring. Some people spell easily and automatically. Some can't spell to save their lives. And in the midrange, there are people who have greater and lesser difficulty remembering spellings.

Bruce Cohen (17): There are indeed a bunch of different skills involved in spelling. That's one of the reasons I always asked wanna-be proofreaders for accommodate: their reaction to it would tell me a lot about what kind of spellers they were.

I was irked by that story and spelling list because it was full of assumptions about the way spelling ought to work, and wrong about the way it does work.

Note to self: minuscule, liaison, camouflage, cemetery, silhouette.

#69 ::: Paul Herzberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:33 AM:

Ha! Jejune.

I have a theory that this word only exists as word that gets talked about as an awkward word (although I way have stolen that theory from someone else). The obvious way to misspell it is to think it's french and try and make it "jejeune". Where this misspelling mostly occurs is in instructions not to spell "jejune" that way.

That said, I just googled "jejeune" and it seems the Internet has got a lot more pretentious/stupid since I last tried to claim this.

It still seems to be a word that's more talked about than used, though, and there should be a word for that.

#70 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:35 AM:

If someone spells "pharaoh" as pharoah, ask him/her to spell "coal train".

#71 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:37 AM:

Mary Frances, #9: Regarding "separate," this used to trip me up all the time, until Teresa pointed out that the middle syllable is the same root as the verb "to pare," as in, for instance, paring knife. I don't believe I've gotten "separate" wrong since. As another example, I no longer stumble on "privilege," because I remember that its origin is "privy lege", private law.

I'm a decent but far from perfect speller. What improvement I've managed in my adult life has largely come from this kind of linguistic approach--getting to know the history of particular words. For better or worse, this kind of historical approach sticks with me better than arbitrary rules like "there's a rat in separate." Most "rules" for English spelling seem to come down to variations on "I before E except when it's not."

#72 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:38 AM:

Ah, and I see Teresa (#68) beat me to the point about "separate." Time for us to both get off our computers and leave for work!

#73 ::: L. S. Baird ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:40 AM:

I engaged in hand-to-hand battle with 'fuchsia' just yesterday. I won narrowly, but only by squashing it with an unabridged copy of the MW dictionary. I suspect there may be more of them in the walls.

Spelling and writing are unrelated skills.

Thank you! That's something I've needed to hear for a long time. I live in mortal terror of spelling, especially aloud; it ranks with zombies and dentistry.

Or perhaps zombie dentists asking me to spell 'anonymous' out loud.

...I'm gonna be up all night with a baseball bat, now.

#74 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:42 AM:

Is the word "calander" in the penultimate bullet there as a test to see who'd catch the typo, or is that actually the correct spelling of an easily misspelled word? ("Calendar" is Teresa's wordlist two bullet points above "calander.")

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I used the word "issue" rather than "tissue" in a sentence. This, of course, makes complete nonsense of the sentence. That sentence has been in the story I was writing since, oh, November. *facepalm*

#75 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:47 AM:

Let's see if my orthography is orthodox. My black-Protestant brain (as Robert Graves would say), insists on a catholic approach:

We see ourselves in separate small spaces,
others see the outline, the plain silhouette,
the liaison between hope and regret
which we have found in the most vacant spaces.
So here we are, the mule's kicked over traces
and made the cemetery into its oubliette;
we might find reason here just to forget,
but we remain in place till we have faces.
Our memories put things in bold and majuscule,
but that's a falsity, some sort of camouflage,
for what we do not know. But still we've tried
to put our words into small space, in minuscule
letters, in our best hand, yet without persiflage;
we told ourselves we'd know when others lied.

#76 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:00 AM:

I was going to throw in demon words, but most people have gotten them by now.
I spell in the brain-flash way someone mentioned; if I hear a word and have seen it (and heard it pronounced properly, thank you 'viaments') I know what it looks like and pick the letters out from there. I've lost a great deal of confidence in my spelling abilities; that happened in eighth grade. I think it happens to a lot of people who go to the National Spelling Bee and *don't* win.

I think I am growing up now. I don't get as angry about 'triskaidekaphobia' as I used to. I've seen it spelled at least three different ways. It might be normal for words made up of pieces rather than wholes, though.

#77 ::: Toni ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:11 AM:

#36 "grammer" :-(

#78 ::: Adam Stemple ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:25 AM:

Yarmulke. *shudders* I know it's not technically English but still...

#79 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:37 AM:

About "millenium": One should keep in mind The Millenium Project, of which its founders say

We all know that "millennium" comes from the Latin words "mille" and "annus" and means a thousand years. The word "millenium" comes from the Latin words "mille" and "anus" and means something else. This web site is devoted to the millenium of sites which don't deserve a place on the Web. We are not putting them on a pedestal - we are offering them a stool.

#80 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:38 AM:

By the way, I often see "misspelled" misspelled "mispelled".

#81 ::: Berry ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:44 AM:

With regard to the famous James Nicoll quote, and the correction of "rifle" to "rif[f]le", I always thought that "riffle" was what you found on the surface of a babbling brook, or what you did to a deck of cards, and that "to rifle" meant either to cut spiral grooves in a gun barrel OR to loot, plunder, ransack or rob. Teh Intertubes, though hardly authoritative, seem to back me up.

Am I wrong? Does one indeed "riffle" through one's victim's pocketses? Have I been doing it wrong all along?

#82 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:49 AM:

The words that give me trouble are those that exist in English and in French, but with slight differences. For example, 'address' and 'adresse'. That extra 'd' in the English version got me for the longest time. But, heck, if Mister Spock can pronounce 'mischievous' as 'mischievious' and not have a nervous breakdown over it, I guess I can live with my own imperfection.

#83 ::: Malia ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:50 AM:

A few more from a Guardian quiz:

desiccate, ecstasy, address, irresistible, occurrence, embarrass, pronunciation, independent, questionnaire, broccoli, referring, recommend.

#84 ::: Marcos ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:59 AM:

Hm. I think I might have a future in proofreading. The only one of those I got wrong (by having my lovely wife read the list aloud while I wrote) was "desiccate", which I have now added to my mental exceptions list.

The OED clearly has no clue what words people even bother to try to spell when actually, y'know, using the language. :)

#85 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:05 AM:

Let's see... on the oral test I'd probably miss 6-8 on average. If I were allowed to write down my answers, that number would probably drop to 3-4. Something about seeing it in text.

I don't think I'd mess up the spelling of "harass", but damn it, I always mess up the pronunciation! ("Har-rass" instead of "Harris").

And my "separate" mnemonic, given to me by my 5th grade English teacher, Mrs. Fabricant, was "you separate a rat from the pack".

Ooh, and Teresa, thanks for the "supersede" mnemonic.

#86 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:12 AM:

In the past week and a half of Making Light, our heroes have encountered vampires, zombies, and spelling demons (Teresa: "Your word is... Beelzebub."). This episode they face an even greater challenge: ice-shoggoths.


Sorry, I couldn't resist. Admittedly, I didn't try very hard.

#87 ::: SPIIDERWEB™ ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:28 AM:

I have a couple that always bother me.

Sovereignty
Bureaucracy

However, some depend on one's occupation. Being a corporate writer for many years, I never have a problem with.

Necessary
Accommodate
Miscellaneous
Commitment
Committed
Committee (duh!)
Calendar
Stratagem
Receive

Some others just come naturally to me. I can't explain, but often words just "don't look right" to me.

#88 ::: Naomi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:30 AM:

The word that used to get me every time was "temperament." I've never heard anyone pronounce the 'a' -- it sounds like "temperment" to me, so that's how I spelled it. The problem is that there's an excellent parenting book that I sometimes recommend to friends called "Temperament Tools," and for the longest time I could not find it on Amazon, because I was spelling the title wrong.

#89 ::: Erik ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:35 AM:

Shoughoughl ough tough Boughoughlough

#90 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:46 AM:

I'm surprised nobody else has commented on the presense of "shibboleth" in the original list. Am I the only one who finds that funny?

Are we supposed to kill the people who misspell it "sibboleth"?


Also, if you want to see how un-noteworthy foreign words in English are, read some passage in which they are deliberately not used. Uncleftish Beholding is the best example I know of, but there are probably others.

#91 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:46 AM:

The scariest spelling situation I ever witnessed was years ago. I was at a newstand, checking the various publications. So were a man and his 4-year-old daughter who, being short, was forced to stare at magazines few adults care to peruse. The little lady, upon coming across something titled 'Psychology' asked her dad, without mangling the word, what psychology was.

#92 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:52 AM:

And one more thing: my dictionary (Merriam Webster's Collegiate, 10th ed) agrees with #81 Berry on "rifle" vs. "riffle". And I think Nicoll's quote definitely implies the intent to steal of "rifle", not the idle pastime of "riffle".

#93 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:59 AM:

I am one of those people who just can't spell. I managed to learn some basic spelling in self-defense -- I shudder at "definately" and "grammer", at least -- but it's all stuff I had to learn by rote. Incorrect and correct spellings of words don't look any different to me until I stop and break them down letter-by-letter. My brain picks up new words easily, but has no interest in learning how to spell them.

When I was in college, however, I once roomed with a world-class speller, the sort of surpremely gifted speller who can hear a word, get a definition, and spell it correctly without ever having encountered it before. She claimed that spelling made sense -- English spelling! -- because once you figured out the etymology of the word and where it came from, the rules of spelling that applied to it were obvious. This is not the sort of thing I could ever learn by rote; it's the sort of thing you're born with, as she was.

#94 ::: sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:00 AM:

I'm a good speller although I suspect I'd fluff it on the phone caught unawares like that. Then there are half a dozen that I'd probably get wrong if I recovered from my initial shock. I might be being overconfident, I'll have to test myself.

"Silhouette" drives me insane though -- I have to look it up every time. Worse, I can't spell it close enough to get the spell checker to spot it.

I end up having to search on "on the shade, what a lovely couple they made" to find out how it's spelt. :/

#95 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:01 AM:

The word "millenium" comes from the Latin words "mille" and "anus" and means something else.

Quite right - it would mean "a thousand old women". Or possibly what they are getting at is "a thousand rings".

Note the spelling of "millenarian", though.

#96 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:08 AM:

God damn it! Back on the 18th, I had a scathingly original idea and started writing a sonnet using the "spelling reference" words, and life came crashing in on me and I had to put it aside temporarily, and now... goddamnit!

#97 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:17 AM:

I know that proper nouns, especially place names are the wild, wild west of orthography, but I feel compelled to at least mention that I had to work really, really hard to memorize Cincinnati.

Really, who came up with that one?

#98 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:18 AM:

Has anyone here become a worse speller over time? I used to be a decent copyeditor, and I could spell quite well. I find myself making more mistakes every year.

I just applied for a job to write for PBS. On my resume, I misspelled "English." I actually said my major was "Enlgish."

Of all the words to get wrong! I almost didn't get the job, but I did and now I have a freelance gig which I enjoy, but it was the best stupid mistake I've ever made.

#99 ::: Jeremy Hornik ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:31 AM:

That is a brutal, brutal list. I think of myself as a fine speller of words and the like, and a compulsive corrector of other people's written mistakes, but I would never be a real copy editor.

My personal bugaboo is 'sargeant.' No, wait: 'sergeant.' Um... trying not to look it up... um... failing... OK, it's the second one. But I have to look it up every time. It bothers me both ways.

#100 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:43 AM:

#97

Who came up with that one?

The Romans, damn them.

Add it to the aqueduct...sanitation...roads...medicine... education...health....

#101 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:55 AM:

No one has mentioned that spelling used to be much more casual until someone (Enlightenment-era dictionary writers?) tried to make it all One Way Only. And even after that, casual spellers weren't necessarily looked on as idiots -- check out Lewis and Clarke's journals for examples of such writing.

Spelling also morphs over time, along with word usage -- Chaucer to Shakespeare to Hemingway is a long, twisty "evolutionary" path! And one sector's dialect or one era's slang may be another's perfectly acceptable language. (I was taught that using "stuff" as anything other than a verb was totally incorrect, but it seems to be making its way into respectability now, even if it hasn't quite arrived.)

#102 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:56 AM:

Patrick, #71: Etymology helps me, too, sometimes. Especially since a good many of exceptions to the "rules" for English spelling are based on historical development of different words/spellings.

To add to the "these are my personal problem words" lists, the ones I always have to stop and think about are the "ent/ant" ones--independent, dependent/dependant, and so on. Maybe some British influence there--I also have trouble with the doubled consonants for participles, like traveling/travelling. Finally, I have never been able to spell "occurred" or "occurring" without a dictionary. I've no idea where that one came from.

Apropos of not much, a friend of mine just reminded me that there are (she remembers reading somewhere), 13 different ways to pronounce the "ough" spelling in English. Not counting "ghoti." We tried, but we couldn't come up with more than five or six offhand.

#103 ::: MsC ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:57 AM:

One item on OED list that you dismiss but that I see misspelled on a regular basis is plagiarism. For some reason, people cannot seem to accept the presence of that first i, thus rendering their forum and blog posts instantly painful to read.

Oh, and I also throw in a vote for liaison as difficult. That's another word I often see spelled incorrectly.

#104 ::: Adam Stemple ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:05 PM:

Are we supposed to kill the people who misspell it "sibboleth"?

Yes.

#105 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:12 PM:

Words like "accommodate" (and "necessary" and "occasion," to add a couple) I can spell correctly once I pause to recollect their etymological derivations, because Latin -- albeit bad Latin; I'm nobody's classicist -- is one of the languages in my collection.

"Bureaucracy," though, throws me every time, because French is most definitely not one of my languages. It's something about all those words with bunches of consecutive vowels most of which are silent and the one that's left doesn't sound like you'd think it should. It's almost as counter-intuitive as Gaelic.

All in all, though, I'm a fairly decent speller. I make up for it by being a poor proofreader and a lousy typist.

#106 ::: Leo ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:14 PM:

Don't forget such words as "grammar" (ironically) and "altar." An astonishing number of people tend to spell them as "grammer" and "alter."

#107 ::: John Peacock ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:16 PM:

Can I just mention my own [not strictly spelling related] vocabulary horrors:

"Running the gantlet" vs. "Running the gauntlet"

The former seems to have been created out of whole cloth several years ago when it was used in relation to some sexual harassment at a military academy. This in spite of the fact that the latter spelling has been a preferred "team building" exercise in the [British] military since at least the 17th century.

"First world, Second world, Third world" vs.
"Old world, New world, Third world"

I'm not sure when the former became the preferred formulation, but it isn't historically accurate. Neither form is particularly welcome in the Third World (since they both recall the earlier colonial times).

And don't get me started on what is the first year of the Millennium...

John

#108 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:18 PM:

candle @ #49: Me, I've never been north of Schenectady. Although I did just have to check if there was a second 'h'.

I _live_ next to Schenectady and I still have trouble spelling it--though my error is different, I always want to leave out the first "e."

However, living in Rensselaer was a lot worse.

On the general topic, I can usually just write and the correct words will come out of my fingers if I don't think about it. (Disparate, separate, and supersede are exceptions.) I can't spell out loud, however, if I'm not allowed to write down the word first; so I would flunk TNH's test, no question.

The downside is when my fingers decide to substitute commonly-typed words for similar ones without consulting me. As a lawyer, for instance, I have a hard time writing about representational sculptures without turning my comments into a discussion of laws enacted by a legislative body.

#109 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:23 PM:

MsC @ #103: plagiarism! The best thing to come out of the last round of Internet kerfluffle on the topic was that I got lots of practice typing it--though I still checked it against the Internet every time, because it refused to look right regardless. (Still does.)

#110 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:24 PM:

Larry Brennan #97: Since I live in a town with a "Cincinnati Avenue", I'm required to know how to spell the word from time to time. When I lived for a while in the city in Ohio, I noticed that the locals nearly always spelled it "Cinti".

#111 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:24 PM:

Saskatoon Saskatchewan...

#112 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:26 PM:

Walla Walla, Washington...

#113 ::: martyn ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:29 PM:

Spelling bees were never my idea of fun, although I was good at them at a child, and I don't regard spelling as much of an ability to celebrate unless and until mis-spelling gets in the way of understanding. The Mare of Casterbridge springs, unwonted, to mind.

Still, it is all good, clean fun and I stopped having problems with 'millenium' a few years back when it was rediscovered.

One thing, though. Why so down on the Oxford English Dictionary? Don't you have a fount of frustration of your own to pillory? As Spike Jones sang, speak American, boy, American. Leave us English pedants (and God knows, there are enough of us) to mumble into our beards about that particular ivory tower set in its silver sea.

Calander? Even in Scotland, where they occasionally spell it Callender if they live there, it is usually spelled calendar.

#114 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 12:54 PM:

Serge #112: Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

#115 ::: Gwen ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:03 PM:

--"First world, Second world, Third world" vs.
"Old world, New world, Third world"

I'm not sure when the former became the preferred formulation, but it isn't historically accurate. Neither form is particularly welcome in the Third World (since they both recall the earlier colonial times).--

I thought that "First World" referred to capitalist industrialized countries, "Second World" to communist industrialized countries, and "Third World" to non-industrialized countries.

On-topic: I thought I was a good speller, until I read this post and found out all these words I apparently misspell all the time. Thank Ghod for Firefox! Without it, I'd just embarass--embarrass--well, you know--myself every time I tried to spell those words.
I before e, except after c, and when it says "ay" as in neighbor or weigh--except for in the words science, deity, weird, height, conscience...

I can think of seven ways to pronounce "ough" in the dialect of English I speak: off as in cough, up as in hiccough (granted, I don't see this one as much in newer books), oo as in through, ah as in thought, oh as in dough, ow as in doughty, and uf as in rough.

#116 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:12 PM:

Fragano @ 114... Winnemucca, Nevada.

#117 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:16 PM:

24 - Ah, "Satellite". Having spent the last six months working on a magazine covering satellite broadcasting, I still had to ask Mr. Gates whether it's spelled right almost every time.

But proofing a magazine with a lot of Arabic names is its own kind of fun. Is it spelled "hizbullah", "hezbollah", or "hezballah"? How is the Libyan president's name spelled again?

#118 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:18 PM:

candle #49:

It took us thirteen days by stolen car to get this far. Don't say you're doubtful now!

#119 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:25 PM:

Serge #116: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Anglesey (Ynys Mon).

#120 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:28 PM:

Fragano @ 119... You win.

#121 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:40 PM:

Teresa @ 68

I didn't know they were yours, although it does not surprise me. I stole them from A Prarie Home Companion. It appears that they do get around . . .

#122 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:54 PM:

The only ones that catch me out are "minuscule" and "supersede." It should be "supercede," dammit. Cede, precede, antecedent, supercede. And this is coming from someone who always gets twitchy about typos or misspellings.

(The OED etymology tells me that I am not so much wrong as many centuries after my time:

[a. OF. superceder, later -seder, ad. L. supersedere (in med.L. often -cedere) )

I got knocked out of the eighth-grade county championship spelling bee on the word "butte." I'd forgotten my state capitals, clearly.

And they robbed me in second grade. I was asked to spell "Earth" and was not allowed to ask them to use it in a sentence, to disambiguate the planet Earth and the earth in which plants grow. I chose the planet and began with "capital E." They booted me. They later apologized, but told me "Well, the other kid already won and we don't want to take that away from him, so you understand, right?"

Not that I am still bitter.

yse-shog, yse-shoggle, yse-shogle

I see where "spelling demonology" came from. Aren't most shoggoths yse-shoggoths?

#123 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 01:54 PM:

Fragano -- but can you say it?

I can, and so can Sasha. All expatriate Welsh people can, because people are always asking them to.

However, it may be worth noting that when there was a murder there a few years ago, and then another murder in Bangor, newsreaders started speculating about the possibility of a serial killer with notable lack of enthusiasm (and indeed, notable deep breaths before they pronounced it), until they started asking if the "Llanfair PG" killer had struck again. Llanfair PG is what everyone who lives there apparently calls it.

#124 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:07 PM:

Also -- is "restaurateur" really pronounced with an N? I would pronounce it as written, using French pronunciation rules....

I have the same problem with "barbiturate." Apparently most people pronounce it with no R.

I can spell considerably more words than I can pronounce.

#125 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:12 PM:

Serge #120: Okay! (I wasn't aware we were in a contest...)

Jo Walton #123: I'd say Llanfair PG too, I've heard it pronounced (by Welshfolk, natch) but I wouldn't attempt it myself.

#126 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:16 PM:

Minuscule, in my mind, is opposite majuscule. I apply them to letters alone. Miniscule, while technically sort of wrong, is for everything else. I imprinted on miniscule.

Embarrass. That is too many Rs. Some words just look wrong when you spell them right-- accommodate is another, but that may be because all the letters are round. I have trouble focusing on it to count.

Caroline at 122, that is a horrible thing to do to a child.

#127 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:18 PM:

Tom Scudder said (#117):
How is the Libyan president's name spelled again?

I understand that part of the reason for variance, at least in that particular case, is disagreement over whether one should: a) spell it using the standard transliteration of how his name is spelled in Arabic; or b) spell it as something closer to how it's actually pronounced; Libyan Arabic is evidently not the same thing as classical Arabic.

(How would one spell the English last name "St. John Smith" using a different alphabet, bearing in mind that the first part is pronounced "sinjin"?)

#128 ::: Wendy ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:21 PM:

I realize I am late to the party, but...

I could cry out of love for this post.

- A Former Spelling Bee Kid, and the person who reads every document that goes out of her company for spelling and grammar.

#129 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 02:38 PM:

#124 - And don't forget the second month of the year, "Febyooary".

#130 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:00 PM:

You can add me to the list of people who were going to write in about the typos in "icthyology" and "restaurateur" but checked the previous comments and a dictionary first, respectively.

And Jo (123), you was robbed, but I suppose second grade is about the right time to start learning that life is unfair, and that you can get robbed by stupid people.

Me, I washed out of the (8th grade) bee early because my brane melted in the middle of "definition". The whole class's eyes were upon me, and three more is broke the camel's back.

#131 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:12 PM:

I'm glad someone mentioned minuscule. Another one that I've seen in print more than once, in large bold type, is "forward" as a misspelling of "foreword". And I choose to seize this opportunity to tell my light-bulb joke:

Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light globe?
A: I think you'll find that in Australian usage we'd say "light bulb", and mostly we still use boyonet fittings, but since this is intended for publication on a US-based Internet site, the US usage should be allowed to stand. On the other hand, diversity of usage on the US sites can function as a reminder of teh trues internationalism of the Internet (etc)

#132 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:16 PM:

Coming in late - what a wonderful thread! I used to be a copyeditor for scientific publications. My brain while working was uptight and engaged in spelling and grammar minutiae. In non-work usage, I make mistakes. Editing for people where English was their third or fourth language, usually acquired in a Commonwealth country, was a blast. I loved that job. Charming people, interesting reading*.

My pet peeve misspelled word on college campuses - roommate.

The only mnemonic I can think of is for weird - we weird. I like it, it's too bad I've never had a problem spelling weird.

Spelling with transliteration is a pain. My languages were Russian and Latin. Latin makes sense, Russian makes sense in Cyrillic.

*one night I had a dream that I was in a spelling bee with the latin names of various animals. I was on stage in front of a microphone, and this disembodied voice would ask me to spell things like clupea pallasi, chionoecetes opilio, oncorhynchus gorbuscha, eumetopias jubatus, and so on. It was strange, but amusing.

#133 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:19 PM:

Oops, in my message #130 I meant to refer to Caroline's #122, not #123.

While I'm back, I'll note that I was floored by an NPR commentator saying that they intentionally pronounce the month "Feb-u-ary". Harrumph.

I certainly wouldn't pronounce restaurateur with an n unless I forgot how it was spelled. Which I believe is the only reason anyone does.

I had heard that the given name "St. John" was pronounced sinjin, but I never heard it until a radio presentation of Jane Eyre played Sunday night.

#134 ::: y ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:24 PM:

Yes, if you have "harass" on the list, you certainly need "embarrass" to keep it company. I come from a long line of spellers, and my mother's bugaboo was "barbecue" (with a c, not a q). Let's not forget "abattoir". Then there's my all-time favorite spelling word, "eleemosynary".

#135 ::: James E ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:33 PM:

Faren Miller @101: evidently your teachers didn't consider Shakespeare sufficiently respectable. "We are such stuff/As dreams are made on..."

Re: Arabic names, and Muammar Gadafy/Gadaffi/Qadafi/Khadafy/ohwhatthehell in particular - to quote the Guardian's style guide:
"Though Arabic has only three vowels - a, i and u - it has several consonants which have no equivalent in the Roman alphabet. For instance, there are two kinds of s, d and t. There are also two kinds of glottal sound. This means there are at least 32 ways of writing the Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy's name in English, and a reasonable argument can be made for adopting almost any of them." Simple enough?

#136 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:42 PM:

Tim@118: good spot. Although this is one place where I would expect the reference to be, er, gotten. And being British, that song is actually the closest I've been to Schenectady (well, I've been to NYC, but that wouldn't appear to be in the same reality).

And yes, locals do refer to the place as Llanfair PG, and yes, despite being only technically Welsh I can pronounce the full version (probably not quite as a native, though), and apparently it was originally only called Llanfairpwllgwyngyll until some Victorians got hold of it and decided to make it a tourist attraction by lengthening the name. I won't swear to any of this, though.

Edinburgh, Middlesbrough, Market Harborough...?

#137 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:47 PM:

the true internationalism.

And has anyone mentioned inoculate?

#138 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 03:51 PM:

Diatryma @126 and Dan @130/133 -- I hadn't thought of that second-grade spelling bee in years until thinking of spelling bees brought it back up. It definitely taught me that sometimes, life just isn't fair -- but you don't have to be happy about it.

Tania @132 -- what a fun job that must have been! As a grad student working with scientists who are non-native speakers of English, I'm often pressed into service as an informal copyeditor. I secretly enjoy it. In my first year, one of our senior grad students drafted me to edit her dissertation manuscript -- such a great feeling when I was able to suggest an organization scheme that eliminated all of the instances where she'd had to repeat information. I have absolutely no formal training or experience, and make absolutely no pretense that I'm anything but a rank amateur -- but your job sounds like so much fun!

My pet peeve misspelled word on college campuses is "prospective," as in "prospective student." I lived in a dorm that made a tradition of hosting prospective students for overnight campus visits. There was a sign-up sheet in the lobby that said "SIGN UP TO HOST A PERSPECTIVE!"

(There's a pun there about liberal-arts education, possibly involving David Horowitz and Michael Bérubé, but I can't put it together right now.)

#139 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:24 PM:

Anecdote about shibboleths: a Dutch man once explained to me that there was a certain town in the Netherlands, the name of which could only be properly pronounced by those who were native Dutch speakers, so it was used as a way to trap Nazis who were trying to pass themselves off as Not German.

I attempted to pronounce it, as did a Finnish woman.

'Oh no,' said the Dutch guy cheerfully, 'you would have been shot.'

(If anyone knows the name of the town, please tell!)

#140 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:28 PM:

y at 134, you're a theatre person, aren't you?
It's 'theatre' instead of 'theater' because it's the discipline, and because we're snobs. Just a bit.

My favorite spelling bee word is 'aitch'. The poor girl who had that one (81st National Spelling Bee, USA, 1998) did her best, but it's not a word you see in American English. We just scribble the letter on.

As far as transliteration goes, I'm really tangled because I usually don't know the right pronunciation to begin with. I could make a reasonable attempt at a spelling, but not based on other people's spoken interpretations of yet other people's misspellings. When I wrote out French pronunciations for singing, I broke out far more IPA than was strictly necessary.

#141 ::: lost_erizo ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:39 PM:

#71 I'm a terrible speller unless I know the etymology of a word. The problem is I'm really bad at memorizing things (including etymology!) and too much of spelling seems to be a matter of rote memorization. Logic I can do - even as a child, my spelling was always phonetic even when it was tragically wrong.

#132 Scientific names are always tripping me up. Most recently "Mulloidichthys" was the bane of my existence (my brain insisted on spelling and pronouncing it Mulldoicthys) until my boss gave me a quick lesson in Greek spelling just last week. I was all set to point out the mistake in "icthyological" from Teresa's original post but several people beat me to it. I still can't pronounce Chthamalus without coughing up phlegm though.


My favorite impossible place name is Schuylkill (which, as any good Philadelphian knows, is pronounced Skoo-kul).

#142 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:41 PM:

I liked suggesting that 2001 was the first year of the new millennium, but that 2000 was the first year of the new millenium. That took care of both those who couldn't spell and those who couldn't make the ordinal/cardinal distinction.

#143 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:41 PM:

Diatryma: "My favorite spelling bee word is 'aitch'."

In French, the letter "Y" is called a "Greek I". But do they spell it "i grec" or "y grec"? I don't really know.

#144 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:45 PM:

I like scientific names, as long as they're put together right. Those words are made of other words, like antidisestablishmentarianism-- if you can spell the parts, you can spell all of it, and it's common parts. If you can separate a scientific name or term into parts, it's easier to understand and spell. Hepatophyta: liverwort, liverish plant. Anthocerophyta: hornwort, and cero means horn; antho is something like flower.
I think I'm a little too much of a word nerd for science some days. At least it means I can pronounce almost anything they throw at me.

#145 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:45 PM:

lost_erizo (141), Schuylkill is almost pronounced like "skookle", but there's supposed to be a hint of an l before the k. You can do it if you practice. (I'm not a Philadelphian, but I learned this from one).

#146 ::: George ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:46 PM:

Count me among those surprised by restaurateur. I rummaged online and found this poser:


Restaurateur
The keeper of an eathing house or a restaurant.


Here's another candidate for the list.

#147 ::: john ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:48 PM:

Dorothy Rothschild @ 139: Scheveningen? Via alt.fan.pratchett. If it is, then it's "ch as in loch". Me, I break down coughing.

#148 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:48 PM:

In no particular order:

I've been known to torture midwesterners by asking them to pronounce "Kvetch".

There are at least two words on the list that I did not know were spelled that way. (Restaurateur... restura... restoronto... and sorcerer.)

#150 ::: lost_erizo ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:52 PM:

Dan@#145 I grew up in Philadelphia and I've never used the first "l' in Schuylkill unless I was trying to explain the spelling to an outsider. Skoo-kul is exactly how everyone I grew up with pronounced it (or occassionally skyoo-kul when the accent was particularly thick).

#151 ::: Robert Legault ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 04:53 PM:

Teresa-- A very good list. I know them, of course, but they'll separate the wannabes from the professionals.

In tenth grade I had to memorize:

Neither weird sheik seizes leisure either.

and

A friend does mischief if he makes a sieve of your handkerchief.

I feel compelled to point out that "guerilla" and "vermillion" are both in Web. Collegiate as acceptable alternate spellings, though I think we would agree that we don't like them.

Then there's the whole "two countries divided by a common language" issue of British and American spelling. "Licence"/"license" is touched on above. Then there's "judgment"/"judgement," "acknowledgment"/"acknowledgement," "lodgment"/"lodgement," etc., about which it is best to Agree to Disagree. And then there's "gray"/"grey"...

The words that still give me trouble are -able/-ible words...

#152 ::: Penelope ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:01 PM:

Okay, I've been holding off on asking this because it sounds unspeakably arrogant, but it's really been bothering me:

How else would you spell "accommodate?"

#153 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:09 PM:

Claude (121): Prairie Home Companion did my lightbulb jokes?

I am in despair.

Last time I heard about someone really liking them, it was an editor at The New Yorker. She got them as anonymous passed-along email.

#154 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:12 PM:

Sean @98;

I've gotten worse, much worse as I get older, which sucks because I write so much more now. Correct things don't look right, or I fatfinger it so much that the wrong spelling looks right. Gah, you wouldn't believe how many words I just had to fix, keyboard must be wearing out....
The one I notice the most on advertisements is "rennaissance."
The one that smarted the most was writing a whole manuscript with "pheremone."

#155 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:15 PM:

Penelope, take away a C or an M. Double letters are horrible for spelling.

#156 ::: Wristle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:21 PM:

Dorothy @ #139
The way I heard the story, the Dutch shibboleth was Scheveningen.

#157 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:38 PM:

Caroline #138 wrote 'My pet peeve misspelled word on college campuses is "prospective," as in "prospective student." I lived in a dorm that made a tradition of hosting prospective students for overnight campus visits. There was a sign-up sheet in the lobby that said "SIGN UP TO HOST A PERSPECTIVE!"'

A lot depends on the angle at which you look at things, I suppose.

#158 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:39 PM:

Late as I am to this thread, I can't believe that I am the first person to note that I would respond with 'which meaning?' (however pro forma the question would be) to the word calendar (calender).

I fall squarely into the category TNH described as "Being unable to ignore the existence of a typo that’s within your field of vision, even if you aren’t consciously reading the text in which it occurred." I usually describe it as having the equivalent of perfect pitch for spelling. It does work much better for text than oral spelling; it's far easier to tell if a word 'looks' right.

However, my smugness is tempered. As an expat Canadian in the US, I sometimes spell words correctly only on the other side of the border (I do this in both directions now). It's also tempered by having been the only bad speller in my Grade 5 Hindi class, when I was briefly enrolled in a convent school in India. Hindi's a totally phonetic language, so 'spelling' doesn't really exist as a subject. My problem was the converse of the one that James E describes (#135); my English-trained ears couldn't distinguish between pairs of consonants, and I would be reduced to guesswork when I had to transcribe anything.

#159 ::: Sefridge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:39 PM:

#139 ::: Dorothy Rothschild
Anecdote about shibboleths: a Dutch man once explained to me that there was a certain town in the Netherlands, the name of which could only be properly pronounced by those who were native Dutch speakers, so it was used as a way to trap Nazis who were trying to pass themselves off as Not German.

My dad always said it was Copenhagen, which isn't in the Netherlands at all. Wikipedia sez:
IPA: [kəʊpənˈheɪgən] or [kəʊpənˈhɑˑgən];
Danish: København (help·info) IPA: [købn̩ˈhaʊˀn])

He could pronounce it with both the German and Danish accent - it's something about how the o and the a are pronounced that gives most of the distinction. I could only manage the German pronunciation. :(

(Though he did say that I'd be okay with the American accent. I filed this away as a tip to learn the history of any country that I traveled to, under the heading "quit while you are ahead". His claim to credibility in this matter was spending time there in 1955, when memories of the Second World War were quite vivid.)

by the way, what are the names of the rest of the Latin alphabet, aside from "aitch" and "zed"?

#160 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:40 PM:

Dan Hoey #143: I'd say 'i grec' (the Spanish refer to it as 'i griega', for years as a child I thought it was one word 'igriega').

#161 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:42 PM:

Earl Cooley #149: I, for one, bow to our new Maori overlords.

#162 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:50 PM:

On shibboleths: A very real example of the thing occurred in the Dominican Republic in 1937, when Generalísimo Trujillo decided on a final solution to the Haitian migrant worker problem. One complication was how to tell Haitians from very dark 'Indian' DRs. The solution, ask them to say 'perejil' (parsley). If they said 'perejil', they were Dominican and so lived, if they said 'pelegil' (French 'g'), they were Haitian, and were killed.

Diatrima #140: A few years back, a student in a graduate class on the politics of developing states came to my office with a problem. What, she wanted to know, was a 'sentray', a word she kept coming upon in a reading on China. A little investigation revealed that the word was 'centre'. After I explained the issue of differences in British and American orthography, she left satisfied. I mentioned this case to the then Chair of my department, who asked me what I was going to do about the problem. My reply was 'I'm moving to an entirely different theatray'.

#163 ::: James E ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:57 PM:

Debcha@158: While we're on the subject, the subtleties of Hindi consonants are probably to blame for a personal pet spelling peeve, Gandhi/Ghandi. To the untrained westerner, there's no difference, and I guess putting the H after the G feels intuitively right (a charitable circumlocution for "wrong")...

#164 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:58 PM:
by the way, what are the names of the rest of the Latin alphabet, aside from "aitch" and "zed"?
Sidney Harris' "The Alphabet in Alphabetical Order"
#165 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 05:59 PM:

106: Yes. Yes they do.

Rehoboam is a hard word to spell. Because it's Rechavam, and the King James transliterations are just crazy. (I'll admit to have confused Isaac and Jacob because Jacob was just too far away from Yaakov, and I was sort of reaching for whatever English word came to mind.)

My personal problems in this area are sufficiently wide and broad that it'd take far too long to go through them all. I will admit to tacking on an extra l at the end of just about every word that ends with "ful", and some words that don't. Also, I habitually misspell "assassin" as "assassain". You can imagine how much of a problem that is for someone who writes fantasy.

What's interesting to me is how rarely sapphire is misspelled. Pph isn't a combination that shows up that often, but people generally seem to get it right.

#166 ::: James E ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:02 PM:

Heh. Only just noticed that Gandhi was already on the list of spelling references here. Our gracious hosts, then, will probably be appalled by this.

#167 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:02 PM:

Speaking of Latin...
"Romanes eunt domus" anybody?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIAdHEwiAy8

#168 ::: Sefridge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:07 PM:

#139 ::: Dorothy Rothschild
Anecdote about shibboleths: a Dutch man once explained to me that there was a certain town in the Netherlands, the name of which could only be properly pronounced by those who were native Dutch speakers, so it was used as a way to trap Nazis who were trying to pass themselves off as Not German.

My dad always said it was Copenhagen, which isn't in the Netherlands at all. Wikipedia sez:
IPA: [kəʊpənˈheɪgən] or [kəʊpənˈhɑˑgən];
Danish: København (help·info) IPA: [købn̩ˈhaʊˀn])

He could pronounce it with both the German and Danish accent - it's something about how the o and the a are pronounced that gives most of the distinction. I could only manage the German pronunciation. :(

(Though he did say that I'd be okay with the American accent. I filed this away as a tip to learn the history of any country that I traveled to, under the heading "quit while you are ahead". His claim to credibility in this matter was spending time there in 1955, when memories of the Second World War were quite vivid.)

by the way, what are the names of the rest of the Latin alphabet, aside from "aitch" and "zed"?

#169 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:09 PM:

In the 90s, I came up with a puzzle I thought was clever enough. On the left (with "!" over the whole thing) were A, E, F, H, I, L, M, N, O, R, S, and X. On the right (with "?" over the set) were B, C, D, G, J, K, P, Q, R, U, V, W, Y and Z. In between was "&" -- the puzzle was to say which set it belonged with.

#170 ::: Sefridge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:11 PM:

Apologies re:doublepost-ing

#171 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:23 PM:

Kip @#169 : Obviously, "&" goes under [SPOILER] (and I can't even rot-13 the answer, meh).

But I only guessed it because of the recent posts, which are presumably what reminded you of it in the first place.

#172 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:27 PM:

Although I suppose I could rot-13 the answer by spelling it out:

Nzcrefnaq, qbrf, nsgre nyy, ortva jvgu n ibjry.

#173 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:56 PM:

Nine years of Latin did me well as far as spelling is concerned. I cannot fathom how anyone could fail to correctly spell "paterfamilias," though. Latin is so simple. Every letter is pronounced. There are no soft consonants (with the exception of V, which is actually a W). It is completely regular. (On a side note, a huge pet peeve of mine is people pronouncing the famous words "Veni, vedi, vici" as "Vinny, veedee, veechee." It most closely sounds like "Way-nee, way-dee, wee-key.")

Strangely, I am completely unable to spell things someone has said to me aloud. If I can write the word, I'm fine, but I find it almost impossible to visualize words. Misspelled words, however, tend to pop out at me on a page, just by glancing at them. Must be something about it looking unfamiliar.

I also suffer from the so-called readers' vocabulary, where I often incorrectly pronounce words because I've only ever read them and never heard them aloud. Imagine my surprise when I heard the correct way to pronounce hegemony!

I would like to add "vehement" to your list of difficult words. When I proofed plays, that word appeared incorrectly again and again.

#174 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 06:59 PM:

Kip #169:

Um, why is "R" in both lists? (not that it misled me, but ...)

Ol evtugf vg fubhyq bayl or va gur svefg yvfg, lrf?

#175 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:03 PM:

Torie #173:

There is not a chorus director on the planet who will agree with you about the "v = w" thing, with the exception of a conductor I had many years ago who insisted on the "w" pronunciation for one text only: Hindemith's "Apparebit repentina dies," on the theory that it was a classical rather than liturgical text and therefore should have a classical pronunciation. The rest of the time, it was "v"s (and soft "c"s) all the way down.

#176 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:16 PM:

After the breakup of a relationship, being filled with despair and having to go to the skanky grocery across the street on account of having no car, I took to correcting their spelling. (This was a Food Lion, not a mom 'n' pop establishment run by immigrants, whose misspellings I would not dream of correcting).

I don't actually want to be a copy editor. But there was something soothing about being able to filter my anger into "It's spelled CINNAMON, dammit!"

#177 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:21 PM:

I guess I've studied a little tiny bit of Egyptian...but I always pronounce 'Pharaoh' "fa-ra-oh', and I never have any trouble spelling it. I get funny looks, but...those of you who've met me in person know I'm used to that.

And there's a computer language called Wierd, spelled that way on purpose. It's not in general use, thanks be to Mercury.

miriam 8: Separate yourself and you can avoid being a leper.

Keir 14: Yes, that's generally a rule, because the commonly used words are subject to sound change (as is everything in the language) but not analogic change (fitting into the common pattern because no one can remember how the words UNcommon pattern worked). If people wrote about supersession all the time, 'supersede' wouldn't be in the process of being analogized into 'supercede'. This would be good.

BUT I'm told that 'be' is not entirely the result of this process, but rather truly suppletive, that is, the different forms actually come from different historical sources. I gawped gormlessly when I learned that. Somehow no one had explained that to me while I was getting a degree in linguistics!

Steve 26: What Teresa said, plus: All those -cede words have some sort of "give" seme in them. None in supersede; it's all takin' and no givin'.

Zak 16: I'm xooked, xooked to find that there's gambling going on here!

glinda 28: I once went to a large Pagan street fair (well, not exactly, it was indoors) called the Bizarre Bazaar.

abi 39: This is no longer a problem. No one pronounces 'futile' like 'feudal' anymore, not if they've ever watched ST:TNG! It's all "few-tile" now.

Jonathan 137: 'inoculate' should go next to 'innocuous' -- or is it 'inoccuous'? Argh.

#178 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:25 PM:

I hope a little light pedantry doesn't make me too unpopular on this thread: veni, vidi, vici, surely?[*]

[*] OK, or ueni, uidi, uici if you prefer.

#179 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:25 PM:

Is doughty the same as dowdy? Because I'd never connected the two in my mind (not that I see doughty written that often). Add me to the list of people who have completely given up keeping American and British spellings straight. I read entirely too many British books as a child, and spending a year in the UK seems to have completely wiped out any ability I had to differentiate.
I did win a trivia game once by correctly spelling poinsettia. Luckily for me, my mom had a habit of pronouncing things phonetically, and I had never realized that other people didn't pronounce it poyn-set-tea-ah. Ah well. (Pronouncing things phonetically or putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong sy-LA-ble is an especially fun game to play when you're driving a long way late at night... Somehow it's all funnier then.)

#180 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:32 PM:

Emily H (#176): I sometimes fantasize about my secret superhero alter ego 'Orthography Woman' (okay, yeah, I know I need to work on the name), who goes around correcting all the spelling errors she sees on menu boards, signs and the like.

There is a municipal sign that reads 'NO OVERNITE PARKING' a few hundred yards from our college gates. The only thing stopping me from getting some blue and white paint and going out in the dead of night to do some guerrilla copyediting is the thought of having to explain to a cop what I was doing, and the headlines that would result: COLLEGE PROFESSOR ARRESTED FOR VANDALISM: "I was only trying to correct the spelling," protests alleged vandal.

#181 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:36 PM:

"Rifle" is the right word in that quote. I ordinarily can't spell, but that's a word I've known since childhood.

(I can't much spell, but I know some rules. For some reason, I won some spelling bees as a kid, but I frequently misspell ordinary words I use all the time. And I often suddenly can't remember how to spell something. Thank god for spill-chickens.)

#182 ::: Danika ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:44 PM:

Ah, as an shiny-new editor, I am well aware of many spelling trip hazards. Of course, I'm also an Australian, so we got taught American AND British standards, as well as what Australian standards are and what the differences are. (We stick rigidly to -ise, unlike Britain, which uses both -ise and -ize. Apparently they use the -ize for words that come from a specific language ... possibly Latin?)

The word *I* always have difficulty with is dissipate, due to that double 's' there. I try to be conscious of it and think of memorising it every time I see it written down.

I've still probably got it wrong, haven't I? *wry grin*

#183 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:45 PM:

Cincinnati (and I had to go look at #97 to see how Larry spelled it.) Connecticut. Poughkeepsie. Schenectady. (Who was it that suggested that one, and how did they spell it?) (I do data entry for a trucking company, so I have to be able to spell a lot of places I have no interest in going. I also have to be able to pronounce them, which can be even more fun. I can speak from personal experience that there are a lot of ways NOT to pronounce 'Leominster.' )

I also get tripped up by 'necessary' on a regular basis. No matter how I spell it, it looks wrong. I'm still the person who gets asked how to spell 'disclaimer' and 'annihilation' and 'compensatory.'

#184 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:53 PM:

Elizabeth #179: Heavens, no. 'Doughty' means 'strong', 'dowdy' means 'frumpy'.

#185 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:55 PM:

How about towing the line instead of just toeing it - provided of course that you're not fishing?

#186 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 07:59 PM:

I meant to say... Unless you are fishing, you should be toeing the line, not towing it.

#187 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:00 PM:

I am one of the natural spellers; I record words by how they look on paper, and I'm always surprised when people don't remember spellings. But I'm shocked to see restaurateur -- I had never realized there's no "n"! Wow. Thank you!

#188 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:01 PM:

joann @175
I studied Latin at university, using (naturally), the Classical accent described by Torie*.

Then I joined a Gregorian chant choir, which of course used the ecclesiastical pronunciation. Fun!

------
* Even on my answering machine message ("Salve. Nos, Paula et Abi, absumus, quodsi nominum, numerum et nuntiuum tuum dabis, quod primum te vocabimus. Gratias tibi agimus.")**

** None of my classics professors got beyond "Erm, hail...". My parents' lawyer friends used to ring up just to hear the Latin, and leave legalese tags. But the prize was Paula's Spanish teacher who listened, hung up, and then called back with a message in Latin (followed by a translation, bless him).

#189 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:06 PM:

Then why are they pronounced the same? As per #115 "ow" as in doughty... /confused

Ooh, a pronunciation problem in our house that caused fits when we discovered it.

hyperbole - hy PER bow lee or HIGH per bowl?

We fight over toMAYdo/toeMAHtoe as well.

#190 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:07 PM:

@81,@92,@181:

While the original posting may say "riffle", James Nicoll notes in a followup posting that this was a typographical error, and "rifle" was indeed intended.

I note that he also misspells "converts" in the original post. Typos happen.

Although in searching for those two posts, I came across an alt.usage.english thread that pondered the question of whether "rifle" was used correctly.

#191 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:09 PM:

Teresa, I can still do one of that set at least approximately from memory:

Q: How many cover blurb writers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: A vast and teeming horde, stretching from sea to shining sea!

(I know I picked that up on your topic on GEnie, lo these many years ago. So at least somebody remembers they're yours, OK?)

#192 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:25 PM:

Elizabeth #189: I put that down to the American tendency to assimilate tee and dee.

#193 ::: Leo ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:30 PM:

Speaking of spelling, there is Saphire Inn not far from where I live.

#194 ::: Steven Ehrbar ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 08:33 PM:

I missed marks on a third grade spelling test because the teacher wanted "futile" and I gave her "feudal".

I argued that I had spelled what I heard. She argued that we had had a list to memorise, that "futile" was on it, and that "feudal" was not.

I missed marks for giving "czar" instead of "tsar". After the (substitute) teacher refused to clarify which she wanted when I asked, "Er, there are two ways to spell that, which do you want?" Because I was supposed to memorize the spelling list, not actually know the spellings.

#195 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 09:56 PM:

Following up #191... how about a recap of the original light bulb jokes, for those who missed the first go-round? I like the couple quoted on this thread.

#196 ::: bentley ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:05 PM:

Ha! I was just thinking about "jejune" a couple of days ago while watching "Jeeves and Wooster" on PBS. Whoever did their closed-captions was obviously working off the soundtrack and not the script. The two more glaring mistakes I can think of right now are: "What a wheeze" became "what a whiz"; and "jejune" became "Georgian."

#197 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:18 PM:

I was not quite 9 years old when I learned to spell Schenectady, just before we moved there. We only lived there about 3 months, but it stuck.

On the other hand, Cincinnati is one I still have to think carefully about, even though I live only about 120 miles from Porkopolis.

My favorite pronunciation stumper is Maquoketa, Iowa. Almost no one who hasn't previously heard of the place can guess the sound from the spelling.

#198 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:28 PM:

#169, 174:
Replace "R" in the second list with "T".

#199 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:29 PM:

Anne Sheller #197: I don't know how to pronounce Maquoketa, but do you know how to pronounce Quonochontaug, Rhode Island?

Fox Mulder's mother supposedly had a summer home there, and it supposedly had a hospital. The X-Files wasn't always right, but David Duchovny did pronounce it right when called upon to do so, which was impressive.

#200 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:31 PM:

The way I remember how to spell fuchsia is to remember that the flower was named for the German botanist Leonhard Fuchs. Just add the -ia to Herr Fuchs' name.

#201 ::: bentley ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:37 PM:

#131 "forward" as a misspelling of "foreword"

While looking for typos in my library catalog, I came upon "foreward." The rule is, if the typo was the cataloger's (for instance, in the summary or subject headings), then we correct the typo. But if it looks as if the error came from the book's title page, then we have to look at the book itself. If the misspelling is in the book's title page, then we don't correct the record but add a [sic] to it.

We found six books with "foreward", including a 1982 Tor.

#202 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:43 PM:

I couldn't believe that was how to spell restaurateur either, but after I looked it up I realised that if it was fully English it would probably be restorator. A restorator runs a restorant, where one goes to restore one's strength, since the food has restorative properties.

When I was at school my teachers had to get creative to find anything to put on my spelling lists at all. I think there was one whole year when the only word my English teacher could find to make me correct was draggled. He insisted that it wasn't a word and that I had meant bedraggled but left two letters out. If that was what I'd done, it wouldn't have been a spelling mistake.

The only thing that stopped me going and getting a book that was on display in the same classroom and locating the page from which I had picked up draggled (which I could have done in about five seconds - I have a knack for opening books at just the right page) was my awareness that I talked about that author all the time and needed to cut down.

(Actually I expect that if I said that the character who sees the draggled thing later hears another character describe it as a revenant, which is where I learned that word too, somebody here could identify the book and the thing being described.)

#203 ::: Karen ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:43 PM:

About twenty years ago I applied to be a proofreader. The spelling test was ten words, including hemorrhage. I began h-e-m-h-o, stopped, started over and got it right. The nice woman was impressed: "No one has ever gotten all ten words before, and no one has ever recovered from that mistake before." But I didn't get the job, or even an in-person interview, because clearly I wouldn't stay for a lifetime, and it was a small family firm. (They wouldn't even hire me until they found the right person.) Grr, but rejections don't always feel that good.

#205 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:57 PM:

Fragano @ 162: On shibboleths: A very real example of the thing occurred in the Dominican Republic in 1937, when Generalísimo Trujillo decided on a final solution to the Haitian migrant worker problem. One complication was how to tell Haitians from very dark 'Indian' DRs. The solution, ask them to say 'perejil' (parsley). If they said 'perejil', they were Dominican and so lived, if they said 'pelegil' (French 'g'), they were Haitian, and were killed.

I heard this story by way of Rita Dove's poem "Parsley"; her version turns on the letter R instead.

#206 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 10:59 PM:

I know how to spell and pronounce Tahlequah, OK. Once upon a time a client was completely amazed (we were talking about featuring that bank branch in their newsletter), she went, "How the hell do you know how that's pronounced?" I said, "My grandma would thunk me if I mispronounced it. I spent part of my childhood in Miami, Okla." (pronounced M-i-a-muh). She was an Oklahoma gal transplanted to Wichita. (I still lament BANK IV, a very nice regional bank swallowed up in the Great Consolidation.)

But wrong spellings can lead to absurdity. Long ago when I was employed in acquistions at the U. Kan. main library, one of our cataloging dept. librarians, who had been doing some kind of research in the subject catalog came back with some staggering news. We had a subject section for Britian as well as Britain...

It all appeared to have been done in the 60s, in a specific stretch of time. Much amusement was had, I think the decision, because they were not too far away from starting the online catalog, was to leave it as is and put a 'notes' card in the subject catalog.

#207 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:07 PM:

There's one mistake that drives me nuts.

Skid Road: a Seattle phrase, created by a popular preacher here. When speaking of First Avenue he'd use the line "It used to be the Skid Road for logs from Henry Yesler's sawmill to slide into the Sound. Now it's a Skid Road for the souls of drunks and prostitutes to slide into hell!" Seattle didn't give up on the sin (contemporary accounts have the City wider open than the Barbary Coast, and during WWI the Army wasn't allowed to take leave here because the brass were worried about the troops catching something the doctors couldn't cure), but liked the line and took to it.

Skid Row: what you say if you're too lazy to look it up.

Skid Row if you're last week's New York Times: And you fired Molly Ivins for calling a chicken feather removal party "a Gang Pluck?" For Shame!

#208 ::: bentley ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:10 PM:

(Last post for the night, honest!)

When I worked in Michigan many years ago, someone called from out of state to ask about bidding on a project at -- here he paused, and I could tell he was debating how to pronounce it and he finally just gave it his best try -- the project at "Salt Stee Maree" (he said with a question mark at the end).

#209 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:36 PM:

You're absolutely right about spelling being unrelated to writing ability. I'm a technical writer and one of the best subordinates I ever had couldn't spell anything on his own -- but not only did he write beautifully, he turned in everything with the correct spelling because he took a dictionary and proofed every last word. This was before "spell check," which I personally believe to be an invention of Satan as it allows people to think they don't need to pay attention. Anyway -- being a good speller is just a happenstance, I think; some people are and some aren't. It isn't important, but being willing to admit that you aren't good at it, and to deal with it effectively, is.

#210 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:50 PM:

Diminution. There's no munition in it, but most of a minus.

#211 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2007, 11:53 PM:

One of the few spelling mistakes that whacked me over the head can be found in the video for REM's "Fall on Me" in big letters right across the whole screen.

Forsight.

I believe that they expressed remorse post-production.

#212 ::: Marcos ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 12:21 AM:

debcha@158: I'm curious, what other meaning of "calendar" is there? I know of only one. Perhaps the word "colander" sounds the same in your dialect of English? They're quite distinct the way I say 'em...

#213 ::: Marcos ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 12:30 AM:

It seems I was wrong about how well I did; the wrong spellings were just so ingrained that I failed to notice them when correcting my list! In addition to the acknowledged "desiccate" (which I spelled "dessicate"), add me to the list of folks who thought there was an N in "restaurateur" and an -or in "socerer". I also put an extra "e" in "jejune" ("jejeune"). So much for my bright future in copy-editing. :)

I also side with those who feel that "supersede" should be spelled "supercede", but I capitulated to the majority spelling back in high school. (But as long as the alternative spelling is listed in dictionaries, it's still an "adaptor" and not an "adapter", dammit. :))

Definitely should add "minuscule" to the list.

#214 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 12:56 AM:

#191, Clifton: That one's mine!

#215 ::: Steve Zillwood ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 02:05 AM:

Tehanu@209 Spell check - I agree. Had a fellow writing for me once who had atrocious spelling and grammar, to the point that I actually told him to at least use the spell check, or I wouldn't accept any more of his articles. I learned my lesson. His next review was on a Star Wars game and, apparently, he hit the "Yes to All" button while running the check. The best "corrections"? Every iteration of "droids" came out as "druids," and Bobba Fett became "Bob Feet." I kept him on, and told him never to use spell check again.

#216 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 02:15 AM:

Rob T @ 110

noticed that the locals nearly always spelled it "Cinti".

I've never heard it called that. Where I grew up in the Northeast, it was always shortened to "Cincy". I wonder if that's changed over time, or it changes across space, and if so, how far east you'd have to go to see the change.

#217 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 02:18 AM:

Caroline, #122: That was an AWFUL thing for them to do to you. That's even worse than my bitter memory of being selected -- and then de-selected -- for the female lead role in my 6th-grade play, after Somebody Else's Mommy threw a temper tantrum. At the very least, you should have gotten a duplicate award and a public apology. May I have 10 minutes alone in a room with your 2nd-grade teacher, the principal (or whoever was judging the competition), and a horsewhip?

Not to mention my unhappy suspicion that if the two of you had been reversed, they'd have taken it away from you, to give to a boy, in a heartbeat.

J Austin, #154: I was at a gaming-con recently where the organizers had very kindly put printed signs up at all the vendor booths. One vendor's company name had the word "Renaissance" in it, and it was horribly misspelled on the sign. (I don't remember exactly how.) Midway thru the event, I was amused to note that the vendor had taken the misspelled sign down, so that only his own merchandise (on which the word was prominently, and CORRECTLY, visible) would be seen.

Alter, #165: I'll bet "sapphire" gets a special tag in most people's heads because it's a precious stone, and secondarily because it's the only word in reasonably common usage with that -pph- combination.

Bruce, #207: This is absolutely the first time that I have ever seen any other spelling than "Skid Row". Your etymology is doubtless spot-on (and interesting to learn!), but I'm afraid the other version has become common usage. (Perhaps not right around Seattle, but certainly everywhere else.)


#218 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 02:31 AM:

Patrick, it figures - so now you and Teresa have both been done out of your rightful credit! Which of you is responsible for "two to hold down the author..."?

#219 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 02:39 AM:

lost_erizo @ 150

It's the same old transliteration problem: you can't expect someone to be able to pronounce a word written in an orthography invented for a different language: the choice of phonemes is different, and they're often not divided up the same (like the fact that Chinese-language group speakers don't differentiate between the 'l' and 'r' sounds the way Romance or Germanic language speakers do). Let's face it, Philly is a very foreign language, or so says my wife from New Jersey :-)

When and where I grew up in Philadelphia, most people spoke the word Schuylkill almost as you describe except that while they accented the first syllable, for some reason they tried to get it out as fast as possible, so it came out something like
Skukil, with 'u' pronounced like the 'oo' in snooker, not as long as the 'oo' in choose.

#220 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 04:00 AM:

Re: the alphabet in alphabetical order

Another fun alphabet is, the world's worst phonetic alphabet

a as in 'aye' or 'aisle'
b as in 'bee'
c as in 'czar' or 'cue'
d as in 'djinn' or 'double-you'
e as in 'eye' or 'ewe'
...

#221 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 04:09 AM:

Claude, #121, you left an "i" out of "Prairie."

I'm a good speller, but I do occasionally mistype.

#222 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 04:13 AM:

I add my voice to the "I can spell pretty good but only on paper!" chorus. Asking me to spell anything out loud can get pretty ugly.

#8 miriam beetle: "privately pronouncing things wrong was always my spelling secret weapon."

Me too! It's my only defense against the terrible ie/ei. I still say FRY-end under my breath every time I write "friend," my second-grade nemesis.

#135 James E: "Re: Arabic names, and Muammar Gadafy/Gadaffi/Qadafi/Khadafy/ohwhatthehell in particular - to quote the Guardian's style guide:
"Though Arabic has only three vowels - a, i and u - it has several consonants which have no equivalent in the Roman alphabet. For instance, there are two kinds of s, d and t. There are also two kinds of glottal sound. This means there are at least 32 ways of writing the Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy's name in English, and a reasonable argument can be made for adopting almost any of them.""

As I understand it, all of the Arabic vowels (each of which have a long and a short sound) lie somewhere in between European vowels, so a single sound can sound like an "a" in one word and like an "e" in the next. Unlike Japanese or Chinese, no one's ever proposed a consistent Romanization system and made it stick.

#165 Alter S. Reiss: "What's interesting to me is how rarely sapphire is misspelled. Pph isn't a combination that shows up that often, but people generally seem to get it right."

I think it's because pph such a rare case it's easy to remember. It's with the cases where there are two contradictory and widely-spread rules, like ie/ei or doubling letters, that it gets really tricksy.

#223 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 04:18 AM:

Can I humbly request a link to the full set of TNH (and PNH)'s light bulb jokes?

#224 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 04:26 AM:

bentley @ 196: I love watching live news broadcasts with closed captioning, in airports and gyms and other places where they play live news broadcasts with closed captioning. The captioning is done live by some poor, sharp-eyed typist who uses a program that automatically completes words. I know this because I see strange words pop up and then get deleted and replaced with other words. This is especially funny, and likely, with proper nouns. Sometimes, the text is flying by so fast that they don't have a chance to correct the errors, and a Pakistani leader winds up as "Mushroom Half". (Actual CNN caption seen at airport.)

Steve Zillwood @ 215 -- Look, sir! Druids! -- that would have been a very different Star Wars, wouldn't it?

#225 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 04:37 AM:

Alongside my last comment, I do wonder if anyone gets the thing I get when a word is replaced by another ("Mus" with "Mushroom", "droids" with "druids") -- a very vivid mental picture of the incongruity?

Those very confused druids walking around on Tatooine, I mean.

It's something that makes proofreading really kind of fun for me -- when I run across an error of that type, the comedy skits in my head rival Monty Python.

#226 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 04:51 AM:

[delurks]

Please excuse pedantry. On pronouncing "v"s in Latin, the locus classicus for this stuff, W. Sidney Allen's Vox Latina, makes it clear that the shift to the fricative was already under way by the end of the first century. So for Christian texts, "w" is not merely customarily wrong, but unhistorical. Likewise later secular writers such as Ammianus Marcellinus.

[/delurks]

#227 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 06:33 AM:

#225: "You'll have to excuse my friend. He fell into the Great Pit of Carkoon when he was a baby, and it had a permanent effect on him."

"What is it?"
"Your father's menhir. An elegant weapon from a more civilised age."

#228 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 06:58 AM:

Julie L #205: That's certainly part of it (the 'r' got turned into an 'l', as well as the jota becoming a 'g').

#229 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 07:31 AM:

#178: I'm just mortified that I didn't catch that typo. Thank you, you are 100% correct.

#226: Thank you for getting to this point. Any Christian-era Latin (and thus, much of what you'd ever sing in choir) probably used the V. Caesar, however, did not. Also of interest: a slightly more reliable account than Shakespeare (Suetonius) asserts that Caesar probably never said "Et tu, Brute?" because he was an educated Roman and spoke Greek! "Kai su, teknon?" or "You too, my child?" are his purported last words. I believe Plutarch claims he said nothing at all, but that's not nearly as much fun.

#230 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 08:08 AM:

Eleanor(202) A restorator runs a restorant, where one goes to restore one's strength, since the food has restorative properties.

Or, to follow the etymology a bit more slavishly, ‘...since food has the property of restoring one's well-being.’ As purportedly did the original tonics and potions known as restaurants.

(223) I'd pay good money for the collected Nielsen Hayden lightbulbiana. All the wheat and none of the chaff. As opposed to that kneebiter Carson Wyler.

(227) ajay, re your father's menhir. Where is that from? Sounds like something Joe Orton would say. Very good, at any rate. Such a manhly weapon, though prone to ithyphallicity (which I would have misspelled with an i had I not looked it up).

(165/217) Yes, sapphire. Shades of phenolphthalein! (he said, proud and amazed to have guessed that one right before checking.)

#231 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 08:17 AM:

#219 Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers): "(like the fact that Chinese-language group speakers don't differentiate between the 'l' and 'r' sounds the way Romance or Germanic language speakers do)"

[nitpick] Chinese does differentiate between the 'l' and 'r' sounds, though they parse them a little differently. I think you're thinking of Korean and Japanese, which do have only a single sound along that spectrum. [/nitpick]

#232 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 08:44 AM:

re your father's menhir. Where is that from?

The version of Star Wars that includes the bumbling druid Saig Treppio and his more competent buddy Arty Detu.

(And I'll have you all know that I looked up "competent", as it is one of my personal nemeses.)

#233 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 08:49 AM:

I'm told that 'be' is not entirely the result of this process, but rather truly suppletive, that is, the different forms actually come from different historical sources.

According to the Wikipedia article, it's from three different I-E roots. Cool, huh?

#234 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:03 AM:

Carrie @232: I seem to remember, for some reason, that Saig Treppio is emphatically not fat. Are we thinking of the same work?

#235 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:10 AM:

I seem to remember, for some reason, that Saig Treppio is emphatically not fat. Are we thinking of the same work?

I don't understand the question.

The menhir thing comes from Steve Zilwood's #215, in which he mentions someone having accepted a spellchecker's "correction" of droids to druids, thus leading ajay at #227 to make a joke.

Me, I was trying to mangle C-3PO and R2-D2 into something more namelike; if there is actually a canonical Star Wars character called "Saig Treppio", I am unaware of him/her (but completely unsurprised). And "bumbling" doesn't mean "fat", it means "incompetent".

#236 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:29 AM:

I was linking menhir to the comic Asterix, in which the menhir-carrying Obelix does not like to be called fat. Sorry if I was being obscure...

#237 ::: Wendy ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:31 AM:

Regarding Cincinnati - I lived there for a short time, and as far as I could tell not one person who lives there calls it Cincy - oddly, though, the theatre company where I worked at least used to use "cincyplay.com" (oh, still does) as their domain name. When I was there, some used Cinti, but if you were cool, you called it The 'Nati.

Of course, people in the 'Nati drive to Kentucky for dinner. I'm just sayin'.

#238 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:32 AM:

I was linking menhir to the comic Asterix, in which the menhir-carrying Obelix does not like to be called fat. Sorry if I was being obscure...

Not obscure, but I've never read Asterix so I missed the joke. :)

#239 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:34 AM:

Marcos (#212): Nope, I mean 'calender.' It's how you create a smooth surface on paper and fabric; you pass the material through a machine that has rollers (usually heated metal, nowadays), and it's also the name of the machine. I have no idea why that bit of industrial papermaking arcana got stuck in my head.

I did a quick check on OED, and need to add that 'calender' is synonymous with 'calenderer' (pretty easy to see why that version got adopted!). And apparently a calender can be a member of a mendicant order of dervishes in Turkey or Persia. Also, a corn-weevil.

#240 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:52 AM:

Scheveningen? Via alt.fan.pratchett.

Hee! That post brings back memories.

For the record, since then I've mostly learned how to pronounce it--though I'm generally told my "sch" sounds Flemish, rather than Dutch. I consider "Flemish" better than "American", under the circumstances.

Spelling it is easy, as long as I'm a) typing, and b) not thinking about it.

#241 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:58 AM:

Carrie, I think the menhir may have been an Obelix reference.

Speaking of which, Asterix has caused Sasha to be permanently unable to spell asterisk and obelisk and given me cause to hesitate about them.

#242 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 10:08 AM:

#212--"calender"--The OED has several delightfully obscure meanings (including a type of corn-weevil and a mendicant order of dervishes!) but the one I'm thinking of is a treatment for flattening and smoothing or glazing cloth or paper by putting it through rollers. Whereas "calander" is an obscure variant spelling for a species of lark. And now I have to type CALENDAR several times just to get it straight in my head again. Calendar, calendar, calendar...

I was delighted to see how many others have the same response to grey/gray derived from reading Tolkien at an impressionable age... Grey is a twilight, elf-like, faded color with a hint of blue and an English accent. Gray is the Gray Mouser -- a bit brownish, more for camouflage in the shadows than elegance, with a bit of American broadness to the vowel.

#243 ::: lost_erizo ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 10:08 AM:

Bruce@#219:
When and where I grew up in Philadelphia, most people spoke the word Schuylkill almost as you describe except that while they accented the first syllable, for some reason they tried to get it out as fast as possible, so it came out something like Skukil, with 'u' pronounced like the 'oo' in snooker, not as long as the 'oo' in choose.

Ack - this is what comes of trying to make up our own diacritical notation ;-) The way I pronounce it is actually somewhere in between those two, and the accent is on the first syllable, as you say. I think it's partly because we talk fast as well - Philadelphia tends to come out closer to "Flduffia" when my friends are going full spate.

And to give Dan@#145 full credit - it's not like there's only one Philly (or even SE PA) accent. And it may indeed be pronounced a bit differently, especially further west where there are more Dutch speakers and influence.

#244 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 10:54 AM:

Danika #182: In British English, the -ize ending was used for certain words that came from the Greek. However, current usage seems to be that -ise is acceptable for all forms. I believe, however, that -ize forms are listed first in the OED - for what reason I'm not sure.

#245 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 11:14 AM:

Thena (183): 'necessary' has only one 'c'; if it had two it would be pronounced 'neck-sessary'. (That's how I remember it, anyway.)

Also: 'weird' is spelled weird. (Or, "we are weird")

Teresa should add siege/seize to her list. The second letter in 'seize' is 'e', just like in the sound-alikes 'sees' and 'seas'.

A few weeks ago, I completely failed to spell 'corollary'. I was trying to double one or both of the 'r's and totally forgot about doubling the 'l'. I also tried changing the second vowel. Everything I tried looked so wrong that I finally gave up and used a different phrasing.

I'm another visual speller. I'd get most of the words on Teresa's list right, but I'd have to write them down.

#246 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 11:42 AM:

Maybe locals always slur the names of their towns or cities (similar process to Saint John becoming Sinjin). I used to live in Oaklund -- not -land -- and now I live in what the inhabitants pronounce more like Presskit than PressCott; the latter version is the mark of a newcomer or outsider.

With some of those multisyllabic Welsh or Maori names, I suppose anyone in their right mind would prefer slurring!

#247 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 12:56 PM:

Some mnemonics I can't ge out of my head, so I may as well inflict on you.
Necessary - Never Eat Cakes, Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young (that one is such a brainworm it stopped me using the word as I would mentally chant the mnemonic and forget the rest of my sentence).
My Chemistry teacher got me to remember fluorescent et al by teaching Fluorine as 'it's not a flow of urine'.
As for 'feudal/futile', my English wife teaches reading therapy in California. Initially this caused some problems as the locals don't distinguish 'o' and 'aw' (hottie vs haughty) and barely distinguish 'd' and 't' (shoddy vs shorty), so they could not pronounce 'o' the way she does, and heard it as 'u'.
My favorite proofreading story is from my friend Suw Charman. She typo'd her first name 'Sue' in a round-robin letter soliciting contributions to a scientific journal she was editing, and rather than admit that "Yes, I'm asking you to submit articles to the care of someone who can't spell her own name", adopted the alternative spelling as her own. This later became a great advantage in her online writing career, as she is eminently googleable.

#248 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 12:58 PM:

#230, #232, #235, #238, #241: yes, sorry, it was an Asterix reference. (embarrassed; slinks away)

#249 ::: Suw Charman ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 01:00 PM:

#246, Faren: Welsh is a phonetic language, and every bit of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is pronounced, including the two LLs in the middle. LL sounds like the hiss of a very angry cat, and I tend to break the two up by taking a breath between them.

--

But I think I have possibly the most embarrassing story as regards misspelling.

I used to work as an 'editorial assistant' for a science publisher, and it was my job to invite Very Important Scientists to write papers for our journals. One time, I sent out about 60 invitation letters, but as the responses came back, I became increasingly perplexed by the number of people asking "Is that really how you spell your name?" I mean, I know 'Charman' is a little unusual, and people often mispronounce it 'Sharman' or try to put a p in it (Chapman), but it's not that noteworthy. So I'd shake my head, say "Yes", and leave it at that. After the fifth such enquiry, I decided that something was wrong and pulled out the original letter that I'd sent out.

I have to admit feeling rather mortified to discover that I had spelt Sue as Suw. My squiggle of a signature gave no one any clue that I had actually misspelt my own name so, after the panic subsided, I decided that it was probably just easier to change my name than admit to a bunch of really important people that I couldn't spell it. I've been Suw ever since.

Of course, I thank my fat-fingeredness now - I'm the only human Suw in Google and that has turned out to be pretty useful.

#250 ::: Suw Charman ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 01:02 PM:

Ah, sorry... I hadn't realised Kevin had beaten me to the punch!

#251 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 01:08 PM:

Re. Cincinnati: Cincy reads a bit like Frisco or Chi-town. I wouldn't say I never hear it, but it's more common outside Cincinnati than within it. Cinti is used as an abbreviation when writing addresses. The Post Office uses it; if you send a postcard to "Cinti OH," it will arrive here. I don't think I've ever heard it in speech.

No actual cool person says "the 'Nati." Only "cool" people, such as regional youth marketing directors or local entertainment reporters, say this.

#252 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 01:08 PM:

Talking of Schenectady, it always shows up very high in any online survey that collects zipcodes, second only to Beverly Hills 90210. Though it may have a very wired population, it also has the zipcode 12345.

#253 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 01:15 PM:

I got knocked out my county spelling bee on "quorum." Hadn't absorbed enough Latin yet, I guess. (I'm one of those people who can pretty much spell anything if it comes from Latin.) My consolation was that I was the only fifth grader among a quorum of sixth graders. (I had outspelled all the sixth graders in my school to get to the county bee.)

The mnemonic that was taught to me for "separate" is to pronounce it French-style. That only works if you've taken French, of course.

My favorite place name is Skaneateles. It's a quaint town in the Finger Lakes district of upstate New York. I'd never heard of it until the Clintons took a vacation there once. At that time I read that it was pronounced "skinny-atlas" but what I've actually heard up there is something slightly different - I think there might be a schwa after the t.

Meanwhile the town of Hauppauge was the spelling bugbear of us Long Islanders. (It rhymes, more or less, with "Hop-frog.")

And add me to the list of the xooked to learn there's no "n" in that word for someone who runs a restaurant.

#254 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 01:16 PM:

Howard, #252: Oh, the post office influence! I've always enjoyed stories about that.

Agree with you about "Chi-town," by the way, though it may have been more common once. The local term for "Chicago" that you almost never hear outside of the city is "Chicagoland," which used to boggle the minds of friends of mine who had just moved to the city--especially when they figured out that "Chicagoland" was larger than "Chicago" . . .

#255 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 01:17 PM:

I'm sorry I stole your thunder, Suw, I meant to link to your blogpost on it but couldn't find it. You tell it far better than I could.

#256 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 01:48 PM:

Don't slink for me, ajay (248). I didn't mean to mess up your joke, and I'm grateful to have been given the chance to correct my own spelling before I embarrassed myself (if it wasn't embarrassing enough just to have the word ithiphallic at the tip of my, uh, cerebrum).

#257 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 01:56 PM:

Various & sundry....

ethan @199 - No, I don't know how to pronounce Quonochontaug. My guess would be kwon-o-SHON-tog, long o in 2nd syllable and the rest as in "on", but I am quite prepared to be told it's something very different. You wanna take a stab at Maquoketa? Anybody?

Kevin Marks @252 - 12345! Way cool! I live maybe 50 miles from a very small village called Scottown, which has the zip 45678. Its only other claim to fame is as the site of a lethal fireworks store fire.

Faren Miller @246 - According to some people around here, I live in Porchmuff, Ahia. Down in Saudi Counny.

I'm also in the bluish grey/brownish gray camp.

#258 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 02:52 PM:

Asterix and Obelix! I loved those comics as a kid, and have been re-collecting them when I can find the reprints. The new binding sucks. Do I remember right that the druid Getafix was renamed for a while--un-PC and all? I might have dreamed it.....

#259 ::: Steve Zillwood ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 02:59 PM:

Anne@257 - Maquoketa? I'd guess Ma-kaw'-keh-tah, with the emphasis on the second syllable and the 'e' being a schwah. First two syllables almost like Macaw. But it's probably pronounced "Smith."

#260 ::: Steve Zillwood ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 03:08 PM:

A.J.@225 - Yep, vivid pictures indeed. I used to collect the best typos throughout the year and send an email out to all the staff with them pasted inside (erm, the typos, not the staff). Generally my most popular email of the year.

Stephan@234 & Carrie@235: Could the overweight reference have been to the new first name "Saig?"

ajay@248 - No slinking! A&O references are always welcome.

Waves hand mystically..."These are not the druids you are looking for..."

#261 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 03:14 PM:

I've had no trouble with fluorescence and its relatives since I started envisioning the flouron, the fundamental particle of wheat. That's the white dust that gets all over flourescent lights, and it's the reason GM products flouresce in the dark.

#262 ::: Steve Zillwood ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 03:20 PM:

I thought that was the Dodge Neon?

#263 ::: Wendy ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 03:25 PM:

Howard @ 251 - I think you just proved my point. Heh.

#264 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 03:41 PM:

Some food words are difficult to spell. I only noticed the other night that "turmeric" has an "r", which word I've always heard as "TU-meric" (does anyone pronounce that "r")?

And there's also "asafoetida".

#265 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 05:23 PM:

#252 Schenectady...also has the zipcode 12345.

Local insight: Zip Code "12345" is actually assigned to the General Electric works on the west side of the city. I'm reasonably certain that there is not a single residential address in that Zip.

The SF ideas are sent out from a box at the Heritage Station Post Office in zip 12303.

(Not only was I born in Schenectady, but I attended Rensselear Polytechnic Institute. The very first thing they do there at freshman orientation is drill the incoming students in "How to Spell "R-e-n-s-s-e-l-a-e-r".)

#266 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 06:39 PM:

Jon Sobel (253): Meanwhile the town of Hauppauge was the spelling bugbear of us Long Islanders. (It rhymes, more or less, with "Hop-frog.")

It also rhymes with Patchogue. But not with Copiague, which is 'co-pay' with a hard 'g' on the end. (I had to look that one up.)

#267 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 07:24 PM:

Heresiarch @ 231

Ah, I was being sneaky. I couldn't remember which languages made no distinction, but I knew that even in the ones that did, the distinction was different from that of Western European languages in general.

So I said, don't differentiate between the 'l' and 'r' sounds the way Romance or Germanic language speakers do, which can be interpreted as "don't differentiate in the same way". Got to be sneaky to cover your ignorance when there's just no time to google.

#268 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 07:26 PM:

I can never seem to remember that there's a double "w" (quadruple-yu?) in Tsawwassen, BC.

#269 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 07:41 PM:

There's a tech company in Hauppauge called . . . Hauppauge. They make video boards for PCs.

Back when I did trade shows, it was common to hear it mispronounced "haw-paaaaj." As though it were a hi-falutin' French word.

#270 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 07:47 PM:

owlmirror,


there's a double "w" (quadruple-yu?) in Tsawwassen, BC.

& the first "s" is silent, as long as we're talking about trick pronunciations of city names.

#271 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 08:00 PM:

270. Many of us pronounce both the T and the S in Tsawwassen.
mark

#272 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 08:16 PM:

I almost had the Canadians convinced I was one of their own, until I tried to pronounce Tsawwassen. If I only I hadn't been on the "let's ride ferries from one side of B.C to the other" vacation. They would have never found me out. Dang it!

If anyone cares, Tsawwassen is one of the ports on the B.C. ferry system. It was a nice place to sit in the sun and breeze and enjoy a peaceful afternoon.

#273 ::: gmanedit ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 08:22 PM:

I administer a fun copy-editing and proofreading test for prospective hires and freelancers, who can take it in our office (in which case I hand them a dictionary) or at home and send it in. Would you believe (yes, of course you would) how many sail right by Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin? Many, many.

#274 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:00 PM:

#273: Except "Joseph" Stalin isn't entirely wrong.

In some places, it's even preferred.
E.g., the Wikipedia entry on Joseph Stalin.

#275 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:05 PM:

Phenolphthalein looks sort of wrong. It's the -ein at the end.
There's a type of protein (two syllables or three?) that changes conformation based on how many there are. The lead researcher calls them morpheeins. The extra E is so no one pronounces it 'morphine' and gets everyone confused.

Also, phthisis. Another I learned from the theatre (same play, too).

#276 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 09:55 PM:

Lee:

This is absolutely the first time that I have ever seen any other spelling than "Skid Row".

Here.

And here, although with the bastard spelling first. Obviously Wikipedia has a Californian editing: "There are formally recognized neighborhoods named Skid Row in Seattle." Not by that term in the city limits...

#277 ::: Rich ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 10:46 PM:

Jeez,

I cannot be the only person with a pathological fear of parallel, can I? I know there is a double consonant in there, but is it a double 'r', or is it a double 'l', and if so, which 'l' - and why does it seem to switch from time to time? Hmmmm....

I would also like to point out that the supersede/supercede controversy is always a constant source of strife at my job. We occasionally file a 'superseding indictment' which is, you know, an actual legal instrument filed with the court clerk, with the words 'Superceding (sic) Indictment' emblazoned on the first page (it was coded incorrectly in the software we use to prepare our filings); the lawyers are evenly divided between the wise Superseders and the ignorant Superceders

I must also confess to often turning 'independence' into 'independance' (see also, 'independent' as 'independant' - because 'pendant' is a word, and 'pendent' is not. Hrmph) And once in a while a second 'm' finds its way into amendment, but I have no idea how it gets there, honest.

#278 ::: Rich ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 10:50 PM:

And once in a while a second 'm' finds its way into amendment, but I have no idea how it gets there, honest.

A second 'm' finds its way into the first half of 'amendment,' I meant to say.

#279 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 11:01 PM:

Maquoketa is pronounced Muh-KWOK-et-uh.

Now would anyone care to guess how Iowans pronounce Nevada (the town where I live), Madrid, Buena Vista, or the one you absolutely have to be from here to know: Tripoli.

#280 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 11:16 PM:

#14, Keir:

Isn't it somewhat of a rule, that, in natural languages, the most commonly used words are the exceptions to the most rules of that language?

My experience of languages is not wide, but in Japanese I believe that the only two irregular verbs are suru and kuru; respectively, to do and to come. Make of that what you will.

#222, Heresiarch:

Unlike Japanese or Chinese, no one's ever proposed a consistent Romanization system and made it stick.

There is one alternative to Japanese romaji and that is the so-called Yale romanization, which uses a more scholarly basis for spelling for consistancy's sake. However, it is deceptive as to pronunciation. For example, the syllable group ta chi tsu te to in romaji is rendered ta ti tu te to in Yale. This wouldn't matter except to Yale scholars who attempt to speak Japanese, except I believe I hear the occasional non-Japanese asian actor playing Japanese parts in Western movies attempting to pronounce the Yale romanization as written.

Meanwhile the more friendly (if inaccurate) Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese has been rendered almost extinct by Pinyin, which is more accurate but less friendly. (I mean, Q is pronounced Ch, X is Sh?)

#281 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 11:49 PM:

John Sobel #253: You're right about the schwa in Skaneateles: SKIN-nee-AT-uh-liss is how I'd render the pronunciation. (I have family there. Nice place to visit, but I'd never want to live there. Too quiet.)

Anne Sheller #257: I'm glad you were ready to be told you were wrong. Quonochontaug is pronounced (by its current residents; I've no clue how the Narragansetts might have said it) KWON-uh-kuh-tog, no long Os. It's a beautiful little town on the bay with its own little inlet. Again, nice place to visit but I'd never want to live there.

I haven't even a guess for Maquoketa. Steve Zillwood's at #259 is as good as any I'd have.

#282 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2007, 11:59 PM:

Steve @259, Allen @279 - The pronunciation I recall from my years in Clinton was muh-KO-keh-tuh, where uh is a schwa, eh an unstressed short e (close to a schwa but not quite the same), and the stressed o is long. We tended to snicker on hearing radio news readers saying muh-KWAW-keh- tuh or mah-ko-KEE-tuh.

So how are things in nuh-VAY-duh?

#283 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 12:12 AM:

Rich at 277, I learned parallel because it has two parallel lines in the middle.

One way I define the Midwest is by mispronounced French. My French-minor roommate yelled at me in college because I insisted on Prairie dooSHEEN, rather than pronouncing it all correctly.

#284 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:09 AM:

#277, double-consonants and institutionalized mispellings...

When a web browser follows a link from one page to another, as part of the request for the second page it normally includes information about the first page, allowing the owner of the second page to tell who is linking to them.

The first browser to support this feature did so by sending a "Referer" header. For interoperability, other browsers followed. To preserve compatibility, the formal HTTP 1.1 standard set that spelling into stone. And now we all spell it that way.

#285 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:27 AM:

Diyatrima, #283:

Mispronounced French in very deed! I thought Detroit was bad enough, with (among other atrocities) a major street named Cadieux and pronounced "CAD-jew".

Then I moved to Nashville, where one of the major streets is Lafayette... pronounced "luh-FAY-et".

Worse yet, 26 years of living in Nashville have actively reset my default pronunciation for the latter, so that now when I'm living in Texas, I routinely embarrass myself in discussions of American history. :-(

#286 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:31 AM:

Diatryma, @259: Oh, Midwestern French place names are weirder than just mispronounced, taken in a bunch. True, we get all American English and phonetic about some of them, but then there's the town of Bourbonnais, which is pronounced "bour-bon-AY" (long o in the middle). The Des Plaines River is, of course, " desPLAINS," while over in Iowa, the city of Des Moines is pronounced "de MOIN." Then there are the place/street names from other countries, like "De-VON" Avenue . . . and the infamous Goethe Street, both in Chicago.

Not to mention CAY-ro, IlliNOIZ.*

(Though I've got to admit that that pronounciation of the state name exists mostly in memory and old folk songs, these days.)

#287 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:32 AM:

Oops--I meant, Diatryma, #283, of course . . .

#288 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:51 AM:

Diatryma @ 283

Rats, you beat me to it. I'll just add that the double parallel line is the standard geometric construction symbol that signals that two lines are parallel, so if you took Geometry in high school (and actually remember it), that one's dead easy.

#289 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 02:22 AM:

The Maori name above is a story name. There are a lot of such names in Maori, but, most of them that I know of are shortened down to more manageable lengths. (Thus, ``the sea where Rangitikaroro laughed'' (``Te Moana-i-Kataina-e-Te Rangitakaroro'') is shortened to Lake Okaitana. This does not appear to've happened in this case...

I've always thought Milngavie was the worst place name in Britain. At the least with Welsh you just get a good run up and have a go, but how could you tell that Milngavie is pronounced Mul-guy?

#290 ::: Suw Charman ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 05:49 AM:

#289, Keir, yes, tricky little blighters, English place-names. Like Leicester ('lester'), Towcester ('toaster'), and Bicester ('bister'). Endless fun can be had with a map and an innocent foreigner.

Australia also has fun names, Woolloomooloo being one, pronounced with the stress on the last Loo, not WOO-lloo-MOO-loo.

#291 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 05:57 AM:

#2, Claude:

Q: How many art directors does it take to change a light bulb?

According to the creative director at the studio I'm working at this morning, the answer is, "We're not changing a f***ing thing."

#292 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 06:05 AM:

Reposting from last March:

British placenames are great for confusing the unwary foreigner who, until arriving, thought he/she could read and speak. They fall into three categories:

BASIC: England
Leicester
Derby
Holborn
Middlesborough
Pontefract

INTERMEDIATE: Oxford and Cambridge
Gonville & Caius
Magdalen
Magdalene
Worcester
Wadham

ADVANCED: Scotland
Dalyell
Menzies
Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan
Beinn a'Chlaidheimh
Meall Ghaordaidh

The answers, incidentally, are:
Lester
Darby
Ho-burn
Middles-bruh
Pumf-rite

Gon-vill and Keys
Maudlin
Maudlin (aha! trick question!)
Wooster
Wad-um

Dee-ell
Ming-iss
Skoor nan Tcharyavan
Ben a Khlayiv
Myall Urdy

#293 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 06:35 AM:

I enjoy the contrast between Berwick (as in -upon-Tweed), which is pronounced "Berrik", and Lerwick up in Shetland, which is pronounced "Lerwick".

I always say English doesn't have rules of pronunciation. They're more like guidelines*.

-----
* We didn't have enough zombies in this thread.

#294 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 06:36 AM:

#280:Meanwhile the more friendly (if inaccurate) Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese has been rendered almost extinct by Pinyin, which is more accurate but less friendly. (I mean, Q is pronounced Ch, X is Sh?)

Wade-Giles is quite accurate as long as one remembers the secret decoder ring and remembers to use apostrophes when appropriate. e.g., there is a difference between p and p'. The uninitiated to Wade-Giles will pronounce p as if it were p'. Thus, we have an entire generation of people who mispronounced the name of the capital city of China. However, if one actually follows Wade-Giles pronunciation rules, one does get the correct pronunciation.

One could argue that Wade-Giles is actually more linguistically accurate at least in this example. The only difference between p and p' is that the latter is aspirated. However, pinyin uses two separate letters, b and p. English speakers might assume that b in pinyin is voiced. They would be wrong.

I suppose one advantage of using j, q and x is that one isn't as tempted to pronounce pinyin as if it were English. However, when you do this with either Wade-Giles or pinyin, you end up with the Celeborn problem. (The Yale system of Chinese romanization might do better in this respect. I don't remember now.)

#295 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 06:51 AM:

For bonus foreign-language mouth-benders, try the Swedish word "västkustskt" (having properties associated with the West Coast).

#296 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 07:00 AM:

My birth mother lives in Cincinnati, and in e-mail she often says "Cinci".

People were mentioning sapphires, and it occurred to me that the "ph" was probably a Greek phi. Checking on this, I discovered that there is a Greek word "σάπφειρος"...which means "lapis lazuli". The Romans borrowed the word and then applied it to another blue gemstone.

Flushed with this success I went and looked up the name "Matthew", expecting it to be "Ματθαῖος" -- nope, it's "Μαθθαῖος". Go figure.

#297 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 07:10 AM:

Since the subject has gone from misspelling to mispronunciation (*)

I enjoyed the movie The Man in the Iron Mask, what with Gabriel Byrne and Jeremy Irons playing Dumas's mousquettaires now older, but it drove me nuts that the north-American actors in the cast (for example, John Malkovich) couldn't be bothered to pronounce d'Artagnan's name correctly.


(*) not 'mispronounciation'...

#298 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 07:25 AM:

Steve Zillwood @260: Er, yes. That's it. That's the ticket.

Well, actually, no. It was the description of the pair of druids, one bumbling and the other competent, along with the sizes of the originals, that made me think they were dead ringers for Obelix and Asterix (which Ajay's original joke was so obviously about (to me, anyway)). I didn't stop to consider that Carrie might not have read it, I mean, they had to be Obelix and Asterix.

#299 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 08:33 AM:

Meanwhile the more friendly (if inaccurate) Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese has been rendered almost extinct by Pinyin, which is more accurate but less friendly. (I mean, Q is pronounced Ch, X is Sh?)

Well, you might as well do something with those otherwise-useless letters, and since Chinese has some sounds that don't match up exactly with English ones, why not? X is not the same sh as English, nor is Q the same ch. I'm pretty sure the Chinese version is the retroflex s` rather than the postalveolar S, for example (from the IPA via X-Sampa).

Speaking of mispronounced French, around here we have Duquesne (du-KANE) and North Versailles (ver-SALES). Beats me why it's not either du-KWES-nee or ver-SIGH.

#300 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 09:11 AM:

#279 Well, in Missouri that would be Ne-VAY-duh and MAD-drid*, (as in New Madrid, town and fault zone) just as Tennessee has a lake and dam called Nor-MAN-die.
#286 Missouri has quite a few interestingly mangled French names, courtesy of the early days of La Louisiane, including Rush Limbaugh's hometown (they still haven't figured out how he ever amounted to anything) Cape Juh-RAR-do; the creek named for one of the early lead miners: Fourche à Renault, which is pronounced as Forsharno; and Mine la Motte, which outsiders think must have been named for a pioneer woman: Minnie Luhmott. The St. François Mountains, which are among the oldest in North America, are spelled in French and pronounced in English: St. Francis. I'll spare you Valles Mines, Bonne Terre, Maries (county and river) and some of the others, and just note that I grew up near a river which sounds as if it was named for a soft drink made for (or from) D'Artagnan's compatriots: Gasconade.

They seem to fall into two groups: as descended from the original pronunciation, after the descendents have stopped speaking French, and so slurred but not too far off, and as handled by people who knew French only as Foreign (pronounced Furrin).

Also, Fee Fee Road, in St. Louis County, has nothing to do with small dogs.

#301 ::: James E ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 09:29 AM:

Ajay@292: "Middlesborough" is in fact spelt "Middlesbrough" - yet another word that the Guardian in particular seems to struggle with, but at least the pronunciation makes sense. Another fun one is Gillingham, which is pronounced Jillingham if you're talking about the one in Kent or with a hard G if you mean the one in Dorset.

#302 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 09:39 AM:

Carrie S @ 299... Speaking of mispronounced French, around here we have Duquesne (du-KANE) and North Versailles (ver-SALES). Beats me why it's not either du-KWES-nee or ver-SIGH.

Actually, one is not supposed to pronounce the 's' in 'Duquesne'. Same with the 'u' in 'que'.

As for 'Versailles', it should indeed be pronounced 'ver-sigh'. The mispronunciation of 'aill' as 'ale' is common though. That's why my family name has been turned into 'maalox'.

(Yes, come see me if you have tummy problems.)

#303 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 09:54 AM:

Actually, one is not supposed to pronounce the 's' in 'Duquesne'. Same with the 'u' in 'que'.

Yes, I know that--I took French up through college. :) I was pointing out that we have two French place names; one is pronounced correctly and the other is not. It just strikes me as odd that they're not both right (du-kane, ver-sigh) or both wrong (du-kwes-nee, ver-sales).

#304 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 09:56 AM:

Oops, Carrie S...

#305 ::: Jen Birren ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 10:39 AM:

ajay@292:
I was reading your list and nodding until I got to Wadham- how else do you pronounce that but, well, Wadham, I thought? So the key was one of those real-world sensawunda moments. Wad-um? Yes, that's how you pronounce Wadham, (assuming the u is a schwa,) what could need pointing out there...

Oh! You mean there are places where -ham at the end of a placename is pronounced as in the food, and not as a a gulped "'m"??? Well well well.

(Other examples: Birmingham- Bermingum, Cheltenham- Chelt'num, Nottingham: Nottingum, or indeed Nott'n'm [for extra points, the T should be a glottal stop].)

#306 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 10:40 AM:

abi@293, that's because you really don't want to see zombies try to pronounce these words. I mean, a little spittle flying is one thing, but I draw the line at an entire tongue. Not to mention that zombies aren't known to be good spellers.

Although now I'm picturing a zombie copy-editor...

#307 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 10:58 AM:

(zombie copy editor) BRAAAAAAINS! why don't the writers use their BRAAAAIIINS!

#308 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 11:01 AM:

The fundamental problem of transliteration is that the source language may have sounds that don't exist in the target language and thus *every* representation of them is wrong (and will be pronounced wrong by speakers of the target language). For example, chi (and similar sounds in other languages) in English.

Which brings us right back to "ichthyology", which is consistently mispronounced "ick-theology" (which may be why some people drop that h). It could be worse though, people might try to pronounce the ch like a ch. (Ditto chiral, Christ, chord, chorus, ichor...)

#296: People were mentioning sapphires, and it occurred to me that the "ph" was probably a Greek phi. Checking on this, I discovered that there is a Greek word "σάπφειρος"...which means "lapis lazuli". The Romans borrowed the word and then applied it to another blue gemstone.

Interesting, I had no idea that there was a pi in sapphire. Does that mean "sa-fire" is an incorrect pronunciation? It's the only one I've ever heard... my dictionary seems to think that there is no "p" sound in either sapphire or words derived from Sappho. But then, they sanction "ick-theology", too.

"Maththew" looks unbelievably awkward, though, even if it would be more technically correct. Maybe that's just because we're not used to it?

#309 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 11:05 AM:

#299:X is not the same sh as English, nor is Q the same ch. I'm pretty sure the Chinese version is the retroflex s` rather than the postalveolar S, for example (from the IPA via X-Sampa).

pinyin uses SH for the retroflex s'.
X is s\, the voiceless alveolo-palatal frictive.
(i.e., blade of tongue below lower row of teeth, raise body of tongue towards palate, pass air through mouth without engaging vocal cords.)

Q is the aspirated affrictive version. I guess that would be ts\_h in X-SAMPA. (Thank you for the link, BTW. IPA, but renderable in 7 bit ASCII. What a great idea!)

BTW, I don't actually know anything about linguistics. Having been laughed at for speaking like a hick, I'm just obsessed with getting the standard Mandarin accent right. (But it's not clear to me that I pronounce S differently from s\ although I might if I thought about it.)

#310 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 11:15 AM:

ajay #292: How did Woolwich disappear from that list? ('Where was that train going?' asked my wife. 'Woolwich', I replied. 'I thought it said Wool-witch ' she commented.)

#311 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 11:50 AM:

Then there's Atlanta's Ponce de Leon Rd., familiarly known as 'Ponce'--one syllable, rhymes with 'fonts'. The 'Leon' is pronounced LEE-on., and the 'de' has a schwah.

#312 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 11:55 AM:

Serge #297:

Thank you, you *would* have to bring up why I bombed out of the 7th grade spelling bee.

Still, better than the time in third grade I put my brain in automatic and came out with "babby".

#313 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 11:55 AM:

#296 Bruce Cohen: "Ah, I was being sneaky. I couldn't remember which languages made no distinction, but I knew that even in the ones that did, the distinction was different from that of Western European languages in general."

Touche*, Bruce Cohen, touche. Though, now that I think about it, not even Western European languages have any sort of agreement on how to pronounce 'r.' The French 'r,' the Spanish 'r' and the English 'r' are all totally different, at least to my ear. The Japanese sound romanized as 'r' is a whole 'nother beast as well.

*There's a teensy little town just outside of Walla Walla, Washington called Touchet, which is pronounced TOO-shee. Don't ask me.

#280 NelC: "Meanwhile the more friendly (if inaccurate) Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese has been rendered almost extinct by Pinyin, which is more accurate but less friendly. (I mean, Q is pronounced Ch, X is Sh?)"

Wade-Giles and pinyin are both equally accurate: they map the exact same set of sounds. More importantly, pinyin is wayyyy more friendly than Wade-Giles. Wade-Giles renders what is pronounced "dao de jing" into "tao te ch'ing." Friendly? Not so much. Wade-Giles has far more bugaboos than pinyin. Marking aspiration and non-aspiration with an apostrophe is highly unnatural, and causes far more problems than using x or q to mark sounds that aren't in English anyway.

Pinyin's flaws are, to my mind at least, more forgivable than Wade-Giles. Chinese has two sounds that sound to western ears like 'ch'--in pinyin, one of them gets 'ch' and the other gets 'q.' Same with 'sh'/'x' and 'zh'/'j.' Complicated, but unavoidable.

#294 JC: "Thus, we have an entire generation of people who mispronounced the name of the capital city of China."

I don't think you can blame Wade-Giles for that. From what I've heard, Peking was the product of the (Hong Kong-based) British Post's transliterations based on Cantonese pronunciations, which bear only passing resemblance to Mandarin. Beijing in Wade-Giles would be Peich'ing, no?

"However, pinyin uses two separate letters, b and p. English speakers might assume that b in pinyin is voiced. They would be wrong."

They'd still be closer than they would if they were following Wade-Giles. Voicing is a continuum, not a binary, and 北京 sounds a lot more like "beijing" than "peijing" to my (admittedly American) ear.

#314 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 12:02 PM:

joann @ 312... Thank you, you *would* have to bring up why I bombed out of the 7th grade spelling bee.

John Malkovich does have that effect on people.

#315 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 12:06 PM:

Serge #314:

No, no, not John Malkovich, as I'm several months older than he.

pronunciation/pronounciation.

#316 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 12:15 PM:

joann... Heheheh... I myself had to think for a moment to make sure I had the right spelling. After all, one must 'pronounce' a word using the correct 'pronunciation'.

#317 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:00 PM:

#300 et al:

Indiana has Russiaville, pronounced "ROOsha-Ville," named for the Miami chief Jean Baptiste de Richardville.

Take your pick: Is it misspelled or mispronounced? Is it French or Native American?

#318 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:09 PM:

Diatryma in #275 mentions phthisis; are there any other words used (if only obscurely) in English that start with 4 or more consonants? The only other example I can think of off the top of my head is 'phthalate'. Are there any that are non-Greek?

#319 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:10 PM:

'Richardville' mangled into 'Russiaville', Howard? Ouch. On the other hand, that's not as bad as that town named after Narbonnes, which became Gnawbone. (Say... This is a way to tie this thread in with the zombie one.)

#320 ::: mimi ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:27 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 311: Yes, as an Atlantan it wasn't until I was in college that I realized anyone could pronounce Ponce differently. Though that's not nearly as bad as the non-native (but American-born native English) speaker I once heard referring to "Pea-ahch-it-ree" Street.

#321 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:28 PM:

Chris (308) mentions ‘"ichthyology", which is consistently mispronounced "ick-theology".’ I don't think that word means what you think it means.

English (or American English) dictionaries describe the pronunciation used by speakers of the language; if it is consistently used by native speakers, it can hardly be an error. When English picks the pockets of other languages, it often shucks off any inconvenient phonemes in order to make the swag easier to conceal.

How would you imagine ichthyology could be correctly pronounced? icks-theology? Maybe the first step is figuring out why "chi" is pronounced "kiy".

#322 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:34 PM:

#313:I don't think you can blame Wade-Giles for[an entire generation mispronouncing 北京]

Ok, I agree with that. It's a bad example. However, your explanation of why you think Wade-Giles is unfriendly makes better the point that I was trying to make about what happens when you pronounce Wade-Giles as if it were English. (i.e., the Celeborn problem.)

They'd still be closer than they would if they were following Wade-Giles. Voicing is a continuum, not a binary,

Yes, this became very clear to me when I attempted to master French vowels.

北京 sounds a lot more like "beijing" than "peijing" to my (admittedly American) ear.

Of course it does. A typical English speaker will aspirate the "p" in "peijing" but not the "b" in "beijing." The initial used for 北 is unaspirated and unvoiced. We're going to notice the aspiration more than we'll notice the voiced consonant. A speaker who either did not aspirate "peijing" or did not voice "beijing" would be closer still.

Like I said, the consequences of pronouncing pinyin as if it were English is still pretty dire. Because it uses "x" and "q" though, I suspect people are less tempted to do it. This is good since "c", "ch", and "sh" don't have the same sounds they do in English. I think a romanization which used English phonology wouldn't look like pinyin.

#323 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:40 PM:

People were talking about Rs in various languages, which reminded me of a question I wonder about sometimes: where does the English R sound come from? It's not in German or French, or, for that matter, any other language I've ever heard of.

#324 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 01:53 PM:

Jakob #318: from an old word list:

psst tsks phpht schmo schwa schlep schmoe schrik tsktsk pschent schlepp schlock schmalz schmeer schmoos schmuck schnaps schnook schtick chthonic phthalic phthalin phthises phthisic phthisis schmaltz schmelze schmoose schmooze schnecke schnecken

I manually took out inflected forms "-s", "-ing" "-y", etc. and also "cwm" and "crwth" because they use the vowel "w". I didn't go through to see if there was a case of "y" being used as a consonant. "phthises" is arguably a form of "-s", but irregular enough to leave in. I also left "tsks" in because "tsk" is not there, but I'm not sure why. If he "tsks", why cant I "tsk"?

#325 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 02:05 PM:

Mary Aileen #311: That's one of the first things I learned when I moved to Atlanta, along with how to pronounce 'DeKalb' (de cab), and Dacula (da coola)...

#326 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 02:44 PM:

#321:How would you imagine ichthyology could be correctly pronounced? icks-theology? Maybe the first step is figuring out why "chi" is pronounced "kiy".

Well, if you speak properly*, you have no problem pronouncing "chi" as "chi" (as in Rachmaninov, loch, Nagorno-Karabakh, och aye) - so "ich-theology". "ik-theology" is quite wrong.

*i.e. Scottishly.

#327 ::: Wendy ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 03:09 PM:

Here in Toronto (um, Tronno), there's a lovely street/neighborhood called Roncesvalles. I knew it couldn't be pronounced Frenchily, as it's so English-Canada here, and I couldn't think of how in the world to say it, so I had to ask.

RON-sess-vailz.

Oy.

#328 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 03:33 PM:

Och, I didn't intend to insult any Scots. It's just that I speak a different language.

Did I ever tell you about trying to get a train ticket from Glasgow to Holyhead by way of Oxford? The kind agent told me I would do best with a round trip ticket to Oxford, and then to... but he cleared his throat every time he started telling me where to catch the train to Holyhead. He finally had to spell it for me (<rot13>Perjr</rot13>).

#329 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 04:34 PM:

Fusing two past subthreads, I think we have developed an adequate test for zombiehood.

You ask them to pronounce "shibboleth", and if they pronounce it "braaainns", you bash them in the head. Simple.

#330 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 04:56 PM:

Joann @315, I actually rewrote my extremely brief comment at 225 three times so that I wouldn't have to use "pronunciation".

I shall now go and take a train to Cirencester, pron. "Sisister" by the upper classes, and "Zoyren" by the people who live there.

#331 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 05:06 PM:

chris #330:

Sympathetic snerk.

What can possibly be the relationship between "sisister" or "sissiter" (which is how some tourist book I read many years ago had it, unless I'm having an uncommon dyslexic fit) and "zoyren"?

#332 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 06:39 PM:

mimi @ 320

Did you ever have trouble in Atlanta with Brits who thought that Ponce de Leon Rd was the red-light district if they'd only heard the name?

#333 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 06:50 PM:

Okay, spell-check doesn't catch "miniscule," which means nothing, I know, but it's most often listed as a variant spelling dictionary-wise. What makes "grey" a variant, and "miniscule" wrong? How long should something be in common usage (print) before it's considered a variant spelling?

#334 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 07:03 PM:

J@#333:

spell-check doesn't catch "miniscule,"

It's not enough to say "spell-check" - which spell checker are you using?

Firefox spell-check dislikes both "miniscule" and "grey".

Windows Office (Word 2003) likes gray, grey and miniscule — is that what you're using?

That last might be considered a bug rather than a feature.

#335 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 07:24 PM:

Owlmirror@334;

I do use MS Word ('97 I think)but my question was heading another way. I prefer "grey" because it looks pretty to my eye, and that's the way it sounds in my head, and thankfully, is considered a correct variant. I'll now write "minuscule" because I'm thinking "minute" instead if "miniature." I was just curious what made something an acceptable variant, and another thing merely a wrong spelling that's come into common usage.

#336 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 07:42 PM:

chris,

"Maththew" looks unbelievably awkward, though, even if it would be more technically correct. Maybe that's just because we're not used to it?

well the greek maththew comes from the hebrew matityahu, where both the t's are the same letter, & of the two letters that both sound like t in israeli hebrew, it is the one that has been rendered "th" in biblical translations, e.g., nathan, bethlehem.

so i don't know if the greeks took a breath between th's, but as long as there wasn't a vowel there, they weren't pronouncing it "correctly" either.

proving that, after a point, you have to choose between pronouncing a borrow word correctly, or pronouncing it in your own language.

#337 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2007, 10:35 PM:

Jakob @ 318, Dan @ 324:

The surname McKlveny starts with 5 consonants, and it's not Greek.

I think it's pronounced Mackle-Vainy.

Anne @ 282: Thanks for the correction. Apparently Des Moines newscasters don't know how to pronounce Maquoketa like the natives.

MAD-rid and NuhVAYda are pronounced the same in Iowa as they are in Missouri. The first syllable of Buena Vista is pronounced like the last syllable of jejeune (misspelling intentional).

Still no takers on Tripoli? It's Trapola, accent on the second syllable.

#338 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 02:00 AM:

#322 JC: "Like I said, the consequences of pronouncing pinyin as if it were English is still pretty dire."

Well, Chinese has a lot of sounds which just don't exist in English, period. Trying to pronounce it like it's English is going to be kind of bad no matter what, and trying to transcribe it with roman characters is going to involve some phonemic fudging. At least pinyin gets you into the ballpark even if you've never studied Chinese.

Though, really, the more I think about it the more I feel this is a to-MAY-to/to-MAH-to argument. Like I said earlier, Wade-Giles and pinyin map the same phonemic set, so they're essentially the same. I think pinyin picks its battles with accepted pronunciations a little more wisely than Wade-Giles, but you make a good point about the pinyin b/d/etc. They both have their flaws, I guess.

(And what's the "Celeborn problem" you speak of?)

#339 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 06:11 AM:

#338:Well, Chinese has a lot of sounds which just don't exist in English, period

Of course. My point is that you end up in a pretty large ballpark whether you use pinyin, Wade-Giles, or Gwoyeu Romatzyh. (The latter does have what I think is an advantage. It encodes tonal information in the spelling rather than with diacritical marks which invariably get dropped.) Yes, those untrained in these romanization schemes are inevitably going to screw things up in significant ways. e.g., they'll get anything which has an aspirated form wrong in Wade-Giles. To an untrained English speaker, c, j, q, x, ch and sh in pinyin are downright deceptive.

One could come up with a romanization where each Chinese sound is replaced by its closest English equivalent. The result would be Yale, or something very much like Yale. (To be fair, I doubt the intent of any of the other systems was to be pronouncable as if it were English.) I think Yale gets an English speaker into a smaller ballpark. (Of course, it's undoubtedly worse for the rest of the world.)

I'm not a big fan of romanizations in general. My preferred method of encoding pronunciation is bopomofo (aka zhuyin). A completely different character set. One can not even pretend to pronounce it like English. (I suppose, though, we should all just use IPA and be done with it.)

(And what's the "Celeborn problem" you speak of?)

It's a reference to Lord of the Rings. Elvish uses a hard "c." So if you pronounce the name as if it were in English, you will mispronounce his name. (Maybe one could have romanized Elvish some other way? I don't know Elvish. Perhaps it never occurred to Tolkien that people would pronounce it as if it were English.)

#340 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 06:26 AM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) #332: A stretch of Ponce certainly is a red-light district.

#341 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 06:45 AM:

Dan # 324: Thanks! As a German speaker, the various schm- and schr- words sort of live in a non-English box... Are there any 5-consonant words?

Allan #337: Interesting. Do you know the origins of the name - Scottish? Thinking about surnames with a surfeit of consonants makes me think of Eastern European languages. As Scotland has an ever-growing Polish immigrant community, I can imagine the eventual names... McKrzysck and the like.

#342 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 07:51 AM:

McKlveny? Fascinating. I've seen it spelt (or even spelled) "MacIlvanney", "McIlvanney" and "McIlvany", but never "McKlveny". Google, incidentally, has never heard of it either.

Google has turned up a few people called just "McKlv" which has rather a Scots/Czech sound to it. I suspect these are OCR errors, but that's how a lot of Scots names got started: Mackenzie, for example. We may have actual McKlvs running around the place in a century or two.

(The "z" in Mackenzie is not a z at all; it's a "yogh", a Scots letter written as a sort of drooping figure 3, printed using English alphabet type as a z and pronounced more or less as a y. "Mackenzie" is a version of the Gaelic "Mac Coinneach" - pronounced "mac coin-yach" - which would originally have been pronounced "mackinnyie". That's why Dalziel is pronounced and sometimes spelt "Dalyell" or "Da-yell" and Menzies is pronounced "Ming-iss".)

#343 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 10:40 AM:

On OCR errors, I once knew some people called Baldick, which caused them a little grief when they were much younger. Apparently, the origin of this name lay with a 19th century ancestor, of the much more common name of Baldock, who applied for a job in the British civil service. He received a letter of offer containing a scribal error, and it turned out to be easier to change his name than to get the bureaucracy to correct its records.

joann @331 - "Zoyren" is simply a phonetic representation of "Ciren" in the local dialect; it's the "Sissiter/Sisister" version that defeats me.

#344 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 11:35 AM:

Chris Y #343: it's the "Sissiter/Sisister" version that defeats me.

As in, what in Much Puddleham did they do with the "ren"?

#345 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 12:05 PM:

Jakob (341) the sch- words on that list were from Hebrew often through Yiddish, except for Dutch schrik. Even schwa, which surprised me. The phth-, psch-, and chth- words are from Greek. The rest are onomatopeoic.

And since those are all the four-consonant words on my list, they include all the words with more consonants: phpht and tsktsk. One variant of the latter is tsktsks, which holds the record.

#346 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 12:17 PM:

"Strc prst skrz krk" has three interesting features;

First, it is an entirely grammatical sentence with no vowels (not even Y).

Second, it is sensible advice to give a Czech who has just swallowed a toxic substance (it means "stick your finger down your throat").

Third, by an eerie coincidence, it is also the noise that the Czech will make as he follows your advice.

#347 ::: mimi ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 12:35 PM:

332: Not really, but as Fragano said, one can always direct the curious to the Clairmont Lounge.

(And then I'd send them down the street to the original Krispy Kreme, but that's a different kind of red light entirely.)

#348 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 12:38 PM:

ajay @ 346... "stick your finger down your throat"

I read that in Lisa Goldstein's The Alchemist's Door. Did you?

#349 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 12:51 PM:

Dan@#345, referring to "schmo schlep schmoe schlepp schlock schmalz schmeer schmoos schmuck schnaps schnook schtick schmaltz schmelze schmoose schmooze schnecke schnecken" from @#324:

the sch- words on that list were from Hebrew often through Yiddish,

Um, all of those words are from Yiddish, and except for "schmoo(s/z)e", all are of Germanic origin, not Hebrew.

Although I see that the Yiddish "schmuck", which I always though was derived from the German for "jewelry", actually derives from Old Polish for "snake/dragon", it says here.

Huh.

#350 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 02:15 PM:

Owlmirror @ 349

IIRC, most of the Yiddish vocabulary originates in German or PlattDeutsch (I'm guessing on the second). Hebrew's main contribution is the written alphabet. Used to drive me crazy as a kid, learning classical Hebrew in Hebrew school and trying to read my grandmother's Yiddish newspapers. For some reason all the second generation immigrants* in my family (both sides) insisted on *not* teaching their kids Yiddish; maybe it left them a secret language for mid-argument-with-the-kids consultations.

* The first generation born here in the States: my parent's generation.

#351 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 02:51 PM:

Mimi #347: Er, that's the Clermont Lounge (and adjacent hotel).

#352 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 03:14 PM:

Fragano (351): I thought she was referring to the fact that Clairmont Rd. becomes a parking lot at certain times of day.

#353 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 03:21 PM:

@#350:

most of the Yiddish vocabulary originates in German or PlattDeutsch (I'm guessing on the second). Hebrew's main contribution is the written alphabet.

Hm. Ethnologue says Yiddish derives from High German (HochDeutsch) rather than PlattDeutsch; Wikipedia says Middle High German. And in addition to the alphabet, lots of Hebrew vocabulary got sprinkled in as well. I was surprised to see that "schmooze" is one of those.


Speaking of Yiddish reminds me:

Yiddish with Dick and Jane

#354 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 04:41 PM:

Owlmirror @ 353: And of course their followup, "Yiddish with George and Laura".

#355 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 05:13 PM:

ajay 346: I was taught by the Slavicist in our Linguistics department that the sentence you cite meant something more like "Stick the finger through the neck"—that is, more of a digital* tracheotomy than an invocation of the gag reflex.

*What? Having to do with digits (i.e. fingers). Get over it.

#356 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 07:01 PM:

Diatryma (275) -- I, too, grok a wrongness in phenolphthalein, and indeed the -ein was the hardest part for me to guess. I blame its baleful influence for my having written "arvyfraunlqra" earlier today (I can't admit it in plaintext).

Still, without -ein we wouldn't have "grok".

#357 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 07:41 PM:

skipping back upthread a few hours...

Jakob #341: ... Thinking about surnames with a surfeit of consonants makes me think of Eastern European languages. As Scotland has an ever-growing Polish immigrant community, I can imagine the eventual names... McKrzysck and the like.

That triggers my own 'Scots/Eastern European name' story.

My Lithuanian grandfather paused for a year or so in Glasgow to work up passage to America.
The Lithuanian surname is "Macuirles" (approximately "Ma-chu-les").

In Scotland, "Macuirles" is obviously pronounced "MacCurls." Which is pretty much how it stayed after that.

#358 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 09:33 PM:

Mary Aileen #352: That it does, true. But the Clermont Lounge (and Hotel) are on Ponce (hmm... west of Briarcliff).

#359 ::: mimi ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 10:54 PM:

Fragano @ 351 and Mary Aileen @ 352: It figures I'd spell it wrong on a spelling thread. Ah, well, at least I didn't spell it Clairemont. Decatur spelling is strange.

#360 ::: Margaret ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 12:45 AM:

What more can I add? Only a few random observations because you clever people have said it all.

I'm a speller.

My bugaboos: maintenance, recommend, memento (which I thought was momento for decades), committment. Probably a few more, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head. Oh, and millennium, of whose spelling I have no idea, because I moved to a Spanish-speaking country in 1997 so it's all "milenio" to me.

I couldn't spell out loud at all until I learned to touch-type; a nice side effect was developing the ability to recite the spelling of any word (given I know how to spell it) without having to see it written down.

Place name pronunciation: Dalhousie in Canada. The university of that name in Halifax is about how you'd expect it, but Port Dalhousie, a town in the Niagara Penninsula, is "pordle-oozie" with the "oo" prolonged in comparison to everything else which is rather rushed and indistinct.

I used to live in Nepean (which no longer exists, it's all Ottawa now). When one moved to the National Capital, one had no idea how to pronounce Nepean, so one kept quiet until one learned the native pronunciation (Neh-PEE-uhn, where "eh" and "uh" are schwa-like; almost N'PEE'n). Outsiders tended to guess "NEE-peen" or "NEE-pee-an".

#361 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 01:28 AM:

My condo development comes off a street named Runaldue. Soon after I moved here, I went up to the museum and one of the volunteers asked if I was visiting. I told her I'd just moved right around the corner. She asked where and I said "Off RUNE-ul-doo." Another volunteer looked over and said crisply "My mother was a ruh-NAL-doo." I apologized, of course.

#362 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 08:46 AM:

Mispronouncing things named after actual people can be tricky. My family's home in on Bauch street-- more like an alley, because it doesn't get a lot of attention. Technically, the name is pronounced as in German. Everyone who lives on it, but no one else in town, says it like 'debauch'. It's not like anyone's going to argue with us... unless we meet a Bauch. Then I expect dirty looks.

#363 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 11:03 AM:

#360: Commit, committed, committee, commitment. Because English is funny like that.

#364 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 11:10 AM:

Mimi #359: I've seen it spelled 'Clairemont' on one street sign near the top end (not far from where it ends on Peachtree Industrial). I've just moved from north DeKalb to south Fulton, and am just getting used to not having Lenox Square conveniently on my way home.

#365 ::: mimi ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 12:46 PM:

Fragano @ 364: Yes, it's spelled Clairemont on a sign or two right before it runs into Ponce in Decatur as well. I hadn't noticed the sign by Peachtree, but I don't go that way very often.

Lenox is on my way home these days, but I'm trying to avoid it until I've got a bit more money in the bank. On the other hand, when I do go it means I can avoid the horrible Sidney Marcus/Lenox/Cheshire Bridge series of intersections, which destroy my soul on a regular basis.

#366 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 01:17 PM:

mimi #365: I generally travel on MARTA, now a bit more complex because I'm not close to a bus route and am miles from the nearest rail station. I get dropped off at a station some mornings, others I get dropped off at my office.

Lenox Square has a branch of Teavana which is my principal reason for going there (my beloved, of course, would want me to stop by the Lindt shop or Godiva...). When I lived in Brookhaven, I could just hop off MARTA at Lenox and then hop back on. When I lived in Buckhead, back in 03 and 04, I was just a couple of blocks from the Lenox station, and a couple of blocks from Phipps Plaza where there's another branch of Teavana. Now, I'll have to make an expedition when I run out of tea.

#367 ::: marek ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 04:17 PM:

@349 Owlmirror

"Smok" is perfectly good modern Polish for dragon - most famously living in a cave under Wawel castle in Krakow.
Getting from there to schmuck feels like quite a jump, though.

#368 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 05:13 PM:

#172, #174, #198: Sorry, things got busy. Yes, it should only have been in that one side. It was a rypo. And yeah, I was reminded of it by recent comments that also gave it away. I hoped by not mentioning it, I wouldn't give it away even more.

#212: There's the "Calendar Prince" movement of Scheherazade, often spelled "Kalendar," but not always.

#232: I'm still keeping the cartoon I drew with the punchline "These are not the druids you're looking for." #260: That goes double for you. If all the mindreaders in the world would only go find something productive to do, and leave my cartoon ideas alone.

#303:
"There was a young man of Duquesne
Who got sick as he rode on a tresne;
Not just once, but agesne
And agesne and agesne
And agesne and agesne and agesne."

Now to get behind again.

#369 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 06:52 PM:

marek #367: So that's why Tolkien called his dragon 'Smaug'.

#370 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 07:31 PM:

Fragano and mimi (359, 355, 356): I'm pretty sure there's also a sign that spells it 'Claremont' somewhere between Ponce and N. Druid Hills.

#371 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 07:37 PM:

May Aileen #370: It's clearly Vernon's fault!

#372 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2007, 10:03 PM:

Ajay @ 342: Consulting the phone book shows I misremembered the name. It's McKlveen, not McKlveny. Still 5 initial consonants.

#373 ::: mimi ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2007, 09:59 AM:

Mary Aileen @ 370: It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest, though now I'm really curious about where the name came from that it can't be spelled consistently.

Fragano @ 366: I've been promising myself one of the gorgeous teapots at Teavana for a couple years now, but it's hard to justify when my Bodum one still works just fine.

#374 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2007, 11:56 AM:

Mimi #373: Those teapots are a bit too pricey for my wallet, alas, lovely as they are.

#375 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2007, 08:50 PM:

Margaret (#360) Out west of Sydney, between Parramatta (Parra-MAT-uh) and the Blue Mountains, is the Nepean River (also Nu-PEE-un), which divides Penrith from Emu Plains, among other things.
LAT: 33º 43' S (Decimal -33.731º); LON: 150º 39' E (Decimal 150.659º) Thanks to Geoscience Australia

It's also given its name to the district, thus there's a Nepean Hospital, Nepean College of Advanced Education, and a bunch of businesses and community organisations. So, tho' it has probably now merged into the Greater Sydney Sprawl, the name is kept to identify a distinct locality.

Characteristically, this was named after something or someone Back Home, like Penrith. In this case the source seems to be the name of a British colonial administrator, an important sub-group of the Back Home variety. (Nepean is across a few different former colonies). Sydney is after a Lord Sydney, for instance, and Port Phillip Bay is from the first Governor, Arthur Phillip. The most notorious example is Governor Lachlan Macquarie. There may be virtually one of almost every geographical feature named after him, sometimes his wife, and even his home town.

The usual other methods are: a version of an Aboriginal word (which may be from the local language (Parramatta = probably 'place of eels'), or just one they like the sound of); or baldly descriptive (Blue Mountains, Emu Plains).

The baldly descriptive can be repeated very many times (giving the Geographical Names Board much work). There must be dozens or scores of Stringybark Creeks, for instance. So can the nostalgic ones, like Camperdown and Maryborough, for instance. Thus there's a place called Point Nepean on Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne too, which has minor, yet marked, places in Australian History. Cheviot Beach is there, for instance.

#376 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2007, 08:42 AM:

"There was a young man of Duquesne
Who got sick as he rode on a tresne;
Not just once, but agesne
And agesne and agesne
And agesne and agesne and agesne."

There once was a man of Dunleogharie
Who propounded and interesting theogharie
That the language of Erse
Has a shortage of verse
As the spelling makes poets so weogharie.

I don't think that's actually how it was spelled when I first read it, and I don't remember my two semesters of Gaelic well enough to reconstruct with perfect accuracy. But you get the idea.

#377 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2007, 09:28 AM:

There seem to be a lot of people in Atlanta around here....

I happen to live pretty much right next to Lenox Square, mainly so I can take MARTA to work and avoid all the traffic issues. For me, the downside of living so close is the temptation to just walk up and visit the Apple Store.

Sidney Marcus/Lenox/Buford Hwy/Cheshire Bridge is indeed a nightmare to drive through. I loathe it so much that if I'm going to something on Sidney Marcus (like Home Depot, frex), I usually go back home via Piedmont and Peachtree just to avoid navigating all those crazy intersections.

#378 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2007, 10:49 AM:

Jennifer Barber (377): former Atlantan in my case, but that doesn't negate your point.

#379 ::: Inquisitive Raven ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2007, 01:25 AM:

In the mangled French department in Missouri, we have Creve Coeur (pronounced "Creev Coor"), and the Courtois River (pronounced something like "COTE-a-way"). I still haven't figured out where the pronunciation of that one came from.

BTW, I think I have the proofreader's eye myself, and wouldn't mind getting a job as a copy editor or proofreader, but I have no idea how I'd go about it.

#380 ::: dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2007, 01:42 PM:

I'd disagree on "nil desperandum". It's precisely because I know only a little about Latin (but not nothing about it) that I'd have trouble with it. I'd have difficulty remembering if the first word is "nil" or "nihil" - which would be intuitively obvious if I knew the shades of meaning better.

#381 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2007, 02:41 PM:

Jennifer Barber #377: Perhaps we should organise a Making Light meetup at the next DragonCon (if I can go, always a big if in term-time, especially with a professional conference the next week).

I can understand the seduction of the Apple Store, though my own attraction to Lenox Square is opposite it.

Hmm. Do you, by any chance, live in Phipps Place?

#382 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2007, 03:29 PM:

Mary Aileen @ #378 wrote:
former Atlantan in my case
But last night I read former Atlantean in my case and immediately thought "oh, how exciting!" and then I realized that you weren't from Atlantis. Then I decided that I needed to go to bed, if I was even willing to consider the Atlantean possibility.

#383 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2007, 04:51 PM:

Tania @ 382, Well, the undersea city of Atlanta sank when Delta built an even larger hub...

#384 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2007, 04:58 PM:

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the Atlantean Mayor.

#385 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2007, 05:45 PM:

Tania #382: Those of us who live in Greater Marthasville, down here in Peachtree Province, certainly find it a mystical/mythical place (all the way down to the Hoocheecoochee River).

#386 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2007, 10:53 PM:

I wasn't officially diagnosed with a "learning disability" until I was very much an adult, by which time I'd mostly managed to compensate, with a few very large exceptions.

One of them was spelling; I screw up. A lot. Especially when I'm tired, or posting on Making Light. And yeah, I spell check.

The neurologist went down a long long list of words, hoping to find one I couldn't spell orally and / or in writing.

He found two: indictment, and sherbet.

#387 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 12:42 AM:

We used to have (Leyland) Atlantean buses until our transport people gave up the idea of double-deckers on road rather than rail.

Over the last few months, I've heard one transport person say that it'd be a good idea to go back to single-deck rail carriages in Sydney, and another that they might reinstitute double-deck buses. Sigh.

#388 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 01:28 AM:

#383 - present
Thanks for the chuckles! You know, I think I have some old issues of New Warriors in storage, featuring Namorita. It's not a good comic, but I enjoyed it. I loved the horrible bits when Hindsight Lad was introduced, as I was reading the League of Net Heroes on rec.arts.comics.misc and figured it was an homage to their goofiness.

#389 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 04:33 AM:

Tania@388: As a founding member, I feel the need to correct that to "Legion of Net.Heroes" (or LNH). (My superhero name was Squid Boy. Long story.)

#390 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 12:21 PM:

Squid Boy @ #389 -- ooh!! I shall now engage a brief moment of fangirl squeeing. SQUEE!!!

Thank you for the correction. It's been a *cough* few years, a person's memory might have eroded a bit.

#391 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 12:40 PM:

Fragano #381: Perhaps we should organise a Making Light meetup at the next DragonCon

That might be the impetus I need to finally stop being lazy and attend. Each year I think I should, since it's so convenient, and each year I never get around to buying a membership.

Do you, by any chance, live in Phipps Place?

Nah. Heights (formerly Summit) at Lenox. Just downhill from the Lenox station.

#392 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 12:53 PM:

Jennifer Barber #391: It would be an incentive for me too.

I used to live in Phipps Place, which is why I asked. Now, I live out in the sticks (and I mean sticks, there's a small forest right behind us -- left behind by the developers).

#393 ::: Claudia ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 03:22 PM:

What a lovely thread.

But whenever that Welsh town is mentioned, I wonder if anyone else remembers lovely Lake Manchaug in Massachusetts?

Or, to give it its full name, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, which has a lovely rhythm to it when you get it down. It's like speaking Ubbi Dubbi.

(Or, as some call it, Lake Webster, but where's the fun in that?)

#394 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 04:00 PM:

I have fond memories of Ubbi Dubbi! But I think we spoke a variation, simply reduplicating the vowel in each syllable rather than inserting 'ub'. So we said "Dooboo yoobou speebeak Ehbenglibish?" rather than "Duboo yubou spubeak Ubenglubish?" for "Do you speak English?"

#395 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2007, 04:06 PM:

Xopher - That sounds much more interesting than Pig Latin.

My cousing Kirk and I spent part of summer talking sdrawkcab to each other. To this day I probably would answer to Ainat, and I still "think" of him as Krik.

#396 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2007, 06:24 AM:

Tania@390: I've never been squee'd over before. Gosh.

#397 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 12:02 PM:

factoid: the word "Illegally" may never look right to me again.

#398 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 05:14 PM:

The revised list:

bazaar, bizarre, accede, precede, supersede, barbecue, acquaint, accessory, necessary, desiccate, Cincinnati, occurrence, inoculate, accommodate, recommend, harassment, espresso, embarrass, corollary, grammar, hemorrhage, artillery, battalion, broccoli, guerrilla, iridescent, abattoir, miscellaneous, millennium, vermilion, millenarian, dilettante, minuscule, parallelism, a cappella, commitment, committed, committee, satellite, poinsettia, counselor, calendar, cemetery, stratagem, sorcerer, restaurateur, sergeant, prophesy, pharaoh, camouflage, pronunciation, fluorescent, suede, eulogy, pseudopod, bureaucracy, prophecy, fuchsia, feud, silhouette, jodhpurs, liaison, hierarchy, sovereignty, sacrilegious, deity, sieve, frieze, receive, seize, siege, weird
Thanks for all the suggestions.

#399 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 05:17 PM:

Oops, forgot to mention: there are 71 words in the list, but one of them doesn't count.

#400 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 06:38 PM:

Umm, 73 words. 72 if you don't count the extra word in "a cappella" (two words, two "P"s, two "L"s). I only counted because I was looking for some other meaning for "doesn't count", like maybe "innumerate", but couldn't find one.

#401 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2007, 06:47 PM:

If one word in a bit of text is spelled wrong, it sticks out enough that I bark my shin on it. And I trip over superfluous apostrophes all the time. But give me text with several misspelled words, and not only can't I tell what is misspelled, nearly every word looks wrong to me. If you ask me how to spell a word, I'll probably get it right (including many on the list), but if you ask me to verify if a word is spelled right, I'm far more likely to get it wrong.

#402 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2007, 10:32 AM:

Since spelling always finds some way to trip us up, it's lucky there's a little book like Webster's Instant Word Guide (cover info: "35,000 words spelled and divided"). It's a hell of a lot easier than dragging out my humongous Unabridged (even if it's not recent and slangy enough to assure me I just spelled "humongous" correctly).

The spellchecker on my old word processor program is useless for anything but really common words.

#403 ::: Gwynplaine ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 02:11 AM:

I will intentionally hyphenate the phrase 'a capella' (even though I know this is incorrect) so that the reader will not misinterpret the word 'a' as an indefinite article. For instance, I'll write: "She sang the opening number a-capella".

I avoid using any obscure word which the reader's eye is likely to misinterpret as a more commonplace word. For instance, I never use the adjective 'minute' (as in 'a minute quantity') because the reader will mistake this for the noun 'minute'. I won't use 'tattoo' in the sense of a drumbeat (unless I'm writing about the Edinburgh Tattoo) because most readers associate 'tattoo' with skin art.

I will freely use the past tense 'led' but I'll avoid using 'lead' because the reader must stop a moment to figure out whether I mean 'lead' the metal or 'lead' the verb. I will use forms such as 'reading', 'reader' and 'reads' but I'll avoid using the word 'read' because the reader must take a moment to figure out whether this should be 'REED' (present tense) or 'RED' (past tense).

Re Debra Doyle's posting #105, which I've only just now seen: Gaelic is NOT counter-intuitive! Gaelic has very consistent rules (such as the broad-narrow rule, governing vowels) and there are only very occasional exceptions ... not at all like English!

#404 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2008, 10:28 AM:

I will intentionally hyphenate the phrase 'a capella'

If possible, the proper handling is to italicize it as a foreign phrase, thus: "She sang the opening number a capella." This is just one of the reasons why I'm irritated by those blog systems which don't support bold and italic in comments.

#405 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2008, 11:36 AM:

For plain-text-only systems, I use underscores to delimit italics, asterisks to delimit bold text. E.g., "She sang the opening number _a capella_." I *think* the conventions are generally understood.

#406 ::: A.D.Reed ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 01:20 PM:

In third or fourth grade I learned the exceptions to the rule that establishes "'I' before 'E' except after 'C' or when sounded like 'A' as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh.'" We memorized that "Neither leisured foreigner seized their weird heights." As long as you force yourself to ignore the egregious subject-antecedent mismatch between "foreigner" and "their," it works like a charm.

#407 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 01:40 PM:

A.D. 406: The use of 'their' as a third-person singular indefinite-gender pronoun dates back centuries in English and is well accepted by everyone except prescriptive grammarians.

So you don't actually have to ignore anything; the pronoun agreement in that sentence is fine.

#408 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 05:16 PM:

A.D.Reed @406: What is the story here? That is, I can imagine a pair of leisured foreigners, but what is meant by them seizing weird heights (or not, as neither did)?

#409 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2008, 05:37 PM:

You want to see neither leisured foreigner seize their weird height? Here ya go!

#410 ::: Hank Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2008, 08:40 PM:

Worth a look, because the core skill is error detection, much studied:

http://arxiv.org/pdf/0801.3114

Implications of Human Error Research for Spreadsheet Research and Practice

----excerpt----

... human error has been studied for over a century across a number of human cognitive domains, including linguistics, writing, ....

The research that does exist is disturbing because it shows that humans are unaware of most of their errors. This “error blindness” leads people to many incorrect beliefs about error rates and about the difficulty of detecting errors. In general, they are overconfident, substantially underestimating their own error rates and overestimating their ability to reduce and detect errors. This “illusion of control” also leads them to hold incorrect beliefs....
...
Some of the best human error research has been done in writing. Research on human writing, for instance, has shown that writing is extremely mentally demanding. When a person is typing or writing, they are also concerned about the grammar of the entire sentence as well as what he or she has already said and what he or she still plans to stay to complete the story or argument [Flower & Hayes, 1980; Hayes & Flower, 1980].

Figure 3 shows error rates by level. For mechanical actions, such as typing characters or words, human accuracy is 99.5% to 99.8%. At the level of complex thoughts, such as sentences, accuracy falls to 95% to 98%. At the level of a document, accuracy is 0%, in the sense that any document of nontrivial length will contain grammatical and spelling errors [Panko, 2007a]. ...
------end excerpt----------

#411 ::: Hank Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 04:09 PM:

"boyonet fittings"

Oh dear. Really?
... about 1,420 English pages for boyonet ...

#412 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:34 AM:

I haven't read all 400+ posts, but has anyone mentioned "privilege"? That's one that always makes me pause. Pronounced opposite to how it sounds, rather like "sacrilegious," which I think I was already in university when I learned.

I learned "accommodate" and "separate" early from an adult friend who used to quiz us with words to spell, trying to stump us (or to show off his spelling knowledge perhaps a little?)

Most of the words that came to mind as I started reading this entry have already been highlighted - many with double and non-double letters, as someone pointed out: professor, occurred, recommend...

The one commonly mis-expressed word that always bugs me is "mischievous." Even though it follows the i before e rule, for some reason people don't see the i in that place at all, and it gets spelled AND pronounced after the v! Presumably one error begat the other, though I don't know which difficulty came first... but it seems like such a dumb mistake; this is one thing I haven't been able to get over being irked by.

#413 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:38 AM:

Oh yeah, also "exercise" and "legitimate."

And did anyone mention "indict"?

#414 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:41 AM:

And, if we're including foreign words,

"chaise longue" - not likely to be caught by spellcheck.

(My browser is highlighting "longue" but not "chaise.")

#415 ::: bartkid ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 05:53 PM:

The judgment is in the envelop.

#416 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2010, 08:16 AM:

Gold-alloy on connectors makes enough difference to be worth doing for a lot of hardware, digital and analogue. There are alternatives.

There might be a bit of poser value in it, but there's some science behind it. My experience is that gold-plated audio plugs are bit better made.

(And, incidentally, removing and reinserting a plug can be a useful move in itself.)

Here in Europe, we use the SCART standard for connections to TVs. I've never felt a need to go for expensive gold-plated SCART leads, but the really cheap leads are really cheap for a lot of reasons.

#417 ::: Cadbury Moose wonders if Dave Bell really meant to post that in here ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2010, 08:32 AM:

...and not in the current topic on overpriced cables/the P.T. Barnum effect.

#418 ::: TexAnne sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 04:28 PM:

And yes, spammer, T almost certainly knows more about it than you do, no matter what "it" may be.

#420 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 05:31 PM:

Tais-toi, tatoueur!

#421 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 06:55 PM:

A tattooer from Tattooine?

(Puts coal scuttle on head and hums The Imperial March - badly)

#422 ::: SithAdmin Vader ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 06:59 PM:

Enitity posting at #418:

I find your lack of Clue disturbing.

#423 ::: Mark Mandel ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2011, 09:02 PM:

Oh, I found that list a joy to read! I am, perhaps, hyperliterate as well as nit-picky, and I copyread better than any spellchucker [sic] ever built. (My typing may slip badly, especially when I'm tired, but I generally catch it on the first pass unless I'm literally falling asleep at the keyboard.)

Names being more variable and arbitrary than other kinds of words, I had trouble with "Delany" till I developed a mnemonic. He is the Singer of the Great Cities: "de LA & NY".

Another mnemonic (plus an arithmétic reminder) I put into song, to the tune of "Jingle Bells":

Double L, double M, just ten letters long,
That's how to spell "millennium", remember by this song.
One thousand years exactly -- the meaning of the word:
Year One began the first one, Two-thousand-one the third!

And another note in the long thread about "fuchsia": The sequence "chs" is pronounced "ks" in German, so "Fuchs", which is the surname of the botanist the flower was named for (and means "fox"), is fully regular in being pronounced "fooks", or in English "fyooks". ("oo" as in "school")

#424 ::: Martin DeMello ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2011, 11:11 PM:

"consensus", with its tension between "consent" and "census".

#425 ::: Fred ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 05:32 AM:

"Deliquesce" is always fun for breaking the ice at parties.

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